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Archive for June 18th, 2007

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When I had worked at Pacific Gas and Electric for about 11 months, Bob Rydjord, who had worked with me at the Naval Supply Center, told me of a new organization that he had joined in the Office of the President of the University of California and asked me to interview for a position there. I declined because I felt I had an obligation to my staff and colleagues at PG & E. However, after another three months, I couldn’t take it any longer (I told my boss in an exit interview that they weren’t paying me for the work I was doing but for the pain I was enduring) and took a job as Manager for Technical Development in the Statewide Administration (the President’s office) at the beginning of July 1968. My boss was George Turner who reported to the Vice-President Business and Finance, Fred Balderston (who was succeeded by Graeme Bannerman that same year). The President was Charles Hitch who took over after Reagan fired Clark Kerr. (Kerr was very witty. He said to the press on his dismissal, “Both when I took this job and when I left it, I was fired with enthusiasm.” He once gave a definition of a university, which went something like this: “A university is a loose association of academic entrepreneurs whose only common concern is parking spaces.”)

There was a good deal of unrest in Berkeley at the time, some of it the continuation of the Free Speech Movement of 1964 but mostly it was new grievances over the Viet Nam war, the draft and related matters. In October, when the school year began, things heated up considerably and then, in early 1969, the Peoples Park controversy really threw gasoline on the fire. As the Establishment (Reagan) escalated the violence of the encounters, the protesters responded in kind. When I would arrive at work around eight in the morning, there was lingering smell of tear gas from the events of the previous night. I used to say that sufficiently attenuated, tear gas has a rather nice, spicy odor.

Despite all of this there were amusing, even funny, things happening as well. (An example: the offices of the campus police were in the basement of Sproul Hall. Tear gas is heavier than air so after the National Guard helicopters gas-bombed Sproul Plaza the gas would drift down into the police office. One time after such an incident I saw the mostly older women who staffed the office sitting on the stone steps of the building with their In- and Out-baskets, continuing their clerical duties.) The rest of this post is about just such an amusing incident.

Our computer was at the basement level but had an exterior entrance into a small parking facility on the south side of University Hall, Addison Street. Since I and my Systems Programming staff acted as technical support for the computing facility we also were in the basement but on the North side of the building, University Avenue. Next to my office was a building entrance which was used for a time to “sneak” members of the Regents in for their meetings. I sat with my back to the windows which looked out on a little paved area bordered with flowering thyme. I had a table behind me, and on that table some wonderful ichthyological technical illustrations done by my friend Howard Hammann. One day a software salesman named Mitch Rosen was trying to push his product. Since he was facing me, he was also looking out the window. There were a whole bunch of students there anticipating a Regents’ meeting. Mitch was clearly distracted and finally stopped and said, “I’ve never given a pitch under siege before.” I turned to see a group of students with their faces pressed up against the window trying to get a look at Howard’s drawings. I turned around, repositioned the pictures nearer the window and right side up for them and got smiles and signals of approval from the kids.

Here’s one of Howard’s pictures:

flying-fish.jpg

George and a few of our managers were on the first floor of U Hall but as the staff of analysts and programmers grew it was necessary to rent additional office space. The first such space was the second floor of an old two-floor commercial building on the southeast corner of Addison and Grove (now Martin Luther King), two blocks away from U Hall. This office was the source of all sorts of amusement and merriment.

The first floor was an old store front which was being used by the local draft board and the place received an altogether disproportionate amount of attention. Our staff learned very quickly to put all loose papers and other desktop materials into the drawers and to put all pictures and wall decorations on the floor on Friday afternoons because the draft board was sure to be bombed over the week-end.

Across Grove was the entrance to a path through City Hall park. The Berkeley police headquarters were on the ground floor of the old City Hall so they used that path to get to their offices. Flanking the entrance were two large, inverted, truncated pyramidal concrete planters and in each planter was a gigantic marijuana plant. Our people would stand at the window, holding their sides in laughter, watching the know-nothing cops walk in and out, in and out past the evil weeds. Eventually somebody must have tipped the cops off – the plants were ripped from their moorings.

