Berkeley Bowl regular remembered for his kindness

The makeshift memorial for Peter, who was a fixture outside the original Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley. Photo: Peter Moore

A makeshift memorial was erected on the sidewalk near the Berkeley Bowl on Oregon Street last week to mark the passing of Peter, also known as “Pee Wee,” a 78-year-old man who locals remember as being a fixture in that spot — a “sweet” man who invariably could be found sitting on a milk-crate with his nose in a mystery novel.

Berkeleyside reader Peter Moore, who shared the photo above, said Peter was always reading books, although ready to engage in conversation. “I’ll miss him,” he wrote.

Another reader, Paul Rauber, describes Pete as African-American with long dreads, and a cheerful and gentle demeanor. He routinely sold the Street Sheet outside Berkeley Bowl.

Peter was friends with many members of the surrounding community, according to Moore. A woman from San Francisco even traveled regularly across the bay to see him. People gave him their old books and shoes — sometimes even a new jacket, said Moore. “Peter was always incredibly grateful for the gifts and taken aback by the kindness of those who helped him.”

“When I was laid off last year [and offered him money] he told me, ‘You don’t have to give me this,’ said Moore. “But I told him I could afford it and that I knew he needed it. I know he brought joy to those who knew him.”

Thomas Finn, an employee at Berkeley Bowl for over nine years, said Peter never had a cross word for anyone. “He was just a soft-spoken gentleman,” he said. Finn mentioned that, like himself, Peter was from Chicago — a shared background they often discussed.

“Peter was a waiter at some of the best restaurants in the country,” said Finn, adding that Peter had traveled all around the country through his work.

Another Berkeley Bowl employee noted that Peter had been around Berkeley Bowl longer than she had worked there — more than 15 years.

According to Finn, Peter had a great relationship with most of the staff, and will be missed. “He was just an all-round nice guy,” he said.

One of the notes written on the memorial reads: “Peter — you made this block feel like home.”

Readers who have more information about Peter are encouraged to share it in the comments section below.

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  • guest

    What is truly tragic here is there was so much greater good he might have done.

    A wise and gentle spirit can teach children respect and kindness by example. A worldly man with a lifetime of experience can comfort the aged with shared memories of times past.

    If Berkeley had a real interest in street people, the funds would go to providing the Sweet Peas with opportunities more fitting their talent than sitting on a milk crate on the sidewalk.

  • FiatSlug

    And the shaming of Berkeley begins.

    Please, spare us the shaming of a single community because a man spent so much time sitting on a milk crate on a sidewalk.

    Why is it Berkeley’s responsibility to fix the world? What about other communities in the Bay Area? How about Northern California? California? the United States? the nations of North America? the “Western” world?

    I get that there are injustices and tragedies in this world. There always have been and will be ever as long as humans struggle for food, shelter, clothing, and basic dignity.

    The best any of us can do is take care of our community, not try to take on the homeless problem for the entire state to say nothing of the United States.

    Please, stop trying to shame Berkeley for something that isn’t endemic to Berkeley alone. Berkeley does more than most other communities.

  • Tizzielish

    I don’t think guest’s comment was shaming of Berkeley. It was practical and realistic. The world is moving more and more towards local solutions. If Berkeley worked to better resolve its homeless issues, who knows, it might become a beacon to inspire other communities to do the ssme. Solving human need at the local level is coming. you even advocate for it later in your inconsistent comment.

    There need be no struggle for food, shelter, clothing and dignity. This earth provides enough for all. We have an economic system based on magical thinkingz; the magicsl thinking is that free market capitalim ill solve all problems and the free market system ignores the proviso in most religion to care for all, including the poor.

    Pee Wee was a local resident and resolution of his challenges should come from his community, which happened to be Berkeley. Berkeley let him down.”
    You say “the best any of us csn do is to take care of our community” and yet you whine tht Berkeley is not responsible for all the injustices and tragedies in the world. your comment is intrinsicially inconsistent, even incoherent.

  • The_Sharkey

    But Berkeley’s homeless often aren’t a local problem, so local solutions won’t work.
    People come here from across the country to sleep on our sidewalks and live on our streets.

    If anyone is guilty of “magical thinking” here, it’s people like you who seem to think that lil’ ol’ Berkeley can (or should) be stuck caring for vagrants from all up and down the west coast and beyond, and who think that offering more handouts will solve that problem rather than make it worse.

