Friday the 30th of January, 1959, it’s 5 o’clock in the morning and I’m in; it’s all or nothing, here goes! I collected my one suitcase from baggage claim and stepped outside the terminal into the foggy San Francisco morning …and I about froze my butt off!
Hailing a taxi with nothing exact in mind save for searching out accommodations, I inquired to the driver about his fare into downtown San Francisco. He said it would be about $7.00. I had no idea at the time SFO’s proximity to the city proper.
And as all I had in my pocket was $15.00, seven was a bit too rich for my blood. I quickly found out I could take a bus into the city for much less than half. Now that I would be at ease with and to be exact, it was just over one dollar.
I arrived into San Francisco at the bus terminal just above Market Street. Then I tried the taxi thing again and this time, much more reasonable to my wallet was the fare. I asked the driver to take me to a hotel.
And I quickly added, ‘In fact take me to an inexpensive but decent hotel please.’ This didn’t seem an unreasonable request to me. After a little bit I began to feel as though the driver was taking me ‘for a ride’ and so following my gut I told him to stop right there, I paid him and I got out.
This turned out to be just before 3rd Street, on Howard Street. I looked around as to my surroundings and almost directly in front of me I saw a little 3-story hotel with a mini-market sided up next to it.
I picked up my suitcase off the sidewalk and pushed my way in through the front door. The interior was dimly lit but thankfully it was much warmer than outside to be sure. I heard a male voice ask if he could help me.
While the lobby was a little questionable in appearance I knew I had to at the very least, ask the question. And so to the blanket-wrapped figure sitting behind the desk I asked, ‘Have you a room to let?’
A beanie covered head belonging to a little old brown man, emerged from the blanket showing a somewhat wrinkled face. I said in my surprise, ‘Hey! You are Indian.’
He looked me up and down with squinty eyes and quickly replied, “And you are Indian too!” Familiarity in this case was good for me.
He offered me a key to go upstairs to the 2nd floor and see if that room -he gave me specific directions- would suit me. “You can leave your case down here if you wish.” Once again my comfort resurfaced, I accepted the key, left my suitcase on the floor at the reception desk and went up the stairs to the second floor.
I turned the key in the lock of the door marked 32 and stepped inside. I saw right away the window and walked over to it to see what I would see. It faced the street below which only moments ago I was standing on. I also noticed that dawn was upon the city.
Looking back into the room I saw there was a smallish area that had a tiny sink with a mirror over it and a little 2-burner electric hot plate thing on the counter. I was glad to see there was a tiny refrigerator.
I saw a twin bed, slightly larger than average in one corner and no other furniture. No chairs, sofa or table to eat at. Don’t ask, it’s alright.
There wasn’t a shower or toilet in the room, that would be shared and it was down the hall. There was one per floor and fortunately, there was 3 or 4 shower stalls, sinks and toilets so all in all, not a bad set-up. Besides the majority of residents were male. Maybe the female renters if any, were on the top floor.
For what it was, it was cosy and I liked the room. Nothing would take away the happy feeling that was spreading throughout my body. A whole lot of concern was melting away. I closed the door, locking it and returned to the lobby.
“Will you take it?” he asked me eagerly. ‘Yes I think I like it very much but how much rent are you asking for?’ I replied with hope that I could afford it. The warm-faced Indian man, now without the blanket wrapping stated, “It will take $1.00 per night.” Done!
I was quite pleased to hang on to that room key. “You do not have to pay me now. The end of the week will be fine,” he said to me after learning that I needed the room for an extended period.
He shook my hand and told me his name. It was Lalit and he was the owner. He happily offered me a few dishes and some pots and pans which he went behind the curtained doorway to retrieve.
Lalit also provided me with information; I was to bring my bedding down about twice a week when I wanted fresh sheets and clean towels. There was a couple of Chinese laundry houses around the neighborhood for my clothing, barbers, grocers and Five & Dime stores all over the place.
Anything else I would need, he courteously said in Hindi, “Just ask anytime.” Amazing how differently I felt after all this, it was great.
I took my case upstairs and freshened up at my little sink. I checked out the washroom facilities after I unpacked. My next goal was to visit that little market next door. I realized I was craving my Indian food when I first walked into the lobby; I suspected a slight curried scent in the air but chalked it off to missing home.
I went into the little mini-market next door. It was ran by a nice middle-aged Chinese man. I was happy about the contents of his store, real glad he was there. In a small meat case I found some cut-up chicken and some other meats.
There was a small produce table where I got the onion, garlic, cilantro, ginger and potato that I needed. I grabbed some salt and pepper. I was very happy to find a tin of Madras Curry Powder and a small bag of basmati rice. My bill came to $1.75.
I returned with my shopping and Lalit seeing the grocery bag in my hand, smiled. I went right upstairs and immediately began preparation of my ingredients. Before long delightful smells filled the little room. In fact it had also seeped out into the hallway.
It wasn’t long before there was a knock on my door. I answered the knock and there stood two young guys, staring at me as though in a trance and then I noticed they seemed pleased by the smell in my room when the door opened; it was like they hit the jackpot or something.
They quickly introduced themselves as a couple of Indian gents, brothers to be precise, from Toorak … as in Fiji, who followed their noses to my door. How ‘bout that! I invited them in, I portioned out my meal in thirds and ate it with them. We shared our stories and a little friendship was born; my first one in California.
Chicken curry & rice, the brothers Shekhar and Ramesh, a safe room for myself – predicting a new beginning in America and well, I had a great first day.