I have lived (mostly) in San Francisco since 1980. I remember clearly the circumstances that made me move. I was working a swing shift at IBM at the time. On my way home at around 9:00AM it was still dark and sleeting (an unsavory combination of snow and ice.) My sad little VW hatchback lost control at the racing speed of 5 MPH on a single lane bridge over Antarctica-like cold water. The car went into a full spin around the road until I reached the other side of the bridge. It was exactly at that time I said to myself, "I'm moving to California."
I made preparations. I filled my hatchback with my few precious possessions, camping gear and my meager savings and headed west with my girlfriend. Our destination was San Francisco where a friend of a friend of her's knew somebody we could stay with. She had his phone number.
We traveled across the country on I-80, camping along the way in our pup tent or the back of the hatchback depending on circumstances. We shared the driving, her with her driver's license and me with an expired learner's permit. My memories are vague until we reached Chicago, which was cold, windy, and altogether baffling. We stayed at a AAA campground outside of the city and headed north the following day to see the headwaters of the Mississippi river up in Wisconsin.
It was an unbelievably beautiful place. Endless deep green ravines filled with rushing streams. The smell of pine trees was everywhere, enveloping one's senses. We decided to camp way up in the mountains. The camping space was cold and abandoned although some lonely park ranger must have left a pile of firewood at the edge of a circle containing a fire pit. We lit the firewood and delved into our food supplies. It was a wonderful experience, sitting there, in the wild, shivering in the cold around the camp fire, watching our breath leave one another in the clear night air.
We decided to sleep in the back of the hatchback because of the cold. I remember hearing things outside of the car. These were probably bears searching for food. But unlike the pests in Yosemite these bears were too wild to attack a vehicle. We zipped our sleeping bags together and spread sheepskins underneath for our bed, rolling one up for our pillow. There we snuggled to keep warm. We cuddled in the light of one candle. We enjoyed this intimate and magical moment until we finally fell asleep, exhausted. We awoke early to a clear and icy dawn. We made a quick pot of coffee over our trusty camp stove and headed off on the next leg of our journey.
We hit the great plains later that day. We had a close encounter with a small heard of very small deer crossing the highway. Miraculously we didn't hit one, considering we were driving on auto-pilot through the flat landscape. I remember seeing a rain cloud, a system really, off in the distance. It had a perfect thunderhead shape, precisely as had been described to me in my high school science class. I watched in fascination as it meandered across the plain, finally heading in our direction. My girl friend and I were a bit apprehensive. Although not a tornado (we saw none of these, thank heavens) we still had no desire to be swept away to Oz.
We headed to a truck stop and arrived at the same time the thunder cloud struck the diner. Now, I have experienced many rainy days and inclement weather, but never in my life have I gotten utterly drenched as that day. My girlfriend had parked in the front of the rest area, a bare ten feet from the entrance. We got completely soaked to the bone in the time it took us to run to the entrance. Dripping wet we sat down at the counter. We must have been an incongruous sight to all of the other patrons, made up exclusively of truckers.
We set out after the rain ended - it did not subside -- it simply ended as the thunder head moved on. We set out for the Black Hills of Dakota. This was hot desert country and we drove a bit until we reached a lookout. I will never forget those hills, lined alternately with different colors ranging from light tan to dark grey and deep red. We stood near some shrubbery and I glanced at it just in time to see a silver fox dart out from beneath it.
We found an RV site nearby and in the midst of about twenty Winnebagos we hauled out and set up our trusty pup tent, fired up the camp stove, and delved into our dinner of hot dogs and coffee. We must have looked a strange sight to those retired people sitting out beneath their canopies, drinking bear and sharing stories with one another about the relative merits of each person's Winnebago. No matter. The site had water and of all things a shower. We filled our canteens and each took a blessed shower.
Somehow we drifted away from I-80 and went to see Mt. Rushmore. (or maybe this was earlier in the trip. I have trouble remembering the exact sequences of our odyssey.) Mt. Rushmore was way more impressive close up than it is in the pictures you see of it. We lingered a while and headed on our way.
