Berkeley… We Are Not In Diamond Springs Anymore Toto

I transferred from Sierra College to Berkeley in 1963. Here I am looking proud in my UC sweatshirt.

My wandering off to Berkeley in the fall of 1963 introduced me to a totally different world compared to my childhood home of Diamond Springs with its population of 750 and nearby Placerville with a population of 4,000. Sierra College got me out of the sticks, but just barely. I rode a school bus there and the kids came from small rural communities not much different from Diamond and Placerville.

Telegraph Avenue became my Mecca at Berkeley. Exotic smells emanated from a dozen different ethnic restaurants, while numerous languages assaulted my ears. I quickly discovered the Café Mediterraneum. In an era before Starbucks made coffee houses safe for middleclass America, Café Med was an original. It was a microcosm of Berkeley, filled with offbeat characters, esoteric discussions and great coffee. I became addicted to both the cappuccino and the atmosphere. I would grab my coffee and climb the narrow wooden stairs in back for a coveted balcony seat where I would watch the ebb and flow of the city’s unique flotsam. 

Cafe Mediterraneum as it looked on my last visit a few years ago.

A quick jaunt across Telegraph produced another treasure, Cody’s Bookstore. Started on a shoestring by the Cody family in the 50s, it had become one of America’s premier bookstores by the mid-sixties. I saved my explorations for Saturdays when there was time to indulge my passion for books. I would disappear inside and become lost to everything except the next title.

I was equally fascinated by the ever-changing kaleidoscope of soapbox oratory provided at the south entrance to the campus on the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph. During any given hour, a dozen speakers could be found there espousing as many causes. I considered it high entertainment and would sit on the steps of the Student Union and listen during breaks from my studies. Over one lunch period, I reported in a letter home, I listened to a student who had spent her summer working in the South registering voters, a black South African talking about apartheid, a socialist railing against the evils of capitalism, a capitalist railing against the evils of socialism and a Bible thumper detailing out the many paths Berkeley students were following to hell. Apparently, there were too many to count.

Many of the speakers urged that there was more to college life than studies, football and parties. Change was in the wind and we should be part of it. Work for fair housing in Berkeley; oppose the unfair hiring practices at Safeway; picket the Oakland Tribune, sign up to help in Goldwater’s political campaign. Join CORE, SNCC, SLATE, SDS, YAF or a world of other acronyms. I struggled to take it all in, absorb it through my pores. It certainly wasn’t Kansas, Toto, nor was it Diamond Springs, Placerville or Sierra College.

To simplify my first year, I opted to live in a college dorm. I would have a room, a bed and regular meals. The University assigned me to Priestly Hall, which was ideally located a block away from campus and a block away from Telegraph Avenue. Three other dorms, one for men and two for women, comprised our corner of the universe. Co-ed living accommodations were still in the future. Strict House Mothers existed to enforce the rules and protect their charges. Women were only allowed on the first floor of the men’s residence hall. Slipping one up to your room was an expellable offense.

Each dorm was nine stories high, brand-new and exactly the same as the others. One of the grad students responsible for our well-being immediately dubbed them monstrosities of oblivion. My sixth-floor room came complete with a roommate, Clifford Marks. Cliff was a slightly built young man with bright red hair, freckles and a mischievous personality. Later, we would share an apartment. Like me, he was a political science major. Eventually, he too would join the Peace Corps.

For entertainment, we could watch the antics of the girls in the dorm directly across from us. If we were lucky, they might wave. One evening a pair of roommates pulled their shade, set up a lamp between them and the window. And undressed. Slowly. It was a surprise our building didn’t fall over, given that every guy in the dorm was glued to the windows on the women’s dorm side.

But all of these were the lighter side of Berkeley and college life. I was soon to learn how serious academics were at UC— and that a revolution was brewing. I’ll continue my story next Wednesday.

Friday’s Travel Blog Post: I finish off Peggy’s and my exploration of the tide pools of Harris Beach, Oregon. The shells of turban snails provide dandy homes for hermit crabs, limpets are masters of creating a vacuum, barnacles suggest why keel-hauling might make walking the plank seem like a stroll in the park, and we find acres of grass growing where we only expected seaweed.

