By Ginny Prior
IN A RECENT survey of out-of-town guests, a surprising attraction
came out on top. Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue was the No. 1 choice for
visitors staying at my house. As unofficial as this poll is, it
highlights the fact that some of the best things in life are free.
Odd, but free.
The four blocks of Telegraph between Dwight Way and Bancroft Avenue
are a fascinating social experiment. Both bizarre and bazaar, the
street is an open air market where people are as eclectic as the merchandise.
Incense and peppermints "... The perfumed smoke from thin sticks of
incense fills the air as ancient hippies hock their wares. A woman in
a long, flowing skirt sells braided hair ties. She has a dozen or
more in her own shoulder-length gray locks. She shares the sidewalk
with a Rasta man whose dreads tumble down his bare back to the
butterflies embroidered on his jean pockets. A colorful collection of
knit caps twists in the wind nearby.
Like the words to the '60s song "Alice's Restaurant," you really can
get anything you want. Buttons and bongs, papers and pipes, tie dye
and music and more. Karma and dharma and dogma and Tai Telegraph
Avenue is a candy shop of doctrines and disciplines.
Jesus is just all right with me "... It's dusk, and a small group of
Born Agains have staked out their spot on the sidewalk now. They have
Bibles and a megaphone and are ready to spread the word. On the next
corner are the Satanists, who have louder voices and use captivating
symbols like pentagrams and devil's horns. Both groups are vying for
the smattering of lost souls who call this street home the
sallow-skinned, matted-haired loners who sit on the cement with their
guitars and their dogs, sharing the occasional container of food or
Love the one you're with "... The Hare Krishna have arrived. You can
hear the happy clatter of their little finger cymbals and see flashes
of color as they dance and twirl. They stop periodically to embrace.
Anyone can share in this love fest. A small donation is gratefully accepted.
War, what is it good for? "... The street is just one big political
statement. Every curb has a chalk-written message. U.S. out of
Berkeley! UC out of People's Park! Free Leonard Peltier! Posters are
plastered on every window and street fixture, sounding the alarm
about global warming.
It's your thing, do what you want to do "... The mood is mostly
mellow, but every now and then a pack of skater dudes flies by. They
rumble down the pitted streets, helmetless and clueless to the
dangers of traffic and pedestrians. Urban urchins riding when they
should be home studying.
And then along comes Mary "... And everything changes. The hippies
and gypsies have packed up their wares and the preppies start coming
in waves, as if every frat house and dorm on Cal's campus has
emptied. Streams of students pour into the streets the boys in
their blue and yellow polo shirts and girls in cute sun dresses with
flip flops and pearls. They barely see the circus that surrounds
them. Yet, they are part of it.
And this is the point. Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue is a circus, where
everyone gets into the act. You're looking at them, they're looking
at you it's a kaleidoscope of eye candy.
This is why my guests want to come here. It's something they can't
get at home. And for an hour or two, a few times a year, I don't mind
being part of the show.