We landed in Yellowstone park where we were able to confirm that old faithful is true to its name. I think we camped out there but I don't remember the circumstances. I do remember that I was growing increasingly worried about the state of the brakes in the old VW hatchback. In fact I had already noticed problems crossing the Great Plains. After we left Yellowstone I insisted that we stop at an auto parts store to buy enough brake fluid and brake pads to replace the entire system should the need arise. I also bought a small adjustable monkey wrench. My girl friend was convinced I was out of my mind.
From Yellowstone we drove to Yosemite. Now, of all that we had experienced, I have to say that I have never seen a more beautiful place on this earth. But since so much has already been written about Yosemite I will not describe it here. Unfortunately my fears about the brakes came true as we coasted into a campsite. I knew then that the car required a complete brake overhaul. Now, generally speaking, all one needs to manage repairs on a VW is a screwdriver and duct tape but this required special attention.
We managed to get the car up on four redwood stumps we found nearby. I completely drained the brake fluid, tightened the coupling and replaced the brake pads. This is what I remember - I'm not sure now what I actually did, only that it took several hours and it was dark by the time we lowered the car off of the stumps. My girlfriend took a quick drive in it and confirmed that the brakes were working perfectly.
I might mention that while I was working on the car, people at the campsites to the left and right of us were curious, to say the least. There they sat, around campfires, toasting marshmallows and roasting wieners, and there was I, doing a brake job. I was covered in brake fluid, grease, and little bits of redwood chips I had been lying on. My girlfriend set up a campfire and boiled some of our dwindling supply of coffee while I found the showers. It took me fully 45 minutes, maybe longer, to scrub off all of the grime. By the time I returned I was clean and refreshed. We ate some hot dogs and drank some coffee.
From Yosemite we I think we headed north back to I-80 and approached the Bay Area. I insisted that we enter San Francisco over the Golden Gate bridge. My ever-patient girlfriend managed to wind our way through the maze of highway connections and make it up across the North Bay and onto Highway 1. And so south we headed to the bridge. Ah youth. I remember being so disappointed that the bridge was not actually golden but rather red. Still, it seemed to be the appropriate way to enter San Francisco.
We landed up at the zoo. We called my girlfriend's friend-of-a-friend and asked for directions to where he lived. He was utterly confused but managed to get us to his place albeit by what I now know to be a rather convoluted way. We parked our trusty VW hatchback, bereft of food, at Fillmore and Haight and headed up to his apartment.
And so had we arrived in San Francisco. The United States is a truly beautiful country filled with variety ranging from the great plains to the mountains and the bustling cities. I don't think I'll ever forget driving across it. For me it was one of the great experiences of my life.
We moved in with a gay couple living in a studio apartment. The only space for us to stay was in a big walk-in closet. That's where we put down and slept on an old mattress (I cannot remember how we obtained it.) We piled our clothes neatly at the end of the bed. I can still remember looking up and seeing the clothing of our hosts hanging overhead.
This neighborhood is now the chic Lower Haight neighborhood. At that time is was the frontier. There was one gay bar we could all gather at, straight and gay, and we went there on our first night in San Francisco. Across the street from it was an iron-clad liquor store. We were were sitting having drinks. I remember hearing gun shots coming from the liquor store and seeing two or three people running quickly out of it. It made me think, "Wow, this really is the Wild West." I was rather naive at the time. Life was an adventure then.
I got a job at Bank of America and with my income we were all able to move into a two bedroom flat that was across from a section eight (low income) housing project. I remember the police coming to our flat one time - I don't remember why - and telling my girlfriend, "I'm a policeman and I recommend that you get a gun." We never did that and never had problems. There was another iron-clad liquor store at the end of our block where we would go to buy groceries and liquor. One time I went in there and two large groups of guys came in shortly afterwards. They were wearing uniforms and were bloody from head to toe. I asked them what had happened and they said that they had been playing rugby. I thought, "OK. That's a sport I can cross off my list." Life was peaceful for us and we only heard gunshots once in a while, punctuated by the occasional sound of a semi-automatic weapon.
Things went awry at the flat due to personality conflicts so my girlfriend and I decided to leave. We found a studio apartment in downtown San Francisco just below Nob Hill. It was a terrific location and marred only by an infestation of cockroaches. We were able to get these under control after a while by the judicious use of borax. On my income we were able to buy a fold-out bed and new clothes We then delighted in exploring San Francisco. I commuted on the cable car daily to Market street from where I took the Metro to Bank of America. We became part of a circle of gay friends and celebrated holidays with them. We also became patrons of the local theater company, ACT, and went often to the symphony and ballet (I don't like opera) with a gay couple we were particularly close with. Life was miraculous then.
