Highway 101 #2 Indian Suffering
There we were. We had just bought our van. A terrifying beast of a machine, all American art of engineering in one car. The van had everything we needed, a fridge, gas cooker, sink, even carpets. But it was also a bit of a wreck that we had to glue back together with miles of duck tape. And it suckled gas like you would expect.Before we left for the US Westcoast and Highway 101 in early March I found another job to make more money for the trip. I worked evening and night shifts at a warehouse and a paper factory.
The warehouse job showed me the bottom of the pit that is globalisation. There is not much to say about the warehouse. It was, as you can imagine, a bleak place without any life. Vancouver is the hub for all goods that flow into Canada from Asia, mostly China. Everything is unloaded in Vancouver and restacked and then shipped across the country. I have forgotten how many tons of plastic junk I unloaded in those few weeks. Thousands of action figures, water pistols, TVs, trampolines, swimming pools, furniture, car parts, clothes, laptops, screens, cables, books, phones, cell phones, glasses, cups, plastic cutlery, fridges, dishwashers, shower heads, headphones, backpacks, hair brushes.
It didn’t stop. We were drowning in future waste and garbage and trash – every single night for 9 hours, 30 mins break, for 90 Dollars Canadian after tax. We unloaded and restacked, unloaded and restacked, trailer after trailer after trailer.
Remember when I mentioned that there were decent people in Vancouver, after all? Well, I met most, if not all of them at the warehouse job. They had nothing, and especially not the pretense of downtown hipsters and fashionistas who all, of course, were actors and/or artists. A girl I met in the hostel where I stayed the first few nights after I had arrived had moved in with one of those actors. Apparently, he spent his evenings watching all sorts of TV shows he regreted not being on eating ice cream. He had a day job at a coffee chain. And sublet his living room to her and another girl. He was the epitome of the empty, last man consumer, longing to be in the spotlight, to be a shadow on the TV screen, repeating all relevant talking points to secure his standing in the current order. He wanted to be on screen, because deep down he knew he doesn’t exist, he’s not real, there is nothing there.
And for him and all the others including ourselves we unloaded and repacked, every single night. The warehouses never closed. They operated all day and all night, even on weekends, because the goods, that weren’t good at all, just kept flowing in.
I enjoyed the people I worked with quite a bit. I still think of them often, all those years later. I wonder what they might be doing now, or if they’re still alive. One of them, I think is name was Ross, he looked like a drunk Santa Claus. He drank a bottle of Bourbon every night, listened to Iron Maiden and Metallica during his shifts and told us whatever his drunken brain came up with. I didn’t believe much of what he was saying. He told me once he had written God gave Rock’n Roll to You. But I let him talk. He was cheerful and a strong, tough man who had been through who knows what. There were also two Natives who worked my shift. Glenn and I forget the other’s name. Glenn was gentle. A tall big guy with long black hair. I never heard him swear or say anything to the detriment of anyone. He used to be a roadie for Metallica when he was younger. They needed natives because they didn’t fear height and could work for hours on end. They didn’t pay him well. I think Glenn never understood modernity and the fate he’d been dealt. He was hurt and hurting, it was easy to see for anyone who gave enough of a shit. Not many people did around him. He told me once that he was the last of his tribe. When he dies, his language and all the history of his people would die with him. Glenn never told me his real name. Glenn was just the English name he was given when he applied for an ID card. He had a native name. He didn’t want anyone to know. There was a certain solemn serenity about him perhaps. Glenn had made peace with his destiny, to exist as the utter demise of his people, to be the void and oblivion into which their wisdom would fall when he was dead. Glenn had more of a sense of history than anybody else I met in Canada. He was faced with utter extinction, aware of it but silent about it.
I remember him having knee problems one week. He had hurt his knee at work. It had gotten too old and worn out by years and years of shitty jobs in terrible conditions. There was no heating in the warehouses we worked at. And at night we had about -20 degrees Celsius outside, to give you an idea. Glenn told me he would soon operate on himself, he had been reading up on knee operations in books he got from the local library. He lived in a terrible part of Vancouver Downtown, called Gas Town. Back then people just referred to it as Crack Town. Today, of course, it’s been gentrified and there’s loads and loads of coffee shops and yoga places and people who feel with the First Nations. Well, Glenn, if he isn’t dead, then they’ve kicked him out of his shitty studio flat with no heating. I asked him, “why would you operate on yourself? This is Canada! Everyone’s got health insurance here, right?” “You got that right. If you can afford it, you have health insurance. Nothing’s free, kid. And people like me get nothing. Last time when my elbow hurt, I walked into ER and was arrested on the spot. They said they were looking for me cause I’d broken into someone’s house, they said. But it wasn’t so. They just needed someone to blame and that was me. The police let me go in the end, but I have never and will never go back to ER again. There is no health care for people like me. I’m scum to them.”
So he read books on knee operations and operated on himself. Writing these lines, I see his face rather clearly in my mind. It seems a distant memory, another life now. Perhaps because he is already dead and with him an entire language. I never knew his last name.
Another guy I remember would condescendingly be considered white trash by white urban elites. I had a few chats with him, nothing ever as profound as with Glen, but still I remember him. Maybe I remember him also because one day he was hurt in a car accident on the way to the warehouse. Someone crashed into his car. But he, I forget his name, was so desperate for the money that he called his sister, parked his crashed car by the side of the road, and had his sister drive him to his shift. He arrived, bleeding out of his ear, bleeding from a laceration on his forehead – and still. That white trash man needed the money. If you don’t work, you don’t get compensation. That is the reality. He started unloading and collapsed. We called his sister again to pick him up. I never saw him again after that. We took off for Seattle and Highway 101 two days later.