Late last night (OK, very early this morning), I Googled the intersection where I grew up in Berkeley in the 60's. I can't even remember what prompted my search, but I found this -- a message board of people's memories of growing up in Berkeley, with posts spanning from June 28th, 2004 to just a few weeks ago! When's the last time you've been on a message board that spans more than a few days?! Needless to say, I got to bed very late last night (OK, very early this morning).
If I had been more coherent last night (slash/this morning) I would have been able to bring the flood of memories that were in my head to my fingertips and somehow record them, but I was in absorption mode more than expression mode. And the little sleep I got brought massive dreams that seemed to have stolen my memories from my consciousness. But with the help of two cups of strong morning coffee, I'll attempt to steal them back.
Memories of growing up in Berkeley in the 60's, in random order:
- We lived directly across the street from the Claremont Hotel which had fire slides that rivaled the best thrill rides at the best theme parks around. The really gutsy kids, like my brother Michael, would sneak into the hotel, climb to the top floor, and fly down the slides, whoopin' and hollerin' the whole way down. I can only figure that the hotel staff chose to ignore them -- until they didn't, at which point the gutsy hooligans (I'm just jealous) were caught.
- There was a big hole in the ground at the base of the slide with an old wooden door covering it. We lifted up the door and found kittens, lots of them, and took three home. We named them Tuna, Stars & Stripes, and Forever. I don't remember them growing up, nor do I remember taking them back. I have no idea what became of them.
- In the hills behind the Claremont Hotel and the California School for the Deaf (which is now Clark Kerr dorms where, coincidentally, Elisabeth was an RA when she was at Cal!), were huge concrete letters, "CSD." They could be seen for miles around, even, sometimes from across the bay. The top of the C was constantly covered up with dirt and grasses from the hills (probably by the same hooligans, as well as Cal students), making the letters spell out "LSD."
- A weed with tiny yellow flowers that we called "sour grass" grew all over those hills. We'd pick these by the hundreds and eat the stems.
- John Muir, our neighborhood school, had a stream that ran through a tunnel under it. One could enter the tunnel on the school grounds and walk or crawl through it, coming out behind Jackson's liquor store. The tunnel was dark and disgusting, with rats running through it, moss growing everywhere, and a smell that I can still sense when I think about it now. I was scared to death of that tunnel, but all the cool guys (and a few cool girls) had come out alive, so I tried it when I was in 6th grade. I survived, but was scared to pieces.
- I was probably so scared because my brother (yeah, Michael) had told me that pipes on the path that lead to the tunnel had tigers in them. Geeze, the pipes were too small to hold anything but the cutest little baby tiger; did I have no rational, logical thinking skills?!
- Miss Saum was the kindergarten teacher at John Muir. The ONLY kindergarten teacher at the school for, like FOREVER. She was even the kindergarten teacher of some of the parents whose kids went to kindergarten with me! I was in the morning kindergarten class and Stephan, my 10-months-older-than-me brother was in the afternoon kindergarten class. We took naps on braided, colorful rugs. The big activity of the year was making wooden pull-toy animals. You could make a duck or a rabbit. I made a duck; Stephan made a rabbit. Ask any adult today who was in Miss Saum's kindergarten class, what pull-toy they made and they will remember. I guarantee you!
- Our neighbors, the Burgers, had 10 kids (EileenMarleneBobbyDianeBitsaJoeyDannyJohnClairChristopher) and used their own actual socks as Christmas stockings. I wished our family had 10 kids ! Because we weren't allowed to watch TV at my house, I'd sneak to the Burgers and watch TV there, especially on Wednesday nights when The Monkees was on.
- The Star Grocery on Claremont was the coolest place to hang out and be seen. The big kids (like Michael and his friends) "owned the joint." I hear that it's still there.
- Next to Jackson's was Bradley's, which was sort of an old-time Rexall drug store. It had dark mahogany wood everywhere and had a very distinct smell that I can still muster. It also had an old-fashioned fountain bar with shiny, heavy, round hinged metal doors covering each ice cream pot. Under one of the doors were frozen Milkey Way bars. After school my friends and I (who weren't gutsy enough for the slides at the Claremont or cool enough for the Star Grocery) would hang out at Bradley's, gnawing on frozen Milkey Way bars. I hear that Rick and Ann's restaurant now occupies the spot where Bradley's used to be.
