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My Robot Is Pregnant theme song!

tough guy poetry and manly stories of loneliness
all contents copyright Jon Rolston 2004, 2005, 2006

January 21, 2009

being on the other side of the truck

photo posted from my iPhone

Aaron is the white dude sitting on the curb. Those are day laborers standing behind him. They’re all in the parking lot at Home Depot in Colma, California, just outside of San Francisco. Novemeber and December were incredibly slow for Aaron, a self employed landscaper and San Franciscan native.

“I figured, I’m just as broke and hungry as these guys, why not?” Aaron says. It wasn’t so easy, he found out.

“Turned out to be an oppressive situation, being a minority of one. At first they were happy to see me, they thought I was a contractor gonna hire them. Then they realized I was looking for work too. A lot of those guys were not cool. I don’t speak a lot of Spanish, but I could tell they were talking shit about me. And I saw a lot of racism in the contractors. ‘You’re a white boy, you shouldn’t be out here,’ they’d say to me. No one could accept a white guy doing day labor. I could see contractors looking at me, but they wouldn’t hire me. I asked one guy why not. ‘You probably cost too much,’ he said.”

According to Aaron and others I’ve talked to, the hourly rate for straight labor jobs, moving rubble, digging holes, that kind of labor, is 12 bucks an hour. Other guys postion themselves as painters and charge $15 or more an hour. Guys who claim to be experienced carpenters might charge $20 an hour.

“They might be experienced in their country, but building materials and building codes are different. Maybe they build with pine, which is really soft, and to be safe in earth quake prone Bay Area, you’d have to make a 4 by 6 work where a 2 by 4 would normally go. They use recycled cement in Mexico too, which requires more water. If you put four times too much water in our cement, it’s gonna fail. Not right away, but in a few weeks it’ll crack all over.”

Aaron showed up at 6:30 am the first morning, one of the earliest on the scene. He waited ten hours without getting any work. He was back again the next day. Still no luck. “Some of those guys drink or smoke weed on the side while they wait. One guy tried to get me high, but I was like, ‘No way. I’m standing out here because I need to work, not because I wanna get high.'”

He carried a backpack full of tools with him and a portfolio of work he’d done. It wasn’t until six hours into the third day of hanging around the parking lot that someone finally gave him a job – painting a living room and bathroom.

“I felt like an omen . ‘Now Americans are doing this? Uh oh. Shit must be getting bad.'”

Aaron talked about being embarrassed to see people he’d worked for in the past seeing him stand out there. There was also an attitude among the day laborers that he was encroaching on the immigrants gig. They’d staked that turf out for years and didn’t want a white guy moving in.

“A lot of my friends are mixed race, and they all say they don’t feel like they’re accepted by any group. If they are black/white mixed, blacks don’t think they’re black, whites don’t think they’re white. That’s kinda how I felt. I was looking for work, but workers wouldn’t accept me, and I’ve been a contractor, but the contractors wouldn’t hire me. No one wanted to see a white guy standing out there.”


  1. um. this blog is super cool. and so is this story.

    Comment by maggie may — January 21, 2009 @ 10:05 pm

  2. Awesome post.

    I wonder if hiring (most likely illegal) migratory workers is really much different than outsourcing jobs. I think these contractors get a pass because the public assumption is that no American citizens want to do the work. Aaron’s plight reveals a different side, where it’s more about the almighty dollar and shirking US labor regulations. Sounds eerily similar to outsourcing to me.

    Comment by Lyle_S — January 22, 2009 @ 9:13 am

  3. I think the same way Lyle. Imagine if you could go to the CVS/Walgreens parking lot and pick up a doctor from India and get your surgery done for thirty bucks an hour. As a guy with no insurance, I’d kinda like that option, but it sure isn’t fair to the market place of our country. While in LA I saw our neighbors to the south standing around outside the auto parts stores with greasy hands waiting to help people work on their cars. So maybe it will come to that. Cruise past Radio Shack and find your IT guy. The golf club parking lot under the shade tree you’ll find CEO’s from the developing world, $80 bucks an hour.

