Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Today my mind was boggled by a man who wouldn't move his feet. He was sitting in the first sideways-facing seat, his feet sticking out into the aisle about a foot. There was a woman in a wheelchair trying to exit the bus, and his feet stayed right where they were. "Watch your feet, sir", I said, expecting the usual, almost reflexive response of the feet being pulled back. "My feet are okay", said the man, not moving them at all. "Your feet are in her way" I said. "I don't think so" came the calm reply. I want to ask him if there was something wrong with his feet. I wanted to push is feet back myself. I wanted to say that I had never heard of anything so rude in my life! I wanted to call him a jackass. I did none of the above. I just waited, while the woman squeezed her wheelchair by and went down the ramp. Then I put the ramp back in and went on my merry way. Then a friendly aquaintance named Paul got on the bus, and we struck up a conversation. Paul was standing near the front of the bus while we exchanged how-do-you-do's. Suddenly the man pointed to, and read aloud the sign up front that says "Information gladly given, but saftely prohibits talking to the bus driver while the bus is in motion." I moved my lips in the shape of a couple of choice words, one of which was the word I hadn't called him earlier. But no sound came out of my mouth. Paul was conveniently blocking anyone else who might see me in the mirror. I laughed and asked Paul if he could read lips. He said, yes, he could. He only went a few more stops, and then we exchanged goodbyes. The other man was still there. When he got off the bus, I said "Thank you, have a nice day". I didn't mean it, but I said it. He pointed again at the sign and told me not to forget to report myself for having a conversation while driving the bus. "Thank you, have a nice day" I repeated. So he left. It's a crazy world.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I hear a lot of converstions on the bus. Sometimes I want to join in, but it's none of my business. They're usually too far away, and anyway, I probably shouldn't be expressing my personal political opinions while I'm representing San Diego Transit. But it really annoys me when I hear people use faulty arguments to prove their point, right or wrong. One 'argument' I've heard recently is this: "What part of illegal don't you underSTAND?" Now, that's not really an argument, it's a put-down. I suppose they think they are being clever. The implication (if it were aimed at me) is that I would realize you were right if I weren't so stupid. But since this is my forum, and I can say what I want, I'll tell you which part I don't understand. I don't understand the part where you tell 15 million people living in this country to just disappear! You're 'illegal' so just go away. Where? Back home? What makes you think they have a home in Mexico? What I'd like to say back to them is, "What part of 15 million don't YOU understand?" What you don't seem to understand is that most of those 15 million are working. A good number are children in school who've never known any other home but the United States. Their little brothers and sisters are American citizens, having had the good fortune to be born in this country. Their whole family is here! Send them HOME? They ARE home!
I'm not saying there isn't a problem. I'm just saying these people are not the villains in this story. They are our victims, just people trying to survive. Our victims, because we are happy to have the fruits of their labor (forgive the pun). We actually think we are entitled to prices kept low by an endless supply of cheap labor. People have a funny way of wanting to move up in the world; to do better for themselves and their families. There is always pressure to find new sources of cheap labor if you can't keep the underclass down.
We used to solve this problem by keeping slaves. Slaves were our 'permanent' underclass. Many ran away, and were punished cruelly by law if they were caught. After all, running away was illegal! And what part of illegal don't you understand? But slavery turned out to be more expensive and less workable than we thought, and we had to end it. It wasn't economically feasible, not with slaves getting sick, dying, refusing to work hard, running away, being incapacitated by beatings, etc. And there was always a chance of revolt, which was not only expensive. but dangerous. So we ended slavery, but still tried to keep those Black people as our permanent underclass. We needed them to do the farm work and the cleaning, cooking, and such. We needed an oversupply, so we wouldn't have to pay them too much. But they didn't want to stay in 'their place'. As human beings do, they moved onward and upward, in spite of enormous pressure to stay down.
So who fills that demand now? Who picks the produce, cleans our houses, our pools, mows our lawns, cooks for us? You got it! Our new 'permanent' underclass! We've learned that slavery isn't feasible, and anyway, it's not fashionable anymore. But we still need a way to keep them from moving up in the world and abandoning the cheap labor jobs we so desparatley need them for. How? By making sure they stay invisible. They still manage to find a way to move up the ladder, though. They find ways to GET legal. They buy forged papers, they send their children to school. They even have the audacity to bring little American Citizens into the world, people who, when they grow up, aren't going to be satisfied with menial labor. They won't be stuck doing it, either, as long as they get an education. But that's okay, because there are always more coming across the border.
So what's the solution? I don't know. The president is talking about a 'guest worker' program, where people come here to do the farm labor and then go home. Right. And Santa Claus comes down the chimney and leaves presents under the tree every Christmas. It's time we realized that there is no such thing as a 'permanent underclass'. Maybe we could train chimpanzees to do the work, and they wouldn't demand equal rights. Maybe we should build robots to do the work, and just pay people to buy the stuff that is produced. This sounds farfetched, I know. The point is, I don't have a solution, and I'm not even sure there is one. One thing is for sure, though. You won't find a solution if you can't even identify the problem. Blaming the Mexicans for coming here to take jobs we offer them and want them to do is ridiculous. Expecting human beings to work forever without any chance to move up, at least for their children if not for themselves, is just plain denial of human nature. That's my take on the situation. Thanks for listening.