63. Life Begins in the Village

Early this morning I had decided to explore the downtown Los Angeles area.  Dave had given me some ideas and I was looking forward to discovering more about my surroundings and especially on my own.

It was what I thought to be a hot morning and I just knew it would be a perfect day.  I walked through the Village on my way to a bus stop on Wilshire Boulevard.  I knew to go east as west would land me at the beach!  Not a bad choice either but today was for concrete.

I boarded the downtown Los Angeles bus and chose a window seat towards the rear.  After a couple of stops an attractive young lady boarded the bus.  

I noticed her taking a quick observation of the scene and as there wasn’t a whole crowd of faces to sift through, she spotted me, I know she did.  At first she walked past me and then turned around and stopped where I was sitting.

“Would you mind if I sat here?” she asked me as she held onto the back of the aisle seat now that the bus was rolling again.  ‘Not at all,’ I replied looking up at her.  

She took the seat and we sat silently for about another minute.  

“Are you from around here?” she asked me, breaking the silence.

‘No actually I only moved into the Village a few days ago.’  And then I boldly carried on.  ‘Before that, for a few days I was in a motel room not too far from here and I had come directly there from San Francisco.  Now I’m living on Gayley.’   

“Oh I live on Gayley too!”  we both smiled and she went on, “Where did you come from?” and before I would answer,  “Are you from India?”

‘No, I am not from India,’ I plainly countered.

She appeared a little surprised and then stated the question, “You are Indian, yes?”

‘Yes I am. Full-blood Indian.’  And now she was clearly more intrigued.

“Well then, if not San Francisco and not India, where are you from?” she questioned me.  

‘I came from Fiji Islands landing first in San Francisco.’  I explained, ‘I lived and worked there for nearly a year.  I then decided to come to Los Angeles and find an old friend of mine.’

“How do you come to have this friend here in Los Angeles?”  still another question from her; I think I am now being interviewed.

‘He is a pen pal from long ago.’   I told her in response.

She listened very intently and I amusedly thought to myself, this girl is computing all this information into some formula or another.

“Fiji Islands?” she asked me thoughtfully.

‘Yes.  Do you know where that is?’  I asked her.  She said to me that she believed it was in the south Pacific Ocean.  I smiled with delight and then added, ‘That’s right and so you have a better idea, the closest large land to us is New Zealand.’  

It was once again quiet but for only a few moments, both of us absorbing information perhaps.  A little more conversation transpired in the next moments.  She then took out a little notepad and began scribbling in it.  I of course thought nothing of it.  

This young lady then tore the page out from the book, folded it and handed it to me.  I opened it up to look at it and there was her telephone number and address.  

She appeared over the moon with our dialogue and said, “Here’s my address and telephone number in case you’d like to have coffee with me some time – we could continue this conversation.”

I asked her for another sheet of paper and taking out my pen from my shirt pocket, I scribbled my contact information and handed it to her.  I could tell this gesture pleased her.  

My randomly chosen bus stop somewhere in the middle of the city had arrived, I excused myself and we said our goodbyes.  Clearly we were both tickled pink for the sudden spark of dialogue and the thought of where it might possibly lead.  fullsizeoutput_2054

I walked around without aim for about half an hour and then my nose caught a delicious smell.  I thought to keep walking but after about half a block this aroma got the better of me and I did an about face.

First I looked into the giant pane glass window of the obvious restaurant and noticed the crowd.  Then I spotted the buffet laid out in what seemed to be the middle of a large dining room.  

I had the feeling this was something like one of my favorites in San Francisco, Cliftons.  I entered without further resistance.  I paid the cashier $2.38 -the sum keeps coming up strong in my mind so I believe that is accurate.  

Wow what a spread, so many salads, soups and delectable hot items.  All kinds of most everything I would hope for; various beef, chicken and fish preparations, rice, potatoes, breads (the great American diet, right?), things I couldn’t identify, desserts and drink choices too.

I spent a leisurely near two hours there, taking my time, tasting everything and getting a good dose of people watching as well.  I believed I was witnessing many an American family up close and in the course of their mealtime normalcy.

When at last I knew I was done for, it was time to get some fresh air.  I walked around observing the city of Los Angeles’ life around me, window shopping and taking notice of all the lovely old buildings of downtown.  

This took me another hour and half into my day’s adventure.  And now I was feeling tired so I resigned to call it a day.  I caught the westbound bus along Wilshire back to Westwood Boulevard.  That’s where I got off to walk to my place in the Village.

No sooner I got into the door and my phone rang.  “I was trying to reach you all morning,” the voice said on the other end.  I didn’t offer much information of my whereabouts but offered my ‘how can I help?’  It was the woman who employed me.  

She called to tell me about a certain tenant whom she wanted me to keep a closer eye on.  “They’re a rowdy sort and I want you to tell me if there’s any trouble.”  I assured her I would of course.  All this would figure into my daily life in the village, Westwood Village.

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59. I’m Movin’ On Up!

I had put in just about three months work at that little Indian restaurant before it met its end.  Sometimes I’d walk past the establishment and see the sign still up on their window.  It was a bittersweet experience after all.  

In conclusion of the Department of Labor’s investigation, Jack and Bill were made to pay me an amount equivalent to that of lost back wages and I soon received a payment cheque in kind retroactive to my hire date.  

I continued to work the breakfast and lunch shifts, Monday through Friday at the hoppin’ Italian joint on Market close by to the sea and still pulling in a very decent wage.

I continued also to reside at Lalit’s hotel until about the beginning of May.  The time had come that I required a little more living space and so after a fond farewell to my first-ever landlord and first American residence, I moved my digs about 3 blocks up Jones towards Turk Street.  

Now I would pay a rental rate of $2.50 per night; yes I was still in a hotel but hey, it was spacious and I even had my own private bathroom now.  How ‘bout that!

I didn’t want to go too far away from the main bus line of Market Street; getting to work without freezing on the wide open street that Market is was indeed priority and yes, I did invest in a very warm coat.

I stayed on with the Italian restaurant about another 6 months.  One time I remember asking for a couple of extra days off; a Friday and a Monday so that I would have a long weekend to go off on an adventure with a couple of friends.  Thankfully this was not a problem for them; I was a loyal and good member of the crew after all.

The three of us took a drive south down the 101 to Los Angeles for a limited but leisurely  weekend, stopping along the way to enjoy whatever caught our fancy.  This would include scenery to be amazed by and filling of the car’s gas tank or ours.  Gasoline was about .25 cents per gallon at this time.  Remember the days of ethyl?

When we finally reached downtown Los Angeles, we were able to get a very nice hotel room.  Though it was costly between the 3 of us sharing it was easily affordable.  Wish I would remember the name of that place.  

We drove what we thought was all over, taking in the sights of the city of Los Angeles herself, dipping into Koreatown and Chinatown, though by no means would it compare in scale to San Francisco’s -we just had to know- and then off into Hollywood we went.

Speaking for myself it was a fun weekend, exploring a completely new part of the state and I’m beginning to feel as though California would become my indefinite home.  

I noticed the sunshine here in southern California felt just a bit different … warmer at least to me.  We also drove into Santa Monica and then visited the beach.  Of course we indulged in the usual beach food, hot dogs and what not.  

Back in the city of Los Angeles, the memorable meal of this weekend had to be at a cafeteria where we ate one of our meals in but again I’m not recalling a name.  It sticks in my mind however as an establishment serving very tasty food.

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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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