- There was a May Fair every May at John Muir School. This was a huge neighborhood event, probably the most important one of the year. The highlight was the May Pole dance, performed by the 6th grade girls. I was cheated because integration in Berkeley began the year I went to 6th grade, which meant I was bussed to Lincoln School in "the flats" and never got to participate in the May Pole dance. The cool (hooligan) guys (yes, including Michael) would go to the Star Grocery during the May Fair and buy shaving cream -- lost of it -- and spray it all over the school, the girls, the cakes that were won at the cake walk, etc. You'd think the people at the Star Grocery would have caught on, but nope...
- There were three playgrounds at John Muir, the upper playground for the "big kids" (grades 4 - 6), the lower playground for the "little kids" (grades 1 - 3), and the kindergarten playground, just outside Miss Saum's kindergarten classroom. The best bars to swing on were in the kindergarten playground, so sometimes we'd play there. I had blisters on my palms for 5 years straight. I could do a mean "apple turnover," which was when you'd sit on a bar, holding on with both hands, circling the bar until you had enough momentum to let go and then fly around the bar, touching it only at the knees, and then flipping dramatically off, landing (hopefully without falling) in the sawdust. If my parents had been in touch, they would have enrolled me in gymnastics.
- There was a huge tennis tournament at the Claremont Hotel every September. We'd sneak under the bleachers (that was about as gutsy as I got) and hope spectators would drop money. One year, Burt Ward, who played Batman on TV was there. I stood right in front of him and couldn't utter a word.
- Behind Jacksons and Bradleys was a gas station (I think it was a Flying Ace/Texaco?) that was the sole occupant of a weird triangular "traffic island," with traffic on all three sides of it. Sometime around 1967 (?), the gas station was replaced with a restaurant called, appropriately, The Station. They had the most incredible burgers and deep fried zucchini that was fabulous! Not sure what's there now, but I don't think it's The Station anymore.
- Once a month, I think it was the last Friday of the month, Berkeley observed the War Moratorium. No one worked, no one went to school; we all just protested the war in Vietnam. In my naivety, I believed that this was a national event.
- Every other Friday afternoon at 4:00, all the 6th grade kids in our neighborhood took ballroom dance lessons at "Dart's." This was not a dance studio, but was the stately home of an old woman in the neighborhood (named, I presume, Mrs. Dart?) who probably believed that any refined young person should know how to dance properly. (I know -- seems a bit incongruous for Berkeley -- especially when you think that the parents who were sending their kids to Dart's were also probably participating in rebellious peace marches on the weekend!) We had little booklets (called "bids book," I think) with cute little pencils hanging from tassels. (I still have them!) In each book were the numbers 1 through 9 with a line following them. Number 10 was labeled "Dinner Dance." At the beginning of class, the guys in too-new suits would cross the wooden floor to ask the girls in crispy new dresses (with slips that made a crunching noise) for a dance, and if the girl agreed, they'd exchange bids and sign their names in the agreed-upon slot. The "dinner dance" was the biggie: if a guy REALLY liked you, he'd ask you for the dinner dance. Mine was often blank, but in a few of my bid books, guys I had mad crushes on, like Bobby Burger, Stuart Todd Duncan McCoy or Andy Turner, signed my dinner dance slot. I was surely in heaven on those days! (No, Peter Jaffe didn't live in my neighborhood or go to Dart's.)
- I wanted to live on The Uplands, Parkside Drive, or Plaza Drive because all the cool kids like Jennifer McNary, Jennifer Steward, and the five Pearlstein girls (not to mention Andy and Duncan) lived there. Sometimes I'd ride my bike around that neighborhood just to pretend that I lived on a quiet, cozy street with a quiet cozy family instead of on a noisy, busy street (Tunnel Road) with a noisy, busy family.
- I first played Spin the Bottle and Truth or Dare in 6th grade at Duncan's house (which was right between Plaza Drive and Parkside Drive... how cool could you get?!) after school one day when his parents weren't home. Duncan and I "won" (or was it "lost"?) some dare that sent us into a closet to kiss for a full minute. Someone even stood outside the closet with a kitchen timer to time us! (Oh, this is so hilarious in retrospect!) I think we barely touched lips for a split-second and then stood there silently for 59 more seconds.)
- The cool thing to do in 6th grade, especially on those long bus rides, was to make gum wrapper chains. Mine was about 10 feet long. Jennifer Steward's was about 20 feet long. She was always cooler than me.
