By Greg Kim
New Method Laundry warehouse sat on a corner parcel at 36th and Adeline in Emeryville. County maps had the property half in Oakland and the other half in Emeryville. I never saw the maps—it was more of a verbal history passed on through former tenants. Jug Liquors #3 was across the street; they sold crack pipes from underneath the counter. #1 and #2 were a block away in different directions. To the south, I-580 ran parallel with the second story windows for the length of the building.
A block away on 35th, hookers lined the street that led to the freeway on-ramp. If you didn’t lock your car doors and the traffic light was red, they would jump in your front seat and ask you for a date. If it was locked, and you were unlucky, they would lift their dresses to reveal a panty-less vagina or penis. And if you were really unlucky, they would rub their genitals against the passenger side window. I was unlucky once, which was enough to make me investigate alternative routes.
The neighborhood was a mixture of various industrial warehouses, rundown residential houses and abandoned buildings in various stages of disarray. All windows and doors were covered in bars, and fences were fortified with signs warning of big dogs. It was what you would call a bad area, ravaged by the crack epidemic of the 80s. When guests from out of town visited, they were told to always go left, if they went outside at all. To the right were the panty-less hookers and the worst of West Oakland; to the left was slightly better.
New Method was shared by two groups and one individual: Peace Punks (us), a spa company, and Dave the Foundry Guy. The spa company occupied the west side of the building and we were in the front. On the roof was a propped up, life-size Jacuzzi with two mannequins waving to the freeway traffic. We would regularly reposition the mannequins to simulate sex, doggy style, and alter their hands so they appeared to flip off the cars on the freeway.
We slowly moved into our space in November of 1985. I moved in first, sleeping in a sleeping bag on a large stack of plywood, which would eventually be the floor to the 4 bedrooms we were building. It would be the only modification to the space.
My roommates, Joseph and Nancy, lived upstairs in another space; Frank and Steve were not moving in until the bedrooms were finished. None of us knew each other except Joseph and Nancy, who were boyfriend and girlfriend. We all came together from mutual friends and an ad placed in a local punk fanzine.
The first week of November before construction, I woke up on my bed of plywood, surrounded by two inches of water. It had rained heavily the night before. Hundreds of leaks from the roof dripped onto the second floor and found its way to the concrete foundation where my bed rested.
I tiptoed through the water and out the front door, to alert Joseph of the flood. In the hallway was a deeper lake that came into through the parking lot, running down the hallway a little past our door, stopping at the foot of the stairs that led to the other spaces. Most of the water in our space came from the hallway.
We called the landlord and his lackey appeared the next day with tubs of tar to patch the second floor roof. We asked him about the flooding in the hallway and he said there wasn’t much he could do, as our space was lower than the hallway and the hallway was lower than the parking lot. The lease was for three years and we had just signed, giving over first and last month’s rent. That was all the money the landlord ever received from us. We took pictures the water, gave them to some hippie lawyer with a ponytail and stopped paying rent. He said we should put our rent money in an escrow account. What he didn’t know was that we never planned on paying rent past our initial down payment, regardless of flooding. Also we had no idea what an escrow account was.
Due to the flooding, a plan was devised to raise the first floor off the concrete by a few inches. Working with a budget of zero, and with materials mostly stolen from construction sites, we decided to use pallets to raise the floor, and leave the hallways as exposed concrete.
Finding quality pallets proved a tough job. You never realize the difference in quality in pallets until you start looking. We found the motherlode of good pallets across the street, under the freeway, in a fenced-in area used to park large construction equipment. We scaled the fenced at night and tossed over 32 of the heaviest pallets in the yard. It was hard work and took hours. Because of limitations imposed by the pallets, each of our rooms was exactly eight pallets large.
Joseph had worked construction, so he led the project. During one weekend, Steve, Joseph, Nancy, Frank and I framed the rooms, hung sheetrock and installed doors with no locks or handles. It was easier than I thought. Not knowing what to do about the flooding in the hallway, we employed skateboards to ferry us through the water and stacked two-by-fours end-to-end like a tightrope to get us to the stairs or out the front door. Luckily, the three years that we lived in New Method, it was relatively dry.
By mid-January we had moved in and began living as an Anarchist Vegan Collective. Since we didn’t pay rent, we had lots of time to pursue multiple anarchist activities:
1) Music. The band was called A State of Mind—with all the As circled for anarchy. I played drums and acoustic guitar. We labeled ourselves as anti-music, as we were about the message, the music being the medium to get our ideas across.
2) Mail Order Business. We distributed pamphlets and books on feminism, veganism, animal rights and generally anything we deemed anarchistic. Woman was spelled womyn and corporation was spelled corp(se)oration.
3) Record Label. Mind Matter Records put out records from bands that had anarchist lyrics; music was irrelevant.
4) Destruction. This is where we shined. Late at night we would spray-paint businesses that dealt in animal flesh, throw bricks through windows of fast food restaurants, glue the locks of banks and generally wreak havoc on anything that pissed us off. We were one step away from bombing and arson.
Around the time we moved in, we started seeing posters and flyers for an action in April called “No Business As Usual.” It was a national event sponsored by the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). The flyer listed scheduled events: protest at Bechtel, Die-In at 5pm downtown, etc. Even though we despised the RCP and the money behind their full-colored flyers and posters, we decided to take part in the event; however, instead of being part of the die-ins and protests, which we found too pedestrian for our anarchist ways, we decided to plan our own unique actions to coincide with the event. This would involve some planning.
