"Newsmen had to be resourceful when the purse was empty, and it usually was"

In those early years of journalism in San Francisco one of the things that I remember is how broke we all were at almost all times. Small wonder since reporters and photographers were notoriously underpaid in that era. At least that was the way we viewed it.

One afternoon my Editor and I were at the Press Club deeming it too late to return to the office, after all it was 3 p.m. Also present was Art, a staffer from the Chronicle and Bob, a photographer from the old San Francisco News. We were all flat broke and the reason we were standing at the Bar of the Press Club drinking beer by the glass was because my editor could sign chits there but not for much longer. As Art put it we were all "tap city" an expression I never heard used anywhere except in San Francisco.

Unspoken was the thought that there might be a press conference being held somewhere that would offer free drinks and eats as well. In the parlance of our group "a free load".

One of the bright spots for newsmen in that era was the Press Party put on by some well heeled client. As it happened this particular afternoon in walks Jack, one of the well known publicists around town.

These events worked two ways. The PR person or publicist needed bodies at his staged conference who at least looked like newsmen since the City Editors of the dailies were a hard hearted lot who seldom would commit a reporter and especially a photographer to such affairs which almost never were "hard news".

And of course the Press Club was always a gathering place for hard up reporters and news types just looking for some place to go that didn't cost money.

It seemed that Jack was staging a Press briefing for a new client at the Palace Hotel at 4:30 p.m. and at the moment was worried about how many genuine press people he could round up to attend. We were just what he was looking for and it certainly sounded good to us, in fact it was the answer to our prayers.

As we were leaving the Club who do we meet but Syd, yet another publicist and it seems he also has a press event scheduled that evening at a Yacht Club in the Marina. Syd was apologetic becaue his Client was a member of the Yacht Club and insisted the conference be held there. He knew it was a bit "far out" but he promised that there would be plenty of "goodies". In San Francisco any place you couldn't walk to in 10 minutes was consided "far out." At this news Art and Bob looked like they had winning tickets in a lottery and we faithfully promised Syd we would attend his event which didn't start till 7 p.m.

Both Bob and I used Speed Graphics, the working press camera of that era and the one you see most often now in old movies, and when we took our cameras complete with pockets bulging with flash bulbs to one of these events the PR person would be geddy with delight.

I was still very new to "working journalism" at that time but I had quickly learned that my Speed Graphic was practically a ticket to many events around town.

So off we went to the Palace Hotel in my well used Ford, four newsmen on "assignment". Bob always carried a placard in his camera bag that read: "San Francisco News Press Photographer". With this in the the corner of my windshield the smartly uniformed doorman allowed us to park right in front of the entrance despite the appearance of my auto which the local pigeons seemed to adore.

The party at the Palace was all we could have asked for, a hosted bar, waiters in formal attire serving French champagne and a truly elegant buffet complete with such delights as oysters on the half shell, smoked salmon, delicate canapes of caviar, or roast beef sliced before your eyes, or perhaps the shelled crab legs and jumbo shrimp ready for dipping in a delectable red seafood sauce..

After sipping champagne like we did this every afternoon and making several trips to the buffet Bob and I were ready to flash some bulbs to make the client, who evidently had deep pockets, as well as Jack the publicist happy. So we obligingly had Jack line up photos at will while we expended many bulbs and some film. It was old pro Bob who taught me to use some film as there might be an order for prints later which could spell out to some much needed extra cash.

And Art and my Editor and some of the other Press Club locals, after helping depletions at the bar, did their part as well with the "interview" as a beaming Jack looked on approvingly.

What had started out as an afternoon and evening with no prospects had suddenly developed into a memorable occasion. As the party started to dwindle at the Palace we made our excuses to Jack and the Client explaining that we were on "deadline" and had to leave.

So we were now on our way to good old Syd's Yacht Club function in the Marina. San Francisco is a compact city but even so it does take gasoline to run a car and as we got back into my Ford I noticed the gas tank gauge stood on empty.

This called for a top level meeting with my colleagues since I had just 35 cents on me at the moment. My colleagues started going through their pockets as well and among the four of us, all dressed in business suits and ties, we had a grand total of $1.15.

This seemed ample so I pulled into a gas station and got $1 worth of gas counting out nickels, dimes, 10 pennies and two quarters to an attendant who was sure he was seeing the last of the big spenders. Bob felt he needed the 15 cents later to ride the Muni bus home.

As I remember it, although things got very hazy as the evening progressed, the Yacht Club party was also a smashing success.

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Last Update:12/10/97

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