The Bank of America
My job at Bank of America was interesting insofar as it was my first job in San Francisco. I was responsible for support of vscript, the underlying text processing language for GML (General Markup Language). Our users were reluctant to use GML on their IBM MVS systems. So I created a set of "Memo" tags and usage shot up. If there's one thing managers like it's writing memos. (If you are a manager reading this I take back the last sentence.) I worked eight to ten hour days and came home to the delicious dinner my girlfriend had prepared. During this time she attended the Art Institute of San Francisco (not to be confused with the Art Academy of San Francisco.) There she studied various media, finally settling on steel engraved prints. I always liked her art and encouraged her to continue with it. She was less than excited than I. She studied there for four years and graduated with a fine arts degree.
We eventually moved from the then crowded studio to a house we rented just outside of Noe Valley. We lived at that house for about a year and a half. I commuted on the J-Line which at that time consisted of the old green "torpedoes". I remember one time when the crowded car couldn't make it up the hill and over into Noe Valley. So we all exited into the pouring rain and waited until the torpedo cleared the hill, after which we all climbed aboard again.
The University of California at Berkeley
It was about this time that we got our first dog. I must admit that I was never very fond of that dog. I thought it was a can shy of a six-pack. Speaking of which, it was in Noe Valley I was robbed at gun point. They took my money but not my wallet and left. So there I was, in the pouring rain clinging to my six-pack of beer. I rushed home and we reported this to the police. They seemed lackadaisical about the incident. We finally settled down and the incident was forgotten. I drank the entire six-pack.
Shortly thereafter we bought a little house on Oak street. It had been moved to its site when Moscone Center was built. It was firmly bolted to a brand new foundation when it was moved from its new site. I loved that house. I renovated the bathroom and the walk-in closet. The bathroom was done up with old-fashioned, hexagonal tiles and brass fixtures. I lined the walk-in closet from top and bottom with cedar (including the ceiling.) We also had the fireplace sandblasted to remove the paint from it. But we eventually ran out of money so further renovation had to wait.
The solid foundation was something we were thankful for when the big earthquake hit San Francisco in 1987. I'll never forget that experience. I was working at that time and unable to return home from the university because both BART and the Bay bridge were closed. I stayed at a colleague's house in Berkeley. I tried calling my girlfriend but the telephone lines were tied up by others trying to call and emergency calls.
We finally connected the next day. My girlfriend had been in traffic at the time and all of the streetlights had gone out. She said it was still possible to drive because everyone treated the intersection like you do at a four-way-stop intersection. We reunited, relieved, back at our little house the next day. We had suffered little damage - just a few broken glasses and fallen paintings.
It was a seller's market at that time in which jobs were plenty and companies and educational institutions were nearly desperate to hire computer professionals. I became restless at Bank of America and accepted a job at the University of California at Berkeley. I was ostensibly hired to handle their IBM vscript/GML system. It was also at this time the Macintosh came out. I became fascinated by it and was soon programming in HyperCard, the then user interface for the Macintosh. A friend of mine was also taken with the Macintosh and shared development with it while others more or less ignored us.
I moved into the networking group where I worked on DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), later to become simply ARPA and finally the Internet. My job was to find a way to enable Macintosh users to connect to the Internet (there was no direct Internet for Macintoshes at that time) . I did this by connecting them using AppleTalk routed through something call a Fastpath. I needed to program the Fastpath to understand 8-bit subnetting and once done, a Macintosh could via AppleTalk communicate on the Internet. I and a partner began building this system throughout the campus, ultimately installing upwards of 50 FastPaths.
At this time the concept of client/server was pioneered by myself and my Macintosh user friend. We decided to prove the concept. I wrote a POP3 server (called popper) and he wrote a HyperCard interface to it on the Macintosh. The latter was eventually superseded by another client called Eudora, written by a researcher somewhere in Illinois. But we had proved our concept. Users could take advantage of user-friendly software on their workstations to access the Internet.
