San Francisco—1932

All right, let's get the dull part of my story out of the way first. Here is what you need to know: I am a Huntington, specifically, I am Bettina Huntington. Collis Potter Huntington was my great-grandfather. If his name sounds familiar, it might be because he built railroads—a lot of railroads—including the great Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR).

Students of history know that granddad was one of "The Big Four" who laid tracks over the Sierra Nevada Mountains from California to Ogden, Utah, where the legendary "Golden Spike" connected the CPRR with the Union Pacific, resulting in the country's first transcontinental railroad. Great-grandfather Collis was severely criticized for taking advantage of opportunities and making barrels of money while building those railroads thousands of people happily ride every day. Thus, I learned early on in life that a "robber baron" was someone with the imagination and power to get what they wanted in life, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Great Grandfather passed away in 1900, and his stepson, Archer Huntington, took over management of our family's interests. When the Huntington San Francisco mansion at California and Taylor Streets burned down in the great earthquake and fire of 1906, Grandfather Archer had a public park put on the grounds and moved to a new home down near Los Angeles. My father remained in San Francisco to look after family interests here. It seems there have never been a shortage of such interests.

As an example, Father is currently negotiating with Alma Spreckels, wife of "Hawaiian sugar baron," Adolph Spreckels, for the purchase of a railroad right-of-way. The land in question is a tiny insignificant strip of land somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Alma Spreckels, however is hardly insignificant and anything but tiny. She is large of stature and possesses a commanding personality that seems to drive father to distraction. Father swears she is sitting on the land sale just to try his patience.

So, such is the life of our little San Francisco branch of the Huntington family. Father and Mother hobnob with the Stanfords and Gianinis, wheeling and dealing in projects involving unimaginable amounts of money. I, on the other hand, take a more enlightened view of society and avoid tycoons and mavens whenever and however possible.

Until Mother's passing several years ago, taking care of family interests occupied so much of Father's time he hardly noticed I was in the house. Then, when Mother passed, Father was suddenly overcome with paternal instincts, all of which have landed on me.

As a result of Father's abundant paternal attention, I am classically educated up to my eyebrows and in the Fall I will be attending classes at the ritzy San Francisco Liberal Arts University for Women—sort of a west coast version of Vassar. Father is determined to make a "lady" of me if it kills both of us. Other than that, my life is just grand.

An important part of my grand life is Ruth Frankel. Ruthie is my dearest friend. She is also Jewish, attends public school, and her dad has a decidedly blue collar job as a cable car brakeman for the San Francisco Municipal Railway. As they say in baseball, three strikes and you're out—at least you are out according to Father's rule book. Father makes little effort to hide his disapproval of Ruthie. It is apparent every time they meet, which is much more frequently than he would like because she and I spend a lot of time together.

One of the things Ruthie and I like to do best is listen to recordings on the portable electric gramophone my Uncle Jack gave me last June as a high school graduation present. While I have never determined exactly what family tie makes Uncle Jack my uncle, he is aces with me.

At the top of our favorite recordings list is IT DON'T MEAN A THING IF IT AIN'T GOT THAT SWING, played by Negro bandleader Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra. Father thinks Ruthie got me started listening to what he calls "Jungle Music." Of course, it was the other way around.

Something else Ruthie and I enjoy are afternoon drives through Golden Gate Park with the top down on my new roadster. The roadster was Father's idea. Well . . . that is not exactly true. Father's idea was I should have my own personal automobile so I don't have to rely on public transportation for school.

The choice of which sort of car was to be purchased for my use, of course, was not mine to make. Another of Father's firm beliefs is women are Dumb Doras when it comes mechanical things. Thus, the decision of which automobile to purchase was left up to Father's chauffeur, Thomas O'Reilly.

Like most members of our household staff in San Francisco, Thomas has the idea I can do no wrong. He also has a bit o' the devil in him, so I knew my automobile would certainly not be a just a pedestrian Ford or Chevrolet. On the big day when my new automobile arrived, Thomas surreptitiously led me across the yard to what was originally our mansion's carriage house. I knew I was in for something special because on our way to what is now the "garage," Thomas frequently looked back over his shoulder to be sure we weren't being watched. His apparent precautions made the moment all that much more exciting. I love a good conspiracy!

