Why Berkeley’s Telegraph Ave. Matters

by Steed Dropout
July 10, 2013
Berkeley, Ca


It doesn’t matter for its role in the People’s Park riots of 1969. Or for a score of riots on Telegraph Avenue, which have abated for the moment.

It doesn’t matter as a superior neighborhood. Berkeley has many superior neighborhoods. We are known as a city of neighborhoods, like San Francisco.

Nor does Teley matter as the last district with a rich Berkeley history (although the case can be made).

Teley matters because people are drawn to it. Some have made its sidewalks their homes. On weekends burbers descend on the Ave. with their T’s proclaiming, “the world’s best Dad/Mom/Grandpa,” and other rat-trap.

Haight-Ashberry Hippy, 1967 calls Teley Home. Photo by Ted Friedman.

No other neighborhood draws the feet. The Elmwood has a long ice-cream line and an occasional short movie line. It hosts one of the oldest of Berkeley businesses, Bill’s Trading Post & Gem Gallery World Traders (since 1939), but is generally deserted.

Downtown has feet, thanks to rapid transit, but somehow just seems commercial.

But no other district [but the South Side] is as diverse in appearance (if not reality… the South Side is dominated by Asian students, an Asian Ghetto, as some of its restaurants are called). Blacks, Latinos, gays, lesbians, transgendered and the occasional square display themselves to…(the tourists don’t come anymore)… each other, each trying to top.

Recently, the avenue has become a business story, the story of a business district fighting for its economic survival (staging a closed-street fair) to combat summer customer (student) flight.

The “Voice of the South Side,” Ted Friedman’s on-going feature, South Side Tales for Berkeley Times, will soon recount an almost Blakeian vision of what Teley is poised to become. Friedman has been touting the Teley fairs to Steed Dropout.

Some Call Teley Home. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Berkeley Reporter is planning at least two more fair pieces. The first week of the fair attracted
four TV reporters with video cams. We all interviewed each other on empty Teley streets. My report was brutally honest.

Berkeleyside, Berkeley’s leading screen (115,000 monthly readers), waited for the event to catch on, then published two excellent articles promoting the Telegraph fairs in a market with many neighborhoods to plug.

When Michael Chabon’s Novel, “Telegraph Avenue,” was reviewed world-wide, the avenue came along for the publicity ride. What is not generally known is that Chabon’s title is more famous than his book.

Always Love just off Telegraph. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Gunshot sounds on Teley recently made major media. All that was found were shell casings and many theories about what had happened. Was it a fraternity fall-out, bangers from Oakland? Berkeley Reporter, with its vast sources came up with an eyewitness to, possibly, the shooters fleeing the scene.

They were black. Had they been rebuffed at a frat-style party, Berkeley Reporter wondered on Facebook.

Teley Homey Bearing Cross for the Avenue in Nearby People's Park.
Photo by Ted Friedman.

Telegraph Avenue may not matter more than anything else, still it manages to matter to me, and to those TV assignment editors who sent their reporters to a non-event fair.

The cameras have not returned.

These views do not represent the publications in which my work appears. You know who you are.

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