Remembering A Great Summer Job


When I was in high school, during the summers, I worked in the Reservation Department of the California State Auto Assn at 150 Van Ness in San Francisco.

The Reservation Dept was located on the ground floor across from Maps.

You might recall that it was a grand building with endless ceilings and the kind of dark brown furniture that only looked better with age.

My boss was Alan O’Neal–Mr. O’Neal–immaculately dressed in a beautiful suit and tie every day–amusing in a sophisticated way with perfect manners. Genuinely charming. An older gay man who lived with his partner in Marin County–I later learned.

He reminded me of Leo G. Carroll, the actor who played the role of the dapper banker, Cosmo Topper, in the 1950s series by the same name.

On other floors, shut away from the public, were early versions of computer geeks (don’t forget this was the 1960s) and I wondered what it was they were doing. All I heard was something about programming and even in those early days they were different from the rest of us. They also earned a lot more money.

Mr. O’Neal’s full-time staff, all women, answered the phones and found suitable motel and hotel rooms for CSAA members–all over the country.

Me–a summer intern, typed the reservations up on a manual typewriter in triplicate. (My dad gave me his old Smith-Corona when I was a kid–the one he lugged from Shanghai to San Francisco– and as I made up stories in my head, I learned to type them. I really enjoyed typing and could punch the letters fast…really fast).

I was so fast at typing up “confirmed” reservations that I had time left over –so I was given an added responsibility. I was put in charge of issuing International Driving Permits. At the time anyone who wanted to drive in Europe needed this special permit (one time it was one of the Jefferson Airplane musicians–I remember writing their address which was a “mansion” on Fulton in the city’s Richmond District, across the street from Golden Gate Park).

I earned the great affection of the clients because I got their permits done so quickly, on the spot, in fact.

But what I’ll always “keep” is my memory of Mr. O’Neal–a bon vivant from an earlier genteel time.