Once I was standing around waiting for a meeting with one of the group leaders in front of a cubicle that belonged to a part time employee, a graduate student, who was not at his desk at the time. I was idly looking at the décor: a Che Guevara poster, a Viet Cong recruiting poster, a Fuck Housework poster and several more items of that ilk. Another member of the staff came up behind me and whispered in my ear, “There’s something here to offend everyone.” The cubicle’s occupant was a middle everything: middle middle class, middle western (Kansas for Christ’s sake) and so on. The “establishment” was creating radicals even from unlikely sources.

One of the Systems Analysts working in the Grove office was a young woman named Grace Gentry. When I was first introduced to her I immediately asked, “Are you Dick Gentry’s wife?” and she said she was. I did not know Dick but I certainly knew of him. He had been a Systems Engineer for IBM’s Alameda County account, part of the IBM sales division that dealt with Government, Education and Medical (GEM) as were the salesmen and SEs that I had dealt with at the Naval Supply Center. Dick had developed a transaction display description programming system for Alameda which became known as the Gentry Monitor (later called FASTER). I had done some analogous work at PG&E in my short stay there and so was conscious of such efforts. (Dick’s and my paths almost crossed in a number of ways over the years. The junior SE at Alameda was Lachman Sippy who was on my university staff. He later moonlighted for Dick. Seymour Rubenstein, who was the tech for Sanders Associates when I was in the process of selecting them for PG&E’s terminals and later the “father” of WordStar, also did some occasional work for Dick.)

One of the biggest irritants for the people working in that office was parking, or rather, the lack of parking. They had to find street parking along Addison, along Grove and even in Shattuck Square – all of which were metered spaces, so they had to go out every two hours and “feather” the meter. Often they missed the deadline and wound up with two dollar parking tickets, sometimes several in one day.

******

James Rector was shot-gunned on May 5, 1969 and died several days later. Berkeley was virtually in a state of civil war. Reagan and Meese brought in the National Guard to confirm that fact. One of the events that followed two or three weeks later, and now seems to be half forgotten, was the mass arrests of protestors in Shattuck Square. The armed command came up with a ploy to try and break the back of the protests. Somehow (I can’t remember just how it was done) they seduced a large crowd into Shattuck Square. Then they blocked all the exits with armored personnel carriers, jeeps, patrol cars, trucks and whatever heavy hardware was available. The National Guard and the various police agencies then started firing tear gas grenades into the crowd, who picked them up and hurled them back at the troops and troopers. I don’t remember whether helicopters were used in this incident – they probably were. Then a dozen or more buses, which had been staged for the event, were rolled into the square and the protestors loaded wholesale into them and carted off to the Santa Rita County jail, where some were beaten and otherwise abused. Four hundred eighty two people, including reporters and bystanders were arrested that day.

It was also a day in which Grace Gentry had parked her car at a meter in Shattuck square.

******

The rest of this story was told to me by some third party, probably Gene Portwood who was Grace’s supervisor, and so is hearsay to me – but I believe every syllable of it.

When it came time to feed the meter Grace walked the long block along Addison to Shattuck. When she got there WW III was under way as described above. While she stood there debating with herself whether to bother about the meter along came a Berkeley meter maid on her Cushman. She weaved between personnel carriers and jeeps, in front of sheriff’s patrol cars, past other parked cars and pulled up next to Grace’s car. Then, tears streaming down her face, she wrote out a parking citation and put it under the windshield wiper.

Grace didn’t see anything funny about it. Grace was outraged. Grace was furious. She was so furious that she decided to contest the citation and some time later appeared before a traffic court judge and told the story. He laughed so hard he nearly tipped over his chair. He tore up the two dollar ticket.

I thought the meter maid should have received a citation herself – for grace under fire.

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