Quirky Berkeley— I Return to My Roots


Sproul Hall

Sproul Hall, the administrative center of UC Berkeley, looks imposing. It comes with a welcome sign now but it wasn’t so welcoming when I gave a speech while standing on the Dean’s desk at the height of the Free Speech Movement in 1964.

Last week went on forever. By Sunday, the events at the beginning of the week seemed like ancient history. Maybe that’s not a bad thing; time slowed down. Lately it’s been zipping by like a hummingbird on sugar-water. Zoooooooom!

I began my week by being a guest lecturer in a writing class at Southern Oregon University where I talked about changes in the publishing industry. Mainly I discussed how authors are now responsible for marketing their own books. Grump. It is not my favorite activity. “Go start a blog,” I urged, “at least you can have fun. And it is great writing practice.”

Thursday found me keynoting an author’s day at a local community school. I had jumped from talking with seniors in college to kids. And how in the heck do you tailor a talk for a group with an age range from 7-14? Tell stories, I decided— and started with the tale from The Bush Devil Ate Sam about Rasputin the Cat and the Cockle Doodle Rooster. Afterwards I taught classes of fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders. My message was that we are all storytellers.

It was fun. The eight-hour drive to Berkeley immediately afterward wasn’t.

I drove down to attend a national conference of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. I was one pooped pup when I arrived. It was lights out for Curt. I hardly even needed my noisemaker to drown out the clamor on University Avenue.

Berkeley is many things, among them a world renown center of education.

Speaking of tired puppies, I found these hemp collars and leashes on Telegraph Avenue. In addition to being home to one of the world’s greatest educational institutions, Berkeley can be a bit quirky.

I went to the conference to participate in some workshops relating to Peace Corps writers, of which there are legions. I also wanted to hear presentations by Congressman Sam Farr and Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet. Sam had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in South America in the 60s and, like me, worked in Peace Corps recruiting afterwards. He is known as “Mr. Peace Corps” in Congress for the strong advocacy role he plays for the organization.

He argued that Returned Peace Corps Volunteers also needed to become advocates. It’s budget time in Washington, and there are a lot more countries requesting Peace Corps Volunteers, and people who want to be Volunteers, than Peace Corps has money to fund. As usual, the money goes elsewhere. For example, we are spending a billion and a half dollars this year to keep Egypt happy— four times the total budget of Peace Corps.

On the good news side of the equation, Carrie announced that Peace Corps Volunteers would be back in Liberia this week. As you may recall, they were pulled out in the fall because of Ebola. Carrie also mentioned a major new initiative that Peace Corps is working on with Michelle Obama, Let Girls Learn. It is a worldwide effort to provide girls with the same education opportunities boys now have.


We listened to a pre-recorded message on Let Girls Learn from Michelle Obama in Wheeler Auditorium, which was the site of my first class at Berkeley. I had walked right by the classroom, incapable of imagining that there would be over a thousand students in the class. Berkeley gave me a new understanding of mass education.

I must confess— I also had an ulterior motive for the trip. Any journey to Berkeley is a trip into the past for me. I think of it as a pilgrimage, a return to my roots. I still hear echoes from the 60s when I was caught up in Berkley’s Free Speech Movement. This time the echoes were real. A resounding expletive caught my attention. I turned around to see Cliff Marks descending on me. Cliff and I had shared an apartment during out senior year and Cliff had also served in the Peace Corps. The last time I had seen or talked with him was at his wedding in 1969. We had a grand time catching up. Now it is time to catch up on the blogs I have missed this past week and a half.

But first, let’s go on a tour of Berkeley.

Sather Gate

Every student who has ever been to Berkeley passes through Sather Gate…


And at some point, stops to admire the Campanile, which is Berkeley’s best known landmark.

Bay Bridge

The campus looks out over San Francisco Bay. The Golden Gate Bridge can be seen in the distance.

Steps of library

I had spent the day buried in the Bancroft Library and surfaced for a break when I found a young woman crying on these steps. The campus was deathly quiet. “What’s the problem?” I had asked. “They’ve shot the President,” she told me in a broken voice. It was November 23, 1963 and President Kennedy had been killed, shot down in the streets of Dallas.

Sproul Plaza

Sproul Plaza was a major location for student protests in the 60s. This entrance to the campus, at the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Avenue, was the location of Berkeley’s Free Speech Area that the University arbitrarily closed down in the fall of 1964, thus leading to the beginning of the Free Speech Movement.

Ludwig's fountain

The Student Union and Ludwig’s Fountain are under renovation. Ludwig was a 60’s type dog who wandered wherever he chose. He came down from his house on the hill daily and frolicked in the fountain that would eventually bear his name. I petted Ludwig and watched as a police car was taken hostage and then used as a speaker’s podium. Jack Weinberg, a Civil Rights organizer, was being held in the car. It was Jack, now 75, who coined the phrase, “never trust anyone over 30.”

Cafe Mediterraneum

I learned as much outside of the classrooms as I did inside at Berkeley. The Cafe Mediterraneum on Telegraph Avenue was my main hangout. It was one of America’s first European style Coffee Houses in the 1950s and proudly claims to be the creator of the caffe latte.


One of my primary forms of entertainment in the 60s at Berkeley was perusing bookstores. It still is today when I visit the city. Moe’s was and is one of the greats. Sadly, my favorite, Cody’s, is now closed.

Amoeba Records

Amoeba Records is next to the Cafe Meditteraneum. Street booths, like those in front on the left, have become a permanent  fixture along Telegraph Avenue.

Crystals on Telegraph

As one might expect, many of the items for sale have a New Age connection, such as these ‘healing’ quartz crystals.

Dream Catchers

And these dream catchers.

People's Park

“If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with.” –Ronald Reagan’s response as Governor of California to students who were protesting his closing down Berkeley’s People’s Park as a community garden in the late 60s. National Guard troops were sent in and local police were armed with shotguns loaded with buckshot. One student, apparently a bystander, was killed and another was blinded. The whole city was tear gassed from the air.

Tree sign

A sign thanking trees that live in the park today.


A mural on the side of the Amoeba record store depicts events surrounding People’s Park as well as other Telegraph Avenue happenings.


The mural.

Pan Handler

Berkeley has always been a mecca for young people,  both those seeking an alternative lifestyle as well as those seeking a first class education. Many who came looking for alternatives arrived without money, as this young man shown in the mural.


Today, Berkeley is the ‘home’ for numerous homeless people. I took this photo on Dwinelle Plaza on campus.

Street Spirit

This homeless man was selling the newspaper “Streetsmart” in front of Moe’s Bookstore. Headlines announced a recent protest that the community’s religious leaders including Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist representatives had made against the city’s efforts to criminalize homelessness as a means of driving homeless people out of town.

Berkeley sign board

A sign of the times? Not really. Berkeley’s sign boards have always been plastered with notices on top of notices. I was amused to find help wanted notices for Berkeley’s Call Center. I hear from these young people several times a year as they solicit money for Berkeley. I found it interesting that the University, who charges them $14,000 a year in tuition ($38,000 if out-of-state), only pays these kids $11 per hour.

South Hall

South Hall, built in 1873, is the oldest building on the UC Berkeley Campus. It’s an appropriate photo to end this post, and also to raise a question about the future of public education in America. Tuition was free when I went to Berkeley and I was able to pay for my living costs by driving a laundry truck in the summer. I graduated debt-free. Today’s young people graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. It’s close to tragic. All I can think of is how incredibly stupid our state and national leaders are when the future of our nation, and indeed the world, depends upon an educated and knowledgeable population. Germany can somehow find the money to provide a free college education. Why not America?






33 thoughts on “Quirky Berkeley— I Return to My Roots

      • I was actually born and grew up in La Jolla (please don’t tell anyone). My husband and I never met as grad students. We seemed to have lived slightly parallel lives. As does everyone, if you care to connect it.
        He figured out we skiied Jackson Hole the same bad winter it was 50 below, and he actually did remember me and a conversation I had there with ski patrol, which is unusual.
        I don’t really consider The Holler living in San Diego, which you wouldn’t either if you came here….. laughing. But you are right, I have never substantially moved.
        I think you are an awesome person Curt and what you do, are doing, and have done with your life is important.

      • My experience with San Diego is that you don’t have to drive very far to the east to end up in the wilderness, which is a good thing. 🙂

        I had to work at it a bit before I met Peggy, but it has been worth it, many times over. I was good friends with her sister for 15 years before I met her. I’ve always said that Jane was vetting me.

        As for the rest, thanks. –Curt

  1. What a wonderful trip down memory lane. I am in total admiration of anyone who can address more than six children at once – of any age. This post just came at the right moment for me, in many senses. I had just had an email from a friend in Berkeley I have wanted to contact for several years. I am a committed promoter of female education across the world (see the charity CAMFED) and I have just been to a conference on Far Eastern POWS – to meet with others researching and promoting their work on the subject.

  2. Wow. Peace Corps and Berkeley all at once – a real trip down memory lane. I loved your comment about the senseless of the debt young folk have for their college experience. And too many jobs simply won’t provide the wages to make those debts go away. Nice post.

    • Thanks Susan. I enjoyed the trip… for both reasons. 🙂 I wonder if the US will ever reach the point where it returns to making a priority of education. Where we are now is a disgrace. –Curt

  3. You are an all-round teacher and guest speaker, Curt – from elementary school children to college seniors, fantastic.
    Going to college in the 60’s was an experience, that I can agree with!! But, as you said, all the memories come back as you walk through the campus.

    • I confess it was something of a delight talking to both age groups, G. And it was all fun. Going into the week i did think, ‘what have I gotten myself into this time,’ however. 🙂 And yes the memories do flow. The 60s were definitely an interesting time. I am glad I was there to experience them. –Curt

  4. Wonderful tour of the People’s Republic, Curt.

    Let’s make a deal, the next time you are down here, let’s try to get together for a short campus walk or such. That would be grand.

  5. Another fabulous, and very interesting post Curt. It’s fascinating to hear some of the stories from someone who was there front and centre at the time. Of course I was just a young teenager still in school in Australia at the time but we were aware of things afoot and by the time I was 19 and studying in Canberra the whole SDS movement was huge. I partook in many protests including one against Apartheid outside the South African Embassy, and several against the Vietnam War (which the Vietnamese, not surprisingly, call the American War).
    There are many countries that provide free education – Sweden comes to mind, but there are others. Norway? Denmark?

    • The Berkeley president of SDS was in my dorm, which seemed like a strange place for him. But he said it was so he could focus on other things. I can see you out protesting. (grin)

      As for free education, it seems like such a no-brainer. –Curt

  6. So great that you recognized all those landmarks. I wondered if the place would be foreign to you after all these years. Neat to see the hippie kids’ cardboard post of thanks to the trees. Maybe Berkeley retains some of her character after all. Any city that can boast “quirky” is a good city in my opinion.

    It must have been a really emotional and nostalgic visit for you. Thanks for bringing us into your memories.

    • The landmarks are more or less burned into my mind, Crystal. But I go back every two or three years as a reminder. But the University has changed, as has Berkeley and the Bay Area. Time moves on. 🙂 –Curt

  7. I’ve always wanted to see Berkeley, and this may be as close as I ever get. Would love to pose for a picture at Moe’s!!! You are one interesting person, and knowing you in the 60s might have been just the experience I needed. All I was doing was just going to college in Tennessee, but you were advocating, taking action, and dreaming of points unknown. Also love your writing: “like a hummingbird on sugar-water. Zoooooooom!”

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this essay on your beloved Berkeley. The photos and commentary are a very good insiders view.

    • Ha, you are catching up with my history. 🙂 Amazing how large our college years loom in our lives. I guess it is because it is such a formative period. As for when I was at Berkeley, the times were particularly interesting. –Curt

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s