The University of Technology at Chalmers (in Gothenburg, Sweden)
I was visited by a traveling group of Swedish researchers who had come to the U.S. to study how we did networking. I gave them the grand tour and they were quite impressed. They mentioned that there was a job opening at the Chalmers Institute of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. The idea of moving to Sweden piqued my wanderlust and I expressed interest in taking the position.
I tried very hard to convince my girlfriend of ten years to move with me. But she had discovered a new accounting system and became a consultant setting it up for account-keeping at several companies. I think she is now a very wealthy financial consultant. I've only spoken with her twice since we split up. We had been together ten years, through many experiences together, and still loved one another. Going our separate ways was heart-wrenching. We sold our little house and split the proceeds. And so we parted from one another.
I arrived in Sweden grasping the stub of a one-way flight in my hand in the dead cold of winter. The announcement system was mostly Swedish as well as most of the signs. I suffered immediate culture shock. I thought to myself, Austin, what you gotten into this time!
I was met my Böjre Lindh, who worked at IBM at the time. My position was at the university but we became friends and even now communicate with one another using facebook. I had long hair and a big beard at the time and a ratty old pair of jeans. I found the Swedish people staring at me for a time and soon surmised that I needed to change my style if I was ever going to fit in. So I cut my hair and shaved off the beard. To this day I still shave regularly but I've let my hair grow out again.
My manager at the university (who was a professor of computer technology) introduced me to my colleagues. I was at that time a Macintosh expert and we quickly went about the business of wiring the campus AppleTalk networks using Cayman Gatorboxes instead of Fastpaths. Around this time Apple introduced a Macintosh with a direct Ethernet interface. Alas, the Macintosh interface announced itself by broadcasting out a complete Ethernet address to find other Macintoshes and other Ethernet resources. This quickly caused network traffic on the Internet to spike. We needed to track down these Macintoshes and disconnect them from the Internet. Apple finally introduced a Macintosh that understood subnetting and routed its communication via a router.
I was also in charge of maintaining a watchdog program on my Unix desktop computer that monitored Macintosh subnetting and also detected non-functional Cayman Gatorboxes. I heard about some research at CERN where they had created something called the "Web" that provided a more user-friendly interface to the Internet than FTP. I checked it out was very impressed. I set one up at Chalmers which turned out to be a big hit among us computer geeks. I also wrote an UNIX program to detect and count the number of Web sites in use and came up with 72. I understand the number has since grown.
This was also the first time I heard of a new programming language called Java. I had up until then used C to write my programs. I asked Sun if I could beta test Java and they agreed. I was amazed by the power of this object-oriented language. I still love it and program in it.
I attended Swedish for Immigrants classes during the first half of every day. I threw myself into it, quickly learning how to read and write Swedish and to some extent understand it when spoken. I was still too shy to try try and speak it. The law required that an attendee be excused from work from work for fours every day in the morning. My boss was a bit annoyed but it was the law. I worked late at night on many occasions.
It was about this time I met my second girlfriend who ultimately became my wife. She was breathtakingly gorgeous. We met in the company of mutual friend in a hip area of Gothenburg. She was a redhead. She wore nothing but a black body leotard and a leaky pair of black Ked's sneakers, the whole punctuated by bright red lipstick. I was immediately attracted to her and we talked all evening in English (my Swedish wasn't very good at that time.). Still, I tried my spoken Swedish at times and she laughed good-heartedly and corrected the mistakes I made. We went our different ways and I kept thinking of her. She gave me her telephone number.
I called her a week later and asked her out on a date. She readily accepted and we went to a local pub. I ate but she refused to let me buy her any food. We each drank several pints of strong ale, which in the United States we would call malt liquor. I became a bit drunk and so did she. We walked a bit afterwards and sat together on a park bench in the drizzling rain and talked about everything under the sun. I was amazed to find out that she was fifteen years younger than me. I asked if she would like to come over to my place and she did. The rest is history.
I attended a conference of computer professionals in Bergen, Norway. It was there I convinced my colleagues to use MIME as a method of transmitting mail attachments in email. Bergen was beautiful, a small village/town nestled at the end of a towering fjord. The scandinavians agreed to use MIME which is still in use in some places around the world. It was a long and at times hotly debated topic but in the end we reached consensus. I spent my after hours drinking with my newly acquired Norwegian friends at the local pubs in Bergen. By this time I could speak fluent Swedish. It's so close to Norwegian that I was able to understand our hosts.
