Berkeley Drop Out City
by Steed Dropout
Aug. 13, 2013
WHICH CAME FIRST, DROPOUTS OR BERKELEY?
How many dropouts do I know on Berkeley’s South Side?
More than fifty, but they’re the visible ones — open about their lives. Others around town may be more secretive, but I can usually spot them.
When you carry cast-off books (Berkeley’s awash in them, the literary detritus of our times), use them as props in a coffee house, then leave them behind for the props department — you’ve been made.
Or when you make a beverage out of coffee, milk, and sugar.
Or If you hang out in record stores, bookshops, and retail stores and never buy anything.
I’ve just described my homeless, then drop-out years from the late Seventies.
My favorite hangout was Hink’s Department Store, long gone. I associated it with more pleasant times and I could hang out there with my little girl.
Hink’s had this great wood floor. It wasn’t faux. It reminded me of the J.C. Penny’s in my hometown.
When Hink’s closed, J.C. Penny opened down the street and became the next best hangout.
I used the Caffe Mediterraneum on Telegraph as my straight-backed living room. Books were free or cheap. Some drop outs were also chess bums, who hung out at the student union for years until ousted to a coffee shop.
THERE ARE DROPOUTS AND THEN….
There are dropouts and there are dropouts. How far dropped out do you want to be?
Drugs and alcohol drop you real good.
Estranged from family and past?
Reduced to an animal existence? We’ve seen that.
Out of touch with reality? We see that often and daily.
I know quite a few stylish dropouts and some who love their lives dearly. Several of my drop out friends can’t bear to be housed.
Last year, on X-Mas Eve with the homeless outside the Med for a Daily Planet feature, I overheard, “I hate you. You discovered this life eight years before I did.”
I asked another kid why he was on the streets. “Frankly,” he acknowledged, “I’m anti-social. I was in trouble all during school.”
“So am I [anti-social],” I sympathized.
From that moment, I began to see our young tramps as brothers and sisters.
THE NEW DROPOUTS
While young, they might as well enjoy themselves. Unemployable, they have absolutely no futures; they’re fancy free.
One homeless youth I got to know, told me he just had to leave town. “I have to be on the move,” he said.
Another, took off in her van for Santa Cruz.
When one of my vagabond friends needed to get away from his girl, he just moved his rig.
Housing they don’t want is unavailable, as are future prospects. But Berkeley’s homeless are well (for free) fed. As one young guy from Portland told me, “The food is so good,” I’ve gained weight.
Lockers available back in the day have been long-removed. That’s why South Side streets have often been jammed with traveling gear and accumulated junk.
Recently, I checked the availability of my former homeless camp from thirty years ago.
The camp abides.
The views here do not represent the views of any publication in which my work appears.