If there is one thing that I can say with certainty, it is that I love the San Francisco Bay Area. This place is my home, and I hope to stay here for as long as possible. To whit, I've lived in Newark, Fremont, San Francisco, Union City, and Oakland. I've driven trucks all over this area, and am familiar with many of the smaller towns and neighborhoods here.
The depth of my knowledge of the Bay Area pales in comparison to that of Aaron Cometbus. Aaron grew up in Berkeley, and has been putting out the amazing zine Cometbus for years. Cometbus routinely focuses on the East Bay region, and I consider Aaron's writing pretty essential to an understanding of the East Bay. Aaron doesn't pay too much heed to the surface aspects, but instead hones in on the "smaller" aspects, the environments and people that make up the landscape at street level.
Issue #51 of Cometbus focuses on the lives and exploits of Morris "Moe" Moskowitz and various other men and women who made up a small community of book sellers on Telegraph Avenue, near the UC Berkeley campus. Told in his signature conversational style, #51 recounts the amazing history of this small group of cranks, oddballs and business men. Aaron spoke with a lot of the key players that made up the odd mixture of Telegraph during it's height, say 1956 to 1997 or so. The story is spiced with the intrigue of their power struggles, leavened by the truly odd personalities involved, and given heart by Aaron's often melancholic musings upon the passage of time and life. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time hanging out in that area, I was fascinated to read the stories of the men and women who ran the shops, owned the buildings that the shops were in, and just generally helped to shape the tensions that ran through that area like a live wire. It certainly helped me to understand that strange corridor a bit more. Next time I'm there I know there will be a much richer humus from which to draw insight.
Beautifully illustrated with stencils by Caroline Paquita, and sold for a bargain price of $3.00, Cometbus #51 is highly recommendable reading. Seek it out, as you will not be disappointed, even if you've never been to Berkeley. The story transcends mere setting, as all great stories do.