In defense of the SLO life
The writers at The Rogue Voice seem to think they are the only ones in the county with problems.
Anyone who believes that SLO is too white or racially intolerant has never seen my wife Bethany in Albertson’s when she spots a small black child. By Duane Hagabee
I was pleased (albeit surprised) last month to open the pages of The Rogue Voice and find a most insightful, thought-provoking letter from a lovely couple named Doug and Anne of Cayucos [“Letters,” August 2007]. Reading it awakened me to the fact that we need more people like Doug and Anne coming forth to defend our community when others put it down. Doug and Anne are a couple that, let’s just say, “Gets it.” They are of the silent majority that understands and appreciates that we live in paradise. Like them, I too get fed up with ne’er-do-wells repeatedly knocking my beloved SLO. These are people who just don’t know a good thing when it’s under their noses–malcontents that would be unhappy anywhere. Their complaints about San Luis Obispo, SLO County, and the SLO life are endless, so I will address only a few of the more common ones.
Pretentious. That’s the word I always hear being tossed around by the unhappy ones. Personally, I doubt half of them know what it means. The people you hear using that term don’t look or sound all that educated. It’s usually dirty young hippies hanging around coffee shops, or soured old beer-bellied men in bars who have six or seven DUIs. Pretentious, according to Merriam Webster (that’s a dictionary) means “presumptuous or arrogant; pompous or showy.”
Excuse me? Are we talking about the same SLO? The SLO that I live in is a low-keyed village where families stroll the shaded downtown streets in casual attire, freely associating with one another. In khakis and polo shirts and our unassuming dress, we stroll arm-in-arm, meandering carelessly, free from the fear of muggings or assaults. We are as comfortable on skateboards or scooters as we are in flip-flops or loafers that make nice leisurely scuffing sounds on the sidewalk. We like to lick a nice ice cream from the Cold Stone Creamery as we stop and talk about our wondrous lives. If you were in a pretentious town like San Francisco or L.A., you would not see this. You would see people in snazzy suits walking with their noses in the air, afraid to look anyone in the eye. Our kids feel comfortable approaching complete strangers unblinkingly. That’s because they are not raised in fear.
This being said, we don’t toot our horn here in SLO–though we could. The only horn tooting you’ll hear in SLO is the friendly toot of a car horn when someone is reminding you to slow down. There’s even a bumper sticker that says “SLO DOWN You Ain’t in L.A.” What we’re saying is, “Welcome, visitor, but SLO down.” It’s the way we live. It’s even there in the name, in case you forget: SLOw. Where you come from, tailgating and being in a rush might be commonplace, but here we all SLOooow down and take our time, even to stop in traffic to talk on the phone or say hi to a passing friend. We don’t worry about the people behind us. If they are truly SLO, they won’t mind.
Too White. Anyone who believes that SLO is too white or racially intolerant has never seen my wife Bethany in Albertson’s when she spots a small black child. Well, she loves them, and can get to one faster than any woman in the county. The other day I saw her beat four other white women to this cute little black boy. If you want to see the true heart SLO has toward the minorities, just watch Bethany. Once that woman gets close to a small Negro baby, there’s no stopping her. She gets it in her arms and squeezes it and fusses over it and tells it how cute it is, rocking it back and forth as its parents look on patiently. We usually have to pry the little dickens from her arms. We have even discussed adopting one, and we don’t care who knows. If it shouldn’t work out–say if the agencies are out of black babies, we are prepared to allow our oldest daughter Britney, who is 17, to begin dating members of the Cal Poly basketball and football teams. Having one in the family would be an example of the commitment we and other SLO’ans share toward racial harmony, inclusion and diversity.
Reading The Rogue Voice, especially that disgruntled cab driver, you get the impression that SLO has no diversity whatsoever. I would challenge anyone who believes this to spend an evening at the Laguna Shopping Center on the corner of Madonna and Los Osos Valley Roads. Take a peep inside the Burger King, the Laundromat, and the Albertson’s there. There you will find all kinds of American Africans, Orientals, and Spanish people co-mingling with our whites. Some work in the stores but others just hang out. There must be low-income housing nearby.
I like to take the family there for outings. While Bethany goes searching Albertson’s for little black children, I walk around with my six kids—Tanya, Tanner, Tad, Thad, Chad, and Britney—and show them the variety of peoples. I feel it’s educational for them to see how the less fortunate live, and how much our SLO community cares. Like I tell them, these people are probably ten times better off in SLO than they were back in Oakland or Fresno or Mexico or Vietnam. They have their own Albertson’s, Rite Aid, and Burger King, all accessible by foot. With a city bus stop right there, they’ve no reason to go anywhere but to and from their jobs in the fields and car washes.
Utopian Society. The writers at The Rogue Voice seem to think they are the only ones in the county with problems. Either they can’t pay their rent or their cars are broken down or they are losing another job or the world is beating up on them. Boo-hoo. Want some advice, guys? Lay off the sauce. You’ll probably save a fortune. And once you sober up you will see that life in SLO isn’t so sheltered and problem-free. You’ll see the rest of us have problems too.
Ever tried to find a good tile man in this county? A decent roofer? A dependable window-washer or painter? Flakes and fruitcakes, I tell Bethany–nothing but flakes and fruitcakes. If you’re lucky enough to get one of these slackers on the phone long enough to get them out to your house, they give you a bunch of excuses and then flake around on the job, oftentimes leaving it half-finished. Then you can’t get a hold of them, even to pay them. You don’t see them for a couple years. You know they need the money, but their standards of living are so low that they probably don’t care.
And when one of these jokers finally comes out to your house, you have to watch them. It helps to have a suspicious nature and to stay on their case every step of the way. You’d think they would appreciate your guidance and direction. Here you let them spend the day laboring on your property, getting to work next to your hot-tub, your boat, your nice cars and deck, getting as close as they ever will to such a life, and they thank you by not returning your calls.
Another problem is when people like that try to rent little granny units in the backyards of homes in our neighborhood. When we see this we get together and apply a little pressure to the property owner. We remind them that no one wants to look out their window and see an oil-leaking jalopy parked on one of our streets. If you’re the man of the household like me, you don’t want your kids to have to watch a grungy middle-aged renter as he comes and goes, leering at your attractive wife working in the yard. You may call this a NIMBY attitude. Well, I call it protecting what I have. Had he worked hard when he was supposed to, and embraced the SLO life, maybe instead of renting a cramped granny unit, he’d own a house with a beautiful family inside, like mine. I earned what I have, working my way up from the very bottom of my father’s real estate development firm, all the way up to into part ownership. Now that is real life.
And if SLO is such a utopian society as you put it when you are calling us robotic phonies and calling our wives Stepford women, then why do I pick up the local paper the other day and read the headline POLICE NAB SLO GRAFFITI ARTISTS on the front page? Doesn’t sound too utopian to me. Perhaps you missed the Mardi Gras riots of 2004 or the recent sting operation on the perverts at Pirate’s Cove. Disgusting. The other day on talk radio, a breaking traffic report came through informing motorists that a billy goat was loose on Foothill Boulevard. It could have caused an accident. It’s not as if there isn’t controversy covered in our media. But maybe you are all too busy down at your local bar, swilling in your suds and your self-imposed misery to realize it. No wonder none of you have anything.
Straight-Laced, Conservative, Boring. I have to laugh when I hear this one, because no one is more quirky, unusual, and eccentric than your San Luis Obispan. While some people portray themselves as interesting through their drinking and promiscuity, as if they are the only unique people in all of SLO, others know what true originality is. You need look no farther than a Thursday night Farmer’s Market to find one-of-a-kind characters.
Just walk along Higuera Street long enough and you will eventually run into militant lesbians marching with placards, white people playing drums with a parrot on their shoulder, or a guy making balloon animals. I could go on. There is a barbecue grill where a cadre of flamboyant young men (I think they are Italians) throw meat in the air and make the flames on the grill go whoosh as they interact with the crowd through funny chants. It’s participatory. Further on, there is a most interesting almond farmer who holds an almond out for you with a pair of salad tongs and makes witty little one-liners like: “Eat an almond. It’s cheaper than a colonoscopy.”
It’s cute, educational, and wholesome at the same time, and everyone gets a laugh from a true SLO-town character with something truly original to express. That’s what gives us our unique flavor that no other town has.
Bethany and I also have our wild sides. We have been known to order red wine with fish and we have taken swing-dancing lessons at Mother’s Tavern. In addition to being an avid hobbyist, Bethany belongs to a local activist group called Milk Moms that promotes public breast-feeding. You can find them performing every Thursday night at Farmer’s Market. It’s for a good cause, and the family is very proud.
There’s more. On Sundays, after church I like to put on a funny straw hat and a Groucho Marx nose and play ukelele for the kids, or when we go to Costco, I get on one of those carts for the disabled and drive it around, chasing my kids.
It gets even racier. It may shock you to know that Bethany and I have befriended one of the militant lesbian couples from Farmer’s Market and frequently have them over for dinner. We encourage our children to interact with them and we get offended when anyone suggests we shouldn’t. We are an open-minded, progressive couple that has attended sex workshops at Esalen and admitted to each other we are sometimes attracted to other people. And it might surprise you that just last year Bethany and I began to doubt our Methodist faith and actually spent a Sunday driving around SLO shopping for a new church, looking at the Nazarenes, the Mormons, and a few others. After church one Sunday, we dropped the kids off at their grandparents’, and Bethany did something she’s been known to do from time to time–she went down on me while I was driving. This marked the beginning of a two-week period of agnosticism for us, before returning to the Methodists. Bethany still gives me road-head now and then, just not on Sundays.
