We, in Berkeley, are fortunate to have Telegraph Avenue which bustles daily with culture and commerce. Telegraph's vibrancy is a tribute to our community and to our faith in Berkeley's spirit. Today we are concerned with vagrancy amongst the young and able-bodied on Telegraph Avenue along with its causes and its effects. This article will only scratch the surface of the concern. However, we believe that public awareness is a first step toward a remedy for any problem. It is in this spirit and with this faith that THE WILD STREET KIDS OF TELEGRAPH AVE was composed.
You’ve seen them on the street corner, you’ve passed them on the sidewalk, you’ve heard them ask for change. They disdain tests and grades and resumes, they care not for extracurriculars and externships and Panhellenic exchanges. They do not live by the daily shower or the hourly wage. They go their own way, and they seem somewhat proud of it.
But who are they? Who are these ageless children, these eternal youths dressed in the most fashionable of rags who strum guitars and hang out in doorways? What compelled them toward their alternative path? What do they want and who do they want it from? To find out your faithful reporter went out into the field to live for just a short while as they do – to learn their stories – to gain their insights.
“Do you like dogs?” she asked moments after her dog jumped on me and licked my face.
“I could take them or leave them,” I replied, and then realizing how bloodless and remote that made me sound, I quickly added, “I used to have a cocker spaniel.” I still have a cocker spaniel, it’s just that I abandoned him to a parent when I moved to Berkeley to acquire a college degree.
“He usually isn’t so friendly with strangers, he really likes you! My name’s Moon by the way.”
“I once a met a street kid in Portland who had a cocker spaniel. I didn’t spend enough time around him to know what to think of them.” As Moon’s friend said this – I later learned his name is Teddy – I realized that the questions I want to ask them were just a bunch of aggressive posturing. I could have just as easily told them repeatedly that I thought I was better then them.
To one side of me were a couple of veterans conducting business in hushed voices, to the other side were some kids who like to draw and play with dogs. What was I really doing here? Documenting the ways in which I think I’m superior to these people would not make me an investigative reporter or anthropologist; it would make me an asshole.
As pure as I wanted to believe my intentions were, I had really chosen to pick on these people because it bothers me that many of them beg for money on the street. Why does this bother me? Because their youth, their attitude and yes, their whiteness seemed to suggest that they had chosen poverty. And I would respect their asceticism if they did not suck around the collective asshole of capitalism hoping to collect its waste.
You can’t reject the establishment and act entitled to its scraps.
Or at least that’s what I thought. When a middle-aged couple gave Teddy a slice of pizza without being asked, or when a man asked to photograph Teddy as he drew a picture in his sketchbook, or when a UC Berkeley student propositioned Teddy for a drug that is known to be less harmful than the drug sold legally across the street at Raleigh’s, I started to see that Teddy didn’t feel entitled to much of anything. I wanted to expose the truth about Wild Street Kids, but the truth is they are already fully exposed.
Up the way a bit, outside Rasputin, a jug band outfit playing a folky bluegrass variant on the sort of gypsy punk made popular by Gogol Bordello drew the attention of many of the street kids around the block including Moon and another girl I met named Snowflake. As I watched them dance to the music and cheer on the nameless ragtag band that was apparently visiting Berkeley from up the coast, I knew I was letting my subject off the hook. Thankfully off the hook is where my subject belongs.