Taking Down Telegraph Avenue’s Last Hippie

I have known Bob Meister for 25 years. I have watched him raise a family, and help homeless people regain a sense of their self-worth and restart their lives. I took lessons from Bob that helped me end my own homelessness, raise two children and start a new day in my life.

Bob Meister sits at his vendor table on Telegraph Avenue, as he has done nearly every day for 20 years. Photo by Dan McMullan

 

by Dan McMullan

 

A meeting was held last week to examine the woes of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. This was only the latest meeting of about 20 I’ve attended through the years, so you will have to excuse many of us, on all sides of the issue, for not proclaiming a new dawn.

I voiced the same concern I have voiced over and over again for many years, namely, that heavy-handed persecution by the City of Berkeley and the police — at the behest of Real Estate Moguls — are ruining a vibrant political, intellectual and music scene that once was fabled on Telegraph Avenue.

A scene that once attracted visitors from around the world is now a dim, faded shadow that is threatened in a way not seen and understood since the rescuing of the California Condor in the 1970s.

One of these last “Telegraph Condors” is Bob Meister. I have known Telegraph Avenue Street Vendor Bob for nearly 25 years. I have watched him raise a family, and have seen him help homeless people regain a sense of their self-worth and restart their lives.

And I took lessons from Bob that helped me end my own homelessness, raise two children and start a new day in my own life.

I also watched a couple of months back while eight UC Berkeley police arrested Bob. By the way they were acting, I thought he might have been caught in some desperate act, so I was shocked to find out it was for his hemp cookies that we often liken to eating a bowl of Berkeley Bowl Hemp Granola.

But UC officials see this as a way to crush the last vestiges of that Telegraph Spirit and they’re not letting this opportunity slip by. He’s been hit with a boatload of felonies, their refusal to recognize a medical cannabis card (on a later home visit they made) and no plea deals whatsoever.

After witnessing this travesty, I went home and turned on the TV to the German news channel DW. In this crazy, upside-down America, now we have to go to Europe to find out about America.

It was the one-year anniversary of the death of Steve Jobs and there was a special called Apple: “It’s got to be cool.” The program speculated that it might have been the Berkeley counterculture that Jobs experienced while attending Berkeley (including a cookie or two?) that enhanced his education and influenced his unconventional thinking, and that led to a world-shaking revolution in technology.

When the TV program showed a scene of Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue to make this point, it was Bob Meister and his famous Telegraph vending table that came on the screen.

I was floored. Precisely what I’ve been saying for 20 years was writ large in a German documentary on the very day of Bob’s arrest. Yet, Bob was now facing four felonies for possession of a cookie.

His hearing was set for March 13 at 9 a.m. at Oakland’s Fallon Street courthouse before Judge Panetta (yes, CIA director Leon Panetta’s daughter-in-law).

I was planning to attend myself, and I asked anyone who cares about their freedom and the freedom of others to join me.

DDT is everywhere and our condors are dying. But there is still hope while good people stop and look and let them know we are watching.

Cookie caper in court

I haven’t been to court in awhile, so I had put away the memory of the horror of it all. And missing for me was that dread in the pit of your stomach that comes when you know your life is in the hands of people that make a living chewing up lives into human wreckage.

Fortunately, I get up really early in the morning with my boys for school, so it wasn’t a problem to make it to the court hearing that morning. But as I stood on the BART platform, I couldn’t help thinking, as I looked around at the people going to work, that they at least have a reasonable expectation of where they are going.

But when the system gets you, your future is a cipher, the crystal ball murky. To say the least.

By 9 a.m., I had been bomb-checked and was inside Department 11 of the Fallon Street Courthouse, sitting in my wheelchair, with Telegraph Bob sitting nervously nearby.

This is a court reserved for the big crimes, so me and Bob being here was way out of place. We watched the meat grinder do its magic of turning people into numbers for nearly two hours, when Bob’s attorney, James Rodriquez, poked his head through the door at the back, and motioned Bob outside.

I followed them, but kept my distance for a while to let them talk a little. Then I introduced myself. Bob’s attorney was a good man and knew his law. He was flabbergasted by the lunacy of the case. He said that all the letters that we could get to him on behalf of Bob would certainly help.

For the first time, Bob got to go over the police report. I was disgusted. The photos were out of some future farce movie, with an actual picture of two sides of a five-dollar bill in one. And Bob’s little cards that he uses to keep track of the colorful patches he has sold as a vendor on Telegraph, and must regularly replace, was portrayed as a drug dealer’s list.

Two female cops were pictured in Bob’s house with baking supplies piled on the table, and they had the smiles of a smarmy, successful deer hunter proudly pointing out their kill. The two male cops posing with Bob’s life savings were even more pathetic.

This is what billions of dollars in law enforcement gets us? Home invasions of the only person left on Telegraph that a visitor can take a photo with?

As I pointed out, Bob was recently featured in a televised special on the one-year anniversary of the death of Steve Jobs, as the program depicted the Berkeley spirit as what influenced Jobs to be such a free-thinking innovator.

So why is Telegraph sinking? Start with a police force that has no direction, working with another police farce that had two years of its “real drugs” like Methedrine, Heroin and Ecstasy stolen from its drug locker and sold back to kids on the Berkeley streets!

But we are asked to forget all that and look the other way while they cook a good, hard-working man, who adds tremendous value to his community.

Not me, and I hope … Not you.

Support Bob Meister

Show up at Bob Meister’s next court hearing at 1225 Fallon Street, Dept. 11, on Thursday, April 18, at 9 a.m.

Please send your letters on Bob Meister’s behalf to his attorney:
James Rodriguez, 1401 Lakeside Drive Suite 400, Oakland, CA 94612

You might also write on his behalf to the judge and the district attorney:
Judge Carrie McIntyre Panetta, Dept. 11, 1225 Fallon St., Oakland, CA 94612 General Court Phone: (510) 891-6000

Alameda County District Attorney, 1225 Fallon St., Oakland, CA 94612
Phone: (510) 272-6222
E-mail: askrcd-da@acgov.org

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A Disabled Pedestrian’s Plea for Safety

 

by Dan McMullan

 

On Sunday, March 31, on the last day of Zachary Cruz Pedestrian Safety Month in Berkeley, a small group of Berkeley residents met under rainy skies, to point out a dangerous fact.

Our progressive little city — the one that often preaches how it should be done to the entire country and, yes, even the entire world — is the most dangerous little city of its size to be a pedestrian, in the entire state of California.

A group of Berkeleyans gather to walk for safety for pedestrians (and pedestrian dogs) during Pedestrian Safety Month in Berkeley. Photo by Dan McMullan

Recently, I was hit in a crosswalk by a vehicle while in my wheelchair. The first police officer’s response was pretty damn shocking. And offensive.

Fortunately, we have a department that is willing to take a deeper, better look and city officials who, for all their crazy politicking, know a serious issue when it crops up. So the case is now being reinvestigated.

But the bigger issue that was shaken out of my head in that accident is that you can take every precaution, cover all the angles, and if the other guy is not looking out for you, you still might find yourself waking up face down on the asphalt, like I did, thinking you are taking your last breaths.

Or worse, you could have a day named after your child.

Our group of pedestrians met at the Berkeley BART and took a walk in the downtown area, crossing streets legally and very visibly to remind drivers that we are out there, and our lives are in your hands.

Thank you to all who participated in the Memorial and Walk and thank you, Berkeleyans, who watch out for us every day.

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