Berkeley's Medheads Watching Their Backs
After Med Mezzanine Takeover Last Month

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday June 22, 2011 - 11:20:00 AM
Shot from the the mezzanine of Caffe Med after police takeover terrorizes  famous Teley haunt. When will danger strike again?--
Ted Friedman
Shot from the the mezzanine of Caffe Med after police takeover terrorizes famous Teley haunt. When will danger strike again?--

Last month's 20 minute police "take-over" at Berkeley's hottest South side location, the historic Caffe Mediterraneum (it's Landmarked!), leaves Medheads asking whether their haunt has their backs covered or has inserted a knife. 

The take-over ended happily enough when a tip that a man had a gun on the Med mezzanine proved false. But some customers later admitted that they were terrified during the take-over in which pistols were pulled and aimed. (See Planet June 8, 2011). 

According to Robert Burton, 22, a Med barista, "you could say the Med has your back, except that whenever it does something good there's lots of bad caused by the Med's location and people who pop in to cause trouble. Just being in Berkeley creates trouble." He recalled a painful incident in which a fellow worker had her eye blacked during a till-tap (an over-the-counter grab from the cash box). 

But several medheads liked the excitement and one turned his role into a performance, according to the Planet's account of the dust-up. 

In the interests of establishing the significance of what became nothing more than a training-drill for university and city police, I have been interviewing medheads for incidents in which the Med came to their aid--"saved their ass," as I put it 

The history of the Med, which has had five owners, is replete with Med interventions on behalf of its patrons. 

Starting with the present owner, Craig Becker, 59, we have this: At the time of his death at 72, George Pauly, a renowned Telegraph cinema owner, stored his oxygen tank in a hallway leading to the Med employee restrooms.(We've covered that, too, Sep 18, 2007). A beloved figure in the Med, Pauly had entertained medheads for years at his Telegraph avenue movie-house, an ahead-of-its- time art house cinema.  

The Quan era at the Med was bad for business; (Quan was the fourth owner and preceded Becker). Yet Quan was a friend to the homeless, whom he allowed to use the Med for storage and loaned them money. 

Business had deteriorated to the point where Quan often singlehandedly ran a caffe that is now fully staffed. He often dashed between the counter and the kitchen, turning a group effort into a one-man show. Rumor had it that Quan had been a great philosopher in his native country, but was no businessman. Poor language skills hindered his success. He stashed books in English (who knew he could read them?) on a wide variety of subjects in unlikely nooks and crannies of the Med. Becker spent months ferreting them out. 

Recently Becker has extended himself to an elderly woman who was a shut-in for a decade after she was defrauded by a con man, according to the woman. The woman says she would not be getting out of her "toxic" apartment were it not for the Med. The Med has become her "home away from Hell," she says. 

I'm so in that category. When the Med was still owned by Johnny Buonanno and Leno Meiorin in the 70s, I was homeless and headquartered at the Med where I often arrived at opening (7:30a.m. and stayed to closing, 12p.m.). The welcoming smile and "hello, may I help you (he made it sound menacing) auspices of the manager, Elio De Pisa made my day. 

De Pisa's motto was similar to the King's speech therapist, In "The King's Speech, who told the future king of war-time England, "My home, my game, my rules." 

In those days, playing by the house rules bought you a membership at "Club Med,." as we called it. 

Ben Fulcher recalled that Johnny and Lino allowed People's Park protesters the gambit of eluding the police by ducking into the front door of the Med and out the rear. 

The Med hosted FSM organizers, C.O.R.E., and the Black Panthers as well as an assortment of various radicals. The police never caught on, according to Fulcher, who was there. 

George Kalmar, recalls with amusement, his run-in with the Med legend, Helen Bachynsky, 80 something, a medhead who is now a medical shut-in, but was at the Med on opening day, 1956, when she was a Cal student. According to Bachynsky, her professors warned their students off lower Telegraph. 

After a dispute with Kalmar over chairs, Bachynsky complained to De Pisa, who promptly kicked her out for ranting. You never knew for whom an eighty-six would toll. 

A medhead who prefers not to be named, had his hair set afire within eye-shot of the service counter and was 86'd by De Pisa. "What'd I'd do?"the hair-afire guy complained. De Pisa said, "you must have done something that got you in flames." Years later, the burning-bush guy admits this was all for his own good. 

In fact an eighty-six was just a slap on the wrist at the club. 

Stories abound in which the Med had your back. 

Greg Gomer, 50-something goliath, tells of the time he was lifted from his chair and carried supine out the front door by De Pisa. 

If you were eighty-sixed, it was believed to be for your own personal growth. I have two places from which I never ever want to be asked to leave. The Med and Moe's Bookstore across the street. 

As Eddy Monroe, 60 something puts it, the Med helped me "save my own ass," when I've had to apologize for things I've said. 

Charles Goodman, a Med barista, 40 something, a hero in the police take-over and a seven year resident on the South side (you've got to read the piece on which this is based) says the Med saved him from a boring job at Bev-Mo. Charles can be seen with a walking staff for fending off attackers on the South side. 

Roz Gordon, 80 something, recalled a period in which she had experienced a personal crisis that was salved at the Med. "Whenever I've been troubled, the Med was there for me, except the time when…." 

When viewed from this historic perspective, the recent police "take-over," is a speed-bump in time, a pin-hole in the universe. Stephen Hawkings, 69, take note. 


Ted Friedman, 70 something, takes his Med seriously (and so should you--it's a Berkeley treasure) on the always exciting South-side.