My second girlfriend and I dated for about a year until I went down on my knees at a church where we regularly lit a candle once a month. I asked for her hand in marriage and she accepted. About a year later we were married in a church in Gothenburg. It was a beautiful wedding and my brother flew all the way from the U.S. to be my best man. People threw rice upon us as we walked out and my new wife tossed her bouquet. We spent several nights of our honeymoon at a hotel in Gothenburg before heading up to her family's summer house in Kristenhamn. After this she moved into my studio apartment in Gothenburg.
I tried to get the public relations office of Chalmers to consider setting up a Web site but they politely declined. But just before I left Chalmers they begged me to help them set up a Web site. I regretted not having had the time to do this but managed to quickly train their sole computer support person on the technology.
I tied up loose ends, left Chalmers after 4-1/2 years and moved back to the U.S. with my beautiful Swedish wife. she was rather bewildered and house-bound because of the culture shock. So I got her a puppy. She trained her and walked her. She met others walking their dogs and as each dog invariably sniffed one another she had time to strike up a conversation. In this way she developed a circle of friends and was no longer lonely.
We lived a happy life and never fought. Together we discovered San Francisco, in my case, re-living the experiences again with newfound joy. We ate out a lot and furnished our two-bedroom apartment together. We eventually acquired two parrots. An amazon bird for me and a cockatoo for her. Life was messy but fun. Every other year we would return to Sweden to visit her family and every other year they would come here. We often went on road trips with them, stopping and staying at inns along the way. I ended up discovering California with them and it proved to be a grand tour each time.
The University of California at Berkeley
I took a job at the University of California at Berkeley when I returned from Sweden. I was still a Macintosh expert and inherited the management position for the Macintosh support group. We were about eight people when I left. I hired a few from newly graduated students and from the Unix support group when that was later dissolved. Together we made some big changes aside from continuing support of Macintosh users on campus
We managed to close the dreadful and antiquated "Consulting Office" and replace it with a phone tree that directed the caller to a person on duty for a specific platform (Macintosh, Windows, or UNIX). We also acquired a campus-wide scheduling system that we dubbed "CalAgenda." I've since forgotten the name of the underlying software but I know that it was SQL-based. I have heard that it is now been discontinued and replaced with a different engine. It revolutionized the way people scheduled meetings with one another and booked resources for those meetings.
We also created a value-added package of software for the campus called the Berkeley Internet Kit (BIK for short). The kit was delivered it on six 3-1/2 disks but ultimately on a single CD as the latter become more widespread. It contained a variety of tools, including scripts for dialing into the campus internet system. It also contained web browser software and other tools like an FTP client. The whole shebang was packaged into a single installer that was automatically executed when the user inserted the CD.
My management of the Macintosh group was fun. We had a long record of success and set the model for other similar support groups on campus. The people I worked with were bright, energetic and dedicated to the team and their jobs. Unfortunately I had to get rid of a team-breaker which I did as gently as possible, coaxing him into a different position on campus. I also had to fire someone for incompetence. These were hard things to do. But once accomplished, the team blossomed with creativity.
My wife and I continued to live in the same apartment we moved into when we came to San Francisco. It ultimately became cluttered and we explored the possibility of moving elsewhere. But this turned out to be unrealistic because of rent control. The rent on our apartment was well below the cost of a similar apartment in San Francisco. So we stayed on. My wife reveled in mail-order catalogs, something I guess she learned living in Sweden, where mail-order is common in far-away places like Kristenhamn.
I flourished at UCB during the heady days of the technology boom. My wife and I continued to live a life of bliss although it became a little routine. She managed the household and I worked eight to ten hours a day. My wife had the responsibility of walking Tess, our dog. I came along on weekends and played fetch with her. It was around this time my parents passed away. This cast a pall, although briefly, on our lives. It was strange to think of myself as an orphan. Still, I had my brother and his wife and my nephew living in Alameda. We became closer to them although I think that my wife was never fond of them. She acted as their nanny for my nephew during this time which meant that she had to commute to Alameda daily. She did this without fail.