Over the next few months we came up with the following plan. Since the day was about stopping business, specifically corporations in downtown San Francisco, we decided to block the Bay Bridge during the morning commute. Instead of advertising for a group protest at the foot of the bridge, and then walking up the on-ramp to the bridge, which had already been done, we wanted to abandon a car during the height of the rush hour and throw as many tires on the bridge that two cars could hold. One car would be left on the bridge and the other would be used as the getaway. That getaway car would be ditched somewhere near a planned protest in progress, where we could blend into the crowd. None of us took into account that the car would probably be abandoned around 7:30 am. There was a pretty good chance that no well-attended protest would be that early. Protesters are notorious late sleepers, as were we. Getting up early would prove to be the hardest part of the action.
Once we abandoned the second car, we would split up. We thought it was a great plan and creative.
First we had to find two cars that were not registered to anybody we knew, or, preferably, stolen. None of us were thieves or possessed the skills to steal cars, so that was out. We settled on fixing two of the abandoned cars in our parking lot. There were plenty of working class punks hanging around the warehouse, who had enough skills to get a car to run for at least a half hour. We would enlist them under the guise that the car would be sold to help the anarchist cause. Whether you believed in our politics or not, if you were punk, you somehow found a way to empathize with our politics. It was part of the contract.
With that settled we moved onto acquiring used tires to throw on the bridge. There were plenty of tire shops, who were more than willing to let a few “art students” take some tires home for an art project.
With the tire and cars secured, we waited until the day before the action. That night, we painted the tires with slogans: Fight War, Not Wars; Destroy Power, Not People, and my contribution: Your Mama, CHP! (even in my most dogmatic hour, I still had a sense of humor) and loaded them into the cars. Tara, Joseph’s new girlfriend would drive alone in one car and the rest of us (me, Joseph, Steve and Frank) would follow close behind in the other car, Joseph driving.
The night before the action, we stayed up late, as usual, cooked fried potatoes (without boiling them first) and listened to music. Around 5 am, we went to bed, only to get up an hour and half later.
Joseph, the responsible one, woke early and got us up. All of us slept till noon every day, so it wasn’t a pretty morning. We put on the clothes that we wore the day before and the week before that—ripped black pants or jeans, multiple ripped black or white shirts, usually dirty, cloth shoes of some kind and some sort of black jacket, standard issue for peace punks. Tara wore the same or multiple loose dark colored house dresses. Women Peace Punks either looked like the guys or like peasants. Layering was big. The first time I saw Tara in a single T-shirt, I was amazed that she had breasts. I was so used to seeing her in so many clothes that I had no idea what her body looked like.
We wandered out into the morning half asleep. The cars were still caked with a decade’s worth of dirt, so we borrowed Dave’s hose and washed the windows, scraping the dirt off with newspaper.
While the cars warmed up, we loaded the last of the tires into the trunks. I saw my tire and smiled. It was a cold morning and we stood around the back of the car in silence, our hands in our pockets.
Tara got in her car and the rest of us piled into the other. It was a little after 7 am.
As we approached the toll plaza of the bridge, the traffic was lighter than expected. None of us had ever commuted, so we just assumed that it was bumper-to-bumper-every morning.
The plan was to dump one car and tires on the SF side of the bridge, at the highest point of the span.
Once through the toll plaza, we stayed in the middle lane, going 55mph, the flow of the traffic. As we got nearer to the top of the span, adrenalin replaced our sleepiness. As with most actions, doubt started to creep in.
“The traffic is going way too fast.” I said, hoping that we would just keep driving. I was too nervous to get out of the car and knew that if we got caught, we’d be in deep shit.
As planned, Tara slowed down as she approached the apex. We were both in the middle lane and slowly came to a stop, like a train pulling into a station. Cars on both sides sped past us with angry faces, confused as to what we were doing. Carefully opening the driver’s side door, Joseph shimmied his way to the trunk and opened it. We followed suit. Traffic was backing up behind us and the rubberneckers had slowed commuters to a standstill. As fast as we could, we threw the tires all over the bridge, blocking all five lanes. When the tires were gone, we moved on to the trunk of the car Tara was driving. She had already opened the trunk and was waiting in the driver’s seat with the engine on. She was the getaway car. After emptying her trunk of tires, Joseph threw the keys to our car over the guard rail and into the Bay. I looked at Joseph and he had a huge smile on his face. We ran to Tara’s car. As we sped away, we all looked out the back window at our handiwork. The tires had successfully worked as a wall, stopping the traffic dead.
A man in a Honda got out of his car and picked up the closest tire. He walked to the edge of the bridge and tossed it over the side. I remember thinking, “Stevet, I hope there’s not a boat passing under the bridge.” The floodgates opened, and others joined the guy, moving the tires to the narrow sidewalk. By then, we had already exited on Harrison and were speeding toward Market Street.
Just past Mission Street, Tara pulled into a metered yellow zone. We abruptly exited the car, leaving the doors unlocked. Walking briskly toward BART on Market Street, Tara tossed the keys into the first garbage can. We slipped into BART unnoticed and vanished, taking the first outbound train.
On the train, we stood amidst the commuters and silently reflected on the morning’s events. We were tired, very tired. Getting up this early proved to be the hardest part of the action and I was questioning if it was worth it. What had we really achieved? Pissing people off?
As the train jerked forward, I thought about the man who threw the tire off the bridge and fretted that it may have hit somebody.