Now does that sound like a boring couple to you? Does my family sound straight-laced and conservative? Does SLO sound like a community of Stepford wives and bland white men? No. I hope you see now that in SLO we are spontaneous at heart and don’t hesitate to throw caution to the wind. What I am saying is that everyone has their own brand of uniqueness, it’s just that not everyone goes around writing stories about it.
In conclusion, I would like to thank The Rogue Voice for printing my opinions. But I would also like to ask them and the rest of the SLO pessimists to start looking at the bright side of things. There is plenty positive to write about—if you look for it. It’s nearly impossible to be a healthy, well-adjusted adult when you are constantly writing about road rage, alcoholism, and homelessness. I don’t know if you noticed, but after the incident where the New Times ran the recipe for methamphetamine, the community came together and grabbed New Times by the armloads along with armloads of The Rogue Voice and, as any good SLO’an would do, dumped them where they belonged–in the trash.
The very next week, the New Times followed up with a cover story on horsies. Well, my youngest, Tanya, just loves horsies and we were able to share that issue of the New Times as a family. This is one thing you can do with the New Times now that you couldn’t do before and you could never do with The Rogue Voice. The whole family can sit down and go through its pages and you don’t have to worry about explaining naughty words to your kids or why there is a cartoon of a man masturbating in a cell bunk.
I don’t know what went wrong in your childhoods to make you hate all things good–why you hate Jesus, women, jobs, cleanliness, lawfulness, morality, and family. If life is so miserable for you, why don’t you try doing what Bethany and I, and other normal people, do when we are feeling empty and worthless inside. Have kids. Or remodel. Kids are great and give you something to live for, so does new tile in the kitchen. Maybe it’s not too late to get your lives together. In the meantime, there will be people like Bethany, myself, and Doug and Anne of Cayucos, reminding us all how truly blessed we are to be living the SLO life.§
Duane Hagabee is a Cal Poly graduate and CEO of Hagabee, Hagabee, and Hagabee, a real-estate development firm in downtown SLO. Duane and his lovely wife Bethany have not missed a Farmer’s Market in 12 years.
Life in the cage: Suicidal tendencies
Rodriguez opened the door and stepped inside, his shoes getting drenched with blood as he checked Danny’s pulse.
One officer close to us commented, ‘Imagine if we could get them all to do this, that would be cool!’
By Tito David Valdez Jr.
New Folsom Prison 1996—Maximum Security
The prison dayroom was packed as inmates arrived to the cellblock from school or work at 3 p.m. It was just another weekday afternoon in the jailhouse. Everyone in a rush to shower, eight men sharing four nozzles, desperately trying to finish before the 3:30 p.m. cell unlock. A rookie officer just finished passing out mail, sliding it underneath men’s doors.
I was standing next to the bulletin board, reading the latest news clippings about the broken prison system when all of a sudden, at 3:26 p.m., a white inmate named Rick, who had long hair and looked like a stoner, approached me with a frightened look, as if he had just seen a ghost.
“Hey dude,” Rick said. “Go check out cell 129.”
“Are you talking about Danny’s cell?”
“Yeah. He lives with Cuban Rigo.”
“Why?” I asked him. “What is he doing, jerking off without a cover on his window?”
“No, man,” Rick answered dismally. “It’s really bad. We are going to be on lockdown for sure.”
“Lockdown? Is he fighting with Rigo?”
“Nah, it’s nothing like that. You ever see Texas Chainsaw Massacre?”
Anxious to find out what the hell was up, I rushed toward cell 129 to look into the cell window.
What I saw was a horrific sight that remains with me to this day.
I met Danny the first day I arrived to the cellblock. He was a young Chicano, about 38-years-old, but looked in his twenties, with a lean muscular build. At 6-2, he towered over most Hispanic inmates. He was charismatic, a good-looking guy with dark hair and brown eyes. That first day he walked up to me and handed me a piece of paper.
“Would you like a flyer?” he asked.
“What, to a party?” I joked.
“Nah, it’s your ticket to heaven. Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and you will enter the pearly gates of heaven,” he said with authority and excitement.
I looked at the flyer. It had a cartoon illustration of an imposing castle with huge doors, with Romanesque architecture, and a stick figure entering the gates.
“Will there be hot chicks there, strippers?” I kidded.
“All of that homey. The Lord says we will all be with him in paradise.”
“Thanks, man. What’s your name?”
“Brother Danny. I’m the inmate pastor in the prison chapel. If you ever want to come to service, let me know. I’ll place you on the ducat list.”
“My name is David,” I said, shaking his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Same here. God bless you.”
Being a newcomer to the prison system, I wasn’t interested in the Lord. Naturally, I crumbled up the Bible flyer and threw it on the floor, and walked off to get a feel for the environment and people in the unit.
A Chicano inmate named Spanky, playing cards with other homeboys, picked up the crumbled flyer, using it to pencil in the score in his game of pinochle.
Another Chicano inmate approached me. He had a large tattoo on his neck, which read “Cranky”.
“Hey homey,” Cranky said. “You just get here?”
“Yeah, straight from the reception center.”
“Don’t listen to that vato Danny,” Cranky advised. “He is a Jesus freak.
At quick glance, it was difficult to see through the small glass window of the solid cell door into cell 129. The sun cast a blinding glare through the cell window. As I came closer, I could finally see past the glare into the cell. I observed Danny, with a sheet tied in a knot around his neck, hanging from the cell window ledge. His body cast the shadow of an unflinching scarecrow. I didn’t want to believe my eyes.
“Danny! Dammit, dude. Come on, man. Stop messing around!” I yelled, banging on his cell door, thinking he was just making a sick joke.
“Dude, he’s dead,” said Rick. “Look at his face, it’s ghost white.”
“This ain’t just some kind of joke? It’s not April Fool’s?” I pleaded with Rick.
“Hell no. Look at the cell floor.”
Looking down, I could see two large puddles of blood slowly creeping its way toward the crack under the cell door. There was blood everywhere, dripping from Danny’s wrists.
“Go get the guards! Maybe he’s still alive!” I shouted.
“You get the guards, dude. If we report it, we’re going to be interviewed, and have to cooperate with the investigation.”
“Aw shit, you’re right.”
“I think the best thing to do is to let the guard find him when he does the unlock in five minutes,” Rick suggested.
“Good idea,” I agreed with him.
Rick and I walked across from cell 129, sitting down on the floor to get a front-row seat. A real life drama was about to unfold. For one, why did he do it? Or who helped him do it, or was it by the hands of another?
The bell rang, and Officer Rodriguez, a 45-year-old Mexican national, started his rounds, unlocking cell doors, beginning with the top tier. It was 3:30 p.m.
I saw Rigo, Danny’s cellie, entering the cellblock after getting off from his prison job, where he made license plates all day.
“Hey, Rigo. Rigo!” I called.
“Yeah, what’s up?” he said, approaching Rick and me, looking tired from a hard day’s work.
“Don’t go to your cell,” said Rick.
“Why? Did the goners do a search or something?”
“No, worse! They’ll be coming for sure, in a few minutes,” I said.
I decided to show up to the Sunday morning service [EXTR. DEL. P 6]. The chapel was small, with a 100-person capacity. It was jam-packed with at least 150 inmates. There were eight rows of pews on two sides of the room. An altar stood at the front of a stage, a piano to the side, and a large wooden Jesus nailed to a cross, perched high on the wall, in the middle of the chapel. A sign posted above it read: “Jesus Christ—the same yesterday, today and forever….”
I knelt down in the aisle, before taking a seat toward the back, making the sign of the cross, a habit I picked up growing up Catholic.
When I sat down, memories of the Catholic Church came to mind. I was an altar boy, received First Holy Communion and Confirmation. I remember volunteering to clean up the priests’ quarters, and finding lots of empty bottles of wine. I wondered as a teenager if they partied with the nuns.
I saw Danny walk up on stage, stand behind the pulpit, and grab a microphone to begin the service. The conversations of many men, which echoed throughout the chapel, suddenly come to an abrupt halt.
“Gentlemen, thank you for coming to service this morning,” Danny stated with the confidence of a professional preacher. “The Lord has a message for you today. I want you all to open your hearts, your minds, appreciate the many blessings you have. Today I’ll be giving a message of hope, from the book of Psalms. Please turn your bibles to page….”
Bibles were provided at the back of each pew, but most of them were ripped and torn, and pages were missing from inmates who used them as rolling papers or to write notes. I opened the bible in front of me, finding that it wasn’t missing the page from Psalms that Danny was reading from. It was hard to hear, since several inmates close to me were whispering to one another.
“Hey, dog,” said Mark, a white dude with bloodshot, sleep-deprived eyes. “Put me down for the Chicago Bears—score seven to fourteen. What’s the spread for the next game?”
“Seven point spread. Do you want a square for next week’s game?” asked Brad.
“For sure. Put me down—Chicago twenty-one to fifteen.”
“All right dude, give me two mackerels, send them to me with Ziggy tomorrow morning.”
Mark turned to talk to me.
“Hey, dog. You new here?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Just arrived two weeks ago.”
“Do you get high?”
“Nah…I’m not into that.”
“If you ever need a little escape from reality, I’m the man,” he said as he started another conversation with a guy next to him.
Looking around, I realized that about a quarter of the men at the service were there for other purposes. Just hanging out, picking up porn mags, psych meds, etc. The chapel was a great meeting place to chat without direct observation by prison guards.
Danny’s voice boomed out of the chapel speakers for the next hour before he came to his conclusion.
“You don’t have to live in bondage—in sin and lust—anymore. Jesus can save you! If there are any men who feel the power of the Holy Spirit in this room, come on down right now, and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior! Amen!”
