67. Amigos & Coo Coo Rachas

‘What do you think about getting married?’  Diana was really happy about this prospect and had no hesitation in starting a life of permanency with me.  I knew it would make my mother happy to hear that I wasn’t alone anymore.

I asked how we would accomplish this marriage.  I had told her father about my previous marriage in Fiji and that I hadn’t received official documentation of our divorce being finalized.  Whether or not it was Ralph who advised us or another, I cannot remember and really it doesn’t matter; it was suggested we take a trip south of the border and get married there.  

With her father’s blessing the two of us went to Mexicali.  It was a hot July, the weekend of the 4th to be exact.  We took the Greyhound Bus all the way. The further southeast the bus travelled the more arid we became.  

It was very late in the day as we arrived in town so the first thing we did was get ourselves a motel room.  We cleaned up, cooling off as best we could and then set out to find our evening’s meal and the justice of the peace.

We asked any and everyone who we thought might be of assistance, where the courthouse was located.  It actually wasn’t that easy getting someone to respond with a little English (besides taking our order for food in the restaurant).  

Finally someone did respond and we were thankful.  The next morning we made our way to the courthouse -it was already blazing saddles hot- and inquired with the clerk.  

He told us the judge couldn’t be located this morning and he very well may have taken the day off.  Wait, what?!  Then he told us that he’d go have another look around, maybe he’d find him.

He returned to tell us he found him … a few dollars later.  Yes it was a good thing we each changed up a $20 bill to single ones, it was just a hunch but nonetheless glad we acted on it.  The clerk told us the judge will be in the courtroom shortly. We just look at each other.

We did meet him in the courtroom.  The judge told us that we needed to have 3-5 witnesses; did we have them?  No. He told us there were always people just outside who may be convinced to come in. “You will have to pay them,” he told us dryly.   We just look at each other again.

Now I was thinking about the amigos Diana and I saw hanging around outside the building, would they really want to join us?  The judge sent a different clerk outside to gather some of them. He returned with 3 sun-stroked looking men.

Or was it simply siesta time already.  Either way they approached the magistrate and he looked at us with a simple finger rubbing thumb gesture.  We knew right away to dig up some dollar notes.

I set $6 into the clerk’s hand for the men.  He took it up to the judge. Each of the men signed a piece of paper, were handed their money and left the courtroom, one of them slightly smiling and acknowledging Diana and myself as they walked out.

The judge then called us forward to his bench and continued the process in pretty good English, the standard marriage vows (in Baja-California anyway).  After the ‘I do’s’ and his declaration of our marriage, we kissed, hugged and then had to sign the certificate.

He reached into his desk pulling out a stamp to which he then applied the ink from a pad on his bench quite deliberately, stamped the certificate firmly and applied his signature within the stamp.  Before handing it to us he did the ‘gesture’ once again.

I placed some bills onto his bench.  He handed us the one piece of paper and Diana immediately suggested we have a copy as well.  She asked him if we could get a copy and for a moment he didn’t answer.  Then he rubbed his index finger to his thumb and Diana handed him two dollars.

He went into the back and returned with a copy.  We stepped outside as Mr and Mrs Blue Masala. It was even hotter than a devil’s armpit now that the sun had pretty much reached its zenith.  

I remember being extremely thirsty, we both were to be sure.  Diana noticed a little market across the street and we made our way over.  Oh my goodness!  see the coo coo rachas scatter across the street everywhere.

I bought 2 bottles of ice cold 7-Up and stepping back outside with open bottles, we cheersed our green glass together and tipped up till we emptied them.  Gotta say, that felt really good!

We had planned to spend that night there as well and to call it a honeymoon?  I guess for now this would have to do.  We caught the bus the next morning back to Los Angeles and to a celebration with her dad and his ‘friend’ Doris.

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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.

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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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