Wandering the West
February 2, 2010
Those of us of a certain age well remember the decade that changed America. Not every generation has such a transforming era as we boomers had in the ’60s (which lasted well into the ’70s as well). Despite what ’60s icon Judy Collins says in her concerts before she sings a ’60s anthem, "If you remember the ’60s, you weren’t really there," I remember it like yesterday. I can still smell the tear gas and see the National Guard troops marching to clear out antiwar protesters on my campus Denver University in 1968 and ’69.
the mid ’70s, Nixon had been driven from office and the Vietnam War the catalyst of the student movement sputtered to an end. The ’60s generation grew up, became responsible, married and got jobs. But the idealism, the desire to change the world continued and the world is a better place for those tumultuous years.
Back then, Berkeley, California, was the epicenter of first the free-speech movement and then the antiwar movement. Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead were playing the local venues, and hippies were, as they say, turning on and dropping out. I missed all that, but started visiting Berkeley when my daughter became a Cal student in 2003. I was instantly charmed. Such a contrast, between Nobel Prize winners whose faces stare down from lamppost banners downtown to dreadlocked jewelry makers hawking peace-symbol necklaces from blankets spread out on sidewalks. Mix in two of the best music stores on the planet, great cultural opportunities, PAC 10 football, cutting-edge cuisine and a now-peaceful campus and you’ve got a great city.
I dropped in last week for old-time’s sake, and made a beeline for Telegraph Avenue. The ’60s never ended here. You can still buy tie-dyed T-shirts and peace jewelry from sidewalk peddlers, or drop into Moe’s for new or used books on obscure eastern religions or virtually any other subject, and especially shop for music. At the corner of Telegraph and Haste, stop by Amoeba Music, billing itself as the world’s largest independent music store. Amoeba buys and sells CDs and DVDs, as well as stocking an eclectic blend of new music from all continents. My best find was a double CD of Grateful Dead tunes for $4.99.
If you love music and movies, you may spend hours in Amoeba. But when you finally walk out, take a right up Haste to walk through People’s Park. This park was once slated for construction of University of California dormitories, but 30,000 anti-development protestors of the era faced off against 2,000 National Guardsmen ordered in by Governor Ronald Reagan. The standoff finally ended after much tear gas and rock throwing, and the dorms were never built. People’s Park today is a homeless camp. It is open space and very historic, but about as inviting as Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park.
Back on Telegraph, another block away from campus, Rasputin Music, a virtual clone of Amoeba, dominates the next corner. Some prefer Rasputin. I like them both, but tilt toward Amoeba. The tattooed, pierced, purple-haired staff knows everything about recorded music, and where in the vast inventory to find it.
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Telegraph peters out into more conventional businesses after four blocks, so it’s time to explore the Cal campus. Telegraph dead ends at Sproul Plaza, the most famous gateway to the flagship campus of the University of California system. The free-speech movement began here, where protestors sat in to protest a university edict to keep their radical thoughts off campus. Close your eyes and imagine tens of thousands of protestors here listening to Joan Baez sing "We Shall Overcome."
Cal is a beautiful campus to walk. Pretty soon you’ll notice a pattern. Just as many of the University of Utah’s buildings are named after the Eccles family, in Berkeley many buildings bear the name Hearst. George Hearst made a fortune as owner of the Ontario Mine in Park City. He took his money home to California and spent it building the Cal campus, leaving Park City with toxic mine tailings and ruins. Thanks, George!
A nice hilly campus walk can work up an appetite. Head to Shattuck Avenue between the 1400 and 1700 blocks to Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. As the campus specializes in cutting-edge thought, the Gourmet Ghetto serves cutting-edge cuisine. Alice Water’s Chez Panisse at 1517 Shattuck is the where California Cuisine was invented as iconic chef Alice championed fresh, locally grown, organic ingredients. For serious foodies, this stretch of Shattuck is the Holy Grail.
Load some Dead on your i-Pod, slip on a tie-dyed peace T-shirt, dangle a few chains around your neck and relive hippie nostalgia in the cradle of the ’60s.
Free-lance writer Larry Warren has been wandering the West covering news stories for television and magazines since he landed in Utah in the mid-1970s. In this column he writes about the favorite places he goes back to when he can.
Insider tip: On a nice day, get some Gourmet Ghetto to go and picnic at Berkeley Marina with views across the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge