57. Magic Wine & Tip Snatching

I began waiting on tables in this little Italian restaurant Mondays through Fridays and just like the sign said, from six in the morning until two in the afternoon.  After a little over a week I was an official member of the Union.  I opened my first American, well really first ever, bank account.  I did this at Bank of America.

I was doing fairly well and so I started to send money home for the family.  My leaving Fiji left the full financial load once again upon my brother and it was only right that I should continue helping any way I could.  

After about a couple of weeks working at this Italian place and secured in the Union, I went back over to the Indian restaurant and offered to take them up on their previous offer of employment.  In all honesty it now would better suit me, timing being what it was and all.

Jack and Bill were still most interested and accepted me into their business; same offer as before, no wage only tips and food, until such a time as business steadily picked up.  I know they were confident in my eager attitude and my seemingly endless brain of ideas.  

I did not reveal to them that I was a member of the Union, I honestly didn’t think about it, nor did they ask.

Perfect!  I had a pretty good set-up I thought:  I worked the breakfast and lunch shifts at the Italian joint and went home in the afternoon for a little rest.  I’d freshen up and go to work the dinner shift (3-4 hours in the evening) at the Indian place.  Not bad for a single guy in a new world.

Now to make things happen for the Indian restaurant.  I thought to pay a visit to the Indian Office of Tourism for travel posters and anything else they’d like to spare which spoke of India, turning to the Consulate for extras.  I would display these in the restaurant to lend some ambiance to the scene.  I had some other plans too of course.

As I had walked along the streets of the city, I noticed some men lying about on the sidewalks quite literally, some propped against a building wall, sipping bottles of wine most usually.  And so after a couple of weeks working in the Indian restaurant I found myself with what I thought to be a brilliant idea.

Having seen what I had while walking sometimes, I remember thinking that in my experiences up to now, on the average a person of supposed middle class standards would dare never to touch a cheap bottle of wine.  Maybe they’d even turn their noses up at it; and then perhaps only if someone was watching.

Okay never mind all that.  One day I decided to buy an inexpensive bottle of wine to conduct an experiment.  I took it in to the Indian restaurant that evening.  Amongst other helpful suggestions I lent to the owners of this place such as complimentary lite appetizers, this could prove to be useful.

I put some wine into 3 or 4 glasses and dropped different food coloring into each one.  The basic colors of blue and yellow; red obviously wasn’t called for.  It turns out the blue/yellow combination of green worked the very best, it had a jewel-like quality to it.

Mind you this is basic white wine that anyone can pick up for under a buck and a half.  I showed the colored wine to Jack and Bill and their quick comeback was, “Oh no, we can’t sell that here!”  I suggested they taste it and then comment.  I hadn’t yet told them what I’d done.  

They tasted it and said it was pretty good.  Then I gave them each a taste of the white wine in its original form and they both said it tasted the same.  Well of course it did.  I then suggested we charge 50 cents per glass.

They pondered this over for a couple of days.  Bill and Jack both agreed to start selling the wine in the restaurant, maybe they realised the profit margin?  Jack suggested to serve it up in chilled glasses.  Yes chilled wine glasses, Bill and I agreed.  

And so I introduced it in a teasing form to the patrons as they sat down at their tables.  ‘Would you be interested in trying a little glass of house wine?’  Most everyone replied yes and so along with the little basket of appetizers I brought out, a sample of the wine came too.  

The guests were naturally fascinated by the coloring; they would sip it conservatively.  “Hey that’s pretty good,” most of them would say.  “What is it called?”  I would smile and reply, ‘Jadoo.’   Being asked what that meant, I told them it means magic, which it does.  The two proprietors quickly added it to their menu.

Customers came in more often, drank more, ordered/ate more and my tips grew along with the clientele for this dinner restaurant.  Bill and Jack would buy the wine in a box, we wouldn’t run out.

In fact some of the customers brought in their own empty wine bottle to fill with ‘Jadoo’ so they could enjoy it at home.  The restaurant decidedly charged them $3.50 for that.

Now these customers were telling others about their experience at this little Indian restaurant which of course brought in more people for dinner.  Needless to say what the owners had hoped for their restaurant, was now happening for them.  But they didn’t keep their word.

The effort was never made to pay me a set wage now.  Instead they noticed when I’d cash in smaller bills for bigger ones at the end of the night, I was generally pulling in about $30-40 per shift working so few hours; they began helping themselves to half of my tips!

For a short while and only a short while I kept quiet.

|||


 

56. Cable Car Turnaround

Next morning after breakfast I went out walking in the direction of Powell Street.  I saw the cable car come down to the bottom there at Market Street.  I saw then this was the turn-around point of the cable cars and I joined in to help.  

Yes at least back then we would join up in the effort to turn the cars.  That was fun, it was.  I hopped aboard, paid my fare and rode out in the direction of Ghirardelli Square; Powell-Hyde line I believe.

First time I ever ate pizza!  What a big slice I got too and it was filled with lots of good stuff for only .25 cents.  Pair that with an ice cold beer and I was all set to watch the boats and people go by.  

Kind of familiar to me it all seemed as this scene reminded me of sitting on the wall on Marine Drive -the Queen’s Necklace– in Bombay, nearly three years earlier.

I noticed some people looking out to a small island.  I went over to see what I would see.  There was a big sign which read:  View Alcatraz the Federal Prison through Powerful Telescope  

Alright this ought to be interesting.  Like some of the other gazers I put my eye up to the telescope and saw an arresting prison situated on an island rock.  

I heard people talking about some notorious criminals housed there.  For a  moment I felt as though I might be in a Hollywood movie.  

After hearing about the sharks, the frigid waters with treacherous currents and the dangerous prisoners I was so glad I was well behaved!  I hung out for about 3 hours because I was really enjoying myself.  I thought it was all very beautiful.  

Finally I thought to change the scenery and so I caught another cable car back towards Market & Powell Streets.  I caught the next car towards Fisherman’s Wharf.  

As I’m walking towards a large pier, on the right-hand side of me I notice a sign in a window across the street.   It was of a little turbaned Indian man Air India’s logo I believe The sign was bright and colorful and lived in the India Office of Tourism.  The depiction was worth a smile.

Now the stomach has begun to direct my steps once more.  I kept walking towards the ocean.  An Italian restaurant to my left took my attention so I went in.  

There were many customers and I always thought that to be a good sign.  I sat myself at the counter, reviewed the menu and decided on a sandwich and some soup.  It was pretty good.

There was another sign –that’s 3 for todayin the window:  HELP NEEDED  Really?    Wait Staff Needed / Mon-Fri / 6a-2p

I was interested enough to inquire with the management and after a few questions, I was hired right on the spot – what a day!  The pay would be $1.75 per hour + tips to keep my own and I would be paid every two weeks.  

I was advised to immediately to join the Culinary Workers Union – gotta pay union dues in the San Francisco Bay Area.  

As I said before, what a day!  After all this I felt like a real good walk and so I did.  I walked back to the hotel and called it a day!

|||


The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union  (HERE) was a United States labor union representing workers of the hospitality industry, formed in 1891.

55.  February in the City, Moving Right Along

The next morning I went out into the city.  Market Street would get my attention today.  And yes, I tested my thigh power up some of the hilly streets too; it was time to really explore my options.  I knew I must get a profitable routine kicked into gear and very soon!

I found an Indian restaurant on Jones Street and I noticed their business hours were dinner only.  Still I was able to enter.  I asked to visit with the manager and it was quickly arranged as that same man in the rather plain dining room was one of the owners.  

Here was a bearded American man named Bill and we spoke for a few moments.  He told me that his friend/business partner, also an American, was the cook back in the kitchen.  He was married to an Anglo-Indian lady and it was she who guided him in the art of her Indian cooking.

The other man, Jack, came out too and I spoke mostly to him, asking questions and sharing my experience.  He explained they were a young business and proposed to start me with only tips and food for pay.  

“If you are able to build our customer base, fill more tables then we’ll negotiate guaranteed wages,”  Bill told me.  As it was relayed to me, Bill was the financier of the restaurant and Jack had the Indian influence.  I seriously considered the offer.

I’d assured the two gentlemen I’d come back by the end of the week if I would accept.  We parted company and then I strolled around for a while to see if anything else would call to me.  

Obeying the pangs in my stomach, I found my way to a nice lunch at one of many local Chinese restaurants.  

Well it’s still winter and nothing sounds better than a good nap after a filling lunch so back to the hotel and up I went for a nice, deep afternoon rest.  

Not long after I got up I received a call from the guys I had gone to the farm with.  They asked if I was doing all right.  That was real nice.  Then they must’ve told the other guys who stayed in the city that I decided the farm was not for me and came back.  

I got a call from them offering their company.  “Hey let’s go get coffee and do some window shopping!”  I certainly appreciated that but realizing the need to focus on the things I must I graciously declined, telling them honestly that I wanted to feel out the city on my own for a couple of days.  

Their response reflected understanding, their disposition most cheerful.  The guys offered their local telephone number so I should call if I needed anything.  That was so kind.

I spent that evening walking my neighborhood stretch of San Francisco, observing this part of America, my current residence, so far away from my youth and my previously known comforts.  All this would now have to become part of the graduated me.

I would serve myself warmed leftover Chinese for dinner.  A nice hot shower would lead me straight to bed and it was lights out.

|||