A black inmate, who looked like James Brown, played the piano, which sounded more like an organ. A few men, who were popping psych meds earlier, smirked and walked toward the altar. A few men with real tears in their eyes walked toward Danny. He laid his hands on them, repeating, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Lord….”
Danny then said, “Men, you all have been given a new life, you are now going to be in paradise, with the Lord, when he comes for all of us soon. Praise the Lord! Let’s give a hand to these men!”
The chapel suddenly grew loud. The organ played songs of praise and inmates sang, “What a friend we have in Jesus,” while clapping zealously.
Mark nudged me, pulling out an envelope from his pocket, which contained several photos of nude women.
“You like skin pics?” Mark asked. “Buck a piece.”
I soon learned that prison is about survival—predator and prey. You either belonged to a crew or you were on your own, vulnerable to the best con men and bullies. For some reason, nobody ever bothered the Christians.
It was rumored by a few men in the know that Christians were using the Church as a safe haven. All the misfits, geeks, outcasts, undesirables—child molesters, mafia dropouts, snitches—were regulars. But no one bothered to check their paperwork. Indeed, no one disrespected the Church or its members, holding it sacred, not even the most evil devil-worshipping inmates.
“Hey, Dave,” greeted Danny. “I’m glad to see you are coming to service. I encourage you to come to my bible study every Thursday afternoon. Do you work yet?”
“No, I’m still waiting to be assigned to a job.”
“Then I’ll put you down on the ducat list.”
“Hey, man. Where are you going all dressed up?” I asked Danny.
“I got a family visit. My wife is coming at noon. Here’s a photo of my wife and 13-year-old son.” He pulled out his wallet, showing me their photos.
“Very beautiful family! You are lucky she’s still sticking around. My wife is about to leave me because we’re an eight-hour drive apart. It’s hard for her to get up here to visit.”
“Don’t trip, homey. Once you get a job, you’ll be able to apply for family visits and get your freak on. Three days and two nights in the trailer will do wonders. Fixes everything, know what I mean?” Danny said, smiling.
Rigo, Rick and I sat together against the wall.
“Your cellie is dead,” I said to Rigo.
“Aw shit. Are you serious?”
“Dead serious. He hung himself.”
“Aw man. They are going to roll me up for investigation. Try to pin it on me.”
“That’s procedure. Why do you think we haven’t reported it yet? We don’t want to be a part of any investigation,” I said.
“Fuck, man. I don’t get it,” Rigo shook his head. “He has a visit with his mom tomorrow. He’s never shown any sign of being depressed.”
“Something must have set him off,” said Rick.
“Aw shit, here comes the C/O Rodriguez.”
Officer Rodriguez walked down the tier, opening the cell doors, passing up cell 132, 131, 130, 129…. He looked twice in the cell, and again, then pushed his alarm button, yelling, “SUICIDE, cellblock two, cell 129, need emergency medical help, now!” into his walkie talkie.
The alarm abruptly sounded when he pushed the button. Officers quickly rushed the cellblock, about 12 of them. Rodriguez opened the door and stepped inside, his shoes getting drenched with blood as he checked Danny’s pulse.
“Go get the scissors, right now, hurry!” he squawked to a rookie officer named Tilton.
“Scissors, where are they at?” Tilton stammered. “I don’t know where they are!”
“Come on, don’t just stand there!” yelled Rodriguez. “Help me take this knot off his neck!”
“We gotta wait for the Sarge to show up. That’s procedure. This might be a crime scene.”
“Crime scene? This is a suicide, moron!” shouted Rodriguez.
“How do you know?” Tilton challenged Rodriguez. “Look at his neck…his wrists. Why would he slash his own jugular and wrists?”
“So he could make sure he finished the job,” Rodriguez countered disdainfully. “Just go get the Sarge!”
Many convicts were now approaching from all directions, to get a closer look. Officers were yelling out, “Get down, get down! Up against the walls, now!”
Officer Rodriguez attempted to untie the knot, which was squeezed tightly around Danny’s neck. His uniform was drenched with blood.
The Sarge arrived, shouting, “Rodriguez, get out of there now! Let the inmate go, toe squad is coming. They’ll handle it.”
“I’m trying to save this man’s life!” Rodriguez protested. “Where is medical?”
“He’s dead. Look at his face. Probably been hanging there a good hour,” said Sgt. O’Rourke.
“Shit, I know this inmate. He’s the inmate pastor.”
“Looks like he has a one way ticket to hell.”
Danny held his bible studies in a side room from the chapel. The chairs were all arranged in the pattern of a horseshoe. Danny sat in the middle, facing the rest of us.
“Brothers, today we will study the book of Job. Many men in the bible endured struggles such as ours. They all persevered with the power of the Lord. Please, open up your bibles now to the book of Job.”
I listened to his one-hour lecture and was quite impressed. He was a great public speaker, able to stir up emotions, talk about real life issues. He quoted scripture from memory.
“All right gentlemen, let’s form a circle and join hands, pray for strength, wisdom, courage…Father God, we come to you in the name of Jesus.”
As the guards fussed over Danny’s corpse, one officer close to us commented, “Imagine if we could get them all to do this, that would be cool!”
“Yeah, that would be interesting,” said Sgt. O’Rourke.
They didn’t know we were listening. “Damn, how cold and ruthless. Did you hear that?” I asked Rigo and Rick.
“Yeah,” Rick answered. “But that’s expected. There are always the few sadistic ones. They tell their neighbors and family what pieces of shit we are, fighting over a Top Ramen soup, sitting at dayroom tables playing dominos all day, snitching on someone to get an extra roll of toilet paper.”
“Danny was a firm vato. I’m going to miss him,” Rigo confided.
“Yeah, he was cool,” I agreed.
“Hey holmes, write this number down,” said Rigo. “You got a pen?”
I transcribed the number onto a page torn from one of Danny’s bibles. “That’s my mom’s number. Call her tomorrow for me and tell her I’m in the hole, will you? She’s expecting my call. I don’t want her to worry.”
“No problem,” I said. “Do you think we are going to be on lockdown?”
“Yeah, just for tonight. We’ll probably be off tomorrow,” Rick guessed.
The goon squad promptly arrived, correctional officers dressed in dark green, the prison investigation unit.
“Gooners are here,” I said.
“This is going to take a while,” Rick sighed.
Sgt. Slaughter, part of the goon squad team, asked Rodriguez, “Who is his cellie?”
Rodriguez, looking around the dayroom, focused on us, pointing at Rigo. “That’s him against the wall with the PIA cap on.”
“Aw shit, I am outta here. See you all in a few weeks,” said Rigo.
He stood up, putting his hands behind his back, as the Sarge handcuffed him, and took him into the unit office for an interview.
I looked inside the cell and Danny was still hanging there. Several gooners were inside videotaping the mess, taking photos. It was indeed a crime scene.
The rookie, Tilton, yelled out, “All right everyone, lock it up! Lock it up!” The cell doors were racked open and everyone went inside.
Looking out the cell window, observing the ongoing drama, I could see Danny being placed on a gurney, with a sheet over his head. A man in suit and tie arrived, probably the coroner. The cellblock was completely quiet.
“Say Danny, lately I’ve noticed that you’ve lost weight. What’s up?”
“Yeah, Dave. It’s stress. My wife is about to leave me. I can feel it. I’ve been down twenty years. She’s been by my side all this time. I’ve got a release date in four years, but she’s tired of this life. I can’t blame her. I’ve left it in the hands of the Lord. It’s his will. You know, ever since they took away family visits, it’s hard to maintain a marriage.”
“Yeah, I know. My wife divorced me already. No family visits gave her nothing to look forward to.”
“You think that the overcrowding situation will change? It’s all over the news. I’ve only got four years left. If something changes, I might get out sooner.”
“Nah, it’s a load of crap. If anything, the prison system will expand. You’re lucky, even having a release date. I got life!”
“I know. Listen, I’ll be doing a bible study this Thursday. Would you like to come?”
“Yeah, but only if they are serving donuts and coffee,” I said, smiling.
Danny smiled back. “Good one,” he said.
The day after Danny’s suicide, many inmates in the cellblock walked to his empty cell to take a look inside. I couldn’t help but look also. Nothing had been cleaned up. Puddles of freshly congealed blood—smattered with an array of officers’ hasty shoeprints—blanketed the floor. The smell of death still hung in the air.
Rumors spread quickly that Rigo killed him. But we all knew that wasn’t true because Rigo worked all day and Danny was seen earlier at the hospice, praying with a few lifer inmates dying of cancer and liver complications.
“Damn,” said a black inmate who was hanging out with us, observing the cell. “It seems kind of cowardly for him to go out like that.”
“Cowardly? That’s a man,” Rick insisted. “Takes a lot of guts to take yourself out! Look at all the suicide attempts over the years. Guys wanting attention. Danny went out in a blaze of glory. A one-way ticket to hell, in my opinion.”
“I don’t think he is going to hell,” I said. “For whatever reason he did this, I’m sure God will forgive him.”
Two weeks later, a memorial service was held in the prison chapel for Danny. About 300 men packed the chapel.
It was at this service that we found out the truth of why he killed himself. In his pocket, officers found a letter he received that afternoon from his sister, informing him that his wife and 13-year-old son were killed in a car crash while driving up Highway 101 for a surprise visit. I shed a tear upon hearing this.
Amidst the sound of hundreds of men talking, the black inmate on the piano played the Al Green song, “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart.” A huge homemade greeting card was being passed around for inmates to sign, which would be sent to his mother, Olga.
