29) San Francisco: Our Very Precious and Odd New Home

In my last post you read about Priscilla and I as we traveled through California with stops in Ventura and Laytonville – not true destinations for us – just stops along the way. In this post we arrive in the “city”, where we experience more opportunities and more risk with the situations we encounter.

Ah, San Francisco. What has not already been said?

Zany, stunning, cosmopolitan? Melancholy, dreary and brooding? Unique in all the world? To outsiders, San Francisco defies description. Folks living there do not try.

Chicago overwhelms. New York gets in your face. San Francisco seduces. It pulls out of you everything you may try to hold back.

Like me, some don’t live there anymore and still call it home. The dozen or so years I spent in San Francisco cannot be summarized in one post. And one remarkable aspect of living in the city is that no matter where I go, I carry it with me.

The group Journey sings about “The City” in the video below.

Jack dropped Priscilla and I off in San Francisco which is about 3 hours south of the lumberjack camp in Laytonville, California.

Lumberjack Wages

Priscilla and I were eager to find out how much I had earned that summer cutting down trees. As it turns out, there was a good reason my boss, Jack Green, didn’t write out my paycheck for a summers work, until the very last second before dropping us off at The Sam Wong Hotel in San Francisco. To our shock, the total amount of pay for 9 weeks of grinding at the lumberjack camp was $450. By Jack’s calculations this was 2250 board feet of fallen timber or about 56 trees. This was reasonable but for some reason, I felt cheated. No, swindled. The amount of work  correctly, mowas calculatedre or less. I just hadn’t negotiated a very good rate. I had no one to blame but myself. A hard lesson, well-earned, you might say.

Sam Wong Hotel – San Francisco

I don’t know why we picked the Sam Wong Hotel. Neither one of us had been to San Francisco before and offering a discounted weekly rate and landmark Chinatown location on Broadway at Columbus, we decided it seemed as good as any other. After three or four weeks our money ran out, and we found ourselves one week behind in our rent. At that time the hotel was managed by the Patel family and not surprisingly, because she was so easy to talk to, Priscilla had spent time talking to Sanjay Patel, the 12-year old son who often worked at the front desk. Being nearly broke, not yet desperate enough – at least in our minds – to beg for any job, we decided to keep our remaining $72.00 and sneak out of the hotel one night, without settling the bill.

Nearly Thrown in Jail

“If we can make it through the lobby without being seen, we’re home free.” I told Priscilla that night. “Shh!” I said as we tip-toed down the stairs from our second floor room to the lobby. “We’re nearly there. Let’s go out around back to the alley away from Broadway, then we’ll be cool.” “Okay, okay,” Priscilla said. “this goddamn bag is breaking my back, it’s so heavy.” So dark we were shuffling our feet to keep from tripping, we heard tires on the brick pavement approaching quickly and with measured precision – like the car tires had found this path many times before. Neither one of us had to wait for the headlights to know what was going on. We were busted. It was a San Francisco police cruiser. “How in the fuck..?” my voice trailed off.

Two wary officers approached from the car and an excited 12-year old boy from a side-door of the hotel. “Oh, Sanjay, I thought you were my friend.” Priscilla pleaded.

The police let us go that night. We later suspected that Sanjay had acted on the behalf of The Sam Wong Hotel. We were grateful but hardly relaxed yet, that nothing more came of the incident.

Polk Street Hotel in 1974 – A Flea Bag

Our next stop was The Polk Street Hotel, which, we didn’t know at the time, was located on Polk, in notoriously gay neighborhood. Looking back, in 1974, Polk Street was the second most intense and second largest gay neighborhood in San Francisco, after The Castro. Being both straight and Priscilla so striking, we were at times, attracting all the wrong attention. Depending on the time of day we were walking on Polk Street, sometimes the attention was a little too much for me to handle. Priscilla didn’t seem to mind. The hotel itself, according to my recollection, was a flea-box. I don’t remember how long we stayed or how we paid for it.

If we had any money, I do remember spending a good bit of time in the bars, using ourselves up.

I recall one time after drinking most of the night, Priscilla and I had a jealous argument and staged a wrestling match on the second-floor hallway of the hotel. (Just like Mom and Jim used to do)

Video: http://youtu.be/3RzgH9x4-Vk

Could you ever justify cheating on a hotel bill to keep yourself out of jail?

Next: What I Did When a Hot Relationship Became Suffocating

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