Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Oaxaca Express

Alfredo pointed to a side road running into the fields and inland hills near Cambria. Barns and ranch houses nestled among clusters of oaks. Cows and the occasional horses grazed. I had cut the meter at $40 and was saving them at least $25.

Alfredo pointed to a side road running into the fields and inland hills near Cambria. Barns and ranch houses nestled among clusters of oaks. Cows and the occasional horses grazed. I had cut the meter at $40 and was saving them at least $25. Photo by Stacey Warde

by Dell Franklin

Sitting in your cab when the buses roll in at the Greyhound station in San Luis Obispo, Calif., you pretty much know who your prospective rides are going to be: black women visiting inmates at the state prison, little old ladies afraid to fly, parolees in new issue shuttling down to L.A. from prisons north, tattooed white trash, the occasional student, and Mexican immigrants from the poorest provinces of that country. The very rock-bottom of the socioeconomic ladder in America.

Anybody who departs from a Greyhound bus after having been on it for days exudes an identifiable odor: a distinct blend of cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, sour, dead air, armpit sweat ands crotch rot—all accumulating over years and soaking into seats and clinging to the hair, skin and clothes of a passenger and rising from them like a fetid, septic vapor, a sensory bludgeoning.

I picked up these field hands, or campesinos, always immigrants. Six of them. Since a cab is by law only allowed five passengers, I tried to explain this to them in my broken Spanish, but they pretended not to understand and piled in, five squishing up in back. They were not about to separate and take another cab for the extra $60 or 70$ to transport them to the farm or ranch where they were to cultivate and harvest vegetables and fruit and tend cattle out by Cambria, thirty-five miles away. Besides, they were diminutive people compared to fat Americans, stick-like and black-eyed, no doubt from the farthest reaches south, 3,000 miles from home.

Each of them toted a flimsy satchel with their meager belongings, which I stuffed in the trunk. The five in back were young men, and the oldest, with grey flecks in his abundant hair and bushy mustache, sat shotgun in the bucket seat. He smiled at me hopefully, a sly, wise look on his face.

I was familiar with these people. As a college kid, I had worked part-time and saved enough money to travel to the interior of Mexico with three pals in an old jalopy we eventually blew up. We hit cantinas, beaches, whore houses, and although we were poor compared to most Americans, we must have seemed to these peasants to our south, rich and privileged.

These passengers were not street-wise, big city or border town Mexicans. This was possibly their first time in America. They seemed curious yet wary, like young kittens.

The man sitting shotgun smiled at me. “You geeve me good deal, amigo?”

I shrugged, looking helpless, pointed to the meter. “No po-see-blay, amigo.”

“We have leetle dinero, señor.”

I nodded. “I understand. But it will cost you around seventy dollars.” He winced, as if stabbed. He was possibly a few years younger than me but looked older, obviously having lived a harder life, as they all did.

I remembered how, when our car stalled in little villages and big cities, everybody, even kids and women, came out of buildings or shacks to push us up hills, waving and smiling as we pulled away. I remember, deep in the interior, little dark men like those in my cab buying us beers and tequila when they could not afford it, because, evidently, they liked us, or were too proud to allow us to buy them drinks, or perhaps they were showing us the true nature of the Mexican people—warm and generous, money meaning little in the face of gratitude and goodness of spirit.

“I will try and make us a deal, amigo, but it is very difficult.” I again pointed to the meter, explaining to him that my supervisor kept close tabs on cab drivers. Then I picked up the phone, checked in with my dispatcher/supervisor, informed him I was going somewhere past Cambria and would be gone a while.

The car stunk. It was chilly outside, but I had my window open and the thin-blooded peasants huddled up and shivered in their faded denim jackets. Shotgun, who was named Alfredo, asked politely if I could roll up the window, so I cracked it a little, turned on the heat, but the stench increased and wafted to my nostrils, my gorge rising, like somebody died in my cab. They were, of course, immune from their own miserable smell and had probably been eating food they’d never eaten before, arousing their bowels, causing them to get diarrhea and even vomit. This happened to us in Mexico. These poor kids were used to nothing but beans and rice and tortillas and whatever they could kill.

They were incurious about the passing countryside, sat quietly, like mutes awaiting a sentencing. Alfredo kept an eye on me, occasionally producing his reassuring grin, his teeth white and clean.

Alfredo and I haggled amicably, bluffing, shrugging, throwing up our hands, and eventually arrived at a price.

Alfredo and I haggled amicably, bluffing, shrugging, throwing up our hands, and eventually arrived at a price.

