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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58. Someone Is Really Watching Over Me

Keeping quiet wasn’t too difficult for a while longer because I was making a decent take-home wage between the two restaurants.  Eventually it would resurface, mainly in wondering what I could do about it.

In the meantime winter had passed and spring was in the air, mild as it was but that’s the city by the bay for you.  It was now April and much to my surprise Bill and Jack wanted to celebrate my 24th birthday there at the restaurant.

Wow!  They suggested I could call over a few friends if I wanted and we’d all make a good time of it.  How generous; perhaps it was a stroke of appreciation for helping their business to grow.  Either way it was very nice of them.

Now down the road a ways there was one particular man (let’s call him Sam) who came in a couple of times and he did seem to enjoy exchanging dialogue with me.  We spoke casually and he managed in conversation to get some information from me about my working conditions.  I thought absolutely nothing about it.

Sam started the first time we met by asking me a little about the history of the restaurant.  There was no yarn spinning here, I shared with him what I knew.  That was about the sum of it.

He then returned the next week.  Sam remembered my name and in greeting, he told me he had enjoyed the food last time and then from a friend he had heard about the ‘Jadoo’ stating it’s what brought him back in.

I took his order and then brought out his appetizer basket and a glass of  ‘Jadoo’ he was intrigued.  I told him I am the one who introduced it to the owners.  In the course of the evening in between servicing his table and the others in the dining room -I am the only server- we talked a little about me.

He enquired a little as to my personal history, what brought me here and how did I end up working in this little Indian restaurant.  When pressed for time believe it or not I can tell a piece of the story briefly enough!

Anyhow the chat led to how was I doing for pay; was it enough to live off of?  Sam didn’t seem to think it would be.  Here’s where it got sticky though I didn’t realise how sticky it would become.  

I told Sam straight up about our agreement, the one between Jack, Bill and myself.  Business certainly had picked up but the promised set wage had not yet begun.  ‘And to top it off, they are taking half of my tips every night,’ I plainly said to Sam.

His mouth fell open in surprise no doubt. “It’s one thing not paying you a set wage, you knowingly agreed to that but to actually take money from you?”  Sam was clearly upset. “No, no, this will never do!”  I felt a little comforted knowing that someone else beside me didn’t approve of it.

All of this discussion took place during a few rounds between tables of course.  Sam knew I was allowed a meal every shift and that’s alright but they, to not beat around the bush, were stealing from me.  He seemed as though he would make sure I didn’t stand for it any longer.  

“I say Blue, go to the Union and see what they have to say about this.”  I hadn’t told him I was already a member, see I never gave much thought about what the Union really meant for me.  And even after he mentioned this, I quietly listened to his opinion about the whole thing.

Over the next couple of days, still going in to work of course, I pondered the whole thing over.  At last I made the decision to go into the office.  First they asked me to show my Union member card which I had safely tucked into my wallet.  “Okay let’s get started!”  

I gave the initial summary of why I was there and shortly afterwards, I was taken into a back office.  There the full details surfaced based on the questions I was asked.

I was told not to speak of my visit to the Union to anyone and not to worry about anything.  “You did the right thing addressing the issue to us.  We’ll handle everything from here.”  a Union representative assured me.

He also told me that a field agent would be visiting the establishment to observe.  I of course wouldn’t know this person from Adam and that was just fine by me.

Confident that I did the right thing, I returned to my normal days and nights.  Also I was very glad and most grateful at least I had the other job where there was a steady, reliable wage and I did pretty darned good in my daily tips.  Another perk was I was fed both breakfast and lunch at the Italian joint.

Best as my memory has served me, it was about a week, maybe 10 days before a change was noticeable.  One evening as dinner was close to the end, some men came in and went back into the kitchen. The big and small of it?

Bill and Jack were told the restaurant was under investigation under the Labor Department and would be closed until further notice, pending such investigation and its findings.

They would wait till all the customers had left and the restaurant was closed immediately thereafter.  A sign was pasted up on the window facing the street, stating such but without personal embarrassing details.

This was my last night there too.  Honestly though I had felt just a little sad that it all had to go this way.   This is also the one night Bill and Jack didn’t help themselves to half of my night’s tips.  I was safely sent out into the night.

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50. An Unexpected Yet Benevolent Layover in Honolulu

🛳 My ship ticket was booked through only to Hawaii and then

The ship arrived in Honolulu and I was at the thrilling roundabout in my life; time to redeem my sealed envelope which carried the efforts I had been working on most of my life.  Standing in the immigration line still on board the ship, my adrenaline was certainly raised a bit more.

There was just a few of us and now it was my turn to come forward.  The sealed envelope was opened and along with my passport, I was recognized, stamped and received.  “Welcome to the United States.” the immigration officer said to me pleasantly.

I was given my golden ticket (legal resident-green card) and now I could leave the SS Orsova.  As I disembarked the ship, there was a line of island girls dressed in their grass skirts ready to greet us.  Aloha!  they warmly said to each one of us along with a few extra Hawaiian words I cannot recall exactly.  

Perhaps loaa i kou makaikai as they placed fresh and fragrant flower leis around our necks, each with a sweet and lovely smile.  Aloha indeed!  🌸

Going into the Customs Building I found a big locker to store my suitcase.  My flight was not until the night time so first thing on my to-do list, food!  

I called a cab and asked the driver to take me to a decent and nearby Chinese restaurant.  The man’s attitude was pleasantly laid back and he was more than willing to help.  He promptly delivered me to a street where there were a few eateries; I didn’t miss the Chinese writing on many of the business signs.  