Inside the garage, which still had a little horsy smell left over from its previous occupants, Thomas closed the large barn door behind us and twisted the electric light switch. There, sitting center stage in the former horse barn was the most beautiful little roadster I have ever seen. It is painted black on the lower body with 50-50 Bar orange on the hood and trunk lid. Her wire-laced wheels are an even brighter shade of orange. Thomas walked over and gave a spotless spot on a fender a wipe with his handkerchief and said, "Well, Miss Bettina, what do you think of this little lady?"

I walked around the automobile, looking at it from every angle. "Oh, Thomas, she is beautiful . . . a real lady!"

Thomas grinned like a mischievous leprechaun—at least how I thought a leprechaun might grin. "I was certain you would like her. If you will pardon my saying so, she reminds me of you: classy and a wee bit sassy."

Giving him a coy, but carefully non-flirtatious grin, I said, "Oh, really? What kind of automobile is she?"

"She was made by the Hupp Motor Car Company, and they call her a Model B. I don’t imagine the engine specifications will mean much to you, but just so you know, she is powered by a six-cylinder engine that makes 75 horsepower. That's ten more than a Ford and fifteen more than a Chevrolet. In plain English, those numbers mean she's quick as the dickens, so you'll need a few lessons on how to show her the respect she deserves."

"Oh good! I've driven father's Buick sedan, but I bet it can't hold a candle to Lady Hupp here."

"You would win that bet and then some, Missy." Then with a wink, he added, "But you don't want to be going on about her more spirited qualities in front of your father. Most Hupmobiles are not so sporty as this one and unless you spill the beans, he will have no cause for concerns about your safety in it."

"Yes, of course. Was Lady Hupp terribly expensive?"

"Not so very much . . . I arranged a good price with the salesman and we got her for just under a thousand dollars, which is about half the cost of your father's big Buick. We paid a fair price for her."

Then Thomas gave me a detailed guided tour of Lady Hupp, from her spotless engine compartment to her beautiful brown leather interior full of wonderful leather smells. I sat behind her big steering wheel while Thomas showed me how to adjust the seat so it was the proper distance from the floor pedals and steering wheel.

Sitting there, I gently slid my fingertips over the supple leather of her seat and took a firm grip of the hard plastic gear shift knob. Lady Hupp's instruments fairly sparkled in her polished wood dashboard and it occurred to me the tactile sensations I was experiencing verged on erotic. Having few previous experiences with such feelings, I wondered if it was possible to fall in love with an automobile, and if that accounted for the sensuous feelings making my fingers tingle and my heartbeat quicken.

I can only imagine what Thomas must have thought about such carrying on. Of course, it would never occur to him to take advantage of our circumstances; alone in the secluded garage as we were. For just the tiniest part of a second, though, his knowing his place where I was concerned did seem rather Victorian.

I also clearly recall thinking, "Oh, dear, I certainly dare not let the world in on this bit off intimacy! In some circles I was already suspected of being too worldly. Oh, how rumors of a lesbian relationship with an automobile would sully my reputation!

Still, there were even more of Lady Hupp's special attributes to explore. Climbing her right rear fender, which no doubt exposed as much, if not more, of my lower limbs than would be considered proper even at the seaside, I slipped down into the rumble seat. It, too, cradled me in sumptuous leather. I would not say I was near to swooning over Lady Hupp's carnal qualities, but I noticed it did take my pounding heart several moments to resume its normal pulse.

From that point, it only required a few after-school drives with Thomas instructing, and often Ruthie along for the ride, before I was pronounced qualified to operate Lady Hupp without Thomas's supervision. From then on, Ruthie and I were free to roam the world, or at least San Francisco, with gay abandon.

One of our favorite routes wanders through Golden Gate Park. We love feeling the wind in our hair and the fresh outdoor smells of the trees around us, especially the numerous and extra fragrant eucalyptus. Ruthie and I found the park an even more thrilling adventure late on a weekday afternoon when there were few people in the park and the drive felt as if we were truly out in the woods.

As we rounded the northeast corner of the Stow Lake, though, Ruthie spotted a misplaced piece of civilization trespassing in our woods. What she saw and pointed out to me was the rear half of a top-down Lincoln Phaeton on the side of the road opposite the lake. The Lincoln's bright red paint made it hard to miss, even nosed into the brush as it was.

Ruthie said, "Do you think someone accidentally went off the road?"

