Thursday, October 9, 2014
*******Throwback Thursday****5 years ago*******
A couple weeks ago, I took a road trip. Flight trip, actually. Garden business. Went to a huge metropolitan area. I won't mention where just to protect the people in this post, but I wanted to share a piece of America that maybe we forget about.
See...when the PoPo go on a business trip and have down time...we get bored. Usually, I do these things with my cop buddies...you know...the buddy system. Safety in numbers. But...I had a hair up my ass.
Cops in the ghetto are like tourists in Hawaii.
I took the rental car and drove. First, I looked at the old housing districts and the mansions, history. Then...the rental car just drove itself to the ghetto. I'm in shorts, shirt, hair done up, makeup. I look like the average citizen. In a rental car. Us cops do this when we go to schools. Check out the hoods. Not by sliding on top of the cars like a Budweiser Babe, but the housing districts by the same name.
I stopped at a service station/convenience store and bought a soda. They were out of popcorn.
The clerk said, "Sweetheart. Are you lost? "
I said, "Nope. Why?"
He said, "You don't look like you belong here." I just smiled and left.
I drove down to what they called "Crack Alley". It was rough. This city was huge and well over 2 million peeps in population. Just so you know...I wasn't in the hood of Mayberry.
Several industrial buildings had the windows knocked out. Abandoned. The houses looked like they should have had a big wrecker ball take them down. Then...I saw some cars next to a huge old manufacturing building that was old, dirty, and looked really rough. I saw people coming and going. I watched. They were not the business people of Chevrolet or Ford.
Pretty soon, a Puerta Rican came up to me. His name was Carlos. (Changed to protect his identity). He asked me if I was "fucking" crazy and must be a "fucking crazy bitch" to be down there, and I was lucky I didn't get raped. I just smiled at him. He said, "You are pretty confident, ain't you? Not scared?" I told him I wanted to know what was inside that building and what was going on in there. For all I knew, it could have been a chop shop for stolen cars.
Carlos and I had a conversation. He was a convict, just trying to make a living. Supporting some kids. Girlfriend. He told me to follow him and he would show me what they did. He wasn't being evil, sneaky, or malicious. At least, that is how I read him at the time. I was truly interested in this little piece of America that was hidden, forgotten. He was proud of his work. And someone took interest.
He took me inside the most nasty factory type building that was about to fall apart. It had black soot all over the floor, old machinery...everywhere. Sparks were flying. Grinders going.
Carlos first took me to the steel cutting area. All convicted felons-I was informed as I walked to another area. One female was in the entire building. She was a welder. It was like a big open garage. The cords to the machines were lying in puddles of water. I mean puddles. They were at least 2-3 inches deep in most parts and even deeper where the cement floor was busted out. The building leaked due to holes in the roof and the rain cascaded down to every floor below.
My newfound friend introduced me to the people who were working. They didn't take but two seconds with me because they weren't on break and were dedicated to their jobs. Families. Single fathers. All workers. All convicts. Tattoos all over. Some prison tattoos. Last year they made $18.79 an hour. This year they were making $8.75. If they didn't take the cut back, they didn't have a job. They needed the job.
The company had to cut back because the industry had caved due to the economic changes in the automobile world and it trickled down. I'm sure the big whigs didn't get cut and still golf at their country club. But not these guys. I don't think one of them had ever seen a country club.
Most were Puerta Rican, some black, about 1/3 white.
They were covered in black soot from their heads to their toes. They were breathing it in. I started coughing. Carlos said if OSHA were to look at that place, they would be shut down.
Tripping over cords in water, I moved on. They had made the building into a make-shift assembly line type of operation. The torcher was 21, kid, white, never been in trouble. GED. Never finished school. He was a very nice young man. Carlos was proud of him and all the workers taught him the skills of the trade. He was his protege. Carlos told me the kid was the hardest worker out of all the men. Even outshined the one woman. And he was 21. He was the "one that wasn't like the others." The only one that was not a convicted felon.
The finished product was beautiful, although I didn't fully understand the use and the need for so many until Carlos went over what they do and where they go.
At the end of the assembly...I got to see Buttcrack Dan. Carlos made sure to point at him and throw a rock down his slot. Crack Alley. It's everywhere. At least that kind of crack doesn't get you high.
I asked why the building wasn't up to standards. Carlos said it would cost too much money and they would be out of jobs and in the state I was visiting...jobs were and are scarce. He said they all protect their boss from the government and work hard, meet the deadlines, get the product out. It was all steel and iron work. Amazing. It makes a person wonder how many underground operations really exist and are run by the big companies trying to cut costs.
It was a great experience and all of them treated me with respect. They stood aback a little, not knowing what to think. Carlos ran inside and left me at the door, then came back. He said, "They thought you were pretty special PoPo. Just don't bust their ass. They still don't like you, but they respect you." I smiled at Carlos and shook his hand and waved at the other workers as I left. They saluted me. I don't know why. Maybe because I didn't judge them.
Carlos departed with, "Now, girl, get the fuck out of here. Don't stop until you hit good streets. You know what they look like-the ones without potholes. And lock your doors. Run to your car. Now!"
When I got into my rental car that amazingly still had all 4 wheels on it...I felt a sense of relief. Tears came down my eyes. Maybe it was the adrenaline dump. Maybe it was the fact that those workers may not live another 20 years with those working conditions...old and young. Perhaps...it was just an amazing inside look into how some people live and work for their families. I don't know. I was overwhelmed.
Carlos told me before my departure I was the craziest, "mofo popo" he'd ever met. I waivered on telling him upfront who I was. But I'm glad I did. And I was lucky Carlos was a "standup convict guy".
I think I am going through a midlife crisis. Lucky I didn't get shanked there. What the hell was I thinking?
But at the same time...it was a most awesome experience to behold. And very eye opening. A rare glimpse at another life outside my safe world.
Carlos and his crew make equipment for two of the most powerful companies in America. And down at the bottom where Carlos works...is where those companies shit on the little guy. So when you drive your car next time...think about all the sweat and sacrifice that goes into that machine. I do.