- In 1968, integration came to Berkeley. There were high hopes that within a few years Berkeley would be one harmonious, well-educated, fully diverse and integrated city. It was One Big Experiment -- one that seems to have been a huge flop because the families in the wealthier hills areas tended to put their kids in private school instead of sending them to the schools in the poorer "flats." Not my parents; they believed in the aspirations of an integrated school system. So in 6th grade, instead of walking across the street and down the path to John Muir School, I got on a 40-minute bus ride to Lincoln School on Ashby, near the Bay. Among the required reading that year was Yes I Can by Sammy Davis Junior (my only memory of the book was Sammy Davis being forced to drink pee from a soda bottle) and the language taught was Swahili. To get attention, the black and the white boys would fake fights until the principal came onto the playground, and then would laugh and hug. I took Home Ec and made a peasant skirt and shirt out of paisley material. The guys took shop and made stuff out of wood. Oh, and SLAM books! We had SLAM books that were basically a personal written record of who was popular on any given day.
- Sometimes I'd go to Suzie Lisker's house after school. Suzie lived on The Uplands, which meant that she was cool, in spite of her sparkly baby blue plastic glasses with rhinestones on the pointy corners. Suzie's mom had a very important job and was one of the few working moms then. Suzie, who had a bizarre haircut that looked normal as long as she wore her clip, but when she took out her clip, that whole strand was twice the length of the rest of her hair, would offer me Sara Lee pound cake from her freezer and I'd go hog wild because we never had American junk food at home!
- Claud Mann (who is now the chef on TBS's Dinner and a Movie!) lived next door to us and we'd play at each other's houses. (His house was pink!) One time, we ("we," meaning my brothers, Claud and I... or maybe I was more the tag-along grrrrl) strung string and cans between his house and ours, attempting to make a telephone so we could talk at night. (Use the real telephone? Well you're no fun!) Claud was as feisty and hilarious then as he is now and if I knew what was good for me then, I would have asked him and his straight bowl-cut head of hair to go steady with me. His name does grace quite a few lines of my Dart's bid book, though... because in those days, he was the nerd, nowhere near as cool as Bobby, Duncan or Andy! (Really fun addendum: in 2005, Claud was the "celebrity guest" to the national launch of my videos about youth and nutrition!)
- The People's Park riots (in which Michael was arrested... are we even surprised?!) brought the National Guard to Berkeley and seemed to both shut down and rile up the city. For days (weeks?), tear gas was everywhere. I worried constantly about Mom, who taught at Cal. I didn't like the craziness and was scared, rather than motivated by it. I think this had something to do with me becoming a very main-stream goody-goody-rah-rah and even (briefly, I promise) conservative and quite religious in my later teen years. That's how I rebelled!
- There were some great stores on College Avenue (the heart of Berkeley's Elmwood district). I wonder if any are still there:
- The toy store on the corner of College and Ashby, where I got my favorite Barbie (I still have it; it was from 1961 or so and is probably worth some bucks now!).
- The Elmwood Dime Store, where there were tables with bins on them, each filled with something that really did cost a nickel or a dime.
- Botts Ice Cream (the best!!).
- A donut store right next to the toy store, that had a swinging wood door that would slam when you let go of it, and then it would bounce a few times until it suddenly just shut. (I can still remember the exact sound sequence.) Inside they had the best donut holes in the world.
- A shoe store that carried tennis shoes (Sperry?) with the authentic white line down the heel. "The Jennifers" had these, not me. Mom bought my shoes at the cheap Kress store on Shattuck Avenue, where boxes containing plastic shoes costing about $3.00 a pair were thrown onto a table and you'd rummage through them. I so wanted shoes from a store where nice ladies would ask you to sit down and then measure your foot with a smile and then disappear behind the curtain while you chatted lovingly with your mom about what was for dinner.
- A Chinese restaurant, the only restaurant my family EVER went to, that had entrees, like won-ton soup, for $1.
- The Elmwood Theaters, where Michael and his friends would go to matinees. Once my parents had to pick him up mid-movie (I can't remember why) and I knew that he was sitting in the 7th row (I can't remember why I knew that) and Dad praised me, saying he was easy to find in the dark because I knew where he was.
- There was a city dump at the Berkeley Marina, right (I think) where the Radisson Hotel now sits (and where I'd, coincidentally, stay during my many business trips during the production of FUEL). Dad would bring us there occasionally to dump something and we'd climb the piles of trash, looking for treasures. Eeeeeeeewwwwwww!
And if you did grow up in Berkeley in the 60's, feel free to add to my memories!