Berkeley: A Red (Eye) Bullish After-Hours Cafe Med Blow-Out

by Steed Dropout
May 13, 2012


I arrived at the world-famous Cafe Mediterraneum on equally famous Telegraph Avenue before midnight for an event that could make Berzerkeley even more of a world-class berg — 24-hour attractions.

A videographer was there to record me, self-appointed greeter, kick off Berkeley’s first 24-hour business opening. As usual I was on assignment for the Berkeley Daily Planet, Berkeley’s link to back-in-the-day.

Our documentary soon devolved into an ersatz study of the “energy” drink Red Bull, which I had smuggled into the Med. The Med has an un-enforced no outside food/drink policy.

I hoped Red Bull would get me through the night, but was unfamiliar with its effects. After gulping two Red Bulls, I announced I was drunk on the non-alcoholic brew. Perhaps RB had interacted with the marijuana I had eaten.

12:01, and Med remains open all night, to test 24-hour permission. Photo by Ted Friedman.

The Med owner, Craig Becker, 59, showed up at 1:30 a.m., announcing sales were good. But when he left, after 2 a.m. — business trailed off. Becker couldn’t stay because, he said, he needed his sleep to “tame” Teley property owners, an organization over which he would preside later that morning.

Charles Goodman, who runs a tight ship from behind the counter, has to awaken a man who is sleeping.

I proclaim to Rosie at 2:30; “this is an historic event we will always remember: it’s a glimpse of our future.” He looks at me like I’m crazy, which he frequently does. He always has his own table, strewn with drawing materials.

Rosie is the acknowledged king of Telegraph artist-illustrators, who is headquartered at the Med.

Five students on the Mezzanine said they were in for the long-haul.

Students arrive for all-nighter. Photo by Ted Friedman.

3:30: internet audio of police beatings at a Chowchilla music festival, blared throughout the cafe.


3:33: Only 12 remain, but friendly conversation on mezzanine. Rosie’s boom box tuned to all Jazz, KCSM augments small mezz speakers. Crowd noise, juicers, grinders are silent. Big Band version of Early Sunrise rocks.

At 3:45 when ten SF Chronicles are delivered, I purchase one with the idea of reading the Chron hot off the presses, but never get a chance.

Alison, behind the counter, is singing.

A loud guy’s voice rises above the others. He’s stoked on the all-nighter, reminds him of Manhattan, only wishes it would be every day. He feels like he’s in the big city.

4: 00: Conversation on nocturnality vs diurnality, with student, Diego Lugas, who says he could switch. I couldn’t, I said, and wondered when I would nod out, but the Red Bull, I smuggled in pulls me through.

4:15: Joss, a veteran Medhead, leaves: “I like to get up at noon,” he boasts.

So would I but I’ve made this dumb-ass commitment, besides, maybe something will develop.(Joss returns at 5:50 saying he can’t sleep).

Loud voice asks me why Craig had advertised there would be tables; was that a big deal. Don’t tables come with the cafe?

I answer that only at 4 a.m. could you get a table at the Med these days.

One of the five die-hard students on the mezz leaves, proclaiming to the counter, “successful experiment; like a party with friends.”

Loud voice says Med needs a complete makeover. “The owner agrees,” I reveal; this is what Med old-timers fear. Loud voice is Yeshiah, his Jewish name. I say I don’t even know mine.

Ray, “the unofficial (homeless) mayor of Telegraph, waves from outside. He is in and out, as usual.

3:30 a.m. all-nighters dwindle. Abel, Alison, Med staff left. Rosie can be seen upstairs in hoody at 'his table,' left. Photo by Ted Friedman.


Loud voice tells me that happiness can be understood alternately as “big sky happiness versus chocolate ice-cream happiness (if you don’t get the chocolate you’re unhappy); your ability to flow, is so vast…cloud storms, hail — thunder.”

Jeshiah (aka Loud Voice), 47, plans to learn Spanish so he can work in education, or health-care, where Spanish is necessary; with Spanish emersion in Guatamala, he hopes to work his way off disability and rent a place.

“Don’t give up your disability until you are firmly employed,” I advise. A Medhead gave up his benefits, was subsequently fired and became homeless for eight years, at 57.