When it was my turn to sign, I observed the front of the card, displaying a photo of Danny, his wife and son—a picture taken in the Folsom Prison visiting room. Inside, I signed it, writing the following words:
Your son was a modern-day Jesus, spreading a message of hope. He prayed with addicts, the sick, the mentally ill. I’ll promise to carry his torch, to tell his story one day, so that others may appreciate their own life and not take anything for granted.
Tito David Valdez Jr. resides at and writes from the minimum security Correctional Facility in Soledad, Calif. Listen to his radio segments on prison life on the nationally syndicated program, “The Adam Carolla Show.” Visit www.adamcarolla.com. David can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail: Tito David Valdez Jr. J-52660, CTF Central E Wing Cell 126, P.O. Box 689, Soledad, Calif., 93960-0689. Visit www.inmate.com for information on David’s case.
Read more of his "Life in the Cage" series here:
Mischief in the prison chapelJailhouse prunoA momentary breath of freedomBreakfast ClubTrappedInstitutialized Evening dayroom Destination ASHSleepless in SoledadJailhouse lawyersIn the hole (part 1)In the hole (part 2)The idiot boxShower timeSweet escape
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Once a Republican
In view of the many impeachable offenses that have come to light since Bush has taken office, it is imperative, says Fein, to remove him and Cheney from their posts immediatelyHarding presided over, next to George W. Bush, one of the most unseemly presidencies ever to wield the powers and privileges of our nation’s highest office
Statesmanship, not partisan politics, demands impeachment
By Stacey Warde
I grew up politically naïve, sheltered by the suburban comforts of Republican Orange County.
We seldom discussed politics at home. When we did, it was to debase liberals.
A kind of shadow lingered over these conversations, rare as they were.
My grandmother had a cousin from Ohio, a Ruth Harding.
Turns out that Aunt Ruth was a distant relative of Warren G. Harding, 29th president of the United States, a Republican and influential newspaper publisher, also from Ohio.
Harding presided over, next to George W. Bush, one of the most unseemly presidencies ever to wield the powers and privileges of our nation’s highest office.
While we held a quiet regard for the family connection to a once-powerful figure, and didn’t much talk about it, Harding’s Ohio conservatism still held sway in my family some 60 years later.
In 1980, my mother, father and brother and I all hopped into the family car to head for the polls. I was 22 and my brother was 20. We were proud to join our parents in the voting ritual, and we couldn’t be prouder than to cast our vote for a candidate as conservative and solid as Ronald Reagan.
Incumbent Jimmy Carter was weak. I had served with the Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion, an airborne-air mobile lightning strike force, during his tenure as president and observed the deleterious effect of his government’s oversight of the military.
We had been grounded for months at a time because funding wasn’t available to fuel the aircraft that were essential to the Ranger mission. Carter had to go. The U.S., I reasoned as a good Republican, needed a strong military.
The election was a Reagan landslide, and the last time I ever voted Republican. Something about Reagan and the emerging triumphalism of the Republican Party turned my stomach worse than the presidential weaknesses of Jimmy Carter.
It was also the birthing of the more insidious Religious Right, fronted by the late Jerry Falwell. Red lights started flashing, and I knew something had gone horribly wrong with the Grand Old Party.
I respect my Republican roots, and understand the way Republicans think.
While liberals claim that conservatives are heartless, I learned the opposite from witnessing Republicanism at its charitable best.
When Richard Nixon had been shamed out of office on Aug. 9, 1974, another of my grandmother’s cousins sent the hapless former president a sack lunch so he wouldn’t starve during his unemployment.
And while the rest of my family may not have approved of Nixon’s criminal conduct, we still valued his genius for foreign policy and making it possible for the West to have relations with China.
He wasn’t such a bad guy, we reasoned, defending one of our own, an Orange County native who grew up in nearby Yorba Linda. The liberals were making a bigger deal out of his moral lapses simply because they hated us Republicans.
I don’t hate Republicans; everyone in my family belongs to the GOP, except me. They’re smart people with a history rooted in the Republican values of fiscal responsibility, pragmatism, constitutional government and strong leadership.
As with any political grouping, however, there’s one or two in my family who can’t see past their own partisan blinders, who won’t stand to reason and refuse to acknowledge the obvious: That George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have committed numerous impeachable offenses, more serious than any Nixon committed, and should therefore answer to the American people for their high crimes and misdemeanors.
Not long after George W. Bush was sworn into office, following the contentious and scandal-ridden 2000 presidential election, I heard my mother bad-mouthing the new president.
“Well, what did you expect? You voted for him,” I responded.
“No, I didn’t,” she countered.
“What!” I couldn’t believe my ears. “You’re telling me you voted for Al Gore?”
“He was more qualified to be president,” my Republican mother answered matter-of-factly.
A new appreciation for my Republican roots settled on me. My parents, politically conservative in every way, could see that Bush was unqualified and unfit for the office. And so it has been from the beginning of his tenure.
Unlike many Republicans voting in that election, my parents had the intellectual wherewithal to withhold their Republican vote in the interests of what was best for our country, by installing the person most qualified for the job. That pragmatism, another Republican virtue, kept their vision keen and alert.
And now, Republicans with their vision still intact have begun calling for impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney.
Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer who served as an associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan, asserts that the Bush administration has dangerously and illegally overreached its power, threatening our civil liberties, our republic, and its democratic institutions with their checks and balances against monarchy and totalitarianism.
Fein, who wrote the first articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton, claims that the Bush administration’s crimes “are more worrisome than Clinton’s” because they threaten the very core of our democratic government.
The Bush administration, he notes, has repeatedly and brazenly claimed powers that do not belong to the office, demonstrating its utter contempt for the U.S. Constitution, which provides for the checks and balances necessary to keep each branch of our government, especially the executive, from wielding too much power.
In view of the many impeachable offenses that have come to light since Bush has taken office, it is imperative, says Fein, to remove him and Cheney from their posts immediately.
The republic is in grave danger if we fail to do this. Allowing Bush and Cheney to leave office unscathed, with the damage they’ve done, will set a precedent for subsequent presidents to hold themselves above the law and beyond the scrutiny of Congress and the people, setting the pattern for dictatorial rule.
This issue of impeachment is a matter of statesmanship, adds Fein, not partisan politics. “They are asserting theories of government that are monarchical,” Fein claims of Bush and Cheney, which ought to be of concern to both liberals and conservatives.
Imagine, he says, the alarm Republicans would feel if a Democrat in the Oval Office asserted the same powers, holding themselves above the law, as Bush and Cheney have.
“The Constitution is more important than the aggrandizement of your power,” Fein says. And that ought to be the primary concern of both Republicans and Democrats when they take up impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney.
It’s our duty as citizens, says Fein, to defend the Constitution, to keep our democracy from tanking, to grow up politically and take full responsibility for the republic we inherited from our Founding Mothers and Fathers. It’s our duty to keep the legislative, judicial and executive branches checked and in balance, and, regardless of our political affiliation, to impeach Bush and Cheney. §
Stacey Warde is editor of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Cabby's corner: 'Thanks for the water'
Finally, veteran bartender I was, I did what I’d done over the years to drunks passed out at the bar: I took my quart bottle of water and poured and splashed the entire contents on his face.
His head lolled to his shoulder, his eyes were badly glazed and three-quarters shut, and he had an asinine grin on his face.Photo illustration by Stacey Warde‘Thanks for the water’By Dell Franklin
Around two in the morning I was waiting outside one of the more venerable dives in San Luis Obispo for somebody who needed a ride to somewhere in Arroyo Grande, an out-of-town fare, known in the cabby parlance as an OT. A bunch of drunks lurched and stood around outside, but none of them needed a cab when I honked. Finally, I got out of my cab, something I do not like to do. Often people in bars call cabs and then get caught up in conversations or whatever and forget to go outside and you have to go inside and enter the melee and bother the bartender or doorman to find out who called the dispatcher on their cell phones—usually a college kid with no clue. Sometimes they find a ride and leave, or they cancel, or they ask you to wait a few more minutes until they finish their drink, or, if it’s a guy, wait until they finish talking to some chick. Oh well.
I went in the bar. It was a weekday. The doorman was drunk and the few remaining patrons were weaving around or gibbering in loud, incoherent voices, or slugging down last-call shots and guzzling down beers. A few mopes were trying to move from their barstools to go out into the night and one guy was passed out, his head on the bar. This person looked and dressed like a bum as the bartender tried to revive and prop him up on his feet.
“ANYBODY NEED A CAB!” I bellowed.
The drunken doorman was beside me and the bartender who was reviving the passed out drunk signaled me over and pointed to the drunk.
“No way!” I exclaimed. “That guy’s gonna pass out and probably puke in my cab.”
“He never pukes,” insisted the bartender. “He’s a pro. He’s not as bad as he looks. He’s a great guy. He runs this bar.”
“The guy’s blind, comatose, can’t open his eyes for Chrissake.”
“You gotta take him to A.G.,” the bartender said. “He’s cool.” Then he named the street where the drunk lived.
“I don’t know where that is. I just started hacking. I don’t have my Thomas Guide yet.” By this time they had him up. His head lolled to his shoulder, his eyes were badly glazed and three-quarters shut, and he had an asinine grin on his face. The drunken doorman and the sober bartender and another drunken patron sort of held him up and steered the drunk past me and out onto the sidewalk. “Dammit, I don’t want him!” I cried, as the mooks on the sidewalk made way and the bar crew steered the drunk toward the back door of my cab. I watched helplessly as they opened the door and crammed him into the back seat and sat him up, his head still lolling to his side.
The bartender handed me two twenties. “The dispatcher said it’s about thirty-five bucks. You got a good tip there. Thanks a lot, cabby, we really appreciate it. Come in some time and I’ll buy you a few brew-skis.” He shook my hand earnestly and both he and the doorman hurried into the tavern.