I began to look into the windows hoping one would call to me quickly.  As I was looking into the window of this one restaurant, I saw how quickly the seats were filling – it was lunch time and now I am even more hungry because I’m smelling the food too.  

Remember I just disembarked a ship where I was constantly being fed!

As though breaking into my thoughts of a delicious lunch, the front door opened and a caucasian man stepped right up to me.  He said, “ I see you there and I think you were hoping to come in and have some lunch, am I right?”

I replied without thinking twice, ‘Yes I’d love to but I see there are no open tables.’  He smiled and said “Don’t worry about that, if you want you can join me as there’s no one else at my table.”  

I didn’t have to mull anything over when it came to the increasing sounds in my tummy and so with a gracious smile I went in with him, following him to his table.  We sat down and he handed me a menu.  He mentioned his order was already placed.  Right away I saw a couple of items I desired and ordered them.  My food came shortly after his hit the table.

He introduced himself as a basically retired U.S. Marine, having served during WWII and a few years after that; beyond Pearl Harbor, he loved the islands and decided to plant himself in Honolulu.  

This kind-hearted American man, James, would’ve been my dad, by age I mean to say.  He was at least 25 years my senior.  We enjoyed a wonderful conversation over lunch, and yes the food was good too.

James asking me where I was from, where I was going ….I told him I was from Fiji and he said, “Oh I know Fiji!”  and I told him San Francisco is where that evening’s flight would take me.  

Seeming slightly alarmed James said, “Oh Blue you’re gonna freeze over there, especially coming in from Fiji.”  I had to laugh at his unexpected concern for me.  

He thought to tell me that San Francisco is definitely into winter now and it’s very cold there.  He then made suggestion that I consider remaining in Hawaii, “…at least through the winter and let the western U.S. warm up a bit!” he said with a chuckle.

I thought that a marvelous plan but then I had to say, ‘I think that’s a great idea but I haven’t anywhere to stay, I mean to say I hadn’t planned on a detour.”

James didn’t miss a beat. “You should stay with me.  I have a big house and it’s only my wife and our dog.”  Say, that’s a fabulous idea I thought and said as much with a grateful smile.  I think he would read my face.

I agreed and we talked more about what he wanted to do to help me; he seemed to enjoy this very much.  James said he could take me to the office of employment and that he’d help me get on my feet in no time.  “At least we can try, right?” he offered.

James wouldn’t let me buy my lunch treating me as his guest.  That was such a nice thing and I was feeling comfortable.  We left the restaurant together and as we walked towards the parking lot, we stopped at a phone booth to ring up his wife.  He told her he was bringing home a friend for a couple of nights.

We first went to recover my suitcase and then he took me straightway to the Employment Office.  “Might as well get you registered right away.  We wouldn’t want you to miss any opportunities.”  Thankfully that was a fairly quick and easy process.

James drove me around the town, pointing out this and that and Pearl Harbor too as we went by it.  James told me he was grateful to have survived it but was deeply saddened by the losses, some very personal.  

After leaving the town area we began ascending the hills towards his home.  It was such a beautiful neighborhood, lots of green of course and spacious lots with large ranch-style homes neatly placed upon them.

I turned to look in the direction from where we came and the view was sprawled out clear down to the Pacific Ocean, truly a brilliant blue from that vantage point!

We approached a driveway which he turned the car into.  As we pulled in a car was pulling out.  “That would be my wife.  She’s gone to visit her family.”  He stopped in the driveway up by the front door.  

I’m sure you can picture this in your mind’s eye;  the circular drive, the small flower garden in the center and the relaxed laid out home, glorious in its day, fantastic today too I’m sure!  We got out and walked into the house.

James warmly welcomed me into his home, “Well here’s the house.  I’ll first take you to your room so you can leave your suitcase there and I’ll show you around.”  

As I am experiencing an American’s home for the first time in my life, I was wowed to say the least.  It was something like a palace of sorts to me; so spacious and well, just beautiful.  He showed me the bathroom, the kitchen, the den … do you remember dens?

He then walked over to his telephone and I took a seat nearby; at this point we were taking care of changing my flight.  He called Pan Am and after a few words like calling on behalf of his friend who’s feeling under the weather and needs to cancel his flight, it was done.

I remember thinking to myself about who this man James really is when I heard him say to the person on the other end of the line something about his military status, it somehow reassured me in a calm way; it was like he was well known or something.

While we sat in the kitchen I had a soft drink although he had offered me the run of his entire liquor cupboard.  “We had a fabulous dinner last night, are you interested or should we go out?”  James asked me.  

My honest thoughts; I didn’t have a lot of money in my pocket, he had already treated me so kindly and anyway I was feeling tired, I said whatever he had would be perfect.

He attacked the refrigerator breaking out all the goodies.  There was a large, neatly wrapped in aluminum foil package he opened up.  It contained several delicious looking pork chops.  All the trimmings were there and we feasted.  

🇺🇸 Good choice to stay in – first American dinner in an American’s home.

All in all it was a nice night.  I enjoyed it very much including an evening stroll around his property.  And this time I enjoyed looking at the island lights from the opposite end of where I had seen them before, for the very first time; I’ll never forget that feeling, that sight.

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James:  fictitious name for the real mcCoy!  What a sincere, caring human being and what a perfect welcome into American life!  

Sometimes we just cannot help but to say with a twinkle in our eye and a fondness in our heart, “Ah, the good ‘ol days!