The first time I really got a taste of the Telegraph scene was in the summer of 1982 when I moved back to Berkeley from Eureka. For 3 months I lived with my friend Duncan in his dusty little hotel room on the 4th floor of the Berkeley Inn. The famous poet Julia Vinograd lived down the hall. And all sorts of weird and interesting people lived there.
The Telegraph Avenue scene was like a little village back then. A town within a town. And people talked about “the Telegraph community” with a straight face. There was cheap rent all over the place (Duncan was paying $110 a month for his room). So you had all sorts of people living there. Bohemians, artists, writers, people working low-income jobs, welfare cases, street crazies, druggies, etc.
You’d go out on the Ave and you’d see the same people every day. Hanging out at the coffee shops and the street corners and Sproul Plaza. And I guess that’s what gave it it’s “community” feel. There was a guy who rented out a little office on Bancroft and published a regular Telegraph newsletter — I forget the name but the sub-title captured the flavor of the scene: “Struggle and giggle.” And my pal Duncan published a little magazine: TELE TIMES: Telegraph Avenue’s Tight Little Monthly. And people on the scene were constantly launching new and weird artistic ventures, utopian ventures, revolutionary ventures. You name it.
Just about every street vending spot was jammed with street vendors back then, from Dwight Way to the campus. Selling their colorful hippie-esque arts and crafts. And tourists would flock to the Ave specifically to get a taste of that.
Most of the street vendors are gone now. There’s just an ever-dwindling hand full of oldtimers.
And most of the places that made Telegraph Avenue special are long gone too. Cody’s Books. The Med. Fred’s Market. Mario’s. Comics and Comix. Cafe Innermezzo. Shambala Books. Universal Records. The Reprint Mint. Shakespeare Books. And, of course, the Berkeley Inn.
Nowadays the scene is mostly just made up of the ever-growing hordes of college students. And homeless people. Which doesn’t make for much of a scene. But that’s the way the cookie crumbled.
It’s hard to believe it was 35 years ago. 1982. But when I do the math I guess it’s so. And most of the people from back then — “the Telegraph people” — are long gone, too. Which makes me wonder why I’m still here. . . I guess I’m too dumb to figure out anywhere else to go.