Turning Miss Hupp around, I said, "Maybe, or we might be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a romantic couple baring their . . . ah . . . souls in the backseat. Either way, it is our duty as good citizens to check on the occupant's condition."

Ruthie giggled. "And they say there is no more wildlife in Golden Gate Park."

Pulling up behind the Lincoln, I stepped down from Miss Hupp's running board. As I did so, I said "Hello?" in a voice loud enough to give fair warning to any amorous couples nearby.

I was surprised by a response to my greeting. We heard a woman's voice sort of groan, "Ohh . . . ."

Ruthie and I looked at each other. The reply to my hello was not just a woman's voice, but the voice of a woman in pain. Followed closely by Ruthie, I climbed over, under and around the brush toward the phaeton's front seat. There, we found a middle-aged woman slumped forward over the steering wheel. Her face was turned slightly toward us and smeared with blood.

I said, "She's hurt! Help me get this door open so we can move her out of the car."

Getting the Lincoln's door open took some doing. We had to pull, yank, and jerk the heavy door past a lot of shrubbery alongside the car. Finally, with the door open far enough to get the woman out of the car, I climbed up on the running board with the intention of getting into the front seat and pushing the hefty woman toward the door while Ruthie pulled.

The Lincoln had a second windshield for the rear seat passengers and I had to climb past it. Balancing on the cowling behind the front seat, I said, "Ruthie give me a hand up here so I don't slip and land on top of her."

Ruthie did as requested, steadying me by placing her right hand rather high on the inside of my bare left thigh. I'm sure the positioning of her hand in such an intimate position was accidental . . . well, I am sort of sure . . . and with Ruthie's help, I ended up on my knees to the right of the woman behind the steering wheel.

Between us, we got the woman out of the car, and from there she was conscious enough to help us lead her out of the bushes on her own two feet rather than carrying her, which I'm not sure Ruthie and I could have done. Grabbing the woman's handbag from the front seat, I helped steer her to Miss Hupp's passenger door and get her seated. Taking her handbag along seemed like a good idea because a woman in a new Lincoln Phaeton was quite likely to carry more than spare change in her bag.

It wasn't until we got the injured woman onto Miss Hupp's front seat that I recognized her. While examining the damage to her face,  I realized our passenger was none other than Alma Spreckels. I'm glad Father wasn't with us. He would have made her walk to the hospital.

I said, "Hop in the rumble seat, Ruthie. Let's go!"

Actually, someone in a little better condition than Missus Spreckels could have easily walked to Saint Mary's Hospital on Fulton Street. The distance as the seagull flies was only about two miles, but with the winding park roads and traffic on Fulton Street, it took us nearly fifteen minutes to make the drive.

Once at the hospital, though, things began to move with much more speed and efficiency, especially when the hospital staff realized who had just arrived in their Emergency Ward. Police Chief Quinn quickly arrived to personally take charge of matters. He asked Ruthie and me to stick around so one of his officers could fill out a report on what happened to Missus Spreckels.

Then, when they realized they had both a Spreckels AND a Huntington in their hospital, the party really got going. I felt a little sorry for Ruthie when a nurse asked her, "Are you anybody important?"

Ruthie glared at her and I said, "Of course she is! Don't you recognizer her?"

We had a good laugh about that after walking away and shaking our heads at the nurse's rather impudent bedside manner. I'll bet she still wonders who the heck the mystery woman with Miss Huntington was.

An hour passed and Ruthie and I were growing weary of waiting around Saint Mary's hospital when a young fellow who introduced himself as the Spreckels' chauffeur said Missus Spreckels wished to see us. As we were escorted into Alma Spreckels' hospital room, she demonstrated who was in charge by roaring for the room to be cleared. Hospital staff and others nearly ran over each their on their way out. Then, Missus Spreckels looked at Ruthie and me. "Which one of you is Miss Huntington? I'm sorry, but I believe it has been some time since I last saw you. I expect you have grown up some since then."

Not remembering ever having met the woman, I said, "I'm Bettina Huntington, Missus Spreckels, and this is my friend Ruth Frankel."

"And you are the young women who found me after my automobile accident and brought me here?"

Ruthie nodded and I said, "Yes, Ma'am." When dealing with monied folk it never hurts to slip a "Ma'am" into the conversation now and then . . . even when your family bank accounts outrank theirs, which I was fairly certain ours did.

