Now this is a novel experience. Try going back to steady work after enduring over 28 months of consecutive unemployment. While it’s doable, and there’s a lot of energy there behind me, definitely helping me segue into this next episode, it’s kind of a weird feeling experiencing, for the first time in a long time, the days in the work week as they pass by. After getting up every day for weeks, months and years — well, like two of them, plus change — and trying to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other, and wondering if I ever was going to work again, locking into the daily grind is kinda, ahem trippy.
I wish my iPod could hold a charge so that I could dial into some Brian Eno or Cluster or Tangerine Dream for the train ride into the office. On the train before 6 a.m., meeting the same people every day, like this cool black cat who works for CalTrans. But on the train, it’s zone time, and the Folsom Boulevard route gets pretty boring — although I did see a new botanica, or santeria store — in the world’s ugliest shopping center at Folsom and Bradshaw. The neighborhood’s looking up.
The warehouse where I work is, well, it’s just business. Everyone seems pretty cool, and it has that kind of even-toned atmosphere where I thrive well. Even when the pressure is on, people are cruising through, one foot in front of the other. I work next to this Hawaiian ukulele-playing cat who blasts Gabby Pahinui and Keola Beamer records on his iPod, which is kind of lighting up a bomber of Humboldt County’s finest, meaning it sometimes isn’t so conducive to getting lots of work done quickly. Shit like that turns the office into instant New Orleans: “Where’s that hot line-stopper order I just gave you five minutes ago? That shoulda got done!” “Yah, whatever, mon. Like, just chill.”
After work, it’s back on the 3:45 Downtown train, which can be where the fun starts. Like today, with a buncha kids with dreadlocks and and a good old-school gumby fade. Then there was this black woman with a Mickey Mouse hat who was totally crashed out in a Light Rail seat, her head on a nylon lunchbox. She started snoring loudly, and then she woke up, still snoring while sitting upright. Then she kinda came to consciousness, and noticed the dreadlocked guys, and began screaming for them to shut up. “Now!” she hollered. “Shut up! Please! Be quiet!” They, of course, figured her out on the spot, and began telling her to shut the fuck up and go smoke some more crack. “Fuckin’ crackhead bitch, fuck that shit!” one guy opined loudly. She got up and stumbled to the other end of the car, with a dreadlocked Greek chorus hectoring her.
I got off while that shit was still going down. And noticed I was close to broke. I was doing fine existing on very light meals and little activity when I wasn’t working, but this job thing is kicking my keister for right now. I feel like eating everything in sight, but I don’t get paid until Friday. Anyone care to loan a brotha a couple of twenties until then?
And, hey, tomorrow is “hump day.” But I won’t be humpin’, because there’s stuff to do. –Jackson Griffith
So now I ride the train. I guess I feel pretty good about my morning workaday shlep: At the light rail station before six a.m., on the eastbound with my bicycle (yawn!), get off at its terminus at Sunrise, then hop on the bike and pedal through an industrial park for a mile or so to the plant. After work, I reverse the process: Ride to the station, board the westbound train, back in Midtown by late afternoon. Which makes me a good little urban citizen or enviromuffin, using — or utilizing, if you work for some government agency — a near-perfectly angelic mix of bicycle and public transportation to get to and from my place of employment. All hail me!
Now, I could bite down and crunch my granola and smile with a flourish and tell you that why, yes, I am such an admirable environmentally conscious citizen, aren’t I? But the reality is that, given my druthers, I’d hop in the Dodge Challenger SRT-8 with the hemi that I don’t have, fire up a Marlboro Red, stomp the gas pedal and get a sweet little burnout, then hit “play” on my deck and crank the first Montrose album with Sammy Hagar on vocals, with Ronnie’s power-chord lead-in to “Rock the Nation” giving me enough of a good solid and stiff car boner to get me to work. Maybe roll through a drive-thru on the way for some vile fat-laden fart fuel if I have time.
But really, I’m not that guy. What I am is Mister Innocuous, sitting there with a bicycle and a backpack. I chill, but I’m hyper-aware of my surroundings. Which is nothing on the way in; just working people getting to jobs. Haven’t run into anyone tweaking or flaking apart after an all-night Vitamin L jaunt, just people like me reading the paper or staring out the window.
After work, the train is another story. Ever seen Mike Judge’s film, Idiocracy? I think the light rail took a detour to 2505 and picked up some of the people hanging around the Carl’s Jr. there and brought them back to Rancho Cordova, because I’m seeing a few extras from that film every day. Like last Friday, when some mutant offspring of hobbit-dwarf sex got on with sideways baseball caps and trou hanging down to their knees and proceeded to inflict Insane Clown Posse on those of us working stiffs who were too brain-dead to tell them to STFU.
Actually, I was pretty amused, because their antics provided welcome comic relief at the end of a long day. Two sawed-off guys with very large girls, the lads acting out in spasms of explosive illiteracy and Mountain Dew-fueled bumbling, which may or may not have impressed the young lasses, but it sure impressed me. They got off somewhere around Power Inn, and I continued to 16th Street to change trains so that I could hit the Sacramento News & Review for their “V.I.P. Reception” and, more accurately, a paycheck. That’s where the trouble started.
Around downtown, K Street to be specific, I was seated with my bike in a crowd of young black guys with dreads who seemed to be enjoying a blissful 420 Friday reverie. One kid with a red ball cap hovered near the door, and a Filipino guy with black street style and a CVS nametag got on. He must have invaded the space of the hovering black kid — in that mystifying way that two cats cross each other’s paths in an alley, then it’s a hissfest with a few low wails, and suddenly there’s yowling and fur flying and blood — because the Filipino kid wheeled around, stopped, and suddenly there was a confrontation.
Punctuated by “nigga” this and “nigga” that, the two apparently had some sort of disagreement that was threatening to spill out and mess with the rest of us and our perfectly satisfactory-to-that-moment train ride. I could glean that the Filipino’s hands were “registered lethal weapons,” or so he claimed, but the hovering black kid was threatening to up the ante by calling in reinforcements by playing the “you don’t know who you fuckin’ with because I am affiliated” card, whistling for posse members at the other end of the car, a couple of which rushed to his aid.
Suddenly there was a dreadlocked guy, several sizes larger than the two chums who had initiated the scrape, and it was inferred that he was carrying, or “packing,” the type of hand-held metal device that could suddenly change a self-professed martial-arts expert from animated and bellicose to supine and ready for the wizards of mortuary science to work their wonders of arterial embalming, cosmetology and, quite possibly, facial and cranial reconstruction. The problem was that some of us were in close-enough proximity to become candidates for the embalmer’s trocar, too.
The vibes thickened. “I’m from the muthafuckin’ ghetto, from the Philippines, and I don’t give a fuck!” Mr. Lethal Hands of Doom spat. His adversary mumbled something, more words were uttered, the guy allegedly packing heat tilted his head and jutted his jaw with a Kobe Bryant grimace, and finally a few of us — one gently stoned individual in particular — started advising them to take it off the train at the next stop, because they were seriously harshing the mellow we’d been enjoying until testosterone went awry.
I got off at Globe, and went and hung out with Rik Maverik, who was DJ-ing the party. The oddest thing was that there wasn’t a moment I got the fear; it was just like watching some weird little movie in very real time. And I’m guessing I’ll see a few more weird little movies the longer I ride that train. —Jackson Griffith