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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9. Fog in My Pocket With an American Touch 🇺🇸 part 2

Another clear memory I have was the fog being so thick this one particular night.  I felt as though I could reach out, grab a handful of the stuff and keep it in my pocket!

Almost funny is the next day when it was perfectly clear, I looked out to see where I thought I had been the night before and then realized; had I taken one more step, I’d have dropped straight into the icy waters of the ocean!

I remember watching too that day, as our ship was receiving the last of the load, how it had sunk half way under the water due to the additional weight!  But this also meant a better night’s sleep!  😴  How so you might ask?

We’d benefit with a smoother sail, there would be less shake from the vibration of the heavy propellers, the ship simply rolled better.  Everything up to and including food service and walking was easier to do and objects didn’t fly off the shelves as easily.

Another seven days at sea en route to Honolulu.  More of the same in that we’d get fresh water, exchange mail and whatever necessary supplies are needed.  Although the ship was docked here for 8 hours, we’d be allowed a couple of hours shore leave for souvenir shopping or whatever.

I picked up some Hawaiian shirts for the guys, candies and such for the young ones and muumuus for the gals.  Of course I just had to indulge my taste buds with a watermelon shake again and I remembered exactly where to go and get it!

⚓️  Anchor up!  Another seven days and we have arrived back in Suva.  🤗  My family is there waiting at the docks, it’s a happy reunion.  We take a cab home.  I have a full week to spend with my family.  I’d sleep at home in the night instead of on the ship and have my dinners with the family.

Of course I still had to report for breakfast, lunch and dinner shifts on the ship; there are still passengers on board who would like to have a bite to eat every now again, in case they hadn’t gone ashore!

Laboring hands would come from all over the island to load and unload the ship.  Fiji received its share of lumber and mail.  In addition to the existing load of lumber, our ship took up fresh cargo of sugar, banana and coconut and the always present mail bags for delivery to New Zealand, our next port.

And it is time again for the teardrops to roll as we say our goodbyes once again, especially my mother.

I am on board the SS Lakemba and we are once more sailing out from Suva.  As we gently ply the waters, another ship was entering the harbor; nothing uncommon but for this one, the skipper’s voice came over the intercom announcing the incoming ship as the Royal Yacht, the Gothic and it was carrying HRM Queen Elizabeth II and her Prince.  I believe they were on a portion of her  👑 coronation 🌎 tour.

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As this new year unfolds, we should all encourage one another to pursue our heart-felt dreams, don’t you agree?  Thank you once again for stopping by and sitting in on another little bit of Little Blue Masala’s beginning adventures.  Lots more to come!

9. Fog in My Pocket With an American Touch 🇺🇸 part 1

Unloading the sugar took about 3-4 days this time; it all depends upon the volume of product and how many hands were present for any specific ship.  Once the ship is cleaned, the lumber gets loaded.

Man I tell you, when I see how hard those guys worked, I was so glad that this process wasn’t part of my job.  I don’t mind saying that I was young and having fun!  In order for things to run smoothly and safely it’s common sense that everyone should have their specific duties, doing exactly what you’ve been hired for; nothing more, nothing less.

I now give a moment’s thought to fact of the United States being just within reach across a border that-a-way, and so myself and a few of the guys decided we would rent a car and cross the border for the day just so we could encounter a taste of the USA.

We departed Vancouver 🇨🇦 in the early morning, marveled by pine tree inspired wonderment throughout the scenic drive, spent the day people watching, eating, and just the basic looky-loo stuff, making our way back by about midnight.  Chalk mark my first American experience.

That next morning I saw on the planner that our ship would be making an additional pick up of lumber as there was just enough room on board; the load would come from Coos Bay, Oregon.  How about that? back into the USA and this time by way of ship!

This detour would take us nearly three days.  Now I refer to this stop as a detour because as the normal route spelled out for the SS Lakemba and its sister ships; SS Suva & SS Lautoka, they do not stop in American ports at all.  🚢 The posted route was Suva to Honolulu to Vancouver and back to to Honolulu, Suva and the various Australian ports.

In fact this stop was quite significant in that it was actually the very first time this ship touched an American port at all, ever.  That’s what I heard, it was all over the crew’s conversations  – it would seem I lucked out!

⚓️  The loaders worked ‘round-the-clock, 24 hours a day; one shift ended, another took over.  The expense is great when a ship is docked in any port and so the faster the ship can be loaded/unloaded, the better for the shipping company.

When my duties were complete I would venture into the port town, in this case it is Coos Bay, and of course some of the guys would tag alongside for a sampling of the local cuisine and well maybe a beer or two.

I can still taste the deliciously fresh, steaming clam chowder and oh yes, the hot and crispy fish & chips too, which we obtained from a food stall on the nearby pier – sensational!

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