    Comment by Rolston — January 22, 2009 @ 11:13 am

  4. This would make a great short film… and I think you should do it, Rolston.

    Comment by Ryan — January 22, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

  5. This particular post is on the really for real and almost a bit more of journalism than casual chatter.

    Governments and social groups will often claim that Americans (folks from the United States specifically since this country isn’t the only one on the continent called America) won’t do the work that an often illegally migrated population will. That argument is well supported simply by looking at the majority of house cleaners, farm workers, dirty-work worker. Aaron is a brave man for going out there. Not because of the potential “loss of face” or embarrassment at the of running into people who he has worked for or with but because his desire to work is creeping into the territory of those who want to work but have fewer options that an English speaking US citizen. It’s a situation that could cause quite a bit of hostility. When desperation is combined with a quest for money to live, things can get dicey.

    Maybe the longer he’s there and the contractors see him they’ll be less skeptical that he’s not in some why going to make trouble for them because they are hiring folks in a less than legal way.

    Best of luck to our man Aaron in his looking for work! I would like to hear more about his experience with being out there.

    Comment by figure 8 — January 23, 2009 @ 10:31 pm

  6. Thanks for your comment. Glad we’re looking at this from all sides and without anger.

    Here’s my response: I think you see so many illegals doing housework and farm labor because people don’t want to pay a fair wage, not because the work is too dirty or too hard for “Whites”. I’ve worked alongside “Mexicans” with the shovel and the wheelbarrow. We do the same work. There’s a Laborers Union hall in San Francisco, but as my father tells me, they have priced themselves out of jobs. OK, you don’t want to pay top dollar for your hired help. Check craigslist. I’m looking for work too. So is Sean, and Glenn. We’re below Union wage. (I guess the union guys think I’m ruining their gig)

    I know it’s a touchy subject, but are you saying it is wrong to take work away from a non-English speaking non-citizen?

    Comment by Rolston — January 23, 2009 @ 11:59 pm

  7. nope I’m not saying that at all competition is what was supposed to make this country great. what I’m saying is that there is the potential for some day laborers to feel that their livelihood is threatened and become desperate and upset. being someplace illegally and then being willing to participate in a system of labor/employment that exploits the majority of its workers already says that one is comfortable with operating in grey area of what is legal. i get that in a place like California which functions largely on the backs of people who can be exploited for labor that a Union worker is going to face a hard time finding work at a rate that reflects years of training and practice in a specific trade. the question is larger than: if Aaron is white and needs work what will he do when he can’t get day work because folks prejudge on his skin color and think he will charge too much?

    Aaron and others like him have gotten the shaft a short hand could be to blame “The Man” who has kept the lower class jobs for black,brown and tan peoples and the upper crust work for white folks. that though would be a mistake. this is ultimately an example that the U.S. economy has embraced illegal employment and at the same time a small number of people control all of the wealth. these are two ends of a spectrum. most everyone in between is stuck trying to either maintain or get ahead financially. so when folks at the top of the heap get financially battered, a lot of people at the bottom and everyplace in between get compacted. wall street crashes, business of all sizes fold, banks fold, legal citizens working in the private sector suffer job loss and pension funds fold. the current of this flow picks up as it moves down river. ultimately, in front of a home depot, a white man has a hard time getting a job because in the equation at home depot can be broken down to this, his presence represents the top of the heap (yep because, the second current is that race has often been a factor in favor of the majority. when thinking in terms of race whites have run the show for a long time. black president or not let’s be honest about that history in this country.) so, if a white man is willing to do for work (and I respect that it is honest in the nature of working to earn money)that others in the same national group are perceived as being unwilling to do, it physically presents the fact that the country is in economic crisis.

    my point, if it is causing legal citizens to take extreme measures to butter bread and keep the lights on, that might strike fear and possibly desperation to eliminate that competition for those with fewer economic options. it’s like seeing an eagle on a homeless man’s shopping cart wearing sunglasses. upsetting and confusing for a lot of reasons.

    Comment by figure 8 — January 24, 2009 @ 3:16 am

  8. Yep, it will be interesting to see where this goes. I guess in a sense Mexican day laborers have been living high on the hog, too. Home depot might start to resemble a Wall Street commodity pit.

    Comment by Lyle_S — January 24, 2009 @ 9:08 am

  9. has anyone seen the movie Zeit Geist? Just wondering

    Comment by poopies — January 24, 2009 @ 3:20 pm

  10. i Think i have the title right?

    Comment by poopies — January 24, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

  11. are these the creepy noises you make? never saw it…

    Comment by Rolston — January 25, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

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