On the way back from a photo shoot, Friday, at Pepe's pig-out , an all-you-can-eat near campus, I stumbled into a civic meet-on-the-street. The street was Telegraph Avenue, known throughout the world for riots and weird.
The shoot had been a hoot, and I was in a pretty good mood. Urban Strider, had "commissioned" the shoot to document his winning a month's worth of pig-outs. Perhaps Strider will be able to pay the rent, now that he's eating free.
I thought I recognized the Berkeley police chief, and a representative from the city manager's office. I could hardly believe my eyes that the chief was in civvies.
But there he was all right, at 9 p.m.
Later, I learned the meet was private, even if held so openly. I made a quick decision to joke around with everyone, and get the story later.
But when Craig Becker, owner of Telegraph's notorious Caffe Mediterraneum, later lobbied the chief outside the Med, I went out to eavesdrop.
Becker and the Chief eyeballed me warily, so I kept my distance, but I did hear the chief say that the force had to observe the rights of everyone on the street. I had heard this philosophy from various cops.
Becker has been having his usual problems with street tramps outside his doors.
Becker, who presides over an association of Telegraph Ave. property owners, thinks he's on a roll after the university trimmed People's Park in ways the owners had requested in a letter to Ed Denton, a Cal vice-chancellor who oversees the park.
The letter was mainly authored by Becker.
Two squad cars of BPD—four officers—next evening, conducted their own street meet with a gaggle of self-described street tramps.
Was this Becker on a roll? Or was it Becker in a hole.
Perhaps Medheads enjoyed being blinded by a squad car searchlight glaring them down from the curb. Customers at the Dustin Hoffman window-seat table got the brunt of the blinding stare, and the adjoining table was annoyed.
Asked if this was bad for business, Becker wouldn't comment, because he said he hadn't seen it.
"I hope you're not one of those "sophomoric solipsists, who believe only what happens to them," I said.
Joking with the Man at the Street Meet
At the Friday street-meet, I talked to the chief about my last cops piece, which he had read. The piece was about a beef I got into with university cops in People's Park. "It was a real howler," I said of the piece. The chief agreed that the piece was funny, then gave me the point of view of the cops.
I think he said the cops were just "gun-shy." The fact that I was talking to a videographer from Copwatch may have gone against me, as well. The chief knew the Copwatcher by name. Who's watching whom?
We agreed that Berkeley wasn't always gracious with university police, even though the present generation of university cops was too young to remember the war between the people of Berkeley and the university in 1969.
Recently, I asked a university cop, how old he was in 1969, and he said he was reading comic books at the time of the park riots.
A policeman who took part in the bloody struggles of 1969 would be sixty-five or seventy—retired.
The representative of the city manager's office cautioned me to not take too much of the chief's time, because the chief needed to go home to his wife and kids.
What had been so important to bring him out, I wondered.
I had walked through an encampment of kids sitting, and sprawling on the walk, the kids not realizing the chief was watching. It's illegal to lie on the walks in Berkeley.
By this time the meet was breaking up, but Becker seemed not to notice that the chief wanted to go home already.
Telegraph Head Shop Owner Tells All, Sort Of
Al Geyer has owned and operated one of the oldest head shops in the world—1969. To walk into his store on Teley is to walk into the bygone era of novelty shops, but with its own light-show, and radio station, an eclectic mix of opera to country, Bartok to Beetles and—what else?—bongs
I sought him out in his store to get the story of the street-meet. Geyer had written a letter to call the street-meet, sort of.
He had written the letter to the city manager, and someone in the manager's office had invited the chief.
"Must have been a helluva letter." I said.
Geyer would not divulge the letter's contents, but is quite the talker, and talk tells the story.
Taking photos in the shop is forbidden, because Geyer would rather not give away any secrets of running a novelty-head shop, rather than just-another-pipes store.
I hope I don't give away his secrets.
It soon became clear that Geyer had uncorked on the city. The week before, Geyer had taken me on a disgruntled tour of lower Teley, in which he missed no depressing sign of the decline of Telegraph.
In a contest of show-and-tells, I showed him a possible new surveillance perch for People's Park drug cops to use in their war on drugs in the park.
The Sequoia Apartments fire, "a death-blow to Teley," was just the tip of the iceberg, Geyer said. Business on the famous street has spiraled downward for years.
Geyer has told me he can survive lean times, but he doesn't like his store to be "chumped." Chumped turns out to be pissed on. Somehow that was too much.
I promised to keep my own pissing away from his doorway. Is this the story: that Geyer was pissed on, then pisses on Berkeley?
Google Ted Friedman, as Steed Dropout, to read his blogs—The Lurid Stories Behind the Lurid Stories. His followup to this story will compare the Haight-Ashbury to Telegraph Avenue.