Berkeley eccentrics are not like SF eccentrics. The most unconventional residents of this East Bay city tend to have a lot more political gusto, are more concentrated in a particular area (near the UC Berkeley campus), and probably did a lot more drugs. Still, these characters are cherished by the community, kinda like how you still love your weird, smelly uncle. Since The Bold Italic and San Francisco are home to so many proud Bears (Cal Bears, gay bears, and gay Cal Bears), we present a list of Berkeley's most notable eccentrics.
Known to generations of Cal students as “Patches” for the colorful embroidered patches he sells along Telegraph Ave., the lovable street vendor – Berkeley's "last hippie" – Robert Meister has also made himself famous by allegedly selling special cookies to eager freshmen.
The Happy Happy Happy guy repeatedly yells "Happy, Happy, Happy!" He's known for standing at the entrance of Sproul Plaza on a bucket while wearing a straw hat (or two), big glasses, and at least three vaguely political, anti-imperialist handwritten posters at a time. Sometimes he yells sarcastic things or points at people who disagree with him and changes his tune to "CIA! CIA! CIA!"
Triangle Man got his name from his very buff upper body that happens to be shaped like a triangle. His stomping grounds included the Recreational Sports Facility (RSF), Crossroads, and the Asian food ghetto. If his arm weights don't give him away, his shirts are tight enough to clue you in to homeboy's hard-core workout regime.
Arguably the most intellectual hobo in Berkeley, Hate Man, aka Mark Hawthorne, used to be a New York Times journalist, a Peace Corps volunteer, and an Air Force vet before he abandoned it all to live in People’s Park. For the past 25 years he has established his own philosophy based on hate and “oppositionality.” No one is sure yet if the dress he usually wears is a necessary part of the philosophy. To start a conversation with Hate Man make sure you start with “Fuck you.”
Not since the Free Speech Movement has UC Berkeley become so well known in the national media than for the infamous Berkeley tree sitters who began their lofted protest in 2006. Zachary RunningWolf was the leader of the tree-huggers, who sat for days in an allegedly sacred grove protesting the construction of a new football stadium. Eventually, in 2008, the trees and the sitters came down. In 2012, RunningWolf ran for mayor of Berkeley, which didn’t quite work out either.
Korean religious leader Sun Myung Moon became famous as the founder of the Unification Church, and his mass weddings involved hundreds of his followers who were known as Moonies. The cult had a strong presence in the hippie town throughout the 1970s and continues to be active on Berkeley’s campus today, with members often carrying posters of the blessed Moon’s face near the entrance to Sproul Plaza.
The Rawr man roams the streets of South Berkeley roaring at passersby. Kinda like the Bush Man in SF, he has been known to jump out with a ferocious growl and scare the bejeebies out of innocent walkers, much to the enjoyment of anyone nearby. Or you can engage in a Wu-Tang inspired call-and-response and ask the onomatopoeia-loving man, “How do you like it?” I think you know what the response might be.
Cal's lovable and semi-creepy mascot has been an eccentric at UC Berkeley since 1941, when Oski took the place of live bear mascots. Oski can be seen at pep rallies and games dancing awkwardly and taking pictures with sorority girls. Plus, he’s in a secret society – Order of the Golden Bear – with ex-chancellors and ex–Rally Committee presidents.
The Yoshua guy is named after the T-shirt he is always wearing that says "Yoshua” (Jesus' name in Hebrew) on it. He’s known for making bullshit predictions about when the world will end and writing them on a standing chalkboard he sets up at the entrance to Sproul. He also carries a Bible and flyers that nobody wants, and will talk your ear off about why he wasn't totally wrong about the Armageddons of past that he had predicted.
A Cal student in the 1990s, Andrew Martinez made a name for himself as a nudist – he went to class, parties, and even the dining hall completely naked. Even though he was a media favorite and made appearances on numerous TV shows, the Naked Guy was expelled from the university in 1992 after a new rule passed requiring clothing in public. Things went south after that. The Naked Guy wandered around Berkeley pushing a shopping cart full of rocks until he was arrested and spent the remainder of his years between jail and mental institutions. In 2006 he suffocated himself in his cell at Santa Clara jail.
Through the ’80s and ’90s, Rick Starr could be spotted singing Big Band–era hits on UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza. Wearing a tacky suit and hat, he carried a microphone that wasn't plugged into anything, and, like a true lounge singer, was known for interjecting commentary mid-song to passersby (“You’re beautiful!”). He was charged with malicious disturbance of the peace in 1992 for singing too loudly, but if singing Sinatra terribly is so wrong, who would want to be right? He faded from the Berkeley scene in the early 2000s saying he felt unappreciated, but his fans can find him on Facebook and occasionally performing in Oakland.
Stoney Burke, aka the old political guy who hangs out in front of Dwinelle Hall, makes you question your life choices. He has blue hair and a bagful of props: a rubber chicken, American flag pants, and a bullhorn, to start. His best material is making fun of people wearing suits, or students with majors he thinks are useless. He satirically pretends to be a Republican conservative to get kids to engage with him, and he upsets freshmen in the name of free speech and lulz.
In Our Shop: Berkeley's Most Lovable Weirdos poster
We loved the illustrations that designer Jayde Cardinalli made for this story so much, that we decided to turn them into a poster. Cal students and alumni, Berkeley residents, and anyone with appreciation for the Bay Area's weirdos will love this visual guide to the East Bay eccentrics.
Get it in our Shop.
Illustration: Jayde Cardinalli