I asked him where they were from. And he told me Oaxaca. I told him I’d been there, and it was pretty, and was about to comment on how poor it was, but knew this would humiliate him and place me at a disadvantage when we started haggling over the fare. I’d decided to give them some kind of deal. He knew this, sensed my willingness to compromise. I could tell the dispatcher I got lost from poor directions from non-English speaking Mexicans. Perhaps cut the meter at around $40 or $50. That was my limit.

So I relaxed just past Morro Bay, and Alfredo and I talked. My chopped up Spanish was as adequate as his English. He had a wife and five kids. Two of his boys were in back. They lived in a small village outside of Oaxaca. He was foreman at a ranch outside of Cambria. As we passed Cayucos and its glinting bay, my passengers did not bother to look. I studied the peasants in the rearview mirror; they looked exhausted, half asleep, like bags of ragged clothes. Urchin-like, they received little or no help from their government, I knew, forcing their survival on family alone. They possessed the high-cheek-boned, ridged faces of bantamweight boxers toiling in American arenas and on our sports channels on TV—men who could dish it out and take it and ignore blood and pain, never backing up until the final bell rang, bleeding, swollen about the eyes, yet still proud and game. They had perfect skin, were splendid looking people. Their women, in teenage years, before being burdened with multiple children, were breathtakingly beautiful. As a people they broke your heart, but you never let them know. Never.

Alfredo pointed to a side road running into the fields and inland hills near Cambria. Barns and ranch houses nestled among clusters of oaks. Cows and the occasional horses grazed. I had cut the meter at $40 and was saving them at least $25. At Alfredo’s direction, I turned onto a bumpy dirt road; rows of crops on either side. There were orchards and more cows. We arrived at a single trailer situated some fifty yards from a main house and barn and small corral.

When we pulled up, a door opened and five Mexicans who looked exactly like my passengers spilled out of the trailer. Their satchels and a few duffel bags were stacked by the steps. They looked fit and fuller than my crew. Everybody piled out of the cab and I opened the trunk and my peasants took out their satchels and everybody commenced to speak in Spanish at such a rapid pace I could not keep up with it. Alfredo talked to an older man who stepped out and could have been his brother. He glanced at me as they talked.

Occasionally, after a harvest, on a pay day, they’d go to a bar in Cambria and get drunk, shoot pool, become happy and sentimental, stare hungrily at big, healthy white girls, perhaps get angry.

I observed the crew I’d dropped off. They would be here for months, a year, probably longer, working all day, every day. Occasionally, after a harvest, on a pay day, they’d go to a bar in Cambria and get drunk, shoot pool, become happy and sentimental, stare hungrily at big, healthy white girls, perhaps get angry, maybe fight among themselves and be called “beaners” and “wetbacks” before being run out. This was to be part of their lot: Work, eat, drink, sleep, go without.

The two older men approached me. Any Mexican, be he a cab driver, pimp, or merchant involving any kind of exchange, liked to haggle. We learned to do it well in Mexico. They had no respect for you if you didn’t try and chisel them down or were a pushover when you tried.

“How much to San Luis?” asked Alfredo.

“The same, amigo—forty dollars.”

Again the pained look. “Too much, amigo.”

“Other cabbies, they charge you sixty-five, seventy on the way up, the same on the way back. They are not like me. They are not simpatico.”

Alfredo nodded, expressing his appreciation of my understanding and generosity. He turned to the man who looked like his brother and conversed rapidly while the peasants talked in the background. I heard the word “simpatico.” I’m sure they knew from previous rides that if I drove back alone I got paid nothing. Dead time. This was an excellent opportunity for all of us to come to a very pleasing compromise. Since they didn’t tip, which was fine with me, I could make some quick cash and be a true amigo at the same time.

Alfredo returned to barter. He shrugged helplessly. “We are not reech, senor. It is too much.”

Now they were all staring at me, a dozen bantamweights with calloused hands, wiry frames, sparkling teeth, deep leather tans. The departing kids would be returning home with pockets full of cash for their families, where they would be kings in their small village, almost heroes. They had no doubt already sent money home. I had seen their kind break hundred-dollar bills in the Cayucos Tavern to buy pitchers of beer. They spent their money on little else, lived free in the trailer, were fed, had few expenses. They became very generous when drunk, forgetting temporarily how poor they were as they bought local gringos and women shots and beers if they seemed halfway tolerant and interested in them as people. The drunker they became, the more foolish they became with their cash. They dropped it on the floor and left it on the bar and sometimes lost wallets. They requested their honking, tooting, oompah music on the jukebox, but no bar would hear it.

