The October 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

The Aristocracy and the Disaster

In Katrina's Wake, Oakland Batters Homeless

A Perfect Storm of Racism

Katrina: Ongoing Human Disaster

FCNL Speaks Out on Katrina

Kerry's Kids: Health Care for Poor Children

Fresh Start Gives Kindness Awards

The Dying Gift of Sharon Ostman

A 500-Year-Old War on the Poor

37 Million Live in Poverty in US

Julia Vinograd: Poet Laureate of Berkeley Streets

Innovative Plans for Homeless Housing

Disabled Woman on a Long Road Back Home

Photographer's Eye for the Dignity of People

Poor Leonard On Prejudice

The Flower Lady

October Poetry of the Streets


September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Nobody's Buying Flowers from the Flower Lady

A New Berkeley Mystery

by Toni Cook (Cinnamon)

Flower sellers on College Avenue in Berkeley display these colorful bursts of beauty. These flower sellers run a real flower stand in Berkeley -- and they should not be confused with the fictional flower ladies in the accompanying story. Lydia Gans photo

"Millionaires and paupers
walk the hungry streets
Rich and poor companions
of the restless feet
Strangers in a foreign land
Strike a match with a
trembling hand
Learn too much to ever
But nobody's buying flowers
from the flower lady."

-- "Flower Lady," by Phil Ochs

Gracie was not a happy camper. The flowers she was offering for sale on the outskirts of the Berkeley Farmers' Market were fading fast. Her flower supplier would not be pleased.

He was not a nice man. He provided her with fresh-cut flowers to sell at the edge of the Farmers' Market, because she could not get a permit to sell in the Market itself. Then he would come around at the end of the day to collect his money and give Gracie a paltry cut. But no one was buying flowers that Saturday.

She did not dare skim from what little money she had taken in. He or his "assistants" could be watching from anywhere. She had been on the streets too long to take such a chance. Rumor had it, he could be mean and violent.

Little did she know she would be an eyewitness to his violence.

Gracie knew he had other flower vendors in the area. She had also spent her time on the stroll and knew better than to wander into someone else's turf.

Despite her slow day, she knew she had made enough to score and make it to the shelter by curfew. Or so she thought. Gracie waited patiently for her supplier's silver Volvo station wagon to pull up so they could settle the day's affairs.

She thought the woman across the street was also selling flowers for him. But Milvia was the line she could not cross. That was her turf, not Gracie's.

The thin young woman, looking nervous, was bundling her flowers when the Volvo pulled up. Gracie watched as her supplier approached the other flower seller. A short, nasty argument went on before Gracie saw a blade flash in the fading light. The woman fell to the ground.

Then the worst for Gracie happened. Before getting back into the Volvo, he turned and stared straight into Gracie's eyes. She spun and turned, running off into the crowd. He drove off, but they both knew she had seen the murder of a simple flower seller.

With nowhere else to go, Gracie showed up on my doorstep. I had known her for years. I had no choice. We will talk in the morning, I said.

My stepson had been an attorney, a private detective and an alcoholic before killing himself in the final episode of "A Berkeley Mystery." I miss him. [The story of his death was told in "Pick Up the Pieces: A Berkeley Mystery, The Final Installment," Street Spirit, June 2004.]

I promised myself I would never follow his nosiness into the sad and scary things that happen on the streets of Berkeley, but Gracie was special, so here I am.

Gracie had always been known as a survivor. People say that about me, but I had learned a lot about life on the streets from her. So, for her to ask for my help, I knew something terribly frightening was happening. A killer was after her.

She and I had several things in common. Besides how we used to make money, we really did not like cops, so calling the police was not a viable option. What could I do?

I called Ira Oldman. Ira is my friend. He is also one of the best attorneys anywhere. On behalf of homeless people, including me, he got us a good settlement against the University of California.

Ira did not have good news. He had heard of this man and the ways he manipulated poor and homeless women. His advice was to get her out of town, asap. I have family in Sacramento, so I bought her on AMTRAK. (I had to borrow money from my daughters.)

We were stupid. We used her real name when making the ticket reservation. As soon as she stepped out of my car at the Emeryville station, the black Ford F-150 came out of nowhere and sent her broken body away. I saw the driver, got a good look at the license plate and I know my trucks. (I used to live in one.)

We do not like cops, but maybe it was time. Then I remembered that Ira had connections, so he used all his connections and reluctantly got information. There was practically no information on the stabbed flower girl. Even Gracie did not know her name, and Gracie knew everyone.

So that leaves us with the culprit(s). I have been convinced that the flower girl and Gracie were not killed by coincidence. The driver of the truck worked for the flower supplier.

Now I loved Gracie, and did not know the other flower girl, but they both deserve justice.
Ira warned me, "These people are dangerous." I can be dangerous too. I think I will try to get a job selling flowers, and maybe get some justice.

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