Once, I’d have walked out of my apartment, turned left down Bonar Street (don’t even think about making that joke again), turned right at Dwight Way, walked three blocks to San Pablo Avenue, and I’d be there – Cafe Trieste, on the west side of San Pablo. It’s a tiny place often filled with locals.

The original Cafe Trieste was opened in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco by Papa Gianni, an Italian immigrant who came to the US in the 1950s. It’s still open today, just one block up Columbus from the City Lights bookstore, on Vallejo Street. The Berkeley location has been open for a while; it is filled with photographs of famous people, as well as Papa Gianni himself – standing on a Navy ship in the 1940s, singing opera at the San Francisco location – some days there’s a low key jazz band or Papa Gianni himself, singing opera on special occasions.

Fridays through Mondays, Sam runs the counter. Sam is a Sri Lankan who goes to college in San Francisco. He’s been working here for seven years, and he’s the one I always greet. When I began frequenting Cafe Trieste in February, the locals were intimidating, crowding around the old-fashioned wooden counter, shooting the shit. Gradually, I made friends with Sam and Teddy, a Massachussetts transplant who also works at a fancy restaurant two doors down. In between Cafe Trieste and the fancy restaurant is a fancy sex shop, windows covered with white film for privacy. If you walk by and look inside, it looks like a sort of library, completely unlike a sex shop.

Every time I walk in, Sam grins from behind the counter and reaches over to shake my hand.