Return to Part I of San Francisco Faces West, by John Dos Passos.
I went out and leaned over the parapet of the observation platform. The
Beside me three very black G.I.s stood in a huddle staring out at
the ocean. Farther along two sailors had their backs turned to the view and
were watching with envious looks a boy and girl in sweaters and slacks
who looked like high-
Leaning on the parapet over the hushed and heaving expanse of misted indigo that marks for most Americans the beginning of the Pacific Ocean, I wondered what these two had been thinking. I suppose theres the same question in all our minds when we look westward over the Pacific. Beyond the immense bulge of the world, is the ocean ours or is it theirs? When weve made it ours, what will we want to do with it? The young men in uniform know they are going to have the answer to that question printed on their hides. No wonder they keep their lips tight pressed when they stare out toward the western horizon.
In the restaurant on the level above, the tables are all full but the eaters
are very quiet. There are many family parties. Old people and
At the table next to mine theres a white-
Its very different at the table between mine and the window. There a
slender young Air Force major, with dark curly hair already thinning on
either side of a high forehead, is taking out a strikingly pretty
Better get going. I had begun to feel lonely. The rest of my lunch didnt have much flavor to it. Coming out of the restaurant, the fog pressed clammy against my face. I turned up my coat collar and went shuffling up the hill toward the streetcar line. My coat felt suddenly out at the elbows. Everything about me felt shabby and frayed. Maybe it is that there are many things a civilian in wartime feels out of.
Come out here before its too dark to observe the military
secrets, said the man I had come to see, ushering me right through
to the back of his apartment after he had opened his front door for me. We
looked down at the dark-
Well, he went on, thats the Golden Gate. Thats the spout our supplies are pumped through into the Pacific. Even if we wanted to keep it secret we couldnt. As you have probably noticed, this town is built to give everybody a grandstand view. Thats why the little Japs had to be moved.... The troopships, the transports, the strings of freighters weve seen go steaming out through that narrow tongue of water.... So narrow Drake missed it and sailed clear past.
We used to think of it as the back door of the continent.
Maybe itll turn out to be the front door...
The color had faded out of the sky. Everything was drowned in transparent indigo. Pinpricks of light throbbed yellow in the moist air. Right under our feet at the wharves where freighters were being loaded and unloaded clear round the clock, shapes of smokestacks, hoists, and cranes stood out inky against the white glare of floodlights. Across the Bay a shipyard glowed like a forest fire.
We turned away from the window and sat down in the warm orange light of
the room. My hosts wife, who had been bundling two small
The Army and Navy have done an immense job in the whole Bay
region. The wars been the salvation of this city. Thats the truth. A few
years ago we were dragging along the bottom. Nobody could talk about
anything but class war. Now the Bay region has been turned into a pretty
darned effective machine for repairing ships and spouting supplies out to
the Antipodes. The state of mind round here has changed so much we
hardly know ourselves. Five years ago the San Francisco waterfront was a
What changed things? Hitlers jumping Stalin?
That wasnt the whole story. Of course that changed the line of talk
of the comrades... but the hiring-
Maybe one of the reasons people are turning on the New Deal all over the country is that so many New Deal measures have worked.
People forget how badly things were working before the New Deal moved in.
Might be.... The best example of the change around here is in the election for mayor we had last week. People had come to feel that the present incumbent, an elderly florist, was hopeless. I dont suppose hes any worse now than he has been right along. But everybody suddenly woke up to the fact that he was abject, so we had three other candidates. One was an old time politician who seemed to us to represent simply liquor, prostitution, and gamblingstrictly gravy train. Another was a young progressive with what they call a good labor record; he was endorsed by labor. The third was the man who had been president of the American Hawaiian Steamship Company, who was way out front in the employers groups and had bought tear gas and brought in scabs to fight the longshoremans strike.... Halfway through the campaign the CIO decided their man, the young Galahad with a good labor record, was running behind. They promptly knifed him and switched to the old ward heeler with the gravy train to try to beat the steamship king. The result was that everybody got sore and confused and the steamship magnate got elected, though he spent less money than the other candidates....What Im trying to bring out is that he couldnt have been elected without getting a good slice of the labor vote.... Of course hes changed too. Hes been to Washington on one of the labor boards and hes probably learned a good deal. Hes a man of ability. I think hes going to make a very excellent mayor.
And the ships are getting loaded.
Were not loading as fast as the East Coast but efficiency is improving all the time. Labor did a little too good a job convincing our longshoremen that they oughtnt to kill themselves for the boss. Now that the comrades have gone into reverse and are whooping it up for the war effort they arent quite so persuasive.
But weve really made great strides. The union hiring halls work well under government supervision. The railroads have simplified the handling of freight trains so that the San Francisco yards now run clear across into the mountain States. The central control boards take a lot of the load off the dispatchers. Trains arent run out to the wharves until the boats are ready for them. At the control the position of every train is marked with lights on the board. Switching is done automatically, just like toy trains.
Doesnt that mean that the men of the rank and file are pretty keen for the war effort?
You better go ask em.
His wife came in to tell us that dinner was ready. Before going to the table we looked down again into the inky gulf of the Bay, as full of busy twinkling lights as the sky overhead.
Outside it was raining. We were sitting in my small hotel room. Something old fashioned about the lamp and the armchairs and the window curtains, something about the scrubbed white paint on the often repainted woodwork, made me think of a room Id had years ago overlooking the Old Port in Marseilles. The young man had walked in bareheaded with a longlegged stride, shaking the rain out of his hair and sliding out of his wet raincoat as he came. He didnt smoke. No thanks, he wouldnt take a drink. Just getting over a stomach ulcer. Working too hard? Maybe. After we had talked of one thing and another I asked him if getting the waterfront straightened out was such a tough job as all that. Plenty tough, he said.
Then after a pause he leaned forward in his chair and burst out, God damn it, people in this country are wonderful, they are so wonderful it makes me feel like crying when I think of it.
He paused again and then started talking eagerly. You have to get
around out in the Pacific a little to see how much some guys are doing with
how little. I was out there four months. I work with the Army though
Im not in the Army. That gives me a better chance. I dont get tied
up with the ritual. They even had me talk to one of the grand moguls in
Washington over the phone. Hed sent orders a certain boat had to be
turned around within twenty-
He leaned back in his chair and moistened his lips with his tongue. Then he brought the fingers of one hand across his forehead with a gesture of brushing away fatigue, and straightened up. Now at least all the stuff that comes into this town gets loaded and pushed out into the Pacific as fast as they can handle it on the receiving end.
Well, those guys on some of those islands out there, they just about do
the impossible. Honestly they do. Unloading alongside a dock with
wharfing facilities and unloading heavy equipment on a coral reef or with
lighters on a beach full of mangroves, with nothing to work with but a few
hoists and the principle of the lever, is something else again. Enemy
action is the least of your troubles. Usually theres one guy
He paused again. I hope this is the sort of thing you want to hear. Im so
full of it I cant talk about anything else. Along shore here were not doing
so badly now. The main trouble is trying to get the boys to put in the kind
of work they used to put in in the old days before the strikes. The old
...But at running the union once its set up hes no good at all. He cant carry his people with him.
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