Alfredo and I haggled amicably, bluffing, shrugging, throwing up our hands, and eventually arrived at a price—$60 for a round-trip. I would make myself a $20 tip. For them, they were saving a fortune. Everybody was happy, satisfied. They paid me with a hundred-dollar bill. Alfredo and I shook hands. His brother, Eduardo, nodded at me, smiling. Everybody piled in.

On the drive back, I talked with Eduardo, who was from a family of fifteen. The kids in back were talkative and lively, behaving like jubilant school boys going away to summer camp. It was a quick, easy ride. I dropped them off at the Greyhound depot, where they hauled off their plump satchels and duffel bags. They wore new denim jackets and new leather boots and Levi’s and plaid flannel shirts and white straw hats.

They were freshly cleaned and laundered and smelled good. Such sweet people.

They would stink to high heaven when their bus pulled into Oaxaca. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur.




FUCK YOU, CHINA! At first I got mad at the country of origin—there wasn’t any manufacturer’s label, just a price tag. “Fuck you, China, for your cheap consumer ‘goods!’” And: “Fuck me for being dumb enough to buy them!”

FUCK YOU, CHINA! At first I got mad at the country of origin—there wasn’t any manufacturer’s label, just a price tag. “Fuck you, China, for your cheap consumer ‘goods!’” And: “Fuck me for being dumb enough to buy them!”


In parched, sun-baked California, buyer beware

by Stacey Warde

I bought a cheap pair of plastic sunglasses, made in China, at the Cayucos Super Market several days ago, a purchase I’ve come to regret.

In less than a week, they broke. Of course.

The white “Made in China” small print along the inside of the temple piece began to wear off in less than two days.

The frame cracked the next day and by the fourth day the flimsy dark plastic eyepiece fell out.

Not my best purchase.

I bought them becuase the sun bears down hard lately, harder than feels normal this early in the season, mid-April, and summer still officially two months away.

Pollens and dust from swirling, drying winds fill the air. Clouds of tiny bugs drift across the dusty ranch road. They fly into my eyes whenever I drive the quad to get to the orchards I tend as a farmhand. It’s annoying as hell, and hazardous to boot.

Additionally, my eyes have been light sensitive, they hurt and they’ve been watering. When I put on scratched-up safety goggles or get sun screen in my eyes, I can hardly see sometimes. A new pair of sunglasses seemed essential.

I might have known better. Buyer beware.


It feels like summer already. It’s so damned bright, and hot. We’ve had above-normal temperatures for weeks now, and little of the precipitation this parched country so desperately needs. The governor has put restrictions on water, demanding reductions in residential use.

Farmers and corporations, apparently, are not subject to the same restrictions. Blame and finger-pointing have begun in earnest; last week, it was Nestle® who was most at fault, and this week, environmentalists are to blame for the historic drought.

The dust on dirt ranch roads kicks up much more easily now, and hangs in the air  longer, like a faded earthen curtain, blinding and choking, slowly drifting with the breeze, moisture and water obscured from sight and becoming more scarce.

Ticks and snakes have come out, predators and pests are more prevalent. The coyotes sneak closer to drink from the dwindling creek in front of my cabin. They nabbed a neighbor’s house cat recently.

I heard the shrill and sudden scream of the cat in its final desperate act of defiance. Wrong place, wrong time that night. Tooth and claw, foolish cat. The kill couldn’t have been very satisfying for the coyote. The cat was scrawny, no contender, and had snuck out of the house, where it was safe, and went down to the creek.

“That’s what they do,” a friend tells me of the coyotes, “they sit near the creek at night and wait for critters to come drink.”

The night cry spooked me. I thought a bobcat or young mountain lion had screamed. It pierced the night, fierce and defiant, even for a scrawny animal.

When I flashed my light across the creek, I saw the coyote chawing on the victim’s feline remains. I threw a rock at the prowler and it dashed off into the darkness with its prey.

My neighbor was grief-stricken. “She shouldn’t have gone out there,” she lamented. “She never had a chance.”

As water becomes more scarce, we’re likely to have more run-ins with  predators risking rocks, ranch rifles and shotguns to get their food and drink.

Some say the unusual brightness and intense sunlight are evidence of global warming, or of fallout from the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, or of a government conspiracy to spread mind- and weather-altering chemicals in the sky. Whatever it is, it’s rough on the eyes.


Barely two days after buying my new sunglasses, I noticed the flimsy dark plastic lens on the left side popping off the rim.

“Good thing I got these for eight dollars instead of the fifteen they wanted on the sticker price,” I thought.

I had plowed through the pastic-wrapped, toy-like sunglasses on a bottom shelf near the handkerchiefs and beach items and over-the-counter medicines, eager to find a protective cover for my eyes.

