The secret origin of the Backwords-Duncan vending table

Most of my life has seemed like a series of accidents. Like my vending table on the corner of Telegraph and Haste. Which I did for 19 years. That started out as a fluke.

In 1991, the Dan Rather CBS News was doing a feature on our photo calendar. And they staged various bits for the camera (it’s interesting how, even in a straight TV news piece, they artificially stage a lot of the shots just like film directors make up the scenes for a movie — like they instructed me and Duncan to walk down the street and pretend like we were talking to each other while they filmed us from across the street, and etc). And the director thought it would make for some catchy footage if they filmed us actually selling our calendar on the street. The calendar was about the Telegraph street scene after all, so why not film us actually selling the calendar right there on the streets of Telegraph. So I set up a make-shift “vending table” by dragging over a couple of newspaper racks, and put a piece of cardboard on top of them for the table, and dumped a big pile of our calendars on top of that. And pretty soon a fairly large crowd of people had gathered around us — mostly attracted by the television cameras, which gave the sense that something “exciting” was happening — and started buying our calendars.

And as I stood there selling the calendars, it’s like a little lightbulb went off in my head: “Hey, you stand here on a street corner and all these people come up to you and start throwing money at you. This could be a pretty good gig!”

And so for the next 19 years me and Duncan would set up various vending tables on that corner of Telegraph and Haste selling all sorts of strange and wondrous stuff. Until Duncan finally died in 2009. And we had his memorial right there on that corner of Telegraph and Haste (I actually set up Duncan’s vending table one last time, with his empty chair sitting there alongside of his table as like a final tribute). And, in an odd bit of synchronicity, the CBS News team showed up one more time to do a feature about Duncan’s death (Dan Rather was long gone by this point and I have no idea who the anchor was then). And I ended my vending table career shortly after that. So the two CBS features were like bookends for that period of my life. The beginning of my vending table and the end of my vending table. With a zillion strange stories packed in between them over the years.

But like I said, the whole thing started by accident. If the TV guy — on a whim — hadn’t suggested we set up a shot of us selling our calendar on the street, I probably would have never ended up as a street vendor in the first place. But I guess a lot of this life is like that line: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”


2 thoughts on “The secret origin of the Backwords-Duncan vending table

  1. Nurion!!!!!!! (Narayana) She was a sweet woman, had a cat on her shoulder!!!! Ahead of her time eh? She hung out with me and Ghost and … Sparky on the corner of Telegraph and Durant, we were the occupying force there. 1980s early. (I’d be blazed on acid and watching people walking by)


    1. There was some great acid available on the streets of Berkeley in the 80’s. I once scored a quarter sheet of blotter reading “Gooney Bird” with a cartoon of a yellow colored airplane on each square. From a hippie dude named Chuck, who I’m afraid came to a bad end later, really deteriorated (dunno why) before I stopped seeing him anymore.

      Anyway, Gooney Bird was really strong. Took a couple and went to “Mad Max 3, Beyond Thunderdome” and had an intense, memorable trip. What a time it was…


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