I was stuck with the bum. As a bartender for years, I always tried to make sure a patron was in some semblance of coherency and had at least a shred of equilibrium before I stuffed him into a cab. Now I had no alternative but to start down Higuera Street and get on the freeway, half a mile away. I hadn’t gone a block when I heard snoring and saw no sign of the drunk through my rearview mirror. He had fallen onto the floor of the cab and was making sounds—gurgles, gargles, mutterings, and he began thrashing around, obviously heavily into the blackout stage and in the throes of a bad dream. I felt his feet thump against the back of my seat.
“Settle down back there, goddammit!” I hollered. “Hey, you damn wino, don’t pass out on me…I don’t know where you live!”
I knew only what off-ramp to take in Arroyo Grande, had no idea how to find the street he lived on. Those drunks at the bar expected me to know every street in the county, did not even know the number of the address. I was pissed. It was cold, dark, and I did not know what to do with this drunk in his faded hooded sweatshirt, dingy, torn jeans, ratty sneakers. He could’ve passed for homeless.
I continued yelling at him to wake up, but since there was no response, I just drove on, keeping the windows open so cool air flowed in to keep the drunk from puking—every cabby’s nightmare. His snoring became so loud that it rattled the interior and roared like a choochoo train, and I turned up the volume on my radio.
When we reached the off-ramp in A.G., I pulled over on the frontage road and got out and opened the back door. He had settled down from his initial slobbering and thrashing and lay peacefully asleep on his back, not a care in the world, the asinine grin still on his face as he snored away. I shook him. I yelled as loud as I could, my face inches from his ear, repeatedly shaking him. No response. I didn’t want to hurt the guy, but I was growing desperate. I didn’t want to be stuck with his carcass for hours or be driving around like a lost fool, and I didn’t want to dump him at the wrong address in the chilly night, because, from looking at him, he reminded me somewhat of myself—just a drunk, not out to harm a soul, probably fairly good saloon company before the inevitable blackout demise.
Finally, veteran bartender I was, I did what I’d done over the years to drunks passed out at the bar: I took my quart bottle of water and poured and splashed the entire contents on his face. The drunk commenced flapping his arms, blubbered like a spouting whale and bolted upright, eyes open but sightless, a mess.
“Where the hell do you live, goddammit!” I screamed.
No response. Drooling. Still sightless.
“Come on, man, talk to me! I can’t get you home unless you tell me where you live!”
He listed to the side. I propped him up. Then a patrol car pulled up behind my cab. I approached the cop when he got out of his car and explained the situation in my cab.
“This is a nice fella, who chose to take a cab instead of being a menace on the road, but he took a little siesta and I had to pour a bottle of water on him to revive him and I’m still not getting any response. He says he lives on Wayne Street, but I don’t know where that is.”
The officer went right to work, shining his flashlight into the drunk’s dull eyes. “Where do you live, buddy?”
Not a flicker of response.
“May I see your ID?” the officer hollered close into his ear.
The drunk stirred. He managed to extract his wallet and fumbled around in it, retrieved his ID, which he managed to hand to the officer, who peered at it and seemed confused. “This license gives your address in San Luis Obispo, sir,” he said.
Now, out of the mouth of the drunk, came his first words. “Tha’s jes’ one-a my homes,” he mumbled. “I can’t go there. She’ll kick me out if I go there.”
“Sir, we need to know where you live—NOW!”
“I live in Arroyo Grande.”
“I know that, sir. But I need to know the address on the street you live on. Where do you live in Arroyo Grande?”
No response. Listing. Smacking his lips at the water that had saturated his face and sweatshirt. The patient officer propped him up and repeated the question over and over, flashing the light in his eyes, and finally, after about a tenth request, the drunk blurted his exact address. Then he sort of peered around, at last somewhat awake and perhaps aware of the situation. A cop. A cabby. Drunk. On the side of the road. Waterlogged. Something not right here? You bet.
“I’m thirsty,” he muttered. “Can I have some water?”
“I just poured my water on your head,” I explained.
“Oh,” he said.
The cop very patiently gave me directions to the drunk’s house and I thanked him effusively. He was the most pleasant, appreciated cop I’ve ever met. I got in my cab and began driving toward the correct destination. Turned out to be quite the exclusive neighborhood. The drunk, meanwhile, remained upright.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, seemingly in charge of his sensibilities.
“No sweat. Sorry I poured a quart of water on you.”
“It’s OK. I needed it. Thanks.”
“This is a really nice neighborhood you live in.”
“Yeah,” he said, disinterested. “I built it. Own some of it.”
“Yeah. Own a lotta stuff. Bars. Cars. Homes. Stuff.”
“Me, I don’t own anything of any value. Never have. The more stuff I own, the more stressed and depressed I get. Guess that’s why I’m a cabby. I’m fairly happy, compared to most.”
“Thanks for pourin’ the water on me. I appreciate it. How much am I gonna owe you?”
“It’s paid for.” I pointed to the meter. “Looks to be about thirty five bucks or so. The bartender gave me forty bucks.”
“I don’t know his name.”
I named it.
He nodded, “I own it, too.” He pointed to a house and leaned for-ward. “That’s it. I live there.”
I pulled up to the driveway. A fifty came over the front seat. The drunk grinned at me. “Thanks for the water,” he said. “Really ‘preciate you pourin’ it on me. This oughta buy you a few bottles.”
I took the fifty and watched him climb out of the cab, salute me, and reel and lurch up the driveway, along a path, and up to his door, searching for his key, finding it, opening the door and pitching into his house. §
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more of the Cabby's corner series, here:
Ode to Tobias WolffSisters from South CentralA soldier's storyFirst fare (hair of the dog)The good lawyerMr. HeadphonesLittle Miss SunshineA rainy New Year's Eve in the 'A' cabThe mayoral candidateOld blind LizzieCheerleaderA real winnerThe culture warFast times with Grace IveyOne hundred degrees in the shade
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Getting out (Part II)
‘Your grandma is worried about you. She thinks that you might get involved with your old friends.’
Carlos felt madness moving through his bones. He wanted to tell the foreman that no one talked to him like that.Carlos returns to his hometown to start a new life
By Antonio C. de BacaEditor’s note: We’re pleased to present the work of Antonio C. de Baca, who spent ten years in prison and is currently studying engineering at Boise State University. The following is the second of a series on getting out of prison by Mr. de Baca.
In last month’s opening episode, Carlos, fresh out of prison, is dropped off at the Greyhound bus station by the girlfriend of his only friend. He boards the bus and heads out for his former stomping grounds to begin a new life.
Carlos Ruiz had been on buses while in lockup, but always in shackles with an armed prison guard watching over him. The faces on this Greyhound looked so different from those he was used to seeing. Some of them even looked happy, not wearing the façade of hate that most prisoners tried so hard to project. And being on a bus filled with people of both genders, all dressed in different outfits, brought the reality of how free he was screaming to his senses. Carlos took the only empty seat on the crowded bus, hoping that that would give him time to get used to his surroundings.
How much of a change it was. He hadn’t heard or missed the keys of his jailers jiggling at their sides while they walked, or their radios blaring so everyone on the prison tiers could hear. And the one sound that he knew he wouldn’t miss was the slamming of those putrid blue steel doors—banging shut all day long. Just the sound of their constant ringing, after the steel doors had closed, could bring on the feeling of the insanity of the place.
But what he was most glad for was that he could stop living the lie that he’d lived behind those steel doors for so long. He had hidden the fact that he was scared shitless all the time. The best way to conceal one’s fright in prison was under the cover of rage. Everyone was tormented by something behind those walls; they did their best to portray themselves only as tough guys, not as frightened, caged men dreading others to see their true selves, which would invite others to prey on them like sharks circling, hungry for a taste of flesh.
Carlos’s eyes closed, dreaming that he hadn’t left that empty hole where he’d spent so much of his life.
Late that same night Carlos got off the bus in Stockton. The town of his birth. The town where he grew up. He didn’t know what to expect. He’d called his Abuelita’s house earlier, hoping for a ride home from the bus station, but no one answered. So he’d thought that he was going to have to walk home from the bus stop, buses not running and taxis too expensive.
Just as he was about to give up on a ride home, he noticed that his uncle Juan was standing nearby, next to a beat-up old Toyota truck, wearing overalls and dirty shirt, most likely soiled from working in the fields. His thin face, darkened from the sun, revealed a leather-like complexion. He might have looked like Carlos at one time, but years of hard work destroyed any good looks he might have had. Still, it was a face that brought relief, a face with no malice. They hugged. His uncle had never worked a dishonest job in his whole life and deserved so much more than the pennies he earned working in the farm fields.
But Carlos was proud of his uncle because all of his money went to a good cause—to support his family. He was the kind of person Carlos needed to be around, not like his drug-dealing, murderous, so-called friends. His uncle was a good, hard-working man.
“Let’s get out of here,” his uncle said. They both got in, and drove down the dark streets of Stockton. “Your grandma is worried about you. She thinks that you might get involved with your old friends.”
“I told all of you that that was the old me! I ain’t going back to that place.”
“I should hope so. I’ve got you a job, you start tomorrow.” His uncle looked deep into Carlos’s eyes, burrowing into them. Carlos knew that it was an order he couldn’t refuse. But that was OK. It was better than some little fat cop ordering him.
Carlos didn’t want to go back to prison. Just thinking about it made his stomach turn. He hated the place. No matter how clean it was prison always smelled like ass. No matter how good a day a person might have in prison, violence and tension were always close at hand. Many times Carlos had built a weapon inside his cell, readying himself to kill—and why? Not to prove he was tough, not to show off, but because he was scared. Scared of other prisoners. And the only weapon he had for fear was violence.