“Oh, these’ll be OK, only four dollars.” My eyes, tired from age, and watering from excessive light, wind and dust, missed a digit on the price tag. The nice lady at the cash register, seeing my difficulty, offered them to me at the cut rate of only $7.99 instead of $14.99.

I knew better the moment I touched those shitty, toy-variety sunglasses, that they were worthless, absolutely worthless, and I bought them any way.

At first I got mad at the country of origin—there wasn’t any manufacturer’s label, just a price tag. “Fuck you, China, for your cheap consumer ‘goods!’” And: “Fuck me for being dumb enough to buy them!”


I’m working in the avocado orchard today, tending 1,300 or so trees, irrigating, pumping thousands of gallons of water, installing injectors with their chemical magic to keep dying trees in production, cutting out deadwood, and pulling up suckers and sprouted seeds.

It’s unseasonably hot and dry again. I’ve put on my new sunglasses, and that helps against the intense brightness of the sun.

We’re one of the lucky few growers in California. We still have water. This season’s crop of avocados looks promising and we expect a favorable yield, so long as the water supply holds out.

Just over the hill, however, barely a mile or so distant, a friend who also farms avocados has already heard the gut-wrenching sound of gurgling from one of his pumps, indicating that his water source is running low.

“It hurts like hell,” he says, “to watch what you’ve worked so hard for just wilt away. But what are you going to do? You can’t fight mother nature.”

Some growers have begun trucking in water but that’s an expense few can afford.

The green from what little rain we got this season has begun to fade and turn shades of yellow and brown; drying grasses appear the way they usually do at the beginning of summer.

The rolling golden hills of California…are not such a pretty sight right now. It’s going to be a long, hot summer.

Trees have been cut down, stumped and painted white. Pests have turned up, attacking weakened trees and fruit, and will continue to be an issue as water turns more scarce.

The great California drought of the new millenium put a significant stamp on this county’s agriculture in 2014, according to the ag department, reducing yields of avocados. The drier weather was good for strawberries, though, which topped even grapes as the highest yielding crop in a region that prides itself on wine.

The wine industry, meanwhile, continues to suck up the lion’s share of North County’s water. How much more water can be squeezed out of the ground is anyone’s guess but when it does finally run out, we’ll have plenty of wine to drink.

The world-class desal plant in Cambria is a last resort as a home water source but some people still complain about and fight it, arguing they’ll pay more for their water rather than contribute to farming water from the ocean or brackish ponds. But how much will they pay when traditional water sources run out?

“This is bad, really bad,” people keep saying.

Nonetheless, even with water restrictions and hills turning brown, residential landscapes, the little slices of heaven we create to insulate ourselves from the cruel world, manage to stay green. As long as water continues to pour out of the taps, homeowners seem to think, what’s to worry about?

In the Central Valley, meanwhile, the nation’s breadbasket, some water-starved growers have shut down operations and unemployment among farmhands has skyrocketed.


One of the benefits of working out here is the lack of distractions from meddlesome and self-important boobs whose only apparent goal in life is to make money, or sell something, regardless of its value.

Not to say there’s anything wrong with making money or selling goods and services but some people I know—and avoid—think only of turning a buck, would sell you a bucketful of dogshit if they could, and tell you what a great value you’re getting.

I despise those people, the crafty, who lack integrity, whose only motivation is to make a fast buck, the hosers and posers, the merchants of cheap and worthless goods, whose only real interest in you is how much money they can get out of you. I avoid them whenever possible. They’re scum.

Then, there’s my farmer friend whose wells are going dry, whose one great joy in life is to put food on people’s tables. He takes pride in growing quality organic produce, and is glad to provide something of value, something that actually improves the quality of people’s lives.

If more people thought the way he did, we might not be subject to cheap imitations and bogus, worthless consumer goods, with which this culture, thanks largely to slave-labor countries like China, more than eager to supply them, seems to have overrun itself.


While eating lunch in front of Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Cayucos, friends of mine brought up the subject of U.S. indebtedness to China. [Disclosure: The smokehouse is a sponsor of The Rogue Voice.]

“What’s going to happen,” asks one, “when they finally decide to collect on their debt? Will the U.S. be able to pay? And, if not, what will China do, invade us?”

“I doubt it,” I say, “but if they do, the only thing that will save us will be places like this, places that haven’t succumbed to selling cheap and worthless goods.”

What drives this dependency on cheap goods? Low wages? A lackluster economy? The so-called recovery from the Crash of 2008, from which many still suffer, is being hailed as the “low-wage recovery,” meaning basically that jobs don’t pay enough for workers to survive.

There was a time when, perhaps a fool’s errand, I thought I could avoid buying anything made in China. That seems almost impossible now. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.