We awoke to a pile of feathers a few weeks ago up on Black Mountain. Faik had decided to stop offering protection to the chickens because they were no longer laying eggs. Instinctually the chickens roosted on the porch. But without wire to separate them from the brutal forces of nature, one of the hens didn’t make it. The bobcat didn’t care if it produced eggs or not. It’s life in the food chain in the forest hills of the Bay Area.
Two nights previous Mike and I wandered the avenues of Berkeley, walking miles down Shattuck to the Starry Plough to view some good old-fashioned Irish resistance art. Unfortunately the walls were crisscrossed with wooden beams so the old brick building would be able to survive another set of tremors, and the art suffered the brunt of this project.
We settled for a popular pool hall, where much of Berkley’s suburban youth was quietly shooting some stick. Roselle told me there was life somewhere in this coffee-drinking town and we set out for a bar he really liked under a freeway underpass three miles away. By the time we got there, it must have been 11:30, the bar was closed. So we walked back.
Life was spotted the next morning at the French Hotel. An exuberant crowd sipped coffee proudly from brightly-colored cups. Locals would later defend their turf saying that Berkeley was a house-party town, not a bar town.
We found a party the next day across the bridge.
The drinking started innocently enough with a beer or two in the Buddha Bar in Chinatown. It was enough to get Mike fired up for a hike out to North Beach to visit an Italian joint, Gino and Carlo’s, where he liked to shoot pool. We had come to the city for a Lowbagger Christmas type function to mingle with area activists. But midway through the afternoon would find us in the Saloon in San Francisco’s beatnik backways.
“Get back over here I’m gonna kick your ass!” screams a scrawny beatnik out the door to a guy he had just finished drinking with.
Corner bars bring that sort of thing out in a fellah.
Mike and I mosey on.
Nothing had changed much at Spec’s. I did manage to offend the bartender when I told him I was sick of drinking Anchor Steam. Still we had fun with the chap as the after work crowd slowlystarted to filter in and Mike recounted surviving the 1989 earthquake next to the glow of hurricane lanterns on the very bar we sat at.
Finally we make it back toward the financial district and find our side-street German pub where we plan to meet our Lowbagger friends for celebration. They come wandering in one by one. Cool cats for sure. That San Francisco crowd has the brains and connections to get a lot of good work done. And the ever important money. But they still have to live on top of one another. So we will continue to tell them stories of Montana’s endangered wide-open spaces. And just how muddy it is out here when it’s not unbearably damn cold.
The party petered out to a high-rise strip-mall joint, some old bears growling around a roundtable. Hoffman came to the rescue pulling Mike and I from the financial district, and after a short subway ride we were eating some fine authentic tacos with the hombres of the Mission neighborhood at El Taco Loco. After a short stop at a decent doof bar Mike and I were back on the BART zipping under the bay.
We figured that the night had to be finished. But, what the hell. On a whim we got off the train in downtown Oakland and wandered around for awhile. Mike showed me Hayes’ old office. Then we found the punk rock bar.
We cleared security after they made sure Mike wasn’t a cop. Enter the smoky haze of Oakland’s punk rock scene. People were wasted. Women clad in black were propping themselves up with bar stools. Giant speakers churned out deafeningly loud music. Hair crested skyward in various points and angles. True culture. Punk rock is not a crime. But some of that eye-shadow should be.
Mike and I have been through a lot. But I think it was the first time I had ever seen him head bang, for lack of a better word, to NOFX’s 13 Stitches. Mike soon gained the trust of the counter-culture and cigarettes burned like primitive bonfires in the mouths of the punk rockers. We were in California. Some people can smoke pot in that state, but tobacco is a ticket straight to hell. I felt kinda bad for those punk-rock kids, hidden away like some Swing Kids in Nazi Germany. Still they kept the home fire burning. Finally we had found some resistance performance art in a no name bar among the sleeping skyscrapers of downtown Oakland.
I didn’t want to go.
But Faik was waiting. He had been kind enough to awake at Mike’s call, borrow a car and drive from Berkeley down into Oakland to find us. We left the blare of the music and hit the crisp surface streets. A cold snap gripped the area and it felt good to suck up some fresh air. Before long we were back to the quiet coffee-shop neighborhoods, and crept into Mike’s gracious hosts’ house. Mike has brought enough people to stay at my place that he now let’s me crash on other people’s couches. A bittersweet Lowbagger rule.
I drifted off with thoughts of Faik’s California wilderness outpost on Black Mountain where we would head early the next morning. He was upset about his chickens. They weren’t laying eggs.