28 thoughts on “Berkeley… We Are Not In Diamond Springs Anymore Toto

  1. I can only imagine the show the girls were putting on with their window shades drawn. Ha! I wish things were that innocent these days…

    Your tour of Berkeley through naive eyes felt like I got to take a journey into the past and to a place I’ve never been. I would have loved the coffee shop and the bookstore. Starbucks and Barnes & Noble just isn’t the same thing.

    • Innocent days of long ago and far away, Juliann. Good and bad.

      Pleased you enjoyed the tour. Berkeley was a unique place at the time. I’ve always been glad I was there at the time and experienced it. And you are absolutely right: Barnes and Noble and Starbucks make a poor substitute. Still, if it’s all you have… Fortunately, there are still some great coffee houses and and books stores out there. Thanks. –Curt

  2. Lots of familiar names and places here. I still buy Peet’s coffee. How many people know they were first, before Starbucks? My favorite coffee shop was Caffe Espresso on Hearst. It wasn’t far from home (left on Euclid, left on Virginia). Of course I spent a little time at Mediterraneum, but not as much as at ‘the’ Caffe.’

    • You were on the other side of campus, Linda. I’ll bet you walked by La Vals Pizza on your way there. 🙂 It used to be a go-to date place for me. In fact it’s where I celebrated my 21st Birthday, far too much! Glad you had the genuine coffee house experience, however. Peggy and I often buy Peets. We drink our share.–Curt

  3. You’re describing the Berkeley I came to in the 1980s–same restaurants, same book stores. It was a perfectly viable Saturday night date to head out for Ethiopian food, and then spend the rest of the evening shopping books at Cody’s and Moe’s. Like you, I landed there from more rural digs. I lived in Oakland, but a trip to the campus felt like a free circus ticket. Sadly, much has changed, but I can remember, all the way from rural Michigan.

    • Laughing, AV, my dates at the time, were quite similar, just 20 years earlier. And what’s more, Peggy and I still regard eating out and going to a book store as a viable date! There’s a reason our house is filled with 3,000 books! –Curt

  4. Yes, the coffee culture also hit Australia round the same time. In the fifties and even early sixties, sitting around sipping real coffee was seen as decadent and a filthy European habit. Instant coffee was however tolerated after dark.

    • We had plenty of coffee around in the 40s and 50s, Gerard, but it tended to be of the Hills Brothers and Folgers and instant types. Lattes and cappuccinos were unheard of. I started drinking those brands as a teenager. It’s what got me going in the morning. 🙂 –Curt

  5. Curt, you brought back a few vivid memories of my days living in Berkley just a couple blocks from campus on University Avenue. By then it was 1972, a little after your time there, but still well engulfed in flower power and hippies.

    • Probably much more flower power than when I was there. 🙂 Haight Ashbury was yet to happen. I was off in Africa when I first read about it. Glad to bring back a few memories. Those were memorable times in our lives. Thanks.-Curt

  6. oh so many great memories you had Curt and I do love Berkley. My daughter is in bus school and so sad she is missing the wonderful area since it’s online. My Massage therapy school is there and I’ve always loved going. 💖💖

    • I’m a little jealous that you get there on a regular basis, Cindy. 🙂 I used to get there more frequently but living in Oregon makes it more difficult. Last time was when I attended a writer’s conference in SF two years ago. I stayed in Berkeley and took BART in. I’ll bet that your daughter is missing it. –Curt

      • well, right now it’s a little baren so don’t feel too bad. When it’s hoping tho, there’s no place like it. Where did you attend the writer’s conference?
        would you reccommend it? Yea, I think she is but she is also working full time in Santa Clara so no travel was a Godsend. 💖💖💖

      • It was the San Francisco’s Writers’ Conference, Cindy. Probably the best on the West Coast. It normally takes place in January/February. Excellent. I’ve been a couple of times.
        That would be a bit of a commute. I suspect even after the pandemic, virtual education will part of our life. –Curt

  7. Amazing how memories of those formative years stay with us, Curt, though of course much also forgotten. Have you written about those years before, may I ask, or is this your first written recollection?

  8. It must have been so exciting to be at Berkley in those days! Heady stuff.
    Given your childhood I wonder that you learned to read and write chuckle, but I’m glad you did. Bet you are too 🙂

    • It’s hard for me to think of anything that influenced my life more than reading, Alison, other that wandering in the woods. 🙂
      The 60s were a time of major change, Alison. No doubt about it. We were excited to be part of it. –Curt

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