Return to Part I of San Francisco Faces West, by John Dos Passos.
I dont know whether hes a member of the Communist Party or not and I dont care, but he certainly believes in their philosophy and he put up a wonderful fight for it. He convinced a lot of people around this town, but he didnt convince the longshoremen. They are no more communists than rabbits. The longshoreman around here is a special kind of a critter. Hes a Scandinavian mostly. Hes independent as hell. He tends to be a middle-
Hell, I cant exactly
blame him. I can understand that point of view. But it breaks your heart
to see one of these same kind of guys
He got to his feet. Well, Ive got to run along. Did you ever notice, he added, grinning, that its a hell of a lot easier to talk about things than to get them done? Dont get the idea that we arent going to speed up the loading of ships around here. It can be done and its going to be done.
The next morning I was in
the office of the committee the government put in to get the various elements
along the waterfront working together. A serious-
He had introduced me to
a stocky Irishman with crisp dark hair and dark-
His broad shoulders and
We walked down Market Street together. One thing, he was saying, is its hard to get the boys to believe the works goin to last. They been on the bricks so much in the old days they cant help tryin to spread the work out so itll last. They cant get it into their heads that now theres plenty work for many years to come.
Do you think there is?
Sure. This Pacific business aint begun yet.
The hiring hall was a little
like a small-
It looks simple enough.
Wasnt so simple till we got it worked out.
He led me up a stairway
at the back. Ill show you where they make out the pay checks.
At a door at the head of the stairs a sharp-
Whats the trouble? my guide asked him.
Been off sick. I want to know about my compensation.
This aint the place. Thats way across town. He told him an address, waited until the man had shambled off down the stairs, and then gave the door a couple of sharp rattatats with his knuckles.
When the door opened he showed his big white teeth in a grin. You have to know the combination to git in here, he whispered to me, or else the boys would have them driven crazy... I thought Id spare yez the trouble. I sent him off to chase himself, he announced in a loud roar as we stepped into the room.
I was introduced to several elderly men who sat stooped over ledgers in the gray light that came in through tall old fashioned windows. My guide explained: The men are paid through the union. If theres any dispute about time or overtime we have the figures right here. Since we had this system goin weve had very little trouble. I think everybodys pretty well satisfied all around.
Well, he said, as he ushered me out again, you wanted to see some longshoremen. Suppose we step around to a couple bars. Some of emll be tricklin in for a bit of a drink. This is the hour they knock off for dinner.
There was an air of well-
Among the faces along the
bar there were some with bleared eyes and boozy mouths and square heads,
heavy and battered as the packing cases they handled all day; but here
and there a countenance stood out: a ruddy fishermans face full of fine
creases radiating from the mouth and eyes; or the lean-
The proprietor kept his
own bar, a bit of the green isle of saints if I ever saw one, laying about
him at his customers in a brogue so rich you could grow shamrocks on it,
storming up and down back of the bar on his toes like a boxer at work with
a punching bag, drawing the beer and pouring the whiskey and wiping the
When the barkeep laid eyes on my guide he leaned over toward him. Its a cold day, Freddy, he said in a throaty fatherly whisper. Youll have a spot of firstrate Irish on the house, you and your friend, wont you now?
We couldnt very well refuse so we put it down with some pleasure. We ordered up a couple more. Pat, my friend heres askin me what you think of the New Deal? my guide asked with a twinkle in his eye.
Washed up, said
the barkeep, cutting the suds off three glasses of beer. Goin from
bad to worse, his voice rose. The dirty deal I call it. And
the worst of it is these subsidies. Of all the dirty deceitful measures
for tyin the farmer and the producer and the consumer up in another tangle
of government red-
You talk like a Republican. Arent your customers mostly Democrats? I asked.
The boys was Dimocrats sure when they was hungry and sore, but they are sittin pretty now, and the way things are goin in Washington with the waste and the chicanery and the taxation and the rationin it wouldnt surprise me if every man jack of em voted the Republican ticket.
He stood with his shoulders spread looking up and down the bar. My guide blinked and made a kind of a face. Men stood listening with their glasses poised. Nobody answered back one way or another. Then the horsing and the kidding started up again. Time for one more drink before going back to work.
In the seat next me in the
limousine going out to the airport was a little red-
In the front seat on one
side was a quiet pale-
The Army captain, who was a stiff sort of fellow, finally was prevailed upon to accept a drink. Where we was, said the sailor, it was fifty dollars a quart.... I only paid fifteen for this from the bellhop at the hotel.
You oughtnt to have done that, said the stewardess. Thats too high.
Better than fifty dollars a quart. It was after hours and besides there was more of it, said the sailor. Considerable more.... Where we was the Japs came down every evening to bomb right along the same groove between the hills like theyd built a railroad track up there. They sure gave us plenty hell. Brother, he said to the Army captain, those Japs are good.
Oh, well clean em up in short order, said the Army captain gruffly.
I didnt say we wouldnt clean em up. I said those Japs were good.
Sailor, said the stewardess, youd better put that flask away before you get to the airport. I wouldnt like not to be able to let you get on the plane.
Sure youll let me get on the plane.
Sure you will.... I got eighteen days to see the wife and the little baby boy.
When we reached the airport
the young lady at the ticket counter was very sorry. She had long telephone
conversations with somebody but she was very sorry. No room on that flight.
At least not for us. But nobody cared much when they saw the sailor, his
bushy brows drawn together into an expression of portentous dignity, walking
out of the gate toward the plane shoulder to shoulder with the poker-
The incoming passengers
were still milling around waiting for their baggage. In the center of a
group of old people, young people, small children, a very young round-