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Rogan's Recollections

(And Occasional Historical Observations)

Fifty Years Ago Today: "The Happy Warrior" at the Gas Station

An eagle-eyed and agitated Secret Service agent stands watch over former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey as he campaigned through San Francisco during the 1972 California Democratic presidential primary. (Image is from 8mm film I took of Humphrey on this day, June 2, 1972.)



Going through some old photo albums, I smiled when I recalled the story behind this apparently unremarkable shot (from a frame of 8mm film that I took) of the "Happy Warrior," former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey (1913-1978), the 1968 Democratic presidential nominee who lost the White House by a whisker to Richard Nixon in 1968. 


Four years after his defeat, and hoping for a rematch against Nixon, Humphrey declared his candidacy for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. As the primary season that year winnowed out most of the dozen or so contenders, the battle narrowed down to Humphrey and Senator George McGovern (D-SD). California's June 6th Democratic primary that year proved critical to victory because of the state's cache of 271 "winner take all" delegates to the upcoming nominating convention. 


As a teen, I cut school to see Humphrey when he brought his campaign to downtown San Francisco a few days before  our state's do-or-die primary. One of his early stops was a scheduled television studio interview at KPIX, then located at 2655 Van Ness Avenue (the building has since been demolished and replaced with a modern office building).


Prior to HHH's arrival, a bevy of nervous Secret Service agents paced outside the studio while studying rooftops, windows, passing cars, and onlookers. Only two weeks earlier, a would-be assassin gunned down presidential candidate George Wallace, leaving him paralyzed and near death.


When Humphrey's motorcade arrived at the studio entrance, I pulled out my new Bell and Howell "Super 8" battery-operated movie camera and filmed the candidate as he shook hands with the spectators and gave an interview with a reporter standing on the sidewalk. Humphrey then entered the studio for his scheduled hourlong television appearance.


Forty minutes later and ahead of schedule, Humphrey exited KPIX and walked out to Van Ness Avenue—one of the city's busiest thoroughfares—and discovered his motorcade missing! In his absence, the drivers took the cars to a gas station on the corner of Greenwich and Van Ness for fill-ups. Finding his motorcade missing, Humphrey laughed and waved off the pleas of his detail and staff to remain inside the studio's locked lobby.


"It's a grand and glorious day out today!" Humphrey exclaimed. "Let's just walk to the hotel!"


A frantic aide shook his head. "Oh, Senator, it's miles away. We can't do that."


"Well, then let's walk to the gas station." Without waiting for anyone to veto the idea, he turned to his right and started down the street leading a coterie of scurrying Secret Service agents, reporters, cameramen, and a few onlookers (including me).


At the gas station (on the southwest corner of Van Ness and Filbert--now a small parking lot), Humphrey again ignored the pleas from his detail to get inside the bullet-proof limousine while attendants serviced the vehicles. He calmly waited outside the car whistling, chatting with spectators, and waving to passing buses and taxicabs hurling down the busy street.


Standing a few feet from the candidate, I took some film footage of him alongside the gasoline pumps as service station attendants (no self-serve back then) tanked up the cars in his motorcade. When I put down my camera, he asked where I lived and went to school, and he talked about the joys and rigors of another presidential campaign.


"Okay, we're filled up," a harried agent announced. With handshakes and a wave, Humphrey climbed back into his car. The police sirens blared as the procession turned onto Van Ness and proceeded to the next event.


When one considers the army of Secret Service agents and aides that surround modern presidential candidates during the campaign season, along with the sophisticated operations behind their every movement, this picture of Hubert Humphrey waiting for his motorcade cars to get gassed up—and chatting merrily with anyone standing nearby—echoes a day from the long-gone past. Politics aside, I just can't imagine the repercussions for the Secret Service agents or staff if Donald Trump or Joe Biden exited their events and had to walk to the nearby gas station to catch up to their motorcades!


Both the building that housed KPIX and the gas station are gone, but the memory remains.


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