Alfred Podesta was my godfather and my mother couldn’t have picked a worse man to help me be brought up right. Uncle Al was a bohemian of sorts who hung out with friends such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Benny Bufano, Allen Ginsburg, Tippy Hedren and god knows who else sipping cocktails at Vesuvio’s and probably philosophizing late into the nights before leaving for his apartment on Greenwich street.
He was the founder of Podesta Divers a salvage company that had the job of digging stuff out of the bay. It was amazing some of the things he’d pull up and when he’d come to dinner on Saturday nights he would sometimes share some of the odd stuff he pulled up when he had to retrieve a car and find some other odd bits that had accumulated on the bay floor before it. Uncle Al would always show up at the house in his forest green 1965 mustang that he had until the end. He’d always have a leather jacket and a scarf around his neck and when he’d call prior to coming over he always ask me, “do you still have your earrings?” I’d always answer yes and he’d say, “GOOD!”
He could sometimes be a bit of a gruff old man at times, but that was do to his upbringing in Jackson, California which wasn’t any where near as urban as we have it here. He would milk cows and kill chickens for a dinner, but he had a kinder side to him even though he once threw a chair at my Mother when she was a kid for coming into the kitchen one morning without washing her hands. He liked his scotch and he’s probably the reason why I like my scotch as well. He always enjoyed his life to the fullest and even when his first wife [Pacifist Anarchist Artist Shirley Staschen Triest] left him he ended up marrying a German woman who was younger than his first son. This was a man who had some big cojones for the time.
After his first wife left him he decided to run off and live in Mexico with awhile with his son. Neither of them spoke Spanish, but figured since they could speak Italian they could get by and they did. Rather well. We still have some of the wicker furniture he sent back to my mom from Mexico and oddly enough it still works quite well in that my daughter hasn’t been able to tear it apart.
He taught me a love of the oceans and how even back in the 70’s how we were screwing them up with all the crap we were dumping into them. He never proselytised though it was always a one on one type of conversation and even me as a young kid in my 20’s he treated me as an equal.
One of my funniest memories was a news story my mom showed me that was a picture of Uncle Al in the basement of City Lights. I can’t remember if it was the opening or some party, but there he was with a joint in his hand and my mother remarked, “Gee, I never knew your Uncle Al rolled his own cigarettes.” Riiiiight…I really wanted to pat my mom on the head for that one, but she wasn’t exactly always “in the loop” as to how life worked in San Francisco. It took her awhile to figure out that his roomate on Greenwich street Tony was gay, but always noticed he had such an impeccable fashion sense. I suppose Uncle Al though he was just another bohemian type and never gave it much though.
Uncle Al was one of my all time hero’s and looking back I can tell why. He was a true San Franciscan. Just look at the old picture I have up there and you can see he was a bit of rakish individual who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and share his hooch. Something tells me he probably knocked back a few shots with Sally Stanford. I don’t know why I thought of him today, but I really miss Uncle Al. Now I just wish we still had that old ancient diver’s helmet we used to have.
3 Replies to “Good Ole Uncle Al…”
You forgot to mention how TALL he was. I met Al’s son once and he was nearly 7 feet tall!!!! How tall WAS Al??? I knew the Triests – Shirley’s love was Frank Triest, after Al. In fact, I think she left Al for Frank. Even left her firstborn son behind WITH Al, when she went on to Frank and had three more children with him. Shirley was the sketch artists in COIT tower and a fine artist her entire life.
It’s been awhile, but I think that Michael was about 6’6″. Al Was about 5’10” if that. You know the story well. I never remembered Shirley, but Al moved on to have two more kids with Marion who I believe he met in Germany.
I had the pleasure of working for Al Podesta as a dive tender at Pier 3-1/2 and at there last location Pier 26 SF. He always had good stories to tell and genuinely cared about his employees. I got to drive his green Mustang a couple of times, to drop it off with the mechanic. Al got me signed up in Local 34 the first day I worked and always supported the union and what it stood for. At a time when the diving industry on the bay was filled with cut throat scab diving outfits, Al never caved in…even when it meant losing work. The reputation that Podesta Divers held in the industry was almost legendary on San Fransisco’s waterfront. This was because of Al finding the best divers and tenders , all of which were union members, and treating them with the respect that they deserved.
About the time Al left the business, I had gone on to work building wharves and docks as a pile driver. I am retired now , and I look back with great fondness to that time on the waterfront working for Al. He is a part of the waterfronts history and a legend in the diving industry. ~ Eddie Baumgartner
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