Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sometime in '84

1984 was a big year in many ways. It arrived without real fanfare. If Big Brother was real he looked and sounded like Ronald Reagan. Yuppies ran to and fro in power suits and shoulder pads that made otherwise attractive women look like linebackers. Joe Montana brought the '49ers to their third NFC championship electrifying and energizing the Bay Area once again. Each week millions of viewers tuned in to see Dr. Huxtabold's latest horrifying oversized and gaudy sweater he would parade around in.

Also, making nary a blip on the cultural radar, the good, young and thoroughly naive employees of the Holmes Book Co., located at 3rd and Market, were ordered out on strike as contract negotiations finally collapsed. "Scabs" were brought in and the employees, including yours truly, carried picket signs, marched back and forth, and stirred up either the support or ire of the various regular patrons.

"The Holmes Book Company, 274 14th Street, Oakland; 893-6860. Open 9:30 to 5:30 Mondays through Saturdays, 11 to 5 Sundays. Founded in San Francisco in 1894, Holmes moved across the Bay after the earthquake and landed in its present home in the 1920s. It continues today as one of California's largest bookstores. Books on California and the West are but a portion of the stock, but an important portion. Some can be found on the first floor; rare and scholarly books are coddled in the carpeted sanctum of the third floor's California Room. There's a good selection of ephemera and county histories."

I don't know when the above was tossed into cyberspace, but it looks as though Holmes Book Co. is no more. The strike was approved and supported by none other than retired secretary-treasurer of the Department Store Employees Union, Local 1100, Walter Johnson. He set the striking employees up with weekly strike pay as well as a tab at the Ticker Tape Bar & Grill directly across the street.

As I had no ambition to actually work, and since I made enough in strike pay to live my hip meager pseudo-punk existence, I did minimum amount of picketing I could get away with and spent the rest of the time practicing guitar, drinking, tripping and visiting my girlfriend Shelley in Cupertino.

That I would climb aboard the train with my guitar hanging from my shoulders from a rope only added to my delusion as a self-styled Woodie Guthrie rambling and riding the blinds. I used my almost weekly trips successfully to get out of jury duty. When I was asked by the judge if there was any reason why I couldn't serve on the jury, I responded "because I'd like to go down and visit my girlfriend in Cupertino!" She graciously opted out of forcing me to participate in my civic duty and allowed me to go. I jumped up, let out a "Yahoo!" and ran from the courtroom to the sound of everyone's laughter.

3 comments:

Michael said...

I think I know where this Oakland location of Holmes Book Co. is...or was. I worked in downtown Oakland for almost five years and used to walk around a bit on my lunch breaks, and there was a huge old building on 14th with a sign indicating that it had been a bookstore once--and a really cool-looking one, too. By the time I found it, it looked dusty and abandoned, though the signs were all still up, advertising buying hours and such. Weird. Maybe the store you worked at was their SF branch location, though I'm pretty certain that's gone, too--the only bookstores in that area now are Stacey's and an African-American niche shop that I can't remember the name of off the top of my head. Cody's made its grand entrance into SF this year with guns a-blazin'--it's got a shop somewhere between Market and Union Square that's supposed to be bigger than both of its Berkeley stores put together, though I haven't checked it out yet. Hmm, maybe I'll do that today...

Phillip Henry Marshall said...

Holmes Book Co. indeed had an Oakland location, its main branch, as well as the SF branch. The SF storefront was on 3rd street, right off Market. Unless the building has been ripped down, you should be able to spot an old fashioned store front with set in from the street. If I can dig up an old photo, I'll post.

Michael said...

I'm wondering if the spot you're talking about is the space where Jeffrey's Toys & Comics was until they moved about two years ago. The old space is still empty.

BTW, glad to see that you've returned to active duty here. Hope you and Lisa and Roy are having a wonderful holiday...