Denizens of the Ave; The Berkeley Barb

During the summer of one of the most influential movements I can remember, my friend Bob explained to me, “I’m quitting my job and I’m going to San Francisco. There’s something special going on and I want to be there.” It didn’t take me long to experience the same feeling, as I began to reject the rat race, feeling stifled and uninspired. The radio was often playing these song lyrics; “When you go to San Francisco, be sure to wear a flower in your hair.”  It was 1968.

The words made an impact and I was on a train and there within a week. 

Soon the city of love opened its doors and Bob had a girl friend and I dated her best friend. We were in the midst of the counter culture revolution and had made friends  with other hip people. The Haight Ashbury district was our hangout as it was the epicentre of free thinking, creative expression, free love, and free drugs if you wanted it. We showed up, to be part of the movement. 

We listened to the Grateful Dead, Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane. On our recent sight seeing visit in October, I passed by their houses with my wife Angela.

Eventually Bob and I moved into our own six story walk up apartment on Van Ness in the Mission District. We lived on stew, canned beans and anything else that was reasonably edible. The street hustle was the only way many of us survived and cheap food our only option. 

My funds were decreasing with the rent and the day-to-day expenses. I had to replenish my resources honestly. Some street people I had befriended,  introduced me to the Berkeley Barb newspaper. An enterprising opportunity for a few hours a day. You could be a newsie, pick up the paper for half price and sell it on the streets for full price. The cost of living was so low, but it kept the homeless and the down and out afloat. That newspaper was my salvation.

The Berkeley Barb was an early underground newspaper, that defined the civil rights, antiwar and counterculture movement in the 60s; it was a voice of my generation looking to change the world. It mixed radical politics, with psychedelic art, guerrilla comics, local happenings, opinions, reviews advice, personal ads and calls to protest.

The nonconformist newspaper was a conduit for free speech and the sexual revolution. It went on to  last fifteen years. I personally enjoyed the job and money, as did other hippies selling the Berkeley Barb. Some of them would often spend the night waiting on a curb so as to not to lose their spot. We usually had our own particular corner and we became known as the Denizens of the Ave.

On my October trip I tried to find the street curb I spent many a morning on. But the city had changed so much that it was difficult to verify. However, I believe  it was around Market Street and Kearny which is somewhere around the financial district. The area was always busy as I would get a slew of disembarking passages from the Metro. When the cops harassed me, I just moved to another corner across the street.

In a good week I would take my fun money and hook up with my friends at Golden Gate Park where we sat in the grass with a gallon of Gallo wine. Someone would bring a guitar and someone else would bring some smoke. We all enjoyed a wonderful afternoon. My Berkeley Barb was free and I brought it to the park. We would discuss recent news, concerts and free events.

Even though it was my livelihood at the time, the experience left an enduring impression. Those ideals of the counter culture and freedom of opinion, were very important to me at the time. 

The core of what influenced me then, has lasted all these years. The importance of understanding the rights of people and the freedom of speech; it still resonates with me after all these years.

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Denizens of the Ave; The Berkeley Barb