I just ran into Roberto at the pateo of the Golden Bear restaurant on the Berkeley campus. I said to him: “I was just thinking about how you guys used to play cards here every day at the tables back in the day.”
“Yeah,” said Roberto. “I was just thinking about that, too. And it made me feel homesick. If that’s the right word.”
I think he meant “nostalgic.” But actually, maybe “homesick” was a better word to describe it. For this was our home back then. And the tables were like our living room.
It used to be Roberto and about four or five other people, every day. Jaguar, Butch, Teddy, Asshole John. . . Quietly playing cards and smoking cigarettes and discreetly smoking pot (this was another era, the 1990s, where you could legally smoke cigarettes in public but you couldn’t legally smoke pot, now it’s the other way around). The card-players were like a quieter satellite to the more rowdy Hate Camp street people who hung out nearby on Sproul Plaza.
There was more intermingling between the street scene and the college student scene back then. We were accepted as part of the woodworks. The tapestry that made Berkeley what it was. And unless you were looking really hard, you wouldn’t even notice this table full of older men hanging out every day among the tables full of college students.
Roberto is about ten years older than me, in his 70s now. But even back then, even though he was a street person, he always carried himself with this dignified air of an elder gentlemen of leisure.
When I pass Roberto nowadays, he’s usually alone, sitting somewhere with his head down reading a newspaper, a cigarette dangling from his lips. And when I pass him, I’m always alone, too, making my rounds from nowhere to nowhere. We’re among the very last few people from the Telegraph street scene back in the day who are still here all these decades later. And when we look at each other, I can tell what we’re both thinking: “Remember when we were in the middle of this wild, crazy scene, surrounded by all these people, all these characters?”
And: “What happened?”