Haste and Telegraph, 1970 by
100
(125 Stories)

Prompted By Favors

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Allison and I were trudging through the flats south of the Berkeley campus looking for a place to live.  The sidewalks reflected an enervating heat, and most students were gone.  The charmless modern stucco apartment buildings that catered to them were all too expensive—over $220 a month. As we worked our way up Haste Street, we reached a slightly older building with a summer sublet–furnished one-bedroom with 2 murphy beds for only $180.  We jumped on it.

Telegraph Avenue.  Wonderful!  Full of cheap eats, head shops, bookstores, hippies and students and life. 

When we exited the building with lease in hand, we turned left and discovered that we were steps away from the next cross street—Telegraph Avenue.  Wonderful!  Full of cheap eats, head shops, bookstores, hippies and students and life.  When I told my friend Barbara, at whose parents’ house I had been crashing up in the Berkeley Hills, she was less enthusiastic.  I hope you don’t mind tear gas, she said. That was the epicenter of the People’s Park protests, including the fatal shooting of James Rector by police the previous year.

Undeterred, we moved in.   Allison and I had known each other since we were in grade school and had coincidentally both left college after our sophomore years.  Neither had a plan, but it was 1970, everything was in flux and we had run off to California.  We also didn’t have much money, so we scrimped by on the $2-a-week food conspiracy box and became very creative with potatoes. We needed jobs.

Our apartment building included the La Fiesta restaurant right on the corner of Telegraph—smelled wonderful but was too expensive for me.  Next to that was the Garden Spot mom and pop grocery–also referred to as the Garbage Spot for being so unkempt.  And next to that was Tijuana Taco. The new manager there was a young guy named Mike, who hired me for $1.65 an hour to run the cash register and counter, make tacos and burritos, bus tables and share duties with a few other staff.  Mike came in early to cook up the pinto beans in the pressure cooker and oversee the food prep for the day.  The work wasn’t too hard, and it was only busy around lunch hour.  We got to know some of the regular customers, who might ask for extra beans on their tortillas or just a little more filling;  I always obliged. There were a few young men hanging around the grocery who sometimes bought a burrito, and we got to recognize them too.  Little Mike (not to be confused with my boss) was often being chased away by the Garbage Spot owners.

Telegraph was a great street for people-watching. There were a few students, lots of young people with long hair and varied political persuasions, and a variety of sketchy characters of the drug world. It was easy to meet people and we did, from all those categories.  Diagonally across from us on Haste, people were working on a mural telling the story of People’s Park and invited passers-by to help out, so we did that too. Fall came and we managed to cough up another $15 a month so we could stay on in our apartment.

We became a loose part of the haphazard little community living near Haste and Telegraph, vaguely united by youth and dislike of authority. People came and went at our place.  I had a boyfriend. Mike lived in the apartment building next to ours and would sometimes invite staff there to share a joint with him after work.  Maybe on break. People used to hang out on the stoop of the house next to that, a young woman in hippie garb offering Tarot readings.  I think mine came up with the prince of cups, and she told me I would never want for money.  That seemed unlikely.

One day I was behind the counter at Tijuana Taco and Little Mike came running in.  We recognized each other as denizens of the block.  He didn’t want a burrito.  He breathlessly looked me in the eye and implored—Can you take this?  I’ll be back!–and then ran out of the store.  For a moment, I looked at the envelope that had been thrust on the counter, then quietly slipped it behind the cash register as a favor to the street.

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Characterizations: funny, moving, well written

Comments

  1. Thanx Khati for a peak into yet another chapter in your life-book!

    I don’t dare ask what Little Mike did for the contents of that envelope, but surely the statute of limitations has long run out since your time living on Telegraph Ave!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Wonderful, vivid story-telling, Khati. As Dana said, yet another chapter in your lively life. And even you don’t know how big a favor you did for Little Mike. We are all in suspense, but we can use our imaginations…

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thanks Betsy, glad you enjoyed the story. I deliberately left it unresolved at the end so imagination could take it from there–including my own as I remembered that little interlude. Retrospect gives us the opportunity to meander back into old pathways that have been unvisited for a very long time.

  3. Hey, this story came just in time for the demise of People’s Park. I recall walking past it in awe some months after the battles there–although it was dishonored by the big fence that UC BerKeley had placed around it,.
    I am quite mystified by the ending: you put the envelope aside “as a favor to the street.” By street, I infer “the community of people at Haste & Telegraph,.” By “favor,” it implies that the people would be in trouble if it was known what was in the envelope? So keeping it hidden away, secret, was somehow protecting people? I’m just not sure where to go with it. But I realize you told as as much as you wished, so no obligation to elaborate further.
    As an aside, my favorite sentence in the whole piece (I love a short sentence with a punch) was, “Maybe on break.” In other words, people weren’t just toking up with the boss outside work hours but even during work hours. Just sneaked it in there!
    P.S. Do you remember that we ran into each other at some point in Berkeley around that time? I was in CA (and up to Seattle and down to LA etc.) from Jan. through April 1971.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      That enigmatic ending was indeed, what you surmised—I felt some obligation to support my fellow denizens but didn’t really want to know the details of what Little Mike was up to. “No good” was probably correct. None of us was entirely within the bounds of “good” however. Have to admit that I don’t remember your visit to Berkeley (wish I did!)—lost along with so much in the fog of memory lapses—but we were definitely both there in the spring of 1971!

  4. Jim Willis says:

    Loved your Berkeley story, Khati. It reminded me of the week I spent there during spring break from the University of Oklahoma. With the exception of Broadway in NYC, I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that made me feel so alive as Telegraph Avenue in the late 1960s!

  5. Dave Ventre says:

    This tale makes me feel, again, like I was born just a few years out of sequence; too young for the Summer of Love and its outskirts, and too old (and frankly, timid) for the punk era, which, as close as I lived to New York City, could have been a period of epic excess.
    Then again, I avoided both having to dodge the draft and acquiring a dose of HIV before its presence was recognized, so I guess it worked out!

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