By Greg Kim
One of the last Doggie Diners in the Bay Area sat at the intersection of Adeline, Macarthur and San Pablo. The iconic wiener dog sign stood high above the eatery, looking over the border of West Oakland and Emeryville. Shortly after we moved in the neighborhood, it was leveled and replaced by a check cashing business.
We welcomed the check cashing business by spray painting “GET OUT OF OUR NEIGHBORHOOD” on their new stucco wall. We tried breaking their front window but it held strong, the bricks bouncing back and almost hitting us. We found this type of window familiar, like the one we were not able to break the McDonald’s at 52nd and Telegraph…though we tried. Our paranoid side thought they reinforced the windows, knowing that we might try to break them.
After spray painting the check cashing business, we went back to our warehouse and got my car. The night was early and there were still many windows to break and walls to spray-paint. We had no plan; however, we had a few clumps of concrete that we got from our warehouse parking lot, two cans of spray paint, crazy glue, ski goggles, a crowbar and a small can of butane—a well-stocked vandalism kit.
Driving north on San Pablo we slowed down to admire our past work on a wholesale butcher warehouse. The walls were speckled with various colors of paint bombs from the months prior, giving it a Jackson Pollock/Damien Hirst feel. We used mason jars and house paint for paint bombs. Both were in limited qualities, so we rarely carried them anymore.
It was 3 am and the streets were empty. We were listening to a Chumbawumba cassette. The only people out were drug users looking to score, prostitutes and us. Near the end of the Berkeley border, we eyed a Kentucky Fried Chicken. For some reason, Steve and I were particularly against KFC. They were no worse than Burger King or McDonald's, but we just liked saying “The Colonel is fucking with the chickens.”
We parked the car a block away and slinked in the shadows back to the KFC. I ran to the front door and squeezed crazy glue into lock, looking eye-to-eye with a graphic of Colonel Sanders on the glass door. Steve yelled, “Watch out!” I looked back and he had a large rock that he pulled from the landscaped walkway. I ran back to the sidewalk. Laboring with the large rock, he awkwardly moved toward the front plate glass window and heaved the rock. A low boom rang out, alerting the neighborhood that we were now fucking with the Colonel. It felt like a bomb went off. As the alarm rang out and glass settled on both sides of the window, we turned and retraced our footsteps back to the car.
I kept the headlights off until we reach San Pablo. We were both scared and excited, chattering a mile a minute:
"Jesus Fucking Christ Steve, did you hear that?” I said, half laughing and still out of breath from the sprint to the car.
“I know, I had no idea. Those things usually never break.” Steve admitted, his voice getting higher with the excitement of retelling the act.
I met Steve in an arranged friendship. We had both responded to an ad looking to start an anarchist punk collective in an East Bay warehouse. Before we moved into together, Steve came over to my apartment in the Haight. At the time, he was living in a shitty squat in Noe Valley and was happy at the idea of having permanent housing.
Steve was from North Hampton, Massachusetts, and never let you forget it. He was about 5’ 10”, had naturally spiky brown hair, wore oversized wire-rimmed glasses and had intermittent tattoos over his arms. On our first meeting, he proudly showed me two of them: the ubiquitous Black Flag bars and the “squat” symbol, a lightning bolt through a circle. He would later add the intertwined peace and anarchy symbol on his inner wrist, another staple tattoo of anarchist punks. He divulged that his mother felt that anybody who had over three tattoos was a sexual deviant. If this was true, Steve was a deviant and so was his father.
After breaking KFC’s window, we decided to call it a night and go home. On the way, Steve yelled, “Stop. Pull over! I’m gonna flatten its tire.” A large truck with a logo that said “Quality Meat” was parked on San Pablo, on a block without a lot of commercial businesses. Steve jumped out of the car and ran over to the front tire nearest the sidewalk. For minutes, a loud hissing permeated the air. It abruptly stopped, replaced by sounds of a short struggle. The large cab of the truck obscured my vantage of Steve, but I could see his feet. He had moved from a crouching position next to the tire to standing next to the hood. His feet moved back to the middle of the sidewalk then ran to the hood, jumped, then jumped a few times more, lunging forward.
Steve came back to the car laughing, shaking his head and with a windshield wiper in his hand.
“What the hell were you doing?” I asked. “From here, it looked like you were fighting the front of the truck.”
“Yeah, I was pissed off because flattening the tire was taking too long, so I decided to rip off the windshield wiper,” he said, a bit perplexed why taking a penny and jamming it into the valve of the tire wouldn’t flatten the tire in less time.
As we took off, Steve rolled down the window and threw the windshield wiper at the truck.
At the corner of University and San Pablo in Berkeley we saw two cops, guns drawn, slinking around the corner of a bank. The light was red and we watched as they cautiously moved forward. The light turned green and I made an immediate right, getting off San Pablo to take a less traveled street. Somebody must’ve broken into the bank.
Riding down Hollis, Steve once again yelled for me to stop. I pulled over and he ran across the street with the ski goggles and the crow bar. Pulling the hood over his head and putting on the ski goggles, Steve approached the ATM. He looked around, reached into his pocket and squirted a large dose of butane on the ATM. He put the butane in his hoodie pocket and reached in his pocket for matches. Moving one step back, he lit a match and threw it at the ATM. A faint bluish yellow light reflected on to Steve’s dark clothing. The expected large burst of flames didn’t happen. He took the crowbar and alternated between bashing it like a baseball and wrenching the crevices. After a few swings, he gave up and walked quickly back to the car. The fire had gone out and the alarm was silent.
We were tired and it was time for some sleep.
The next morning we watched the check cashing business clean the graffiti off the walls. That night Steve and I returned and spray-painted “…And Stay Out!”