On January 22, 1963, I quit my job at May Company, withdrew my money from the bank, and put my thumb out. I was seventeen years, four months, fourteen days old. I am on my own.
Seven days later I am getting out of a car driven by an original hippie couple who had love birds in the back seat. I was allowed to stay with the guys sister, and artist on the East Side, but, I had to try to get a job at Man Power Inc. down the street. At 11:00 P.M. I am making my way thru Hell’s Kitchen to Yale Trucking on 12th. Avenue. I am put to work on ‘The Jam’. Can the kid handle the Jam?
Two months later, in the lunch room, a tough New Yorker calls me ‘The California Kid’. Not only could I handle the Jam – I mastered it. I figured out how it could be licked. Not only was I strong for a guy that weighed only 155 pounds, I was smart. I also wore a “Don’t fuck with me!” look, that I acquired when I worked as a Lumper in the Oakland Produce Market when I was eleven. I did a painting of this market with red Ford truck and water tower. That was the second painting I did that toured the Red Cross show. Put those two paintings together, a boat and warehouses, and who do you get –
So, it was a real honor to be given a moniker by the working class of New York. That meant I could go anywhere in the world, and hold my head up high. The California Kid had conquered New York.
I lived in the Saint George Hotel in Greenwhich village. I would still be in New York, if I was able to get me a woman, one who would be loyal to a working stiff from Hell’s Kitchen.
When Rena Easton came out of that dark doorway and asked if she could walk with me, I should have said;
“What kept ya? I’ve been looking for you toots – most of my life. Where you from kid?”
“Good. That’s good place to be from. From now on your ‘The Nebraska Kid’. Can you hang with that?”
I look at the photo above of me with my kindred just after I came home from New York. I am Rena’s age. I was this age when we met, inside, and will be this age for the rest of my life due to my near-death experience. You see, I wasn’t the same after that. The head of Serenity Lane thinks I am a Walk-on, meaning, when I died another entity took over my body – and life. The person I used to be has been trying to come home ever since in order to get grounded and recover who he was. He was doing this when he was looking down at the waves that came ashore in Venice.
“Where are you?” I asked.”Where’s the one that can hang…..with the California Kid?”
Above is a comic book with an illustration of the Daredevil of Hell’s Kitchen, and Shi, who looks like Rena, who could have made a living modeling for action comics. Here is Rena’s archetype.
In 1967, at the age of twenty, I lost my virginity to a beautiful woman who had to have me. Later, she told me why.
“You looked like a young Humphry Bogart. You had his sexy tough guy aura.”
Rena Christensen had the same presence and good looks as Lauren Becall. Let us manipulate time with the help of the Muses. I meet Rena in Hell’s Kitchen and take her up to my loft and show her my paintings. We are both seventeen.
“I took you for a tough guy. But now that I see your work, you’re tougher than I thought. Takes guts to be an artist in Hell’s kitchen, then go to work the graveyard shift with New York stevedores. Who are you…really?
“They call me the California kid.”
During the break at the psychic reading I had in 1987. A woman sat next to me and asked what I do.
“I’m a writer. I write spiritual comedies in a science fiction format.”
“Your novels are being dictated to you by a powerful entity who roams the unviverse coming to the aid of planets in dire distress.”
It’s time to take off my mortal disguise. Where is the girl of my dreams? Is she going to punk-out on me like she did in Winnemucca?
Q: What is a walk-in experience?
A: This is where two individual souls have agreed to switch places. The first soul has gone as far as it can in its development and is ready to move on. The soul that has taken its place will serve in a different capacity than before. Normally, permission has been granted in order for this to take place. Another way to call the experience is soul transference.
Q: How do I know if it has happened to me?
A. You usually feel totally different. You will not necessarily recognize the people around you. You may have lapses of memory of the other occupant and will not be able to recognize the reason you came. It is usually quite a shock to the body especially if this has happened due to a car accident, operation, or a very long illness. You will feel somewhat estranged from everyone around you though you retain the memories of your body’s past history. After all, you are a totally different entity.
At 4 AM. fumes from propane-powered forklifts cut the soft aroma of green tomatoes and half-ripe bananas. Dawn is hours away, but the business day is in full swing at Oakland’s wholesale produce market, four square blocks of open-faced stores with sweeping awnings just off Jack London Square.
Lumpers – the colloquial term for workers who unload produce – dart forklifts between a jumble of trucks, crates and each other, building a maze of Big Jim Oranges and Pim Fresh Cabbage along the sidewalks and storefronts. Other lumpers wheel dollies stacked with gnarled ginger, plump eggplant and vibrant chilies through the cold and onto rigs waiting to deliver them to customers. The fruits and vegetables arrived from farm shippers as early as 1 a.m. As the sun rises they’ll be trucked as far away as Napa County to chain grocery stores, independent markets, restaurants, caterers and other wholesalers.
