Observations of Truckers from a Truck Stop in Tulare County

Recently, I was sent out to survey truck drivers for 5 days in Tulare at a diesel station for trucks.

Before the project began, the only reason I knew Tulare is because my sister's first-year college roommate was from Tulare.

I had no idea what Tulare was about, only that along Route 99 it was above Bakersfield, and below Fresno(yes). 

After these 5 days, I can say that I've gained a better appreciation of the area and the (changing) demographic of truckers.

I'm a(n) (almost) life-long Angeleno, buried in the city, where almost any object is readily available if you just have the money.  I've come to appreciate and "re-visibilize" truck drivers as a necessary part of the economic and social infrastructure.  I think having been in a city and urbanized towns for my entire life, I have been exposed to lots of demographics and lots of people, which is good, but I feel like I know them only superficially, and fill in the rest of my information about them with my imagination.

That said, here are a few things as an Angeleno that I observed about truckers through either observation or conversation:
  • The popular image of a trucker is probably a single white male, which definitely exists, but I met with my share of black, Latino, Asian, Indian Sikh, men and women, mid 20s - mid 50s
  • I saw bits and pieces of inter-racial solidarity:  a guy with a white redneck T-shirt buddy buddying with some other black uh blackneck buddy, another time where a white guy just walked up and saw his old black buddy in the truck and simply started jabbing with him
  • I did see moments of inter-racial tension:  a white guy that I had interviewed 10 or 20 minutes before had become impatient with a truck that was parked in front of him.  The truck in front of him was driven by a black man.  The white guy got increasingly frustrated and started honking.  Then he got out of his truck and walked yelling at the black guy.  At some point, I remember him yelling "N*** think they own the world" and continued honking before ultimately deciding to back up from his diesel station and making his way out.
  • Another moment was of this inter-racial tension was during an informal conversation that I had with a trucker from the Mid-West whom I had previously interviewed.  He pointed out the Indian Sikhs and talked about how they in particular were driving rates down.  A few Sikhs drive in pairs or more, which is a better deal for a distributor than him alone.  He lamented that they also tended not to spend money within the US and would send that money home.
  • Many of these truckers were open to my interviews;  I conducted about 130.  Some loved talking to me, others thought I was in their way.  Some probably legitimately had to get somewhere, others just wanted me gone.  Some got increasingly suspsicious of the survey, some warmed up as we went along.
  • Most seem to be proud of having driven everywhere
  • A lot of the white truckers do hold conservative views, which is not really a shocker:  One California trucker made a comment about high-speed rail taking away from resources such as addressing the water crisis.
  • A lot of white truckers from the East seem to dislike California, making comments about everything from the speed limits (which is apparently 80 in Florida), to the water crisis
  • Some do reminisce on when they was more to pick up and deliver in the Central Valley.

How Dangerous Is Compton? October 2014 Edition

Considering that what little my wife and I knew of Compton before moving here, it hasn't been the worst.  Our section at least has been fairly quiet, and everything other than the stealing of parts from my sister-in-law's car is more or less what we expected.

I have been here a year in Southwest Compton near Central and Alondra, which is mostly Latino, either immigrants or 2nd generation, and haven't experienced many (relatively) serious problems on my street.

On the surface level, if you were simply to drive around the neighborhood, I think outsiders or perhaps those adjusted to more comfortable living would be scared. The gang around here likes to tag up the blank walls here, but I don't see any rivals or any crosses on it which would indicate some kind of battle or struggle.  I wonder if the gang is just generational and more about tradition at this point.

No gangsters have gotten angry and threatened me, nor would I have known.  Unless they have tats, I can't really tell who is or isn't a gangster --- no one's really dressing up in super baggy clothes or walking around and intimidating people.  Not that I'm actively looking for those people.  I think I would approach these people the way a Phil Dunphy would.

It really is not the 1980s or 1990s anymore or at least my idea of what 1980s and the 1990s looked like with gangs in them, and I guess approaches change.

On occasion, I come home late at night.  The street, largely a residential single family house area, is pretty quiet.  This is something of a classist statement, but I can imagine that if it were apartments or a trailer park in the area where I'm forced to come face-to-face with residents in close quarters, my opinion might shift a bit.  One of my sister-in-laws and her husband and their small child live on the Eastern side of Compton near a Church's Chicken in an apartment complex.  They've survived and are on the brink of thriving.  However, the apartment complex they live in looks like a fortified maximum state prison with a white picket fence on steroids and definitely requiring a key to get inside.  Inside the complex however, it feels like as comfortable as any other apartment complex.

