Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue for Dummies

by Steed Dropout
May 4, 2012


Berkeley’s Telegraph for dummies, and I’m the #1 dummy.

Recently dubbed the voice of Berkeley’s South-side by a well-known Teley property and business owner, I should have figured out what was ailing Telegraph’s troubled, famous Avenue by now. I’ve had a good thirty-five years to figure it out.

I remember the day, back in the Eighties, when Joji Yokoi, an artisan working out of an historic cottage near the Cafe Mediterraneum, announced in the Med that Teley was about to become a shopping mall.

Even then it was clear the avenue had lost its Sixties and Seventies hippy flavor. A close friend moved to Santa Cruz which still had that charm. I considered a move to Santa Cruz but called it off when I discovered that the sleepy little beach town and surfer center tucked itself in at 9 p.m.

That was then.

Now Teley businessmen tell me that they rarely see tourists drawn to
Telegraph. Old Teley is mostly gone and so are the tourists. Boobs from the burbs, who descend on the avenue on the weekends aren’t tourists. The boobs will always come.

I stand at the wind-whipped intersection of Dwight and Teley in front of Shakespeare’s books, which is named after the famous Paris bookstore owned by Gertrude Stein (and resembles it) as the mellifluous multitude of words of Al Geyer drown me.

Geyer, owner of a 1969 head shop up the street that is a living museum of the Sixties is telling me how and why the Ave may go mall. To make his point he takes me across the street to a new business — the Sock Shop. I had been there recently interviewing the clerks and welcoming them to the neighborhood.

Al Geyer outside Annapurna head shop on Telegraph, founded 1969.
Photo by Ted Friedman.

Teley clerks are Berkeley’s unsung ambassadors, confidants of garrulous or lonely locals, who pop in and out of their stores with their patter, and the clerks who aren’t even Berkeleyans, seem willing enough to interact. Many friendships develop this way.

I had joked with the clerks about Saturday Night Live’s Seventies skit — Scotch Tape Boutique, which satirized such single product shops. The Sock Shop, an upscale socks shop with classy stores in classy malls is scotch-tapey.

Al was saying that Shark’s, a funky vintage clothes store where the Sock-Shop is, may have been forced out by the property owner, who raised the rent.

The owner had restored the historic building housing Sock Shop and it looked great, as did his classy Peets next door, also in an upgraded building that had formerly housed a funky copy shop.

Teley once was so funky that funk was Berkeley’s middle-name. You couldn’t read a major media piece about Berkeley without getting funked.

Day on the Ave. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Funk is losing out to fab.

Stay tuned to Berkeley Reporter, as our Voice of the South-side correspondent hips you to Teley so you won’t be a dummy.


Did you know there are hundreds, possibly thousands of People’s Parks around the world, all so named? But how many of them have you heard of?

Berkeley’s internationally famous people’s park turned forty-three Sunday and it made me feel forty-three, or three decades younger.

As usual I almost missed it, although I live a hop skip and a jump from the park. Running Wolf, tree-sit maven, who is running for mayor, called with a reminder, or was it for a free coffee at the Med? RW reminded me that the park would soon be bull-dozed into a parking lot by its owner, U.C. Berkeley.

Although there is no supporting evidence, other than the park’s bloody Sixties history to support what seems paranoid at worst or a cynical mindset to enflame park activists at best — park volunteers-activists religiously affirm the bulldozing scenario.

Volunteers community garden last year in People's Park. Historic park pergola shown here was destroyed when grounds keepers bull-dozed portions of the park in December.
Photo by Ted Friedman.

When the university recently rolled into the park with a bulldozer and destroyed some tiny crab-apple trees, vines, cacti, shrubs, and leveled historic berms below which rested-in-peace asphalt torn up by rioters in the battle for People’s Park, 1969 — the whole cockamamy “they’re coming back to take the park” plot was strengthened.

After covering four failed recent tree sits in the park and filing many park stories, I’m approaching burn-out, as are many of the activists themselves. The editor-in-chief of my rag, the Berkeley Daily Planet, recently compared the park scene with the movie Groundhog Day, 1993, in which the same day is re-played for two hours until you can’t take anymore.

She wrote we were being driven groundhog day mad by the park.

So that’s what’s wrong with me, I thought.

I tried several gimmicks to recuse myself — “the voice of the South-side” — from covering People’s Park’s 43rd anniversary. Anniversary stories are hard to keep fresh.

Did I succeed?

I warmed up for my park challenge with a call to my favorite park activist, a beautiful young song-writing blonde, with the singing voice of an angel. I had just lucked on to her phone number.

Right off, I confessed that my park slant would probably lead to my usual scornful prose. “I like your writing,” she said. Thus started my People’s Park transformation. You read me, I lose my objectivity. You praise me, I’m putty in your hands.

The bombshell had taken time from her busy career to investigate the university’s plans for the park, through freedom of information info she has offered to share with me.

A spokeswoman for the university recently answered my park plans query with, “what university?” That’s how far I’ve gotten.


A leading Telegraph Avenue businessman stumbled during a recent interview with me, when he innocently noted that when he arrived here in the Sixties the park was a parking lot that brought shoppers to Teley.

“Don’t quote me on that,” he fretted. “Someone might get the wrong idea.”

Park activists are way ahead of the businessman.

Routine groundskeeping in People's Park arouse fears of university encroachments. Photo by Ted Friedman.

I think the park activists have been driven mad by their incessant park-doomed fantasies, and could see myself working up to a scathing park anniversary story. The blonde angel changed my slant and I told her so.

Then I headed for the park to do my love-fest piece.

Reporters, especially events reporters often have nothing more than their slants to sustain them. I had just assigned my slant to someone else. What can I say, except that I am now accepting guest-slants. My own slant is sinking me.

Hate Man, 75, a homeless for decades Diogenes, who was a front-page reporter for the New York Times in the Sixties says this on slant. “My story, my slant, fuck-you.”

That worked for me a few times. Now it’s my story, your slant, I love you dearly.

Stay tuned to Berkeley Reporter for our latest People’s Park slant.

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