12th Ave. Truck Sign Refurbished
By JOSH BARBANEL
Perched two stories above seven lanes of traffic along the Hudson, the Mack tractor-trailer emblazoned with the name Yale symbolized the gritty industrial role of the far West Side for decades. Now the headlights in the sign, above 12th Avenue just north of the sleek glass and concrete facade of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, have flicked on again after being dark for years, and the side of the truck sports a new logo.
The name on the old sign had stood for Yale Express Systems, once a major regional trucking company that teetered on the brink of bankruptcy through much of the 1970’s before collapsing into insolvency.
The nine-story terminal that covers most of a city block between 39th and 40th Street has been mostly vacant since 1978, and in January 2000, the Convention Center paid $68.5 million for the site. Its expansion into the site is part of a long-delayed plan to transform the area into a new upscale neighborhood of residential towers and office buildings.
But the purchase of what is known as the Yale Building has given the sign and the neighborhood a new blue-collar life. While waiting, the Convention Center leased out space in the huge building to United Rentals, an equipment rental and supply company with 750 branches across the country.
United has refurbished the truck sign, repairing the sheet metal panels, restoring the white headlights and the yellow flashing lights that make the truck’s wheels seem to revolve and painting its logo on the sign. It turned the lights on last week. “We all like to see some remnant of our history survive,” said John N. Milne, president of United Rentals.
All this provides some cheer to activists trying to stop the Convention Center’s expansion and to maintain an eclectic neighborhood. “People are seeing blue-collar jobs disappearing,” said Meta Brunzema, an architect preparing an alternative plan for the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association. “There is a real concern in the community that a vibrant mix be maintained.” *
Hell’s Kitchen, also known as Clinton and Midtown West, is a neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City between 34th Street and 59th Street, from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River. The area provides transportation, hospital and warehouse infrastructure support to the Midtown Manhattan business district. Its gritty reputation kept real estate prices below those of most other areas of Manhattan until the early 1990s; rents have increased dramatically since and are currently above the Manhattan average.
Once a bastion of poor and working-class Irish Americans, Hell’s Kitchen’s proximity to Midtown has changed it over the last three decades of the 20th century and into the new millennium. The 1969 edition of the City Planning Commission’s Plan for New York City reported that development pressures related to its Midtown location were driving people of modest means from the area. Today, the area is gentrifying.
The rough-and-tumble days on the West Side figure prominently in Damon Runyon’s stories and the childhood home of Marvel Comics’ Daredevil. Being near to both Broadway theatres and Actors Studio training school the area has long been a home to actors learning and practicing their craft.
Living in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, Matt Murdock is blinded by a radioactive substance that falls from an oncoming vehicle. While he no longer can see, the radioactive exposure heightens his remaining senses beyond normal human ability. His father, a boxer named Jack Murdock, supports him as he grows up, though Jack is later killed by gangsters after refusing to throw a fight. After donning a yellow and black, and later a dark red, costume, Matt seeks out revenge against his father’s killers as the superhero Daredevil, fighting against his many enemies including Bullseye and the Kingpin. Daredevil’s nickname is “the Man Without Fear”.
A similar scene has unfolded in the neighborhood most mornings for the last 120 years. Now some of the largest produce merchants say economic pressures will kill the market – about 15 wholesalers who combined do about $100 million in annual sales – unless the city helps them move quickly and collectively.
“We’re drowning,” said Albert Del Masso, co-owner of Bay Cities Produce and president of the Oakland Produce Association, a coalition of wholesalers founded 9 years ago to lobby the city for help. “If this produce market fails, Oakland won’t have a produce market.”
The market is being pressured from several directions as the city looks to implement Mayor Jerry Brown’s vision to revitalize Oakland. It lies in the middle of an area slated for redevelopment under the city’s Estuary Plan. Adopted by the City Council in June 1999, the Estuary Plan envisions a tourist-friendly area of eclectic retail stores, charming restaurants and designated open spaces incorporated with residential lofts and high-tech businesses. The bulk of Oakland’s waterfront property – a mix of heavy industry, commercial stores, and registered historic buildings from Adeline St. to 66th Avenue, and the water to the Nimitz Freeway – is being rezoned for that purpose. The produce market lies in a key corridor that links downtown Oakland and Chinatown with the bay-front Jack London Square, promoted in the Estuary Plan as the “East Bay’s primary dining and entertainment venue.”
The Estuary Plan does not call for the removal of the produce market, but real estate prices in the area have soared, increasing the incentive for building owners to bring in tenants who pay higher rents. Oakland Produce Square, a group of 13 businesspeople that owns the four main buildings in the market, has put them up for sale and refused to renew long-term leases. Leases that recently expired are now on a month-to-month basis. Judy Chu, one of the owners, said the time is right to develop the area, and her group is keeping its options open. She said it would be a smart business decision for Oakland Produce Square to sell some or all of its buildings to developers, or else bring in technology companies, preferably by constructing high-rises.
“The area is due for development,” Chu said. “Really anything is possible.”