When on my street, you can usually extend common courtesy with adults passing by, usually, unless I bump into someone really intent on looking hard.  Even when I sprained my ankle on a run towards Gardena, one kid even went up to me and asked, "are you OK" to which I just quickly waved him off, even though I was now reduced to a painful hobble on a journey back to my house.

Most of the time during weekends, it's just parties with neighborhood kids and visitors, sometimes even multi-racial coalitions of kids just running around doing their kid things, which is a contrast to the last time NBC LA came around here.

If I could sum it up in a sentence, people pretty much just leave us the hell alone here, least in this part of Compton.

My wife and I are still relative outsiders.  I guess it is much easier when you don't know much of anyone that actually grew up here, other an occasional interaction with a neighbor.  Aside from my running or trips to Cal State Dominguez Hills we pretty much just shut ourselves in.

My car, a nondescript, largely unwashed 11-year old Toyota, hasn't been touched, though on one occasion, I did see one kid sitting on it like he owned it, which annoyed the living fuck out of me.  I wonder how things would change if I got a new car.  I do see new regular cars on the street on occasion and they appear to do fine.

However, my sister-in-law, who lived here for a few months with us, her 10-year old Honda that was as nondescript as my Toyota wasn't as lucky --- she had some parts stolen.  I felt terrible for her because it was an expensive part for her.  But she appears to be over it, has given up her car to her brother, and is now 400 miles away up North.

Tragniew Park near us isn't the worst park in the world.  A least it gets used.  We've been able to walk the dog on occasion during the PM hours when there are kids playing soccer and some kind of band practicing.

I will tell you that the only times I haven't felt as comfortable or secure in Compton have been when I was walking around Civic Center area. Even though the Sherriff's station is headquartered there, all I smell is desperation.

The desperation where you feel eyeballs on you.  Where some people might approach you, see an opportunity, and ask for change.  Sorry, homey, I ain't Barack.  I don't want to just bring it to you, work with me, and maybe we could do something.

Most things considered, least from our vantage point, there is some negative to see if you're looking for it, but if you just want to do your thing, then, ain't nothing stopping us from doing that.

Though, once I do commit to a project involving Compton, this might change.

My Memories and Experience of Community/Neighborhood Storytelling via Radio Stations in LA as a Tween-Teen in the 1990s to Early 2000s and Today

Welp, I think I've really nailed my real interest in life, meaning I've found something that kinda ties all my various interests in together:  communication infrastructures, particularly in LA.  I'm particularly interested in how our physical and social environments, our "scapes", our "communication infrastructures" are designed in ways which serve to discourage/encourage actions.

One of the main interests in study of communication infrastructures is with "strong community or neighborhood story-telling."  The idea is that a community thrives if we have a "strong storytelling community." The "storytelling community" consists of the following:  a)  residents in family, friends, and neighbor networks, b)  nonprofit organizations, and c)  geo-ethnic media.  So if each of these elements are talking with each other, then we could see a strong community developing.

Today, a piece of story-telling that's piqued my interest under "geo-ethnic media":  radio in LA.

One day early in the 1990s amidst the heightened popularity of KIIS FM and Rick Dees when I was being babysat alongside my godsister, we decided that we wanted to play radio.  Our idea was to sit around our boom box and play music.  After a while, it got boring to me.  "What else do they do?"  I asked.  She replied, "I don't know, sit around, and talk to each other.", which also seemed boring, and thereby ended our imaginary game of "radio."

I never remember ANY story on local radio or TV speaking directly to either Filipinos, Atwater Village, or hell even Los Feliz.

This is why one of my most memorable moments of my childhood was picking up and reading a list of the FBI's most wanted at the local Lucky's on Hillhurst and Ambrose, and seeing the picture of Conrado Baylon Fiel.

I wrote a post last year about radio.  I was planning on writing more follow-ups, but it kinda fell by the wayside.  I was originally trying to be scientifically methodical and go year-by-year about my radio station habits, but I found it a little tedious and incorrigible with my schedule, so I'm opting for an approach looser on the exact dates and years, and focused more on delineating my most vivid experiences or at least my memories of what I experienced.

