This was the first position I officially held in the lettuce industry of the Salinas and Imperial Valleys, and industry that was and still is pretty foul.
Before lettuce reaches your table it has to go through a whole lot of stages. The ones I was concerned with, working at a lettuce cooler as the receiving clerk, was getting it delivered in large flatbeds freshly cut off the field, documenting its arrival and delegating it out to be cooled to just above freezing in the huge vacuum tube coolers.
Someone in the process gets paid for the weight of the lettuce so another aspect of my job was to weigh the trucks out on the scales we had deep in the back lot area of the cooler, this eternally dusty area was where I spent most of my time.
My snot turned hard and dark brown. Most of the guys that would drive in the lettuce from the fields were Mexican and spoke little English so communication was sometimes a bit difficult.
I remember one of the loaders making fun of a guy because he couldn’t communicate. I thought to myself "Fuck man, all you can say in Spanish is 'puto', at least this guy is learning!"
I only thought this without actually saying it because, well, one simply does not say those sort of things to guys who can not only bend nails with their thumb, but found it fun. Here, this might put it in perspective: it used to be that the boxes of lettuce would be hand-loaded into railcars or trailers before the T-1 forklifts and tilt-machines automated a lot of the process.
Each of those boxes would weight from 50-65 pounds, so in order to pick them up all day long (and at a fast pace), stack them up to eight boxes high, required as close to an "ogre" as Human genetics would allow.
If these guys were smart they would've been soldiers or pro-wrestlers but they instead hefted these boxes all day long from the cold room to the loading dock. Even with their ox-like physiques the nature of the work was so hard that it commanded a toll of constant soreness and exhaustion. Management didn't care, they were well paid, and there was always someone who'd take up your shift if you wanted to drop it.
This resulted in a non-stop stream of speed, painkillers, and barbiturates that floated in a virtual ocean of beer for these guys. It kept them capable of going on. Never fuck with a drunken, speed spun ogre. And that was the loading crew, the bulk of the folk that worked there.
Next you got the truck drivers. Loath as I am to make sweeping generalizations I do it all the time; the drivers came basically in two catagories:
1) Redneck sociopath that is just simply for the best that they have as little social contact as possible.
And 2) people for whom being able to drive is their only marketable skill.
Truck drivers are most often pissed off. They get paid per job so if you see a parked semi or a driver walking around you can know that every second that they remain that way is another second till their next job, and thus paycheque. It is due to this that truckers have such an affinity for amphetamines. So add amphetamine delusion to basic rage and the whole mess of them become this volatile inertial potential: they are either doing NOTHING (all jacked up and pissed off) or driving like a bat out of hell (all jacked up and pissed off).
The magic between those two groups of folk was oh-so-lovely--drugs sold, whores bought, bones broken, guns or knives pulled on each other. Pure magic.
I got this job because my father was a dispatcher here--nepotism really does run the world--and somehow I think I was subverting the Union by working there because I was supposed to keep my mouth shut as to the capacity in which I was hired.
I was never really clear on this, but if ever I had a problem I couldn't just get on the CB and ask how to do something. I had to use one of my five nicknames (Spider, Slim, No-Bluff, Kilroy, or Half-Dome) in conjunction with some oblique code like:
"’Tention David T: this is Spider scuttlin' in to say there a knot in the web, over."
I hope I wasn't subverting the union, I mean I am pro-union but it was nepotism: I was working in my Dad's business. So if I was, its a shame, but one that I don't regret. I didn't work there long in any event. The pay was good and the routine was easy. I should have stayed there, in that back lot.
Sure, the dust was slowly filling my lungs and the carbon monoxide was likely shaving percentage points off of my potential but it was easy and non-demanding.
Instead I was promoted to dispatcher.
REVSCRJ is a writer/musician living in Monterey, California. Constantly on the verge of homelessness, he hopes that you enjoy his work or else his life has been in vain. Contact REVSCRJ at firstname.lastname@example.org to lodge complaints, notify of lawsuits, or receive spiritual advice.
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