Saturday, June 14, 2008

The last entry reminded me of something I think of each time I participate as one of the tour guides out at Kaiser Permanente Shipyard III ... .

During World War II this was the main shipbuilding site of Kaiser Permanente's four, or of the nine shipyards that ringed the Bay. It was the only Richmond shipyard that was built as a permanent installation. It's still a working port today serving in the capacity of auto warehousing for Pacific Rim auto manufacturers.

Due to extensive rail and trucking capacity for distribution across the country, the Port of Richmond is increasingly productive to the city's economy.

However ... I'm always struck by the stark contrasts brought about by changing technology. It's dramatic upon approaching this site. There are acres and acres of autos of every description parked in neat rows for as far as the eye can see. There are huge cranes unloading onto docks an endless parade of large containers from giant cargo ships awaiting movement onto the waiting fields of other new cars; an impressive sight.

Then, if you're sensitive to it (or old enough to remember), one notices the absence of human beings. There are no workers within sight. Not one sign of movement anywhere.

In a shipyard that was a beehive of activity with 93,000 men and women working 3 shifts a day 7 days a week and 52 weeks a year until the war ended in 1945, there are now few workers to be seen. Remember that it was here in Shipyard III that these workers produced 747 ships of the over 1400 that Henry J. Kaiser built in the four Richmond yards during that period.. Can you imagine the multitudes -- the crush of humanity this represents? There are photos in our exhibits showing a veritable sea of workers moving in and out of these yards in a steady stream where now one sees no movement of people at all; only products.

But it's only strange if one is not aware that this entire operation is computerized; that every car's color, location, equipment description, type of engine, has been entered into the data base; that with a limited crew of workers the entire operation can be controlled electronically -- perhaps with a few golf carts! Any auto can be retrieved on demand for loading onto rail or trucks for national distribution without much more than working the database. The detailing that is done before shipment is handled in the machine shop by the only visible employees -- and actually seeing them is beyond the scope of our tours.

There are few examples more dramatic than this Port through which to see evidence of fundamental and irrevocable change in the workplace.

Is it possible that we've forgotten that there is more to be gained from an economy keeping it's labor intensivity than mere paychecks? It may be that one day we the people will reclaim the right to provide employment because it enriches life for those who participate in and/or provide work for others. Until we find meaningful leisure (besides reality television), we may find that we're risking the sanity and stability which sustains us all in our ever-aspiring Democracy.

Not sure I understand all of this, but somewhere along the way something precious may have been sacrificed; something immeasurable having to do with human dignity and a sense of personal worth, maybe?

I suspect that the late Tim Russert would have understood what I'm struggling to say.
Such a sad loss ... .

Photo: From the Dorothea Lange collection of World War II stills. This one is called "Shift Change" (Oakland Museum)
Cushioning the blow where I have some control still ... .

After driving around with my oil gauge light screaming "empty!" for awhile, I pulled into a service station with an available pump. I hadn't noticed before today that gas stations were suddenly crowded with lengthening waiting lines. But then it occurred to me. All these SUVs were having to fill up far more often since few could afford to "fill 'er up!" any longer. My last full tank totaled an outrageous $53.92, and my little car only holds about 12 gallons. Regular now demands a whopping $4.49 a gallon where I live. Preposterous! Who could possibly afford such costs except maybe those with Hedge Fund shares in their portfolios?

My office is a mere five miles from my apartment, so I can probably manage for a bit, but what of those who commute long distances; a common problem here in the San Francisco Bay Area? Where I live public transportation is not a viable option. What with bridge tolls (now $4) and parking (crazy!) fees, few can afford the trip to the job to earn the salaries to pay for the costs of being employed! Now what?

So -- I'm sure that my solution is much like that of my neighbors. I'm not allowing my tank to get below half-full and therefore I'm joining the others in line at the services stations twice as often as before and wondering if the cost of starting and stopping in that line; of idling with the motor running isn't using up even more petroleum and wasting more energy while befouling the air quality even more seriously than before ... while I'm going nowhere? (An apt metaphor, right?)

It's awful to be of an age that remembers when gas was 27 cents a gallon; when I remained seated in the driver's seat while young men handled pumping petroleum into the gas tank; while another washed and squeegeed my windshield and back window; and where I was presented with free dishes for patronizing their independently-owned service stations which provided jobs for neighborhood kids. What in heaven's name happened in the name of progress?

Am I sounding old or what...?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I'm so spent from carrying around all these words that won't organize themselves into any kind of meaning ... .

As the past few entries illustrate, life is extremely intense right now, with few ways to process the incoming emotional strafing!
Being too tired to sort through the overload, I'm finding myself battered by disturbing dreams that bring visitations from my children's dead father, Mel, and our son, Rick. It's as though I'm re-directing all of that into an area that is safer to deal with. I can always force myself awake if necessary, unlike life in the real world right now.

Work has been equally intense with more speaking engagements; more shifting of assignments on the job; the opening of new edges of interest (i.e. the Eugene O'Neill/Paul Robeson connection); the loss of a colleague to a prestigious position across the country; retirement of a staff member and the entry of several new seasonals. I'm becoming increasingly comfortable with a more public role, but there is that quiet self-imposed pressure to excel that persists. But along with that comes a growing sense of confidence in my ability to continue to "do the work."

Dorian has been with me over the past 3 weekends. She's going through a period of uncertainty -- which happens without explanation from time to time. Her closely-cropped hair is growing out nicely. In fact, I've grown to love it, actually. Looks like a sleek black cap and can be cared for with a few swipes of a damp washcloth. Her bald state never bothered her a bit, and I got over her self-inflicted hair-removal adventure within a day or so. We never did get into hats or scarves and I think that's probably healthy.

So much is so wonderful! Having Rosie enter our lives was so unexpected, and so enriching for us all. Going back over life as it might have been; or life as it never was; must be unbelievably disturbing/exciting to both her and to Bob, even while it brings completion and inestimable joy. What an amazing story they're living!

However, the job of carrying around the weight of unspoken words and conversations not entered into -- is taking its toll. I'm trying so hard not to see the yellow flags. Not to be a Cassandra with warnings of where the potholes are down the road. What to look out for -- given my life experience and "accumulated wisdom" over the decades. I guess it's a "mother" thing. Oh how I wish I could turn off the flares, put away the buoys, and just relax into their happiness! Instead I find myself trying to peer around all of the blind corners; imagining all the players who have influenced her life that I've yet to meet; wishing I could remember what needs to be passed along to a son who has missed all of the preparatory struggling that goes into the making of the mature adult from the innocent child. But then I remember that I never really learned those lessons myself, I think, and that few of us ever do.

Maybe the only really wise advice would be to assure them that wherever one steps in or out of the life process is just fine. That there never were any guarantees; that skipping the "what ifs" and living out the moments we're given as they extend out into hours, days, and years, is all that really matters. Maybe they've been given the best part, from now until whenever ... .

One would think that there would have been an owner's manual to pass along ... generation to generation. Any truly enlightened Creator would have thought of that, wouldn't you think? But then we're not really owners at all, are we? In a way we are simply vessels through which life passes eon after eon ... into infinity ... with each of us being absolutely essential to our time.

(...and all the while -- playing loudly in the background was the most unlikely national drama of my lifetime! Not writing about it here took every shred of self-restraint that could be mustered! )

Suffices to say, "Yes we did!"