Anyhow, I've been reading various academic papers about communication infrastructures, and came up on an article about two radio stations in LA:  one, a commercial radio station, KKBT, what was once known now as 92.3 or 100.3 "The Beat", and the other, being former Minnesota Public Radio affiliate, turned NPR member station KPCC on 89.3.

The article concluded that each of these stations were successful "storytellers."

What's fascinating about the article:
  • Captures points in time in 2002-2003 when I was actually in Santa Cruz for college
  • The Beat doesn't exist anymore, though Steve Harvey is still on radio and even bigger on National TV
  • Larry Mantle, whom I occasionally listen to today, and only really discovered about 2 years ago, was one of the interviewees.  Kitty Felde was a host back then, I've only known her as some kind of a reporter from either DC or Sacramento. 
  • KKBT by the time of the study in 2002-2003 was noted primarily as a black radio station for people living near Crenshaw
  • The article mentions community activism taken by KKBT.  Wow, I had no idea whatsoever.

For me, the radio for a good chunk of my life was there for one thing and one thing only:  music.  Any music I liked.

The music stations seemed to be divided by race rather than any geographic region, with mostly black and Mexican people liking Power 106.  We Fiipino kids flipped between Power 106 and 92.3 the Beat.  Once I got to high school I tried KROQ, which I thought to be code for "white people music."

Radio was "never" for talk, much less story-telling unless I wanted to know about traffic, weather, and news, at which I'd switch to AM radio.

Stories and storytelling did not exist, unless they were embedded in songs, one of which was Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise, which had help from being a song for a movie trailer, Dangerous Minds.  I recited the lyrics but didn't really know what they meant by them, as would be the case for legions of songs.  I just wanted my ears to feel stimulated.

I do remember a few particular things about "The Beat" from the 1990s-2000s, in particular that in retrospect, are quite interesting, and perhaps have influenced me to think about issues, while I was waiting for those songs.

  • The Peace Symbol Sign as their logo, it made me think of them as a "cleaner" version of the excesses and dirtiness of Power 106 with Baka Boyz and Big Boy and more gangsta-ish music, though Power 106 had more "sticky" personalities
  • Their tag-line "no color lines" was befuddling to me, why would there be any color-lines, but I went with it, which in retrospect probably isn't a bad message to stick

  • Theo, whom I later found out was Asian.  That fact blew my mind.
  • A smallish K-8 school, radio stations occasionally provided us with talking points:  we talked about how deep Theo's voice was, but people talking was usually seen as a "distraction" to the music
  • It was all about the music for me, and not really about community action and politics, though I do vaguely remember these conversations on Saturday mornings during high school.  One quote I remember had to do with race and mentioning Michael Jackson's Black or White song, and the caller saying, "sorry Michael, I think it does matter..."
  • Steve Harvey during his time at the Beat was not that funny to me;  I cringed.  I didn't have anything against him, and even kind of liked his sitcom on the WB, but his jokes seemed to be too stale.  But as I see him today, I could see why he would appeal to a different audience of which I am not really a part.   

In contrast to such vivid memories of the Beat, talk and/or news-oriented radio was simply something on AM radio, was interesting only for sports news, so I didn't know anything about public radio until recently.  "Stories" for me meant "news" and white people talking "all business-like." I didn't want any of that as a kid.

Nowadays, I live in what would be considered "the hood," Compton, untouched by Hipsters, but known widely in mass media via stereotypes.  My wife speaks fluent Spanish, but were not integrated very much into any network here, other than small-talking our immediate neighbors.  We speculate about what people might think about us:  I wear my glasses, I go out and run like I'm in Redondo Beach, we're the only ones in our block with only two people living in the house.

But I feel connected to some of the issues and have a hunger for the stories here. I'm completely plugged into public radio, (though NPR is still primarily a domain of white people), makes up most of what I know.  However, I must say that KPCC's vibes feel slightly different than the national NPR news programs. On Facebook, I have the technology to see who also "Likes" KPCC, and there is a good healthy sub-section of my friends, who tend to be all of college-educated, civic-minded, and yes, progressive.  I only started really listening to NPR member station KPCC after the shootings in Newtown, CT.  Now, I know the schedules on weekdays and weekends on KPCC. I've become a "member" of the station.

