Last Tuesday I drove from Bend, Oregon, down to visit the closing of the Caffe Mediterraneum on 2475 Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California. I spent nearly fifty years there, rarely missing a day, until the day I departed in a huff. On the link just made above it claims that “Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Jerry Rubin and Patty Hearst” were regulars. I did know Jerry Rubin, and I saw Patty Hearst there but I never saw Ginsberg, or Kerouac, and as they were famous I’m sure they would have been commented upon by the regulars had they been there. There were many others who were there who were writers, and who published scholarly works, and who created important scientific knowledge. Those things are of far more lasting value than being involved in transient protests and protest literature.
The Berkeley Barb, for example, was founded in the Med by Max Scherr. I know that because I was a close friend of Max at that time we had several extended conversations about creating a newspaper. He valued my opinion, in part because I was a mover in the creation of a little monthly underground thing called The Editors. That was a Channing Club effort, which wasn’t particularly political, but it did have about twenty issues. I never thought much about those conversations, but Max did invite me and Susan Hesse to dinner and we shared the last bottle of wine, or beer, I don’t remember which from his first case of booze from his bar, The Steppenwolf. Herman Hesse, the author, was Susan’s uncle and her guardian after her parents died. I had some bylines in a few of the early issues of the Barb, but Max rewrote an article I submitted in running-dog-lackey style with my byline on it. I insisted that he write a statement to that effect, which he never did, and I never spoke politely to him again. From its first issue, August 13, 1965, to July 1980, the Berkeley Barb had a huge influence on the whole world. I picked up a bundle of issue number one from Max and sold some of them in the Med. It took a long conversation to sell the first issue of a single sheet of an unknown newspaper, even for a dime.
People’s Park was another event of lasting value, and I was at the creation of the People’s Park, and that happened in the Med too. I know because I was there with Big Bill Miller, the owner at the time of the bookstore across the street, and Michael Delacour. We were discussing how to get a several acre plot of land behind the Med to be made into a city park. It had been used for a year as a do-it-yourself people-created parking lot.
The University of California owned the land thru eminent domain seizure, and they had demolished the classic Berkeley style houses, but they ran out of money and hadn’t done anything with the property; thus it sat unused for two years and was often a muddy mess. They were trying to reclaim it physically, and take it away from the local residents’ spontaneous use of the space as a free parking lot. The three of us were discussing a strategy for keeping it for the local people. I hit on the idea of planting it with flowers and crops because the local people could get behind that idea and participate in something peaceful but symbolic of our ownership. Michael immediately got up to fetch a shovel from somewhere and was back in a few minutes. The three of us then went out and started digging.
The second day at the parking lot, several of people were digging.
(The photo above is from Quirky Berkeley com.)
After digging a few shovels of dirt I went back and finished my coffee. The next Berkeley Barb, April 18, 1969, had an article by Stew Albert and it became a movement. After a violent struggle, with much bloodshed and one death, the People’s Park became a city park. It was one of the few political events that Ronald Reagan clearly lost. But ultimately the law was on our side and we won. Five decades later it is still a park, and is still guarded by Michael Delacour.
I found this photo on Google where on May 16, 1969, even my dog Tiger got into the armed scuffle.
The national guard hold off a protestor, while Tiger watched and probably barked from the open window of my VW van.