Every time a 10-dollar-an-hour correctional officer made him feel less than human, every time he had to build a homemade knife, or some other weapon, to protect himself from his enemies, Carlos had told himself that prison life wasn’t for him, and when he got out, he’d never return. It was no easy life, and he was determined to leave it behind—for good.
And what was all that prison time for? A drug debt someone owed him. For drug money that wasn’t even real. How many times had he seen drug dealers get busted with thousands of dollars and then be left with nothing? They could barely raise the couple of thousand they needed to pay their lawyers while they were stuck behind bars with no deals or money coming in. Drug money looked and felt so real when it was sitting there in front of you. But where did it go?
And now that he was fresh out of prison, how was he going to stay out of the old lifestyle of ready cash, fine cars and women, and a steady flow of drugs? That was the question that kept coming to mind. And every time it came up, he told himself that he was going to do what it took to stay out of trouble, and out of prison. Over the years, while doing his time, all Carlos thought about was how his new life was going to be different—no more drugs or drug deals, no more prison blues. If he had to wash toilets for a living, he’d wash toilets, simple answer.
They pulled up in front of his grandma’s little green house, which looked smaller than the two-bedroom home it was, bars covering the door and windows. She was awake, opening the door.
She looked like she had aged 20 years, not the 10 Carlos had been gone. Her back hunched over more than he remembered. But her face still had the type of beauty that old age couldn’t touch. Not even her wrinkles could hide what was once there so pronounced, the beauty that his grandfather must have seen in her light brown eyes and reddish hair.
“Tiense hambre? You hungry?” she asked with her New Mexico accent; then she hugged him as strong as her feeble arms could hold him and she fed him rice and beans. Carlos did his best to try not to talk to her as she looked down at him at the dinner table. She was the one most disappointed in him going to prison. She was the one who had raised him, mostly by herself, thinking she raised him right. She did all she could, raising Carlos after his father was killed in a car wreck, and who knew where his mother was? His uncle tried to be there for him too, but he had his own troubles and money always seemed to be a part of them.
Even though she had so much trouble raising Carlos, her house never lacked food. She might have had difficulty getting money for his clothes, but food was always on the table. Of course Carlos still remembered other kids laughing at his clothes, which he got at the Goodwill store. After he beat up the first couple of kids who laughed at him, the teasing stopped. There was never extra money in his grandma’s house and the more he thought about it the more he realized that’s why he turned to dealing drugs, and joining a gang just made it easier to get the drugs to sell and the money he’d never had before. The gangs brought money and respect.
And as soon as he was done eating he went to his old room. It was the first time in years he had a room of his own, where he could come and go whenever he wanted. It felt different, at first, lying down on his bed, with no cellie or guards or loudspeakers. I’ll get used to it, he told himself.
The thing he couldn’t get use to was that his future was a void.
His uncle woke him early, giving him just enough time to get ready and eat. They drove in silence to a construction site close to downtown Stockton, where his uncle introduced him to the foreman, Pablo.
Pablo was a Chicano larger than Carlos and his uncle combined. The man’s belly made up most of his size, but he carried his weight as if it wasn’t there. Pablo didn’t shake Carlos’s hand or look him in the eye. Pointing the way a cop would, he ordered, “I want you to start moving those boards from there to the back of those trucks!” Carlos felt madness moving through his bones. He wanted to tell the foreman that no one talked to him like that, especially someone who didn’t have a badge, but his uncle’s arm touched his back and he relaxed a little, realizing that the foreman probably didn’t know what he was saying. Or maybe Carlos had misinterpreted the foreman’s words? He let it go. His uncle Juan left him a bag lunch and went off to his own job in the farm fields, leaving Carlos to fend for himself at the new job site.
The day wore on, and the San Joaquin Valley was just as he remembered it, hot. Always sweltering more than the rest of California, if not the rest of the country. Sweat ran down his face like droplets on an ice-cold glass of water. It was the toughest day he had worked in his life. Carlos remembered the days he got paid a couple of thousand just for moving a few of kilos of cocaine across town. But all that money didn’t make the easier task of transporting drugs worth the risk of going to prison, he reminded himself; he had to change.
Carlos ate lunch with the Mejicanos on the work site. There were no other Chicanos that he could sit with and talk to. He didn’t mind hanging out with Mejicanos; just because they were born and raised in Mexico didn’t make them bad. But Carlos was born and raised in the United States, just like the rest of his family. They were here way before this land was even called the United States, just like most Chicanos, even though some still treated them like they just crossed over the border.
Carlos liked most of the Mejicanos he met. He even hung out with a few of them in prison. But there was too much of a culture difference between him and the Mejicanos. Very few of them spoke English, and if they did it was always broken, and Carlos’s Spanish wasn’t that great. So, in prison Carlos mostly hung out with Chicanos, even though problems came with that. Most Chicanos, like Carlos, joined one gang or another, and that meant they were going to be an ally or an enemy. Unlike the Chicanos who flocked to one prison gang or another, the Mejicanos just flocked to other Mejicanos. Being from Mejico was probably more important to them than belonging to a gang. So in prison Carlos never felt like Mejicanos were potential enemies, just people trying to do their time.
Yet, even sitting here among the Mejicanos at work he felt alone, his Spanish was nowhere close to being equal to their rapid talk. Carlos just listened the best he could to what they said between themselves. He also wondered why he was the only Chicano among them. Did all the other Chicanos have better jobs? Did the Mejicanos only work here because they couldn’t find better work somewhere else? Probably, the Mejicanos working here were illegal. From listening to their Spanish he had his feelings about the matter, and he was sure that a few of them wouldn’t want to be asked to show their green cards.
The day got cooler as it came closer to quitting time. Carlos’s own body odor smelled rancid to him. It made him feel like a speed freak on a week runner, not showering that whole time. Carlos wasn’t used to being dirty and sweaty. But he forced himself on, knowing that this was the start of his new life, perspiration and all. The only problem was that working like a wetback wasn’t what he imagined for himself after getting out of prison. He pictured himself in a cool office making 20 bucks an hour, telling others what to do. But then again, at least he was free. §
Antonio C. de Baca spent 10 years in the Idaho State Prison. He attends Boise State University, where he writes and studies engineering. He is the recipient of an honorable mention for fiction from the PEN American Center. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Read "Getting out (Part I) here:
Getting out (Part I)
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Window washing across America: God, giving and the Gulf
Who could say they’d washed windows in over thirty towns throughout the western United States? Who would want to?
God, giving, and the Gulf
By Ben Leroux
In the summer of 2003, I discarded all I owned and loaded a troubled 1975 Plymouth with clothes, books, a guitar, a cat named Reggie, and $17.94 worth of window-cleaning equipment. I drove across the United States, stopping in nowhere towns, pail and squeegee in hand, cleaning windows for another day’s pittance. Free of any attachments, I floated vaguely east, wandering in a private stratum without itinerary or expectation. I became a true outsider, a fugitive from the banal, suffocating cycle of madness that passes for a “normal life” today in America
It’s evening in Port Lavaca, Texas, and families in campers are pulling up to a set of concrete stairs that the Gulf of Mexico gently laps. Across the port are the lights of a town called Point Comfort. There’s a sweet breeze, and streaks of pink and lavender threading dark blue clouds. If you took a pen and a map and connected the thirty-one towns I’d washed windows in, the route would dead-end southeastward here at these steps.
The families get out with fishing gear and set up little operations comprised of bait tables, tackle boxes, coolers, and light-playing radios. Some of them fish from the steps while others venture over to rickety old splinter-beds that were once piers. Silver fish are leaping out of the water teasingly. I’ve noticed some changes in nature here on the gulf. There are long, sleek grasshoppers, menacing-looking mosquitoes, and birds with elongated tails and beaks. Maybe Port Lavaca was the place for an ending. Who could say they’d washed windows in over thirty towns throughout the western United States? Who would want to? It’s time to go find the town Wal-Mart.
The morning starts at an old downtown building that is an amalgamation of photography studio, museum, chamber of commerce, antique store, and real estate office–Port Lavaca’s bridge from the past to the future. Jim, the proprietor is on the phone, and motions for me to wait, so I wander around looking at real estate flyers and wall photos that chart the history of Port Lavaca: Indian raids, a shipping industry boom, slavery, wars, hurricanes, fishing, bankruptcy, and more hurricanes. Curiously, there are also recent photos of alligators on the walls.
Jim comes to me the way you’re taught in business school, as if everyone is a potential somebody. Little does he know.
“What’s with these gator photos?” I ask Jim. “Did you go to Louisiana to shoot these? You certainly got close.”
“Let me show you something.” He takes me to the back of the place to a wall and opens a cabinet. Inside is a huge, flat-screened computer monitor. Clicking a mouse, Jim pulls up a gallery of alligator photos, and in digital clarity shows me close-ups of the Jurassic-sized gator and its blue-green bumps. In some shots the gator hides in brush, in others he frolics out in open water near concrete steps.
“Hey, those almost look like the steps I sat on last night. Wait, they are.”
“Gator sightings are rare,” says Jim.
“Still, I like to know my surroundings. Next, you’ll tell me there are deadly snakes in that bay.”
“Water moccasins. But they and gators mostly stick to the creeks. It’s rare for them to come out in the open water.”
“I slept by a creek last night. The one over by Wal-Mart.” It had been a good sleep, with the windows down, listening to frogs.
“There’s several in there. Kept your windows up didn’t you? Water moccasins will climb, and are not the least bit afraid of people. If you get bit by one you can pretty much kiss your ass goodbye.”
Jim hires me to do his windows, and the building he owns next door. I do them both, and as he pays me, tells me some other places to try.
“You will find the people of Port Lavaca to be very friendly. That’s why I want to see this town market itself better. It has so much potential. You should consider staying, buying a house, settling down.”
Jim ends up being right about the people. Nice people with nice things to say. I get another antique store, restaurant, and hardware store. A hobby & craft store is the last stop for the morning, and inside, sitting behind a desk, is the owner, Veronica, in a red church dress. I give her the pitch—ten dollars for the outside. A blonde woman sits across from Veronica smiles frozenly.
“Yes please,” says Veronica, tilting her head and fluttering her eyelashes in a manner that makes me uneasy. “But I will pay you more than ten dollars.” She looks at the blonde. I sense something from the blonde, like she is trying to send me hostage signals. But I dismiss it and go outside and start. It’s these unexpected acts of kindness that make your day and put a lift in your step. When I come back in, Veronica has her checkbook out.
“Now, I am going to make this out for…” and she pauses, pen in hand and looks at the blonde, then me “…twenty-five dollars. Not ten, mm-kay, but twenty-five.”
I’m about to express my gratitude, when from off to the side, a dark blur soars through the store, closing in on me. All at once, I duck my head into my shoulders, break out in gooseflesh, and start flapping arms at the whipping sound beating across the back of my head and neck.
“He just wants to land on your shoulder and kiss you,” says Veronica.
I look above the doorway where perches a large blue and yellow bird of some breed. I knew little about birds, but I knew they didn’t kiss. Birds really don’t have anything to kiss with. Pecking is not kissing. Anyway, I keep my eye the thing while Veronica writes the check. He didn’t look too cuddly to me.
“Just one thing,” I tell Veronica as the bird bobs its head like it’s thinking about another dive. “I’ll need cash. Banks want two forms of ID and I have only one.”
“Don’t worry about that,” says Veronica. “I’ll call the bank and tell them it’s okay to cash this check for…” and she glances at me and the hostage woman again “…twenty-five dollars. If they give you any trouble at the bank, you tell them that you know Veronica.”
“Gosh Veronica, you people sure are nice here in Port Lavaca.”
Veronica puts her pen down, folds her arms on the desk, and looks at the blonde then me. The bird crouches and makes a low noise.
“Really?” says Veronica. “Who else has been nice to you?”
“Oh, the antiques guy, the hardware folks, the people at that restaurant over there. Very nice people. Port Lavaca is a very nice place with very nice people.”
Veronica slowly tears out the check and holds onto it.
“You say people were nice to you? I suppose they said a nice thing or two. Something like that maybe? Well, in Luke it says, ‘invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, then at the resurrection of the godly, you will be rewarded for inviting those who could not repay you.’ I don’t know if that is the kind of nice you are talking about or not. Is it?”
The hostage-blonde nods and smiles painfully, and I theorize that she must have come in here trying to make a sale of some kind–insurance or advertising perhaps, when she’d unwittingly fallen into Veronica’s religion-guilt trap. I adopt the same frozen smile as she and wait for Veronica to relinquish the check.
“And you know I barely make anything in this store,” Veronica continues. “Last year, sixteen thousand dollars.”
“Is that bad?” I ask, trying to lighten the atmosphere. “I’m not the world’s greatest businessman. People are always telling me to charge them more.” With one eye on the bird, I make my way over to the desk and reach for the check and thank Veronica sincerely.
“You are so very welcome,” she says. “And you know, the next time you come through Port Lavaca, I may even ask you to clean the inside of my door. Mm-hmm.”
I get out the brush and start cleaning the inside of Veronica’s glass door. It had been my oversight. Cleaning the inside of the door is customarily included in the cleaning of the outsides. But, as I explain to Veronica, I’d been so distracted by the bird that I had forgotten.
Just as I finish, the bird makes his move, and I and the blonde flinch and duck our heads into our shoulders as the bird sails past both of us, through the crafts store, perching in another corner.
“He just wanted to kiss you both,” says Veronica. “He just kisses.”
I make it to the doors, but Veronica makes it there first, presenting me with a pink pastel business card. It has her name on it, with the words “Servant of the Lord” underneath, along with a 1-800 number. At the bottom is a passage from 2 Corinthians 9:7: “God loves the person who gives cheerfully.”
“Now those nice people that you ran into in town today? I wonder if people call them from all over the country for help. The toll-free number you see there costs me three cents a minute, but I don’t say anything. In Matthew it says ‘give your gifts in secret, and your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.’ So you see, people call me with problems any time day or night, from all over the country, and you can too. Anything you need. I may not have it, but the Lord will. I mean, sixteenthousand dollars in a year? Give me a break.”
I take the card, and the check, and make a run for it, the gooseflesh coming back. I wipe sweat from my brow and rush over to the bank. I didn’t know if Veronica could put a stop payment on a check, but I figured God could.
On the way out of Port Lavaca, I come to the outlying spread that no small town seems to exist without. It always includes three or more of the following: Dollar General, Dollar World, Family Dollar, Whataburger, Lotaburger, Big Lots, Sonic, Subway, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, Walgreen’s, Lowe’s, H.E.P., Eckerd, Edward Jones, Sun Loans, H$R Block. I drive past it all and head east, up the coastline. Thirty-two towns and counting.
Lake Jackson, in contrast to Port Lavaca is laid out as if it never had a history. In trying to make the commercial district interesting by eliminating straight streets and tall buildings, they’d instead created a bland maze of identically crooked streets and flat one-story huts. Its only advantage seems to be entrapping visitors. The circular confusion causes me to lose track of which businesses I’ve gone into, and so I repeatedly alarm innocent receptionists by pestering them a second or third time.
My legs are rubber when I come to what looks like a small food market with very dirty windows. A woman working in the back hears me pulling on locked door and comes to it, flushed. She is 60ish, sporting a nice gold cross around her neck. I offer to do the windows for ten dollars, and she tells me that this is the Intercoastal Food Bank and that they are actually closed.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I usually don’t bother the nonprofits. They’re usually too strapped. Goodbye.”
“I am prepared to facilitate you,” she says and leads me through the little darkened food bank. As we squeeze between cases of boxed macaroni & cheese, and coolers of juice and milk, I try to explain that I have not come for food, but that I am a window-washer who lives in his car and survives off of what he can make that day. But Lila takes me to a manila folder and pulls out a sheet of paper.
“These are the income requirements. So if you know someone …”
“Oh well yes, I see what you’re getting at, and it’s true I probably qualify, but I’m not exactly your average homeless …”
“Look,” she says. “Milk …”
Then she starts showing me cereal, frozen and canned vegetables, chili-mac, SpaghettiO’s, cookies, pastries, pies. She starts giving me ideas of how I could eat the food, what I could have it with, and methods of preparation. It really wasn’t my kind of food, and all I could think about was the space it would swallow up in the Plymouth.
“Things like windows just don’t get done when you are trying to feed the hungry. It’s overwhelming work sometimes. You know, I am supposed to be retired. Some retirement, huh? The help I get never sticks around, so I end up doing most of it myself. Sometimes it’s easier that way. I—the food bank serves over three-thousand families.”
“Tell you what. Why don’t I clean your windows and you give me food in exchange–whatever you think is fair.”
Lila agrees, and when I am done with the windows, she has two cardboard boxes for me, filled with canned ham, Danish, canned fruit, milk, and crackers, and other non-perishables.
“You would have made what, ten dollars doing those windows? Well now you’re getting probably–oh, I don’t know–thirty dollars worth of food, while I don’t make a dime. Do you see that? I hope you see things.”
“I think I’m starting to see. It’s a good deal.”
“You bet it is.”
Lila then tells me that if I help her with some heavy lifting, she’ll take me to her house and have me do her windows for thirty dollars. I move a pallet of baby formula for her, and crush some boxes out by a dumpster, then follow her in the Plymouth.
The home is an impeccable two-story, blockish and stalwart, as are the other homes on the tree-lined street. A man is waiting for us in the driveway. He is Bill, Lila’s husband. He is a neat, calm-spoken silver-haired man, wearing a pressed red and black plaid tucked into clean, pressed jeans. Lila goes and explains something to him, then calls me over. Bill shakes my hand.
“This is Ben, honey. He has fallen on hard times and needs money. I have just given him enough food to keep him going for a while, and now I’ve told him he could do our windows. But like I said, he’s fallen on hard times.”
“Down on his luck, is he?” says Bill.
“A real hardship case,” says Lila, then they both look at me.
“Well,” I say, stricken with a sudden spark of dignity. “I don’t know if I’d put it that way.”
“But you told me you are living in a car. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes. And I am. But it’s a choice. Yet it isn’t. It’s a bit of a paradoxical situation. I don’t understand it myself.”
Lila’s gasps and pinches her temples and goes inside.
“She’s overwhelmed,” Bill explains. “She’s the only one that can run that food bank. Three-thousand families, you know.”
Bill shows me the ladder and the hose, and goes inside and leaves me to do the windows. The major ones are Plexiglass panels covering their patio. I have to get up on a ladder, rake pecan-tree leaves off it, then clean the panels with the hose and extension poles. It takes a while and there is tree sap to deal with. But the backyard is quiet and peaceful, and I stop a few times and play with a Golden Retriever.
When I’m done, Bill is inside, removing a pizza from the oven and has two places set at the big oak dining table. I try to decline, but Bill insists, and since I don’t see any thirty dollars yet, I take a seat. As Bill brings the pizza, he lays out a crisp twenty and ten flat on the table, between us.
Bill cuts the pizza into eight equal slices and we each put a piece on our plate and wait for it to cool. The old house creaks behind the ticking of a wall-clock. To fill the quiet, I ask Bill about the family portraits on the walls. He tells me about his children and grandchildren, all successful and educated—scientists, teachers, preachers. I poke a finger into the pizza to see if it has cooled enough to eat.