I really think given their constraints that KPCC does a great job of covering my particular city, and at least initiating conversations. I occasionally hear the local KPCCers dig into various issues from universal preschool education to the fact that they were going to allow law enforcement to carry rifles in the schools.  And it feels great, I do feel connected to the city, though it seems like my wife and I are the only ones in the neighborhood here in Compton, who even knows about this station and would be able to converse with others.  It's great and vastly entertaining for us, but it doesn't seem like the folks here even know of the station.

Though I find myself wondering what are they listening to?  What are they watching?  I know that one side is probably on Spanish language media, the other is sports...

Not One, But Two Compton Schools Chosen for Blue Ribbon Excellence

In the category of "Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools."

Jefferson in the East and Tibby Elementary on the West, to be exact.  To get this recognition, both schools had to improve dramatically over the past 5 years in Math and language arts exams.

For someone not directly immersed in the educational field, sounds great.

This in addition to Laurel Street Elementary on the West, which on Laurel Street proudly displays on its billboard a 900 API score out of a possible 1000.

Good stuff, I wonder what has changed dramatically within the schools.  I also wonder what this might mean for junior high and high schools, and if anything can be done there.

Thoughts on Ethnography, Anthropology, and Living in Compton, September 2014

Bring up the city of Compton in any conversation here in America with people 40 years old and younger, and people will probably conjure up images of gangsters, drive-bys, basically ground level zero of "ghetto-ness," which is basically associated with somehow living a life that is seen to be "in deficit." 

I told an economically-more-successful childhood friend that I was living in Compton with my wife.   She probably thought it was a joke and said, "straight-up?"

Yup, I'm here.  

Been here, actually.

And I'm fine.  Mostly.

I did suffer a violent fall...on my ankle.  That was my own bad.

Though on the real, I haven't been really connected or connecting to many of the people actually in Compton. I've found that my wife and I tend to prefer doing business in Gardena, Carson, and every other city outside.  I've gotten too bourgeois, maybe?  I think it does save some mental energy sometimes honestly because the Food4Less on Rosecrans and Central and the Smart and Final on El Segundo and Central are always so damn busy.

But anyhow, I mentioned some Anthropology words:  Ethnography and Anthropology.  Let me define Anthropology and Ethnography in laymen's terms, and how they can be relevant to my situation now.

I've been somewhat out of touch with the latest literatures in Anthropology and Ethnography;  all I have is what informs my conception of it now.

Anthropology is the study of humankind which spans 4 major sub-fields:  socio-cultural (studying different cultures), linguistic (people studying the ways we use language), archaeology (digging for bones), and physical Anthropology (people studying primates, human evolution, forensics).  I am most interested in the first two sub-fields, which is roughly studying different "cultures" and different ways people use language.  

One of the defining research methods of Anthropology in my view is based heavily on the research method of Ethnography, which has largely defined socio-cultural Anthropology.  It's a tradition that spans roughly over 100 years with two distinct traditions in America and Europe, and typically involved people going far off to document the ways of strange, foreign peoples.  Nowadays, socio-cultural Anthropologists still do go out to document the ways of people that they or the milieus around them consider "strange" or "foreign."  

In keeping with that basic theme of studying what some people consider "strange" or foreign", I'm starting to feel an inner push to begin studying the city in which I live.  I think that the city of Compton, while a part of American culture, is viewed as a part of an American sub-culture and not really the dominant American "mainstream" culture.  It is the spatial symbol of not only black (and Latino) American life, but the worst of.  I'd like to shed more insight on the complexities of life here --- from the schools, the workings of city council.

There are some difficulties for sure in doing this kind of ethnography of the city.  I think of ethnographies of the past where I largely "imagine" the one person in a geographic region and simply finding some people and actually living with them.  I can't quite do that.  

I am thinking of how much harder it is to actually live here full-time with a growing family, not knowing anyone, but also wanting to make some kind of positive change here.  Sure, I live within the spatial boundaries of this place, deal with the physical infrastructures, see the same people on the street, but my network of relationships doesn't extend beyond my neighbors on each side of our tiny house.   I don't think I would be able to live at someone else's house given my commitments to my family and a lack of connection to another family, though UCLA's CELF center does give me ideas.  Additionally, there isn't an immediate escape from this place as most of what I value is here with me.  If I decide that I wanted to be proactive about something, people know where my family is.

