Rod Pinto: Sausalito’s Electric Past

By Steefenie Wicks

Rod Pinto, now a retired lawyer residing in Mill Valley, grew up in Sausalito during what he calls its Electric Period, from the mid 1960’s through the 1970’s. Sausalito was the place where everyone who was anyone wanted to be seen.   Pinto recalls, “I started working at the Trident parking cars, eventually, as I got older I moved inside to become the bartender.  The Trident at that time was full of lawyers defending drug dealers.  Then there were the dealers, the musicians and the beautiful people who wanted to be seen.   No one ever seemed to come there for lunch or dinner; there was food, it was served, but not a lot of it was eaten.” 

He remembered Dr. Hip, a psychiatrist who wrote a local newspaper column that went nationwide.  “He was the Dear Abby for people with sexual problems who had no one to talk to; you could meet him, he was in the bar most nights,” Pinto recalls. Another regular was Shel Silverstein, who wrote music for a rock group called Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.  Pinto saw them sometimes-jotting things down on napkins at the bar.  But it was Sterling Hayden with his rugged good looks who could make the room go quiet when he entered. Pinto explained,”He always looked like he had just got out of bed and thrown on some clothes, then came down to the bar, but he always looked like someone you wanted to know.  There were times when you might have Sterling on one end of the bar and Mick Jagger on the other. This could just be typical day at the Trident.” Pinto felt that groups like the Rolling Stones, The Kingston Trio and Janis Joplin all had places in the area, they made their presence known when they were in town at the Trident.

When the Trident was originally a jazz club, Pinto was a teenager parking cars on the lot.  He remembers some of the jazz names who played there, one being the jazz great Willie Bobo.  Then things changed when the club was sold and the new owner hired what he called a group of visionary carpenters who were set lose on the project.

Pinto got to know the carpenters as they arrived each day.  The work that they did still stands today as some of the most creative wood working ever done inside a restaurant.  These creative carpenters were all part of a group called the “Druids from Druid Heights,” a counter-culture community that existed just above Muir Woods.  Pinto continued, “The Druids were part of what was called a bohemian society.  People pretty much did what they wanted to within reason.  I was told that Alan Watts lived there, also that people rode horseback at night naked in the moonlight.  It was said that many a night when the jazz clubs closed in San Francisco and Sausalito, that the music would continue there at Druid Heights.”  When he thinks back on those times, Pinto regrets that he did not know what was really going in the creative world because some of the greatest poets, writers and musicians of our times were working in Druid Heights.

“I dated a girl who was living there but I never visited the place,” Pinto concluded. “But things were like that.  Here I was living around all this energy but somehow remaining the straight man, the kid in school studying to be a lawyer.”

Pinto remembers growing up in Sausalito, the small classrooms that held maybe 80 students for each grade.  “We were a mixture of hill kids, flat land kids, waterfront kids, kids from Marin City, we were a good mix of kids.  We all went to school in Sausalito, then on to Tam High where we got to mix with the kids from Mill Valley.

 Some of the kids I went to school with in Sausalito I’m a still friend with today, which is a wonderful example of small town relationships.”

Pinto also remembered the waterfront as being one of the most colorful places.  When he grew up he just figured that everyone who lived on a boat was somehow colorful. When he was 16 he dated a girl he thought was the daughter of artist Jean Varda.  “I remember meeting Varda,” he recalled. “He was a small man but he wore brightly colored clothes and necklaces.  But, I think that the one thing that still stands out in my mind were the turtle races.  You see, the Trident’s competition in town was the bar Zack’s. The turtle race was started between the two bars as a friendly competition, so on Wednesday night everyone would bring their pet turtles to Zack’s.  They would be placed on the floor; the race was to see which turtle could make it to the other side. The turtle race was part of Sausalito’s vibrancy; I feel lucky to have been a witness to this electric period.”

Read another column, “The Great Trident Frogman Heist” from 2013, on the SHS website: