54. Escape From the Farm!

It’s now the 4th day into my farming adventure.  I did not get out of bed to go up another tree.  I couldn’t help but notice there was a lot of commotion round about the place.  I decided to get up if for nothing else then to see what was happening.

To summarize; an older man, a Punjabi gentleman also did not get out of bed to go to the trees this morning.  It would seem it wasn’t by choice though.  The coroner had just arrived in the community to collect him; not an all together unfamiliar scene here apparently, at least according to the talk I was catching.

His personal belongings were soon collected by some authoritative figure at the camp.  This man had lived in a different ‘residence’ than I, so I didn’t actually see everything but of course word travelled fast and I was amazed when I heard about this man’s stash.

A wooden box had been retrieved from under his bed.  Apparently the elder man was indeed old fashioned and having no use for modern ways, never used a bank.  There must’ve been years of cash, his pay I guess, stuffed neatly away in that box.  

I remember hoping the right thing would be done and the money sent off to his next of kin, if indeed they could be found.  I was 22 years of age and I knew full-well that I didn’t want to leave this farm like that so …   

Escape from the farm!   I found the guys I’d came in with and thanked them for helping me get this job.  I confessed I was not cut out for this and it was my time to leave; must return to my original path, the one in the city.  

They offered to drive me to the Greyhound bus station and gratefully I accepted the lift.  It was nice to have a few dollars in my pocket:  I bought a ticket and was on my way.

Lalit offered a cheerful smile when I walked into his front door of the hotel.  It also felt good to pay my rent 2 weeks (total of $14) in advance.  

A nice hot shower was in order and that night I slept very well in my own space.  

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53. A Farming I Will Go …and Freeze My Butt Off!

I agreed to go out and around with them the next day.  We went in their car to meet up with some of their friends -the rest of the Indian gang lol- we went all around the city.  

We ended up at another hotel where I saw many more young Indian fellows -I hadn’t really realized there was a good number of Indians already living here in California.  It was a nice sociable second day and I was beginning to feel more comfortable with my surroundings.

Third day.  Three young men, friends of Shekhar and Ramesh, came out from Marysville and from Yuba City to join us.  What better way to get acquainted than over a nice meal and so we went to have an early lunch at a Chinese restaurant.  

Now that my new acquaintances were up to speed on my situation, they invited me to go out for the week and earn some money with them.  One of them offered, “You come with us and we’ll help you get a job where we work.  At the very least you’ll have an income.”

Another agreeably stated, “Yes do come out to the fruit farms and work with us.  We tend to the trees there.”  Okay I thought, why not?  I was a gambler of sorts anyhow and always was willing to take a chance.  

Besides I liked the idea of an income almost immediately after landing in California and along with it, try out a new experience.  The third chap said, “Yes and do keep your room here in the city, we’ll be back of course.”

The next morning came awfully early as it always seems to do.  I packed a few items and left my key with Lalit at the front desk.  Four of us piled into their car and began the drive out of the city, well beyond the outskirts of San Francisco by at least a couple of hours.  

I remember looking out the window a lot and whatever I saw seemed to be sparse and boundless.

We arrived in the early afternoon at a peach farm.  From what I could see it appeared the majority of the farm hands were Indians and I quickly learned that most of them were from Fiji.  

These guys were hard workers I was told; already familiar with their duties having come from farming backgrounds in the islands.  It looked like they all worked well together.  

One of the guys in the car told me, as new men from Fiji arrived into this part of California, somehow they’d find each other and make their way out here.  These are the guys who weren’t well educated enough to come here and land big-time careers yet here we were all given the chance to get a little cash flow.  

Perhaps there were 2-300 workers all around the area.  Here’s where I take a chance and try something new.  I was assured by one of the guys, “Don’t worry Blue, you’ll be shown by the foreman exactly what to do and we’ll most likely be nearby you anyway.”  

Everything there was set up as a permanent camp of sorts.  To be sure the workers wouldn’t feel deprived of life’s daily needs, a sort of mobile bank, postal services, personal necessities vendor and girls, yes that too, came into the camp on various days of the week.  There was always medical attention on-staff too.  

Well there’s no time like the present to get earning that paycheck.  Of course I was hired on the spot and then shown around the camp briefly, starting with the off-duty accommodations.   

Within each camp or barrack there were about 10 single beds with an individual night table beside it for personal storage.  There were fresh pillows and blankets laid upon each one and thankfully these rooms were kept very warm.  

The pay offered was $1.00 per hour and days were basically 12 hour days, seven days a week.  I noticed there was quite a few Punjabi Indians there working alongside the handful of assorted other Indians and a small number of other nationalities.  

Next morning is my full day; there’s white frost on the ground everywhere, it’s just inside dawn and bitterly cold.  We wear beanies on our heads.  Big ladders are leaning up against the large trees.  

After being instructed one-time by the foreman as to how they wanted us new guys to prune the peach tree, I’m off to work on my own.  I stayed close to the guys I had come there with just incase I had questions or needed help.  

Though I thought it would never come, noontime finally arrived and with it came the very welcomed meal truck sounding his horn.  We stop to rest a little and eat some hot lunch; the menu consisted of roti, pumpkin curry and hot tea.  Thank goodness!

But you know, the same curry meal after meal got old very fast and a few of us guys together decided something had to be done.  I am not sure how we actually succeeded but we managed to drum-out the cook, replacing him with a non-Punjabi Indian cook; one from my Suva no less.  

Understand this, the Punjabi cook was an all right fellow mind you, great tea and the pumpkin curry was nice, the 1st time, but the same old thing every meal? and the rotis were just too thick to be enjoyed.  I know they wanted to fill our stomachs but come on!

Excellent choice on the changing of the guard I tell you.  This different fellow turned out the very best masala pork curry and the softest, thinner and most perfect rotis, with chutneys and delectable dahl.  Now we felt like we were really eating and every meal was a near feast to be sure.

I would say the days and weeks went by but in this case, the truth is the hours of each day passed in bitter cold and well, I worked for 3 days and realized I just couldn’t do this anymore.  

I wasn’t cut out to trim trees in the cold I guess.  My shoulder swelled in great pain.  The wet cold was too much for this guy.  I feel I really tried, I did –but this adventure had to close … it was a no-go Joe.  

 
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52. I Love San Francisco!

Pan Am ticket Jan 1959Friday 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.

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