I was a Teamster for a couple of years before I went to UCLA. I didn’t think much about the union, it was just what you had to do to work loading and unloading trucks for Roadway Express. Well paid, by blue collar unskilled standards, especially overtime, for that I was happy with the union. The downtown truck facility was slated to close; partly because it didn’t make sense even by the late 1970s to have a major truck depot in the heart of the downtown and so it was moving out to Barstow, partly because Roadway Express was such a badly run company, and partly because of the disastrously bad Carter-era economy. I’m not a big fan of unions these days, although my biggest irritation is with public employee unions, not the private kind. But
But I want to pay tribute today, on Labor Day, to an older guy on the dock – he’d been there forever, long enough to have the seniority to drive a tow-motor and haul pallets around for the trucks. He was a Teamsters local official of some kind, not high up, just some kind of union rep on the floor. He told me that the facility would be closing and told me that I needed to get myself off to college. I would have gone to school anyway – I was so f-cking bored out of my mind loading and unloading trucks all night long. Sometimes I would get off work in the middle of the night and, drive out to Santa Monica beach and plunge in the water and swim in the white foam and dark water in the early morning darkness (this is not a good idea, btw). He asked what I was going to do, and I said, maybe enroll at UCLA. I worked the loading dock for a couple of years after my Mormon mission, but I was raised in college-town Claremont, had pretty good grades, and in those days entrance to UCLA wasn’t so difficult.
He said, good for you, I wish my kids were going to UCLA. He added, I’ve been there, and it’s like a beautiful park, it’s like the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, but my kids won’t be going there. It bothered him that the working class had built this unbelievably beautiful place for kids better off than his; my father was a chemistry professor at the land grant state college where his kids, if they were lucky, might go, and even then I thought higher education in California at all levels was the best thing the state – and he and his kids – had going for them. I thought about him when I did go there, the following fall term – I sat by the fountain near the physics building, the round modern one, and thought, wow.
It wasn’t that college was a big deal to me, son of a professor, or that it was so beautiful – I grew up next to Pomona College and in high school worked in the dining hall under the Jose Clemente Orozco mural of Prometheus bringing the fire down from heaven. It was that I didn’t have to work a day (night) job and my job consisted of studying whatever I felt like – and what I felt like was the most unworldly philosophical subjects. Not sure that would be such a good idea today. Every term after my last final exam, I would go lie in the grass in the sculpture garden and read a Colette novel from the library.
So, in his honor, this version of Working Class Hero, a live performance by Marianne Faithfull. Even though he wouldn’t have thought much of it, just a poseur song. I like it anyway.