Ode to Angelo

Courtesy of C.Levin

Certain people have faces that resemble interactive portraits, given the composition of lines: skin folds, wrinkles and curves. Angelo, with his Freudian jaw, pensive/ wisely aged eyes, vibrantly silver hair, could strike you as a Steve McCurry muse – if the famed photographer ever ventured to Berkeley.

Merge his face with his choice of presentation: old-school Burberry reading glasses, tucked in shirt buttoned to the collar –Mont Blanc pen in pocket. Accompanying the image is a suitcase with plastic bags gathered at the handle. All the while, a smile from two seemingly endless rows of teeth that never fails to greet your arrival. While one arm is missing, the other is either in motion to wave or to put his Mont Blanc’s ink to work.

Beyond the visual comes his storyteller voice, deep with mild accent, made to narrate and captivate any passer-by.


Angelo, born in Mexico City, moved to Sacramento with his family in 1957. From there, he spent his childhood learning via reading literature’s finest, starting with the Iliad before age 12, moving on to Shakespearean poets, and then to Tolstoy and his dogmatic entourage.

He started university at Sacramento State then soon moved his way up to UC Davis, where he double majored in philosophy and Spanish literature.

Post-graduation, he got a fellowship to Yale, followed by Columbia. He lived a fervently dedicated life in the world of academia – teaching, lecturing and always, always writing.

Life, of course, sent obstacles his way. What was, at first, a marriage with a fellow academic on the east coast and raising two kids soon turned into divorce.

Forced to return to California to gather and update paperwork, he also needed to make ends meet, as given the economic crisis, teaching had taken a disproportionate hit on employability.

As obstacles piled on, Angelo went from living in Beverly Hills to moving to Berkeley, where he worked in the university’s administrative office.

On losing this job due to an intensive staff cut, he ultimately found himself in the all-too-common capitalist narrative: having lost everything. Angelo now spends every night sleeping on a bench in the Amtrak train station.


I couldn’t tell you exactly what happened. The story didn’t seem far off from the usual lines of unemployment embellished by a pothole in the American dream. It leaves you free-falling when tragedy strikes. And there’s no safety net to protect you from the injuries inflicted the brutal crash.

Though I admit my initial interest in creating his portrait was to delve precisely into a chapter on the vulnerability of life, I realize now the real purpose was to give Angelo the microphone and let him talk. I delved into the details of a tragic turning point that evidently came as exploitative of his misfortune. 

A bit, best worth highlighting, resides in his present self, his reservoir of knowledge, and his exceptionally resilient character.

Every day Angelo shows up to Strada at 9:00AM post-bus ride. He has his coffee and croissant, then spends his entire waking day writing at the Berkeley Law School Library.

It only takes a couple seconds of exchange for him to share with you the progress he’s made in his most recent work, Ave Maria: the story of Jesus Christ falling in love with Eve. This marks the closing of his 23rd finished book, the one he hopes to potentially get published if adequate funding is found.

Few people will speak to you with as much passion as this man does about the process of writing, the authors he admires… He brings you a contagious love for life in the literary eye, every little thing serves as a fruit for poetic indulgence.

Allow this read to therefore be an ode to Angelo – THE Strada Man. I wouldn’t pitch it as a story worth sharing (in the sense of me regurgitating all that he’s endured) but more so a story worth taking the few minutes to sit down and listen to (if you’re as lucky as to come across Angelo at Strada, or the Angelo equivalent in your local coffee shop of choice).


I remember coming from winter break and first person I cross paths with on my way to campus was of course the one with this famous heart-warming smile.

“I know I don’t really know you –but somehow, I missed you!”

Being someone who goes through my own anxiety spells vis-à-vis friendships, relationships, and the human fear of loneliness, to be reminded that someone feels a little more internal upheaval. This seen because of your bare minimum effort to acknowledge their existence. It still comes as quite a blunt reality shock.

The day I told Angelo I wanted to interview him, he showed up in a blazer, properly dressed for the occasion. I have 2 hours of audio of him, talking about his life and the authors that marked him, his travels, his encounters.

Before I left the table, he rushed to buy a bag full of pastries and came back with the words: “Thank you – you made me feel so important”.

Here’s an ode to Angelo – his resilience, his intelligence, his stories, his formal fits, his passion for life and his bleeding heart. A Berkeley beauty amidst the Bear-ridden Bay.

About the Article

A subjective view of Angelo, after interviewing him at Caffé Strada in Berkeley, California.  For a photographic view, see Facing Angelo.

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