“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” – probably Mark Twain.
I arrived in San Francisco on a sunny Friday afternoon in August 1975. What a beautiful city! I was having dinner at a small café on Fisherman’s Wharf when I started to shiver. I hadn’t worn warm clothes because it was such a nice warm day. The couple sitting next to me leaned over and with a broad smile repeated the above quote. “But don’t worry” they said “it doesn’t get any colder in the winter.” Well, this was going to be interesting.
The rental agent asked me where I wanted to live so I just told her that I would be at a bank downtown. “I have several nice 1 bedroom places on Nob Hill. It would mean you could walk to work and have a nice side street for parking.” A few hours later I had a nice apartment on Pine Street. It wasn’t Haight-Ashbury, but it was perfect for what I needed. I would soon learn that the Haight-Ashbury years had passed, along with most of the hippies, long before I got there. The 70s brand of hippies were quite different from the originals.
I got some groceries and the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle at the corner of Leavenworth and Pine and found some good openings at banks in the financial district. On Monday morning I put on my best wide lapelled dark green 3-piece suit with flared pants and became the newest bank teller at the bank. I would start the following Monday. That would leave me with a week to explore the city. This was the land of The Streets of San Francisco, McMillan and Wife, Steve McQueen of Bullitt, and the Dirty Harry series of Clint Eastwood. This was a place where I could engage with those things I had only heard about or seen on TV. The California Street cable car line was only one street over so that was always a good place to start. During my time here I would get used to all the celebrities and still know how lucky I was.
It was a fun week but it was time to get back to work. This first job wasn’t a very good one, with weird hours and lower pay than I was used to, so I left there and got another job at another bank. That one was not much better, although the pay was better, so I was back looking again. It was getting harder to find a new job each time so I had to make sure this time. Eventually I ended up at the Bank of Tokyo (BOT). The pay was good and I would not be a teller (which was good for everyone since I was terrible at it). I would work 3-11 and be able to explore the city during the day, perfect. This would be where I would work for the rest of my time here. And here is where I met a most interesting woman, Sadako Lyle.
Sadako was a Japanese citizen who was a resident of, and factory worker in Hiroshima, Japan during World War II. In a twist of fate, she was visiting relatives in another city on August 6, 1945 and remained unharmed. She would later marry an American GI and move to San Francisco, but would never give up her Japanese citizenship. Once again, as I had experienced across the country, this total stranger had taken an interest in the blond kid. I was pretty lucky because I was one of only 6 Caucasians in the whole bank, everyone else was Japanese, and they didn’t like the Americans very much.
Sadako would protect me and teach me the Japanese lifestyle and customs. I would frequent Japan Town often and would even pick up a few phrases in the language. Sadako was unusually effective at deflecting away any problems I might be having. I didn’t know why and I admit I never asked. She did seem to spend a lot of time away from our little section but I was more concerned with working hard and producing quality work.
The combination of my experiences coming across the country and this infusion of Japanese culture were doing wonders for me. I loved the city, the job was pretty good, and I smiled all the time. On Friday afternoons I would pack the car, go to work, get off at 11 pm and then drive to Lake Tahoe for a weekend of roulette at the casinos. I kept this up for months and while I sometimes broke even, I never lost.
I was also lucky enough to witness some important history. I had heard of F. Lee Bailey of course. He was a Boston boy who had become a famous defense lawyer in such cases as Sam Sheppard, Albert DeSalvo (Boston Strangler), among others. In the winter of 1976 he became the defense attorney for Patty Hearst at her San Francisco trial. As I walked to work each day, I would often see Bailey and Hearst walking arm-in-arm to and from the courtroom. This wasn’t Douglas and Malden in a car chase, it wasn’t Hudson and St. James trying to be casual around the city, or even Eastwood tending bar at the Hog’s Breath Inn in Carmel, no this (to me) was bone chilling. It was a shame that I would not be able to be in the courtroom for this historic case.
The only thing that was missing in my life at this point was Paula. I had tried dating for a while but that just didn’t work. We had written back and forth (yes, written as in pen and paper and send a letter) and I think she could tell that I had changed a lot from the blond kid that left 2 years earlier. I was ready to come home, but she was ready to get married, and that was the condition if we got back together.
I had a wonderful 2 years in San Francisco. I have so many great memories; games at Candlestick, photography in the mountains, outstanding restaurants, and the cable car to everywhere. I had gone to Polk Street Fair as my first exposure to the (what is now called) LGBT community. I had been to Los Angeles a few times, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah. But I gave my notice to Sadako and explained the whole thing to her. It was only then that she told me her real story. She told me that she was being groomed for the Finance Department and that in another month she would be moving over there. It was her plan to take me with her and advance me through the department with her.
This was it, the pivotal moment that would change how I would lead my life forevermore. Of course, I didn’t know it then, but the decision I would make now would change everything. I had finally gotten my head straight, I was successful at everything I was doing, and I had just made an enduring lifetime commitment of love and marriage to the woman who I had harmed so many times before. In so many instances my father had chosen career over marriage, career over family, career over everything.
“No, Sadako-sama, I can’t. I know that you are offering me the chance of a lifetime, a career of riches in a wonderful city, but I can’t. I am not nor can I be my father. You have taught me so much, but my michi will be love and family over career. It will be who I am to be. It will be what I teach, just as you have taught me.”
We wept together, I weep even now as I remember her. She was disappointed, but she told me how proud she was of the person I had become.
© J T Weaver
Very nice writing. My brain wants to do a number game with your Japanese friend’s name. 🙂 Sounds like she was an exemplary friend. I think the hardest choices are ones made between two good choices. Hm. I spent a weekend in San Francisco with my sister, Suni, and A Muses’ Forum friends twenty years ago. It was March, rainy, cold…..and I had calamari for the first and only time in my life. I also remember it was the weekend to wean my son, the Italian one. Ouch. 🙂
Thank you very much. As you can tell, I enjoyed my time in SF immensely and often want to return which, as fate would have it, I was able to do several years later.
My parents met and married in CA during the war, and my mother moved to my father’s home in CT while he was overseas, but they always loved CA. They moved back to Marin County after all their children had graduated from high school, but I was the only one who stayed in CT. I have tons of wonderful memories of all the places you mention during the 40 years they lived there before their death. I even spent a year and a half living there taking care of my Mom after Dad passed away. It is a remarkable city.
After Boston, it is my favorite.
qI realize that the most important point of your story was your life choice, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I say that the greatest takeaway for me was the memories of The City. I lived in Berkeley for a few years in the late 60s and came to love that area–in fact, it’s still my favorite place in the world! It was the days of the Vietnam war, the protests, flower children, and yes, the ‘glory days’ of the Haight. Oh, youth! Thanks for taking me on a delightful trip down memory lane.
Laurie! The summer of love in the Haight? If only I had been born 3 years earlier. 🙂 And yes you’re right about the city. I’ve always had a dual love affair with both Boston and San Francisco. I’m glad you liked it. More good stuff to come, stay tuned!!
Sounds like quite an interesting time in San Francisco!! And yes, sometimes, we do have to make tough decisions fairly early in our adult lives, decisions that will indeed have an impact on the direction our lives take….
As you can imagine, my father was very disappointed. But you follow you’re own path (mishi) and hope.
Sounds like you made the right choice. Most of my family were bankers – I broke the mould by becoming a photographer and spendthrift – and I never heard of one of them gambling. Maybe if they had I would have chosen their path and missed the wonderful life that I have had.
Yes, and no. But you’ll have to wait to find out why as the story develops.