There seems to be a ruckus between Alison and a new customer, a regular from Hate Camp in the park. The Med is so close to People’s Park, you can see it clearly out the mezz restroom window.

The ruckus turns out to be Alison, behind the counter, loudly rehearsing a monologue. She has an audition when she gets off, and fears she she will not be at her best.

The new customer is really a regular, who knows me, but I can’t place. This happens a lot. He is Planet, 30-ish, and is dressed so stylishly in street-score, he could be a fashion model

Planet: “We’re all different, but people put dogma on each other, instead of being open to who people really are. I’ve been coming here for years; I feel welcome at the Med with its “culture of acceptance.”

“Did you say, culture of acceptance”? I agree, forgetting all the put-downs at the Med. Yeshia had rejected the term homeless, as I had rejected the term “on the streets,” thirty years ago.

I asked Planet about this. “Wherever I am is home to me,” he says. He talks about Chaos art and music. “My life is chaos,” he touts.

Allison to Abel, her co-worker, “wake up!”

She announces the closing of the kitchen at 5 a.m., but keeps cooking for her friends.

5:30: Lugas, the student, wonders why Becker failed to promote the all-nighter more aggressively. “The library is full, but there’s no coffee; this is a no-brainer alternative.”

Rosie leaves behind his art supplies, two backpacks, and his boom box.I see him walking his bicycle North. He does not return.

Alison sings ‘tomorrow, tomorrow I’ll love you tomorrow,” downstairs. is she thinking about her audition?

5:05: Planet and I swap blog sites: his is, amazing chaotic music and art, which I listen to for awhile. I get twenty-one on-line definitions of Chaos. Chaos is leading order.

4 a.m. 'Planet' dancing outside Med on a break. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Alison gives a minute and a half speech from Comedy of Errors. Her audition is in three hours.

6:05, KCSM: “I’m Going To Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter.” Big band blast, as I type a letter to myself about the all-nighter.


Planet picks up Alison’s theatricality and weighs in with a dramatic rendering of the Med menu. The comedian Steve Allen could do this.

As encore, he tells some jokes, which die. Something about a “pork rhinestone cowboy,” which no one gets.

6:15: Planet leaves, saying people don’t appreciate his jokes.

Allison wasn’t mad at Planet when she said, “I work what do you do?” but was reciting.

6:20: sunrise. KCSM, “softly as in a morning sunrise,” from ” Long Live The Night,” Desert Song.

Down to three students and Planet, one of whom sneezes on the mezz. Alison and I yell out “who sneezed?”

6:25: half hour from morning opening.

Planet: “you know the drill!” What’s he performing now? The drill is a hardware store electric cordless drill — $26.99; he does a pitch for it, in his best pitchman style.

Planet: “I’m leaving.” But he’s not.

I do Pirate’s Of Penzance, the scene where the constables boast (they’ll meet the foe) is met with scorn by the female chorus, who thinks they’re wimps.

6:33: Planet leaves for good, waving goodbye to me through the window.

“I am slowly going crazy, crazy going slowly, a palindrome song, Alison says.

6:45: I announce drama awards for the evening, giving high marks to Planet and Jeshiah, but Diego deserves some credit as does the student next to him who said she thought the students might have better been informed on the all-nighter.

Allison did my poached eggs twice.

6:48: still not reading Chronicle.

6:52: Alison, loud public yawn.

First customer at 6:59 and Julia is there to serve her, after arriving at 6:50 with her son and daughter.

7:00 sun reflected in yellow on Cody’s former business office facade. Three students on mezz were last three customers on the historic night shift.

7: 02: KCSM, “Something’s Coming,” from West Side Story

Now it was just another day at the Med, but something had changed.


Alison lost out at the audition. She said the nightshift had doomed her. Rosie returned to his table — it was undisturbed — at 10 a.m.

Planet returned to the Med, but seeing him was like seeing Toto back in Kansas. It just wasn’t the same.

Ted Friedman never read his Chronicle, and had trouble sleeping. He had stayed 10 hours, four hours off his personal best. But the all-nighter was a first.

Only something this “big” could keep Berkeley’s Voice of the South side up all night.

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