Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Working /Living in San Francisco in the Sixties

The saying goes, " if you remember San Francisco in the Sixties, you weren't there". I was there, though the memory is sketchy and I am relying on others who are still alive to help with these memoirs by dredging through our memory banks.

We became friends with other Australians whom we met through work, rugby or partying.  Most of them played for the SFRUC or worked in other consulates like the British, NZ or South African. They were cruizy jobs, with not a lot of responsibility, our main task was driving our "bosses" around to functions and meetings. My boss was the Honourable Neil Truscott who later became Australia's Ambassador to Lebanon. I would drive him to several functions per week most were at one of  the several universities around the Bay Area. With the inevitable question "What about Australia's White Australia Policy" which had already been dismantled and his down pat reply, about Australia's liberalisation of the migration quotas.

The Consulate in those days was  in the Qantas building on the same level as  the Department of Trade and as I was in charge of the allocation of  cars and drivers we interacted often. When VIP's came to town, which was constantly,  I was given the list of the who's who and be responsible for organising their airport pick up and transfer to Hotels - normally The "St Francis"  or "Fairmont" two of the cities grand hotels, the "St Francis" was directly across Union Square from the Qantas building. Other accommodations  were the "Bohemian" or the "Olympic" Clubs where  Mr Truscott  was a member and would take the visiting vip's for lunch. The wives would like to go shopping and dependant on their status and car availability, this would be arranged with one of the other drivers who would also be an Aussie.

Union Square and the St Francis Hotel

Sir Robert and Dame Pattie Menzies stayed in the official residence, as prime minister in '65 he would often relax with a martini which he asked me to make to his instructions of : two jiggers of London Gin over ice and a splash of Noilly Prat (dry vermouth) a twist of lemon rind with ice removed.

One time I drove them to the opera, and on dropping them off he advised me of the pick up time, which allowed me sufficient time to go to rugby training and for a couple of beers after training, at the "Camelot" which was our waterhole. Whilst there I had a memory lapse, to be brought back to earth by one of my mates reminding me,"aren't you supposed to be picking up Ming". Like a shot out of a gun I was in the Buick and down Van Nuys to the opera house in minutes, to see Sir Robert pacing up and down, Dame Pattie patiently waiting. When I pulled up he did not wait for me to get out and open the door, they just got in and he said "your late driver". In silence I drove them back to the residence which was on the steepest section of Divisadero Street and the driveway was steeper still leading into the garage. I swung the Buick into the driveway a bit to  fast and applied the brakes to hard, Sir Robert was not wearing a safety belt and was catapulted forward hitting his forehead on the back of my head. After we came to a standstill he said"driver have you been drinking" to which I replied "no sir I have just come from rugby training and sprained my ankle". Nothing further was said and fortunately there were no recriminations.

At that time the movie "Bullitt"shot in SF was big in Australia, starring Steve McQueen and Jacqueline Bissett. Some of the more intimate scenes were shot in "Cafe Cantata" - a restaurant in Union Street. I had picked Gough and Margaret Whitlam who were on their way home from New York and Gough was still in opposition. Margaret had seen the movie and asked if I knew of  "Cafe Cantata" which I did, and the following day drove her around for coffee and then up to Haight Ashbury where she was fascinated by the Hippies and aromas.

 Sunday was the party day in San Francisco, there was "the circuit" which commenced with late breakfast at the "Camelot" a bar off Union Street and then across the Golden Gate Bridge to "Zacs" in Sausalito." Zacs "was the catch up bar, if you didn't make the Camelot everyone made Zacs which was on the waterfront and looked back to the city, not that we were into city views. It was a boy meet girl paradise and having an Australian accent certainly helped your chances of hooking up. The strategy, was not to hook up to soon, as there were four other bars to navigate, another in Sausalito, and then two more in Tiburon, this was another funky bay side artistic village like Sausalito, surrounded by the bay with marinas and art galleries galore. Both in Marin County which if I had of lived permanently in 'the states' would be where i would live. After Tiburon it was back to the Swiss Village Restaurant for spaghetti. "Zacs" was my favourite as the staff  and food were great they always had good live bands and it was not so far to drive and if you did well, why drive on!1

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