At any rate, I don't think the obstacles are impossible, and think that there is a lot of Anthropological insight as well as potentially different framings (and therefore perceptions and understandings) of the city in which I live.

Wilmington, the Bike Lane Capital of California, Ha-ha

I am in hiatus at the moment, and have been wanting to post for the longest on events here in Compton.

However, my writing efforts are focused on a bigger project at the moment, and only my most immediate gutteral reactions that masquerade as blog posts can be posted only because they don't take as much time as my other posts.

Anywho, the reason I am writing is in response to an article by veteran bicycling advocate Joe Linton celebrating Wilmington as the city with the most concentrated bike lane network.

I feel very connected to Wilmington being that I used to visit my then-girlfriend, now-wife quite often BY BIKE from Long Beach and now visit my wife's family quite often.

I don't really have a negative response to Joe's article, just a few observations:

  • Those bike lanes that made it the densest network in the state really did appear overnight (or over a weekend in either 2012 or 2013).  I appreciate Joe's story of how LADOT basically worked it in, when all along I thought it was the work of some activist group.  My wife's family who lives on one of those streets were surprised that one day they couldn't park on the curb as usual, by the time the cones were gone, there was fresh paint and to my unexpected delight, bike lanes.
  • As Joe mentioned in his post, it is still somewhat hard getting INTO the city either from Carson on the North or Long Beach on the East.  I've seen plenty of bicyclists on PCH, the main East-West thoroughfare in Wilmington, and it really feels dangerous.  I've only biked with my wife on this street once.  On the sidewalk.  For what its worth, PCH never really seems to be in gridlock for car traffic or anything, unless of course they shut down a North-South street like Avalon for a traveling fair or something.
  • I vaguely remember my wife or saying something that there used to be a lot of people biking to high school.  Students don't bike because their bikes get stolen, last I heard.
Here are some other observations that I think might impede usage of bikes in Wilmington (and therefore bike lanes)
  • When I haven't seen the fixies, a lot of the male teenagers skateboard --- probably much cheaper and easier to control
  • It feels like the vehicle of choice is the work truck.  Besides the Port of LA, there are not a lot of jobs within the city itself.
  • Most kids and young adults who can get around like hanging in towns adjacent and outside of the city.  Rancho Palos Verdes has the [cheap on Tuesdays] movie theater, Torrance has the malls, eateries.  There isn't much of interest for the native Wilmingtonians other than the occasional Gus' Burgers, Tres Cochinitos, or Red West Pizza outing.
  • Cultural activities?  Not a ton load.  The most I've seen centers around Banning Park and school festivals.
  • The businesses (99 Cents store, Food4Less, churches) don't really have bike facilities.
I agree with Joe that the bike lanes are only a good thing for the community, but it seems like it will be a ground zero area to test the adage "if you build it, they will come."

Bugs Me A Little...Reinforcing Racism: KTLA 5 News Coverage of Oarfish Discovery and of a Stabbing in Hawthorne

I am bugged out by a juxtaposition of various news stories.  Mostly because it just seems to reinforce age old stereotypes.

As I was looking up things to do in Catalina Island for this upcoming weekend, I came across a dated news story back in October about an Oarfish discovery on KTLA.  I was surprised that the one who made the discovery was a Latina snorkeler or at least had a Latina-sounding name, but its LA, its 2014 (or the video was back in 2013), everyone's all integrated, we've got a black president yada yada yada.

However, you wouldn't know that she made the discovery.  That she has accomplished something.  You'd just think it's a bunch of white people, yet again, by watching KTLA's video.


In that KTLA video, which has been listed on innumerable aggregate sites from Yahoo to Huffington Post to local news affiliates, no effort seems to made in showing the discovery, or getting her story, just pictures of some screaming white girls and an interview of her co-associate who looks like Freddie Roach's brother.  

Meanwhile, the actual institute has its video on Youtube, which to day viewed a paltry 2,600 times, and actually features her in all her glory.

Adding salt to the wound, immediately following this story on KTLA a story about a stabbing by a Latino man.  No hesitation in getting a clear visual of him.

Just one little way that media can reinforce racist narratives without necessarily intending to do so (or so I'd assume), which...bugged me a little.