Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Culture Shock: Southern Style

So here I am: Damn near 40 years old and a product of New York and California, now living in the Deep South. Never would’ve thought I would’ve ended up here, but hey, I’m not complaining. It’s been a real cool experience.

Now to be honest with you the biggest shock to my system ain’t the slow pace. Nah, I’m damn near 40 with a wife and kids. What the hell do I look like hanging out every night going to clubs and shit like that? Nah, that ain’t my style no more.

Nightclubs are no big thang on me. But do you wanna know what really shocks me out here? Every time I go to a restaurant or I’m in a hotel or an office building, do you know what I see? I see Black and White people doing menial labor. Yep, uh huh, I sure do. Whether it’s McDonald’s, Burger King, I Hop, Denny’s – you name it, you see Black and White waiters and waitresses. No shit. Bugs me the fuck out every time I see it.

Now you ask, “Why do such things bug you out, Mark?”
Well now, where I do I start?

Before I go there let me take you back to a moment of revelation, if you will. The year was 1992. I was working as a security officer for Pacific Bell (yes, that’s how long ago it was, they were called Pacific Bell and not SBC) in Oakland on 14th and Franklin St. There I was doing my usual thing at work: talking on the phone, sleeping, reading the paper, etc., when the janitorial staff arrived. Now, I had been working there for probably a year by this time. So I’m standing there watching the janitorial staff sign in when it dawns on me to look at the names. Hernandez, Mendez, Gomez and Rodriguez. And that’s when it hit me: ‘Hey what happened to all of the black janitors?”

When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, all of the janitors I ever saw were Black. If you saw a mop and a bucket, you could count on a cat named Roscoe or Jessie or something like that to be the one pushing it. But here it was 1992 and I hadn’t seen a brother with a mop and a bucket in a minute.

So I asked the owner of the janitorial company, ‘Hey, how come you don’t have any brothers working for you?”

“I don’t know”, he said shrugging his shoulders.

It perplexed me that brothers weren’t janitors anymore. You know for the longest time in this country, if a brother was out of a job and he needed a gig, he could always do janitorial work to make ends meet.

But not, no mo.

So fast-forward the tape to 2005, the scene changes this time it’s Columbia, South Carolina. I’m working in a building that houses a janitorial company. All of a sudden I see a large group of White folks enter the building. “Hmmmmm”, I wonder out loud, “What are they doing here?’
“Those are the janitors.”
“The what?”
“The janitors.”
“Say what? Those people are janitors?”
“What’s wrong?’
“They’re White, that’s what’s wrong.”
“And? And White folks aren’t janitors!”

You have to understand something – where I’ve been I have never, ever, not once in damn near 40 years, seen a White janitor. Since 1992 I have seen nothing but Mexicans doing janitorial work. But there they were clear as day: White janitors.

The second thing that shocked the shit outta me was one morning at work, I heard a leaf-blower roaring away. I thought to myself, ok, now I’m gonna see some Mexicans. I was shocked. I had to stand there and stare out the window and watch for myself cause I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a White man with a leaf-blowing machine. I couldn’t believe it.

“Where are the Mexicans?” I asked.
“On the other side of town”, someone shouted from an office.

In California when you go to restaurants, car washes, motels and places like that – odds are that the person that is going to help you will be Latino. I don’t know how it happened.
In California if you go into a McDonald’s, there is a pretty good chance that the person behind the counter doesn’t speak English. It’s happened to me a number of times. Out here ain’t nuttin’ but Whites and Blacks working fast food.

I wonder how long that will last.

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