OpinionOpinion

How I learned to love Telegraph’s street kids

As the Lerner and Loewe song goes, “I have often walked on this street before,” and now as a Berkeley reporter.

Often is 36,960 times, or up to three times a day for 35 years, and the street is Telegraph Avenue, above Dwight to Bancroft, in Berkeley’s scary south side. I live two blocks from the start of the Teley stroll.

Before the 70s, before the sexual revolution, and the drug revolution, and all the evolutions, Telegraph was a hippy sideshow, featuring dogs and toddlers, free to roam. Today it resembles scenes from Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” After an armed robbery in People’s Park recently, I began carrying pepper spray, for crooks, and a knife for attacking pit bulls, after surviving several leash-straining scares.

Although my friends who live on the south side and tread the same paths are less armed than me, they say they wouldn’t live anywhere else. I’ve lived all over town, but the south side adrenaline rush…rocks.

Hofbrau and high brow-emporiums like long-gone Fraziers, a locksmith, a filling station, cinemas, and the Gap have given way to cheap Sushi, cheap ice-cream sandwiches, cornflakes, and toast.

What’s next? Pickles and sauerkraut? It could be called Mr. Picklehead. For meatballs: Swede’s Meats.

By the 80s, Telegraph had turned the corner to down, and some of my friend’s moved to Santa Cruz, which does a better job of being Berkeley when it was mellow. But for those of us left behind, life on Teley became a quarter century of survival techniques.

My latest coping strategy beats any arsenal (excuse me while I grab my Uzzi.) I have gotten to know the kids being targeted by Proposition S (the sitting ban on business sidewalks,) and I have grown to love the kids, their dogs, and, just as I admired hippies with rolled blankets secured by rope in the 70s — I have stopped worrying and learned to love them.

It took a little gregarious outreach, but I have developed a nodding acquaintance and their hard-won respect. I’ve done it with tough love and forbearance.

If you’d rather just get rid of them, rather than making any self-adjustments…fine. But my numerous interviews with them in recent years have convinced me they’re not going away, whether they sit down or whether they stand up, as most of them are willing to do, just for the price of admission to what they consider the best crash pad on the road — great free food, and rooms as big as all outdoors.

I have described, in print, Berkeley’s south side as a “Hilton to the Homeless.”

Telegraph business leader Craig Becker, argues in his tightly, if poorly reasoned Prop. S support letter, that the pesky kids can be moved out.

But for 40 years here on the south side we have seen police crackdowns on smoking (now up in smoke) and other crackdowns come and go, as political winds shift at City Hall. Bottom line: police tactics come from city-wide crime enforcement needs, shift by shift.

Last year we saw a drunken, brawling scene develop at city-installed benches outside Raleigh’s on Teley. The scene, and the problems continued for weeks, until blood was drawn. The cop, who arrived late, said that “guns come before fists.” Cops were busy elsewhere with armed robberies.

While we all would like to think we might awaken the morning after Measure S passes to cleared Teley sidewalks, and appalling pleasantries, we know it isn’t so.

But “Wouldn’t it be Loverly?”

Ted Friedman, a reporter at the Berkeley Daily Planet, writes a blog at berkeleyreporter.com.