Tomato Alley

Updated: Mar 6

Unkempt, overconfident and double-clutching a lukewarm cup of dollar coffee, that trucker you just passed saw you coming a mile away. Forcing your Prius uncomfortably close to the irrigation ditch flanking the shoulder, that trucker was keenly aware of every move you might make well before you noticed his tractor hugging the center-line on that narrow country road.

badass haulin' tractor

A grown man working 12 hours per day hauling tomatoes for a local outfit has a different attitude than the forty-hour full time desk jockey you see lingering outside the government buildings in Sacramento. It's harder. Meaner. It's the kind of attitude you don't want in your face when you make a dumb-ass mistake in your daddy's sedan. Numb from the nerve-racking weight of his immense responsibility, it's the attitude of a man that has lived beyond his years.

Agricultural hauling is for the trucker that doesn't take year round work. Maybe he won't. Maybe he can't. There are no unions or benefits here. Prior convictions are often overlooked. For better or worse, the industry creates a training ground for desperate and lonely men trapped in the rural towns of California's Central Valley.

It must have been dumb luck that led Marcus to the truck yard that morning. He had driven through the outskirts of Yuba City for the last hour looking for offers of employment. Rent had drained the bulk of his savings a few days back.

The handwritten signs placed precariously on the roadsides in the industrial section of this dying city reminded Marcus of his worsening economic situation. Christ, he was barely experienced enough for the advertised 'seventy-five cents per pallet' in the repair yard next door, let alone the skilled labor positions filling the classified section of the local rag. Maybe someone would let him drive a forklift. He had some experience with that.

Marcus was a big guy. Not fat, but not in the best shape either. His hair was kept short, buzzed clean with an electric razor his roommate left unprotected in their shared bathroom. He wore jeans and a white tee-shirt, generic tennis shoes and ankle-high socks. By any account he matched the surroundings of this beaten town.

Marcus reached into the fold of the bench seat, stained from years of poor treatment, feeling for loose change as he pulled down an unnamed dirt path. A soda machine and an advertisement for dollar burritos at the entrance of the private road led him to a small outbuilding.

Dirty but not polluted, Yuba City was caught in the transition of California's financialized future. Not savvy enough to play into the promise of a bustling tech sector and not small enough to throw away completely, the town lurched forward uncomfortably in the new economy.

“You here for the job?” asked Jim.

Jim was the manager of the yard. He also sold burritos to the job seekers that drove down his dirt path with loose change.

“Yeah, sure,” said David, “What do you guys do here?”

Double trailers lined the lot behind the office. A row of trucks collected dust out front.

“Ag Hauling. Tomato season is coming. You got a license?”

“Class A?” asked Marcus. “No.”

“You want one?”

The Magic Words

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