  • The_Sharkey

    Are homeless folk barred from volunteering at community centers?
    I wouldn’t think so, but I’m not sure. Maybe you need a mailing address to sign up to volunteer.

  • Biker 94703

    Peter used to read at a nice bench set against the azaleas by the flagpole on the corner of Old City Hall at Alston and MLK. The City took out this bench and I’d always wondered where he went.

  • FiatSlug

    Put on your thinking cap, Tizzielish.

    guest was indeed intent on shaming Berkeley. guest’s comment included the phrase, “If Berkeley had a real interest in street people…” That’s an intent to shame as if to say that Berkeley has little or no interest in solving the homeless problem nor in finding a greater use of a human being’s talents. I see nothing practical or realistic in guest’s comments that suggest a solution or an approach to solving Berkeley’s homeless problem.

    My comment is perfectly consistent when you realize that I’m advocating that Berkeley not offer benefits and services greater than neighboring communities. In fact, all Bay Area governments should research and explore what is the appropriate government response to homelessness. And whatever that response is should be a shared response with appropriate sharing of the burden.

    Surely, Berkeley is a caring community. But are we doing more harm than good if folks cannot move on to productive lives because of Berkeley’s response? When a community makes it possible to get by with even less than the bare minimum of effort, it also removes any incentive for a human being to better their circumstances. It’s no wonder that Berkeley has a homeless problem: Berkeley encourages its homeless problem.

  • Bill N

    Your second paragraph is right on target. Berkeley can’t solve this alone and never will. It will take a regional or statewide solution. Of course when you read that Nevada was (is?) paying released mentally ill folks to come to California (and getting sued for it by those very ex-patients) you wonder if anything will work.

  • guest

    To FatSlug et al:

    Amplifying on my prior post, including the statement “…If Berkeley had a real interest in street people…”
    Defining terms:
    ‘Berkeley’ is used in a collective sense – the population, not the city government.
    ‘Funds’ is used in a general sense – from spare change to city funded programs
    ‘a real interest’ – action that results in positive change.

    l. The ‘shaming’ Berkeley deserves most, is for making the Sweet Peas pets. Tossing them a dollar for a grin and a feel good moment, while feigning familiarity, even friendship – that is a sham deserving of shaming. It’d be more honest if we told them to roll over and sit up for the buck. With that self-serving gesture, WE addict the Sweet Peas to the streets and milk crates. Begging enslaves a man. Everyone with quarters is massa.

    What is the penalty for baiting this trap? You may not be there when the jaws spring and snap off a leg (or worse, they are caught and gnaw on their own flesh hoping to free themselves) but YOU baited the trap with you dollar bill and friendly smile. I hope YOU do a year in HELL for every dollar you’ve used for YOUR benefit (“I’m caring, see… here’s a buck”) to entrap them.

    Step 1 in having ‘a real interest’ is never giving the Sweet Peas (or anyone on the street) a single cent. Why can’t give up this dirty guilty pleasure? Can’t we base our sense of humanity on something more useful, more real, than this soul-killing practice of giving money on the street?

    ll. The antidote to the effects of street begging (self loathing, hopelessness) is working. Step 2 in having ‘a real interest’ in Sweet Peas and others is attaching the requirement to participate in civic works for any aid provided.

    Recently on Bside when the notion of a work/stay arrangement for the a summer youth shelter (4hr.s/day litter and graffiti clean up = bed, shower locker) cries of “work house” and “debtor’s prison” were raised. That perspective; that a free ride is the only way, is fatally toxic. It must be abolished now.

    No matter how drunk or drug dependent your are, you can voluntarily enter detox – or not a dime from us.

    No matter how infirm you may be, there are tasks of value you can perform and derive self worth from – or not a dime from us.

    End the enslavement of the unfortunate, kept slaves so we might feel generous, good and kind… while killing them.

  • Chris J

    By simple extension, simply say that ‘guest’ cares about blaming the city of Berkeley…which is easier than saying that he or she doesn’t care.

    There is so much injustice in this world and hopefully, many of us, in some small limited way might have done something to alleviate the confitions we encounter or read about daily. I think the city, as a political entity, ‘cares’ to the degree that its aggregate representatives and its constituency care, and that varies. So being pissy and judgmental about the ‘city’s’ aid to the poor is not a help.