LUMPENPROLETARIAT Travelogue: Driving Halfway Across the USA, 2015: Kansas City to the San Francisco Bay Area.
“In a nation run by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: not necessarily to win, but mainly to keep from losing completely.” —Hunter S. Thompson (2003, The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales, From a Strange Time)
FRIDAY (22 MAY 2015): Sorting and stuffing, Tetris-like, 253 lbs of textbooks, notebooks, and other books…then clothes and more stuff…and, finally, finished cleaning; almost ready to hit the road; but packed way too much stuff in the PT Cruiser. By 02:30 CDT (23 MAY 2015), I decided to call it a night and drop the Waldo Heights Apartments keys in the drop box.
“Lonely Press Play” by Damon Albarn
SATURDAY (23 MAY 2015): I started on a full tank of gas on sábado en Kansas City, Missouri (minus some 40 miles running round town earlier in the week). But the roads were wet all day. It’s been a rainy, slippery road. I’ve seen cars spun out on the sides of the highway and jack-knifed juggernauts. I began by driving up north to Iowa, then west to Nebraska. Every time I’ve driven past the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, I’m reminded of our man, Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt. A scene or two revolve around this Nebraskan landmark.
And all the pain I rise above
And I’ll never know the same about you
Your holiness and your kind of love
And it makes me feel so sorry…”
If you’re taking I-80, you’ll drive through Nebraska into Wyoming. In Wyoming, I had the opportunity to talk to a couple of workers at a local diner in Rock Springs, Wyoming. They agreed to be interviewed for Lumpenproletariat.org to tell the people about life in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
I had breakfast in Rock Springs, Wyoming, again. This time, I decided I wanted to learn more about this diner and this place I had now stopped in more than once. So, I looked online, whilst waiting for my breakfast, and learned: Sweetwater County comprises the Rock Springs-Wyoming micropolitan statistical area. The 2010 population census recorded 43,806 people. Green River is its county seat. Notably, Sweetwater County, in the southwestern part of Wyoming, is the largest county in the state. In fact, Sweetwater County is one of the largest counties in the nation. I spoke with a local Rock Springs restaurant worker, whom we’ll call Florence for anonymity.
MESSINA: “Wow, so, this is the largest county in Wyoming?”
MESSINA: “I was just in Kansas City [Missouri], and I was covering [i.e., documenting] a big debate in the City Hall. It was up on the 26th floor of the City Hall building. I’m not used–I was not used to big buildings anymore. I got a little woozy when I got in the elevator.”
MESSINA: “And I was like: 26?”
MESSINA: “Whoa. I don’t know if you’re used to skyscrapers—“
FLORENCE: “Oh, no, I’m not. I’m scared to death of ’em. [chuckles]”
MESSINA: “Are you? Me, too. [SNIP] Yeah, I was not comfortable. But I thought: Alright. We gotta do this. There was a big debate. And it was a big issue among workers, about the wages that workers get paid.”
MESSINA: “So, they were debating this Fight for $15. Have you heard of that?”
FLORENCE: “Oh, yes, I have.”
MESSINA: “Yeah! Can you share any thoughts about what your response is? Or what you feel or think about that?”
FLORENCE: “Well, I think it’s a good idea.”
“I work as a waitress. I get paid three dollars an hour, plus my tips. So, I have to work another job to make ends meet.”
And Florence works for a major corporation with plenty of money for profits, but which shifts the costs of wages onto the customers through the conversion of tips into wages. I asked Florence about this.
MESSINA: “So, tips, actually, fill in [some of] the gap, that would be your actual wage. Right?”
MESSINA: “So, then, a tip, by definition, is—because I thought a tip was like when a rich guy comes in and shows off how much money he has. And he leaves his money on the table because he’s such a fat cat. Right?”
MESSINA: “And that’s above and beyond the bill, and above and beyond your wages. So, a tip would be extra. Right?”
MESSINA: “But, once it becomes part of your wages, it seems like it shouldn’t be called a tip anymore.”
MESSINA: “It should be called your wage.”
FLORENCE: “Yeah. Right.”
MESSINA: “[SNIP] So, have you seen any Fight for $15 campaign in the State of Wyoming?”
FLORENCE: “No, I haven’t.”
MESSINA: [SNIP] “What’s going on in Rock Springs, Wyoming?”
FLORENCE: “What do you mean? Economy-wise? Or—“
MESSINA: “Yeah, in the economy, in your life, in the families, and communities.”
FLORENCE: “Well, my life is too busy because I’m working 24 hours a day. [laughs]”
MESSINA: “Really? A whole lotta work, huh? All your friends and family, just a whole lotta work?”
FLORENCE: “Well, I don’t have a lot of family here. […]”
MESSINA: “And the people you know in Rock Springs, it’s just real hard-working? They just work their butt off?”
FLORENCE: “Everybody works their butt off.”
I spoke with another restaurant worker, Flossie, who said the primary industry in the area is oil extraction. However, she reported, that’s been drying up in the last three years.
FLOSSIE: “It used to be oil. And a lot of them have shut down now. They’ve been slowly shutting down for about three years. In fact, they’ve gone from over 500 rigs to less than 30—“
FLOSSIE: “—in the state of Wyoming.”
With the decline in the primary industry of oil extraction, many families have been forced to move away. But Flossie mentioned there are also two mines in the area, which may have absorbed some of the job losses in the oil industry.
As I drove on, I tried to make it close to the Wyoming-Utah border, near Evanston, Wyoming (where my family’s van had broken down en route to Kansas City, Missouri the previous week) to try and get through the sleet expected later that night. But I was getting groggy. So, I decided to take my four-hour nap a bit early in Wyoming, and save driving into Utah for the morning.
SUNDAY (24 MAY 2015): After driving across Utah and through Nevada, I began experiencing some technical difficulties. Not only did a good samaritan tire salesman at Wells, Nevada petrol and service station warn me my two front tires with poor tread won’t make it through Nevada to California, but my console gauge later warned me the engine was overheating. Lesson of the day: Checking the coolant/antifreeze is no longer a standard feature of a basic oil change service at your local oil changer shop.
The kind tire salesman gave me good advice on needing to replace my front tires. But, like any good salesman, he was looking to price gouge. (Of course, I have awards for being a top salesman from a successful corporation. So, I know a thing or two about the ugliness of sales tactics.) I decided to trudge on with the bald, and balding tires, until Elko, Nevada for almost half the $300 bucks the kind tire salesman was demanding. But, upon arrival at the Elko Walmart Auto Center, I found it was all booked until the next morning. With Reno about 300 miles west, it was time to find a low-budget room with wi-fi. (Previously, I’d just sleep upright in the overloaded car’s driver’s seat. Thanks to my family, I was afforded some shelter on the open road.)
[All photography and transcription by Messina]
[Last modified 00:09 PDT (Elko, Nevada) 25 MAY 2015]