New: TELEGRAPH (AVE) TALES: A Good Week in Lake Southside

By Ted Friedman
Monday November 26, 2012 - 08:00:00 PM
Before the Unitarian Turkey-feed, Thanksgiving at Caffe Mediterraneum, on Telegraph Avenue
Ted Friedman
Before the Unitarian Turkey-feed, Thanksgiving at Caffe Mediterraneum, on Telegraph Avenue

It was a good week in Lake Southside, where everyone is down and out.

Craig Becker was making plans for the first Thanksgiving at the Cafe Med since he bought the business four years ago, when it was close to bankruptcy. Becker is a Berkeley big shot, who is chummy with all the city bureaucrats, as well as two police chiefs.

He is a member of the city's homeless commission, and president of the Telegraph Avenue business improvement district, but manages to find time here and there to run the Med, which has recently added Beer and Wine, which some Medheads thought triggered the death of the Med. 

Their fears turned out to be ill-founded. 

Becker enjoys being a sommelier and purveyor of spirits. He spent almost as much time converting the Med into a nightclub, as he did birthing and backing Measure "S," no-sitting, which was rejected by voters. 

His cafe hosts musicians, go-matches, and Tango classes. 

I asked him yesterday whether his high profile position on "S" had cost him business. 

"Business is up," he said. 

Becker tells me that TBID, Telegraph property owners, commissioned a poll when "S" was first put on the ballot, which among other questions polled respondents on "S." 

"We were behind in the poll, 44% to our opponents' 52%," he said. "If we had had more time we might have closed the gap," he added. 

Becker and one of his employees was mopping the filthy floor of the notorious coffee-house cheap-eats establishment, when I poked my head, then my body into the cafe. 

The floor was still damp. The floor had not been cleaned in more than a year. 

What the floor needs is to be power-cleaned by one of those gizmos the Navy uses to clean its decks, then to be sealed. Mopping just treats the symptoms mildly. "Look," said Becker's fellow mopper (swabby), pointing to accumulated stains, and a patina "there is forty years of dirt ground into the tiles," he said. 

"More like twenty-five years," Becker quibbled. 

Becker told me the floors didn't really matter, since "no one looks at the floors. They are too busy looking at all the interesting things I put on the walls." 

This seemed completely weird. "What gives you that idea? Is it some sort of marketing theory. Is it in a book, like "Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak?"  

"It doesn't need to be in a book," he said resolutely, "I just to know that myself." 

Becker and his colleague on TBID, Roland Peterson, Executive Director, used the same logic to rebut a Cal law school study, which was reported by the Daily Californian just days before the election. 

The study refuted claims favoring "S," using what seemed to be impressive data. Becker and Peterson shot back with, a we-don't-need-no-stinkin study attitude, saying, 

more or less, that they could feel the need for "S" in their bones. 

According to Rob Wrenn in the Planet, students on the Southside defeated "S." 

Becker had, as well, been put in the difficult position of quarreling with the student government in print, subjecting Daily Cal readers to his long tomes, and opposing the paper's own position on "S." Free speech lives at Cal. 

Berkeley's re-elected mayor shows up, but skips the turkey

Tom Bates, with his wife, Loni Hancock, and her daughter, poked their noses in to wish Becker, one of Bates' most persistent petitioners, a happy holiday. But he didn't join the turkey-feed. 

Through a complicated series of steps, the turkey was prepared—I didn't say cooked—by the cook for the Unitarian-Universalist Church, Kensington. 

I was married in a Unitarian church, so I wanted to taste this Unitarian turkey. 

How thankful is it to be unthankful for Thanksgiving?

If I were a food reviewer, I would say that Unitarian turkey was half-baked—bloody, but the analogy degrades. 

Perhaps I can say the mayor got something right this time when he didn't duck in for Turkey. 

Also, the Turkey appeared in an un-Turkey like manner, sort of grey, and eviscerated. 

If I didn't know better, I'd say the Unitarians' prayers for this Turkey fell on deaf ears, if God even listens to them at all. 

Just how unthankful is all this? And on Thanksgiving. What would Norman Rockwell think? 

Still there was a lot to be thankful for at the Med's first Thanksgiving, ever. There was a lot of affection among Medheads, who showed up looking grey and lonely. Becker hugged someone, but it must have been the drinks. He gave me a free pint of his best beer. 

The singer was good. 

The Unitarian turkey, and a glob of pot-luck, wound up in Camp Hate, People's Park, U.S.A., according to a representative of the church's cook. 

Ted Friedman, the Planet's 'Voice of the South side," promises to interview Camp Haters about that Unitarian turkey.