RIDING UP TELEGRAPH on the first day of spring, I was lost in a revenge daydream. My enemies were crowding onto a tiny boat bound for the South Seas–but just as I was leading the pink unicycle guy down the plank to join them, something jolted me out of my reverie. It was the insistent, incessant cry of a street hawker. I glanced around, expecting to find the faux biker who passed out fliers and ogled women on Telegraph throughout the Eighties, who quite recently returned from his two decade-long ride looking like he’d stopped along the way at the kind of rest areas where one spends years at a time. Much to my surprise, in place of the biker was a pair of young punks who’d commandeered his corner to peddle copies of Coupons, the newest fanzine in town. My heart was warmed by the sight: teams of dirty miscreants street-selling underground mags on the Ave., something rarely seen in Berkeley since the heady days of the Barb and Tribe. I hit the brakes, but they were none too effective, and three co-eds and the Joke Guy were forced to scatter as my rusty steed and I went careening over the curb. Coupons, however, proved well worth the crash. The rants of co-editors Hella Bekka and Rugrat acted as a soothing salve for my wounds, bringing comfort and inspiration that made me forget my physical pain. Do yourself a favor and find them on the corner, buy your own copy, and see if you feel the same. Comparisons to other new and mighty mags about town are not to be made lightly, but in this case “Asscactus with politics” is no idle boast.
MEANWHILE, the local mainstream media is a mess. The Daily Cal, not daily in ages, failed to bring out their annual April Fools edition, the only copy all year worth picking up. Instead, the Eastbay Express stole the idea, but the result was an even less laughable version of their already unreadable rag. Hopes that the recent employee takeover would make the Express a decent paper have been dashed. The Oakland Tribune also continues to limp along towards extinction, with a major merger the only real chance to save it. The question on everyone’s minds is: if the Trib weds the San Francisco Chronicle, can it keep its first name? Like the Raiders and the A’s, without the “Oakland” it just wouldn’t be the same. Oakland Chronicle, anybody? With that on the masthead of the Bay Area’s main news source, S.F. would finally have to acknowledge the cultural hegemony of the Eastbay. Yeah baby, who brought you the Black Panthers, Philip K. Dick, riots, Blatz, Sheila E., Too Short, and Fang? Without Oakland and Berkeley, the Bay Area would have just been Ferlinghetti, the Grateful Dead, and Herb Caen.
RUMOR HAS IT that DeLauer’s new owners are considering trimming the newsstand’s beloved all-night hours; also that Black Oak Books may soon be moving downtown. Somewhat more certain is the relocation of Semifreddi’s Bakery, displaced from their longtime Emeryville digs by a land grab by Pixar Studios, the giant corporation next door. Semifreddi’s plans to resettle in an offshore retirement community moored ten miles south. Their departure to Alameda will leave E-ville with not one redeeming feature, and their dumpster (literally the breadbasket of the Eastbay) will be sorely missed.
THE OAKLANDER IN ME: I took my date for an after-dinner drink at Colonial Donuts, the jewel in Lake Merritt’s necklace of lights. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven–who should we run into there but the Avengers, Bay Area punk legends! Penelope & co. sat there idling after their show at the Uptown, looking as cool as ever, and didn’t even kill us when we joined them uninvited. Thirty years of waiting in all-night dives for just such a chance meeting had finally paid off! The conversation was sparkling, with band members offering up opinions on German cultural mores, among other things. Then came the moment I’d been dreaming of my whole life: the queen of punk turned to me with a burning look in her eyes. “You of all people would know,” she purred. “Foot, where the fuck can we find food in this town after two A.M.?” Beaming with pride–but careful not to make eyes–I gave her the answer. Silly Avengers, everyone knows Chinatown is the place to go! Several restaurants there stay open till three, but Fortune at Ninth and Webster is by far the best, with reasonable prices and a staff that doesn’t care what you look like, smell like, or do. Rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, old school and new–all are equal in the eyes of Fortune, unlike anywhere else in the world. Heeding my advice, the former art school idols departed, leaving the two of us alone in the post-show Colonial glow, feeling both glazed and old-fashioned, with nothing left to hope for but a visit from the Dils.
THE TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY of the closing of UC Berkeley housing co-operative Barrington Hall is coming up in October, and discussions about what refreshments to serve at the celebration are already rekindling old divisions among former residents. Those from the second floor suggest their traditional LSD-laden punch. Third floor denizens vote for speed, while fourth floor veterans are nostalgic for the long lost lady of their youth, heroin. Old habits are hard to break. Entertainment is also an issue: an Idiot Flesh reunion or Deadly Reign? Joking aside, Barrington was the cradle from which much of the Eastbay’s present counterculture came, including the paper you’re holding now. It was a beautiful and volatile place, a factory for turning college freshmen into wingnut freaks. Drugs were undeniably a part of the mix, but so was every kind of art, activism, and sex. The anniversary celebrations–whatever form they take–should not be missed.
SIGN OF THE TIMES: On a recent trip to the neighborhood where I was raised, I was sad to see a “for sale” sign on the house on the corner, home to the only Black family on the block. Growing up, I’d known the parents and played with the kids, and my family faced some of the same problems that theirs did. The kids ended up with drug habits and jail time–as did my brother and I. But their options were not as bright and their lawyers not as good as ours; their family fell upon hard times. When their parents died, their house fell into disrepair, making them even more conspicuous in an area that grew increasingly affluent. Ours was a relatively diverse block, with two Asian families, one Indian, and two Jewish–but that didn’t change the fact that it was overwhelmingly White. And not just our block, but the whole neighborhood. Despite Berkeley’s boasts of multiculturalism, the city remained badly segregated, with the 30% Black population living almost entirely south of Gilman Street and west of MLK. In fact, I knew of not one other Black family in all of North Berkeley. Now, not even one. I’m sad to see them go, and see my old stomping grounds get less diverse and less home-like every year, one sign at a time.
FOOTNOTES: What local market has an abandoned upstairs that has been turned into a squat? Foot sources say it just may be under the same roof where Berkeley’s most famous innocent bystander was shot…510-BAD-SMUT, the hotline for local events of interest, is back up and running. Call for info on the latest lectures, protests, and under-the-radar gigs, or to leave news of your own…Rod’s Hickory Pit, “Where the elite meet to eat meat,” remains a boarded up shell on the hill by the graveyard, but Layonna Vegetarian, Chinatown’s fake meat outlet, remains a thriving Mecca (and cheap!). A contest for a counter-slogan seems in order…Wind chimes have been mounted on North Berkeley telephone poles, and interactive art on the lampposts of North Oakland, but in the downtown area of both cities the dead trees bear no leaves. A free Slingshot subscription is offered to anyone seeking to remedy this problem who gets caught (free to prisoners, we shall always be).
Got a tip for the Foot? Leave it on the Bank of America building, in dripping red paint.