Alma Spreckels smiled broadly. "Well, I'll be. Isn't this a corker!"

Surprised, I said, "I'm not sure, ma'am, is it?"

"It most certainly is, Miss Huntington. You see, because you saved my life by dragging me out of my crashed automobile, I am now in your debt."

"Oh, I don't think . . . ."

"I do. Please tell your rascal of a father that the right-of-way he wants on our property is his for one dollar. I'll have the papers sent over tomorrow, and he need not worry about the dollar. Knowing him, he'll probably frame it and hang the dollar on the wall. Now, I believe that settles our accounts."

Suppressing a grin, I said, "I'm afraid your kindness toward my family does not entirely settle our accounts. You see, it was actually Ruth, here, who noticed your automobile in the shrubbery and insisted we go back to make sure nobody was hurt. Ruth is not a Huntington."

Looking directly into Ruthie's eyes, Alma Spreckels stared at her for several moments. Ruthie doesn't look particularly Jewish, but she does have what I would call a slight "ethnic" look about her. Missus Spreckels was clearly assessing her pedigree to the extent possible through a rather rude visual inspection. Finally, she said, "Oh, bother. I suppose you’re going to hold me up for a king's ransom."

In an angelic tone, Ruthie said, "Oh no, ma'am. That thought never occurred to me. My joy in knowing we helped you out of a life-threatening dilemma is ample reward."

Alma stared at Ruthie again, this time in what I thought might have been astonishment. And then she admitted defeat. "All right, all right. Hand me my handbag."

Several minutes later Ruthie and I were walking out to the parking lot below the hospital on Hayes Street and my curiosity was driving me crazy. "Well, tell me! How much did she make the check for?"

"I don't know. I'm afraid to look at it."

"Well, for heaven's sake, look at it, and tell me!"

Ruthie stopped and unfolded the check. She looked at it and her hand went to her mouth. "Oh, my gosh!"

I looked over her shoulder. "Holy cow!"

A quick calculation told me it would only take about half of Ruthie's check to make her my classmate for the next four years at the San Francisco Liberal Arts University for Women. We hugged the daylights out of each other and headed for home. That, however, was not quite the end of what we began calling "The Spreckels Incident." The next day a messenger arrived with a large envelope full of papers topped by a receipt for one dollar and a note signed by Alma Spreckels that specifically mentioned Ruthie and me.

Of course, Father sent for me. He was sitting at his big mahogany desk in the library and I believe that was the only time I ever saw my Father looking bewildered. He said, "Bettina, are you able to shed any light on these papers from Alma Spreckels? You and your friend Ruth apparently had something to do with Missus Spreckels suddenly deciding to sell us the right-of-way property we want for one dollar, but she fails to explain beyond a rather cryptic note.

"Her note says, 'My dear Mister Huntington, you should be aware that if it were not for your charming daughter Bettina and her cohort, Miss Frankel, it is most unlikely you would ever have ever gotten your hands on the enclosed right-of-way. I strongly suggest you express your undying gratitude to Miss Frankel and put Miss Huntington on your payroll to handle negotiations. While she may not have your experience in such matters, she is immeasurably more charming.'"

The only way I could explain why Alma Spreckels gave Father the right-of-way for a dollar was to tell him the whole story of our adventures in Golden Gate Park the day before, so I did. When I finished the tale, Father set the right-of-way papers on his desk and shook his head in what looked like disbelief. I won't say everything was hunky-dory between Father and I from that day forward, but we definitely had a new, and from my viewpoint, a definitely better relationship.

My meeting with Father signaled the end of The Spreckels Incident, except for a small physical reminder of that day in the park—a tiny spot high on the inside of my left thigh that constantly tingled, nearly driving me crazy. Coincidently, it was the same intimate spot Ruthie touched while helping me aboard Missus Spreckels' Lincoln. The tingling, of course, was all it my head—a symptom that would no doubt interest that fellow Freud in Europe.

Ruthie and I spent a lot of time together from that day forward and eventually resolved the tingling issue, which was also weighing heavily on her mind. The method we used involved a sort of physical therapy that proved so effective, we intend to continue employing it until death do us part.

Bettina Huntington
San Francisco, California


Design Steve Eitzen
Story, header graphic & HPO logo © HPO Productions
Character images © 123RF--Used by license
All rights reserved by copyright owners

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.