My brother and I became estranged for reasons I now forget. We reunited in 2005 and have been very close since then. By this time my nephew was a young kid with all of the energy you would expect of one. They were into traveling but we did not accompany them. We mostly stayed at home and lived our life with our friends and in San Francisco. But the low pay at Berkeley began to nag at me. So I accepted a job at Charles Schwab and Company, Incorporated. My wife and I continued to light a candle in a church monthly as we had always done.
Charles Schwab and Company, Incorpated.
It was shortly before the terrible crash of the technological stocks that I joined Schwab. I received a salary far greater than that I had received at Berkeley and my wife and I quickly learned how to spend it. I enjoyed Schwab. I worked on development of a program called Velocity which was a customer-facing application for active traders. We moved on to developing a similar version that made use of Java Messaging Services (JMS). I always thought it was a terrific architectural change but Schwab had by then bought a company that had a faster web interface for active traders. So our project got canceled. I went on to write a XML-based method (this was before WSDL) for exchanging data between Schwab and the new acquisition. I was excited about this system and I'm still proud of my achievement.
I joined the architecture group and, because of reorganization, that department was dissolved. I have never felt disoriented or uncomfortable with corporate reorganization and I when it happened I landed up in a middleware developer group in which I responsible for build engineering, a role I would fill for the remainder of my stay at Schwab. I wanted to get back to Java development but I so excelled at build engineering that Java development became out of my reach.
Life went happily on until my doctor discovered that I had hepatitis C. I went to a hematologist who confirmed this and suggested that I begin treatment. I needed to get the alcohol completely out of my system beforehand so I stopped drinking altogether. This caused a marked change in my personality and I think it made my wife uncomfortable, especially when she saw the doctor take a biopsy of my liver. I started treatment after a year. It involved the use of Interferon which is a powerful psychotropic. My personality changed incredibly and I stopped being the person my wife married. I think it really scared her.
The treatment lasted a year during which I was impelled to take a leave of absence from Schwab. When I returned to work I was a different person which made my coworkers uncomfortable. I did my best to return to the person they had once known but the treatment had left me with a feeling of intense confusion. I did my best and made contributions nevertheless. These were acknowledged with admiration but with unease.
I think my wife began to prepare for the termination of our marriage. I was oblivious to this. The visits to Sweden ceased and her parents stopped visiting us. We finally made a trip to Sweden where (I think) her family recommended that she leave me. But this could have been an effect of the Interferon, which although I had ceased nevertheless less remained in my system and had changed my personality. In any case my wife and I become estranged.
I worked for several months until I was informed that I would need to undergo the treatment again, this time at a research facility. The treatment went as poorly as it had the time. I was eventually dropped from the program. I was on full-time leave of absence from Schwab. It was during this time I was laid off from Schwab. I regretted that. But on second thought it made sense and was not completely unexpected. I lived on disability and eventually applied for full-time SSDI (Social Securitey Disability Insurance). I have lived on this since.
Life after Schwab
My wife and I broke up. It started civilly at first but terminated in a terrible fight, the worst of my life. Although no blows were exchanged, it was loud and bitter when my wife and I parted ways on August 21, 2004, my birthday, ironically. She took her jewelry and our dog. She tried to raid our joint bank account but I put a stop to that. We went to civil court to settle our differences. I ended up paying alimony but later, in a new divorce hearing, it turned out that those payments were unnecessary and, in fact, illegal. We made a new arrangement in which she received a lump sum of money on exchange for discontinuation of further alimony payments. After all is said and done, I think we parted with hate towards one another. I have had no contact since with her whatsoever. It's odd, I have never been hated before.
I met a woman around 2005. We lived quite well with one another. We got engaged in 2009 although we did not set a wedding date until we figured out the financial impact on our lives. I loved her dearly. We got an apartment in the complex where her ailing mother lives. I no longer feel alone. I hate being alone. Unfortunately we broke up in September of 2012. So I am alone again. Sigh.
I continue to live on SSDI and have taken myself off of the job market. I don't know if I will return to work. I have included my resume on this site but removed it elsewhere. I now do artwork and have re-invented myself as an artist. I am content with this new occupation.
This is my life from 1980.
My Interests and Hobbies
I am on full-time disability. I don't know when I will return to work, if ever.