But putting in high-rises is not part of the Estuary Plan and would seem a remote possibility, said Betty Marvin of the city’s Community and Economic Development Agency. It would require petitioning for an exemption to the zoning laws currently being hammered out by the City Council, since none of the proposals allow high-rises. Oakland Produce Square’s buildings, all built between 1916 and 1917, are also on the Local Register of Historic Resources. Any significant structural changes would require an environmental impact report, a lengthy and costly study outlining potential effects on everything from recreation to air quality to geology that would then be scrutinized by the city, Marvin said.
The historic buildings have also handcuffed the produce merchants, but for different reasons. The merchants said they simply don’t have room to put in loading docks, modern refrigeration units or additional warehouse space. They said their businesses have reached critical mass, and they’ve had to turn away potential customers like Ralph’s Groceries and some restaurant chains because they don’t have the facilities to fill more large orders. The lack of loading docks also makes the operation less efficient because workers have to do all the unloading by forklift or by hand.
“I don’t have enough outlets in the office for computer equipment,” said Gaile Momono, general manager of Fuji Melon, which has a year and a half left on its lease. “It’s tough to put money into rewiring a building you don’t own and don’t know how long you’ll be there.”
The antiquated buildings have prompted produce merchants to talk on and off for 30 years about moving. But the influx of dot-coms, uncertainty about leases and desire to expand have added a sense of urgency to discussions with the city about a new site.
“We need to be out of here, and they need to help us get out,” Del Masso said. “I need to grow and I’ve got people I can’t supply.” Steve Del Masso, Albert’s son and co-owner of Bay Cities, estimated the market lost $10 million last year because of customers it had to turn away.
The merchants say all they want is the city to sell them at a fair price a parcel of land large enough to transplant the whole market intact
Don Ratto, who helped found the Oakland Produce Association lobbying group and co-owns Leo Cotella Produce, the largest merchant in the market, rents his store from Chu’s group. He has a month-to-month lease, which allows him 30 days notice if Oakland Produce Square sells and the new owner wants him out.
“If they throw us out of here, we’re going to relocate,” Ratto said. “It’ll take a lot of adjusting, but the market has to stay together.”
Most owners agreed the market needs to be a close group of wholesalers to be successful. Proximity to other produce merchants gives buyers a broad selection in one place, and allows the wholesalers to simply go next door to buy parts of a large order they wouldn’t otherwise be able to fill. If customers have to drive to multiple sites to fill an order, they will take their business elsewhere, merchants said.
“Collectively you have a viable market,” Albert Del Masso said. “Separately the selling power will be so low we won’t survive.”
The Oakland Produce Association has a site in mind, but they say political foot-dragging has kept them waiting. They want 18 acres between 7th and Grand streets, on the former Oakland Army Base. The site would provide them with space to expand, loading docks to increase turnover and a location where trucks would have easy highway access but wouldn’t disturb neighbors at 2 a.m. But securing the land requires complicated negotiations between the produce merchants, the city and the Army.
Wendy Simon, the produce market project manager at the Community and Economic Development Agency, acknowledged the city’s pace has been slow, but said the process is complex.
“Everything moves a lot slower than everybody wants, but we are trying to push the action,” Simon said. “It is the city’s intention to retain these merchants.”
The former base is still owned by the Army, but the particular site the produce merchants want is owned by the Army Reserve, which negotiates its own contracts. After initial talks with lawyers representing the produce merchants, Simon said, the Army Reserve decided to deal only with the city on the transfer, Simon said. This has added another layer to already complex negotiations, she said—and the merchants’ group is only one of many competing now for Oakland officials’ attention.
“Personally, I think the market is important,” Simon said. “But I’ve never heard the mayor mention a new produce terminal.”
Produce merchants said their less-than-glamorous image has worked against them in talks with the city, which the merchants contend is more interested in attracting high-tech companies. “The city is kissing the buns of the dot-coms,” Albert Del Masso said. “All the high-tech in the world is not going to do you any good if you can’t get fed.”
Fuji Melons’ Gaile Momono said the market is often overlooked because it operates while most people sleep and involves down-to-earth work. But it does employ 400 unskilled Oakland laborers and pays them good wages, Momono said. Figures from the city’s Business Tax Division show merchants last year generated an estimated $100,000 in sales tax revenue for the city.
A long-time produce merchant who wished to remain anonymous said the market also provides an opportunity for workers who couldn’t hold 9-to-5 jobs to be successful.
“People are different here,” he said. “In society they are marginal, out of place. But people survive here. Are these people going to be able to get jobs if this market closes down? Probably not.”
The market has long since closed for the day by the time the trendy Soizic Bistro-Café begins to hum in the afternoon. Half a block down a black Volvo sedan crushes bruised green tomatoes that had scattered in the street sometime during the morning mayhem. The driver parks in front of a law office next to the shuttered store fronts. Without a glance back the car’s occupants head for Soizic, making Momono’s words seem eerily prophetic: “Honestly, for most people, they wouldn’t know it’s gone.”