But the confined stillness is unbearable, so I pick up the steaming piece of pizza and prematurely tear off a bite, feeling it scald the roof of my mouth. It doesn’t stop me. I keep eating, hurrying through all four slices. A couple times I glance at the stairway, wondering what happened to Lila.
“She’s overwhelmed,” says Bill. “Absolutely overwhelmed.”
I continue to tear the hell out of my mouth with the blistering pizza while picturing Lila upstairs crying into a pillow or consulting a bible. It puzzled me, yet it didn’t. Things worked out–the hardship cases down here with their boxes of food and the Lilas up there where they needed to be–one step closer to heaven. §
Ben Leroux continues to ply his trade as a window washer and writes from his home in Morro Bay. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more of his Washing windows across America series here:
Evicted From Wal-Mart (episode 9)Santa Fe Pride (episode 10)Leaving Las Vegas (episode 11)Tucumcari: End of the mother road (episode 12)Clovis ain't Texas (episode13)Welcome to Muleshoe (episode 14)Dry times in Lubbock (episode 15)Zen and the art of messing with Texas (episode 16)Directions from Texas (episode 17)A bug you can't see (episode 18)The bigger they are (episode19)Life in Lockhart (episode 20)Slow grinding war in Lockhart (episode 21)On the Riverwalk (episode 22)Peripherals (episode 23)
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Baseball memories: The bench jockey
He had a sarcastic way of saying things that always got your goat—he was a first--class needler, an original, maybe the best in the game.The bench jockey
“Birdie” Tebbetts knew how to get under a guy’s skin
Baseball stories by Murray Franklin as told to his son, Dell Franklin
Tebbetts was a very good catcher and a pretty fair hitter and he knew the game inside out, and especially pitchers. He knew just how much gas a guy had left in the tank, when he was losing his stuff and ready to get shelled, and he could get on somebody pretty good, really get under your skin. He was intelligent and had a piercing, twangy voice, which was why they called him “Birdie,” an ob-noxious voice that carried all over the field and cut right through you, and he had a sarcastic way of saying things that always got your goat—he was a first--class needler, an original, maybe the best in the game. He was what you call a bench jockey, a lost art these days, what with all these guys making so much money and swapping teams and having agents and fraternizing like pals, being so sensitive and all and not wanting to hurt each others’ feelings.
One day in St. Louis, Tebbetts was on a pitcher with the Browns named Vern Kennedy, a guy he’d caught a few years earlier with Detroit, a big strapping guy from Kansas, a former track star and football player. It was very hot, sweltering, and it doesn’t get any hotter than it gets in St. Louis in the summer. You can’t breathe on a day like that, the outfield grass was baked brown and the field hard as pavement, almost like the field was breathing fire. Birdie was riding Kennedy. At first it was playful, because they were old teammates and all, but then Kennedy started having problems on the mound, and Birdie’s saying he ain’t got this and he ain’t got that—“you’ll be gone by the fourth inning, Kennedy, you can’t get your curve down, your fastball’s straight as a string, you’re meat, ain’t got enough to physique a good-sized jaybird”—just sniping away, and sure enough Kennedy doesn’t have it that day, gets knocked around, and by the fourth inning he’s gone, and Birdie’s crowing and gloating, and Kennedy, he’s sopping wet, got beat up for nine or ten runs suffering in that goddamn heat, gets booed off the field by his own fans.
Birdie’s on the bench that day, not catching, and he keeps right on crowing and gloating when Kennedy walks to his dugout. But instead of leaving for their clubhouse and getting his early shower, like all pitchers do after they get knocked out of a game so they can throw things around and cure themselves, Kennedy sits down in that stifling hot dugout with a towel around his neck and takes his cap off, and he sits there like that for the rest of the game, and all during that time Birdie sees him over there and stays right on his ass, obnoxious as ever.
Well, our ball club has to get to our clubhouse through their dugout, and when the game ends and we pass through their dugout, it’s empty except for Kennedy, who’s still sitting there, towel around his neck, a very quiet and polite gentleman who minds his own business and never has anything bad to say about anybody, he stands up smiling and asks Birdie if he has anything more to say, and before Birdie can open his mouth Kennedy decks him with one punch, knocks him down and out, hits him so hard that for a minute or so we think he might be dead.
Kennedy picks up his glove and cap and walks out of the dugout, the towel still around his neck, and we have to carry Tebbetts into the clubhouse and lay him down on the training table where the doc gives him smelling salts. It takes a while to revive him, and he is pretty foggy, and the next day he is pretty quiet, too, and still groggy, and misses the game, and everybody on the ball club’s on his ass, calling him “one-punch Tebbetts” and “Canvas Back.” He took it pretty well in stride. Birdie knew the business and took it as well as he gave it out, and the next time we played the Browns and Kennedy pitched, Birdie got on him again, and we beat Kennedy, but when Kennedy walked off that mound you didn’t hear a peep out of Tebbetts. Like a mouse. §
Baseball Memories is excerpted from a memoir by Dell Franklin, which recounts his father Murray Franklin’s Major League career. Dell can be reached at email@example.com.
Read more of Dell's "Baseball memories" here:
Bear Tracks GreerMeeting royalty
Working at the car wash
The owner of the car wash installed a police scanner that he used to monitor La Migra—the Immigration Man.
At night I’d dream I was wiping down cars, one after another, until I woke up, tired from the evening’s virtual labor.Working at the car wash
We played the immigration gameBy Hannah Day
Most days on this busy corner in Southern California were hot, dry, and buzzing with activity. But today was quiet, cloudy, and wet. I was a 17-year-old, 110-pound decent-looking girl. I drew the usual curious glances from onlookers as I rode up on my funky old hard-tail chopper with exhaust pipes like megaphones that made a tremendous and powerful sound. I parked my bike, shook off the rain, and walked over to the only two white men in the place. I wanted a job at their car wash.
The men were carbon copies of each other. They were short, small-framed, and tow-headed. They both donned 1970s-era wire-rimmed cop shades and tiny blond mustaches. Their long key chains dangled from the waist of their identical blue shop pants. Their appearance was tidy. Against their better judgment, they hired me to work at the end of the line. For the next year, after each vehicle rolled out of the car wash tunnel, I’d wipe off the water. I wiped down Mercedes, Jaguars, Corvettes, and the like, walking down one side of each car while my counterpart walked down the other side. We held damp, blue terry cloth towels, one in each hand and moved with ease across freshly washed painted surfaces. Our sweeping motions were a slow dance with the cars until we met at the middle of the back bumper, stood up straight, waved our towels high in the air, signaling the car’s owner to come drive it away.
On a good day, we’d wipe down a thousand cars. Even at 17, my body ached at the end of the day. I was sunburned and sore. I can only imagine how my middle-aged Mexican compadres felt after years of this kind of labor. Most customers tipped me well, probably feeling sorry for the poor, simple gal I must have appeared to them. Each evening I’d go back to my one-room apartment, lie on my back, and count the dollars and change on my belly until I fell asleep. At night I’d dream I was wiping down cars, one after another, until I woke up, tired from the evening’s virtual labor.
The car wash staff was all male Hispanic illegal aliens—save only me, the blond boys who ran the place and one of their sisters, who worked as the cashier. Many days we were forced to play the immigration game, though it was no laughing matter for my friends. It was the early 1980s and the average man’s technology was limited. The owner of the car wash installed a police scanner that he used to monitor La Migra—the Immigration Man. The cashier would alert the owner to tell him when she heard them in our area. If they caught our staff we would have to close the car wash for the day. We couldn’t manage with just the four legal citizens working.
Sometimes when La Migra came calling, the men would quickly climb up a ladder inside a cinderblock building that housed the soap and chemicals. They’d close the wooden door between the interior of the building and the roof. Our men would hide quietly above the immigration men’s heads. When the green vans drove away, the illegals would humbly descend the ladder and go back to their posts. This worked well for quite some time until one day a young, cocky Mexican boy started chuckling in the hiding place and blew it for the whole group. La Migra busted them all, cornered on the rooftop, with no place to run. They sent our crew back home to Mexico. Some, the less fortunate, were shipped to Guatemala and El Salvador. Their journey back would be longer and much more costly.
Once the roof gig was up, our immigrant workers had to devise other creative ways to avoid La Migra. Juan drove the cars out of the end of the tunnel and parked them a few yards away so we could wipe them down. One day, as Juan got into a customer’s car, he saw the immigration van pull into the adjacent driveway. With nowhere to go, he just kept on driving, past me, out the driveway, down the road about five miles to his house across town. When he got home, he called Blondie to come pick up the customer’s car. The manager was proud of his staff’s resourcefulness and ingenuity. He was grateful that Juan would be available to work the next day. The lady who owned the car was a little less happy. She asked, “Where’s my car?”
“Gee, ma’am, it must have been real dirty. They must’ve run it through again.” She became nearly hysterical until we eventually delivered her ride. Sure, it was clean, but after thirty minutes she couldn’t figure out why no one had bothered to wash the windows. We all had a good laugh.
Sometimes, when the green van arrived, the men would run as fast as they could to hide behind nearby businesses, or sprint into the fields, through industrial complexes, and beyond. We’d listen to the chase on the scanner.
“There goes Cuco,” the manager said. “He just jumped the creek.” We’d cheer them on and hope for the best. Later, Cuco would return, wild-eyed and panting, with a big, bright, ear-to-ear smile. The manager would pat him on the back with pride saying, “Way to go, buddy…way to go…now let’s get back to work.” §
Hannah Day writes from her home in South County. This is her first published article.
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