Eastside Willie had just finished dropping off a load down around the area considered about the south end of what was once referred to as Pole town, before — like’s been done so many times before, at black bottom, China town, Cork town — an industry uprooted the firmly planted, fully functioning community. He was tired, pissed off and looking forward to a forty: Just ripped off on the job — worse, knowing he should have demanded cash up front.
It was about eight o’clock as he merged his creaky truck on to the freeway, and — you know how it is down there: Not much visibility until you’re on the lane. He hit the brakes hard, but the woman in the other car wasn’t looking and he had no place to go, concrete wall to the right and he leaned on his horn. She finally looked over and braked — not a helpful move — and he clipped the back end. Nothing major, just a dent on her back bumper, but she had a fit and gave him shit — made him talk to her agent on the scene.
Old, weary Willie spoke soft, quiet, slow, said it’s just about like she said: He hit her with the truck. He offered the little cash he had on hand, but she wouldn’t budge and pressed on with a claim. Like every other time the cops are called, they didn’t show. Not the city’s fault this time, since the state police took over the patrol after that incident on the Lodge back in the 70’s.
Fortunately the agent was a local and knew the scene, and told them both to go since everything was fairly well established and Willie had no problem with the truth. This state’s a funny place though, and it turned out that the young lady had a bit to pay — an amount collectible in turn, from the party that holds blame.
That little incident was just a cap to a long and extraordinarily discouraging day, and Willie — more tired yet and ready to be done — drove straight on to a suburb where his brother lived, not bothering going home. He knew he was in for an earful, and hoped his brother would join him for a drink. But a guy like Willie, in a truck like that, made him pickings for a stop.
You never know what sort of things might be sitting around in back, after hauling off a load — and who would think to check? The officer thought to check, and he presented the evidence of serious drug crimes to Willie at the scene: A single syringe, no doubt with traces of something internecine.
Willie was born on a farm in Tennessee, where his father had worked since he was a child. They left when Willie was somewhere about the age of 10, headed to the city that always claimed more promise than it could deliver. But his father was a fortunate one, and pulled down a job at Mr. Ford’s, and the family of six shoe-horned into an overpriced flat in one of the split up mansions on the edge of downtown. Willie still holds that shitty little home as the fondest place of memory, his 4 more siblings joining while they lived there.
One of the economic downturns and growing roboticism, ended that brief interlude, and his father died of heart failure shortly after he was fired. Willie took to helping others in the neighborhood and started bringing in a decent sum doing work on cars and small engine repair. That ended when the city came through and razed all the homes down there, for some planned development that has yet to take place.
The family moved into a complex that had a whole new dynamic, and after he finished high school, Willie joined the marines just to get away. He spent 8 years in service, and while he did, his family split apart and fled to other towns. But Willie came back, still thinking fondly of the home they used to have, and of the city where he grew up and that he loved. But coming back he found that jobs were scarce, and he wound up unemployed and on his own, unsure where he could turn.
It was at the unemployment office that he met his wife. She gave him hope again and renewed his energy and for a while they ran a little dive down by the Bluebird bakery. But then that closed and it seemed as if the neighborhood withdrew, and it left them hanging on some debt with a newborn little baby — little Will. Willie never took a moment’s rest and worked it out that all their debts could be attached to their house, managing to finagle one of the old trucks from the bakery in the deal.
He worked any job he could find, never turning down anything if there was a dime to make — the ethic instilled by his father. An ethic, in fact, that permeates a great deal of the city: People came here for the work. Every job that opens brings down hundreds of applications — for anything: Dropping off the pizzas, delivering the papers, manual labor, office labor. Before 2008, the prime jobs were in the little shops — but that’s now ended after the latest regurgitation: Everybody fired across the board then offered back their jobs for half the pay and no benefits, working 7 days a week, 12 hour shifts if so’s the whim — and don’t question it or you’ll get replaced.
Willie never took to any of those and finally established his trade in the early 90’s, finding the misfortune of others could lead to a modest fortune for himself in re-sale of the curbed, or simply getting paid to move it all away. That paid off well enough for a decade and a half that he could pay off everything they owed and send off Will to college — the first one in the family to ever graduate! Willie speaks proudly of his son, working for a firm down in Lexington. He likes to brag that his son has done so well he’s made Willie’s lifetime total, ten times over in just one year! He’d never take a penny from him, though, even though he offers, time and time again.
This city’s a funny place, where anytime something happens, things get strange. And so it was with Willie’s work, that just when the massive exodus occurred, seemingly opening up an abundance of fortune — others arrived, laws were passed, firms were brought in for the task. Where there’s money, there will be those affiliated with the politicians…
He gets along alright — alright. Nothing owed, not many needs. His wife takes care of the home and watches some of the neighborhood kids when their parents can latch on to some work. It doesn’t bother him, he just takes it as it comes — watches all the changes, watches as things change where he once lived. Watches all the money suddenly pour in and all the youngsters with no need for his kind.
Lots of bikes racing over the sacred ground where his family’s flat once stood. Businesses change, buildings re-opened, roads re-done — all good. All priced out of anything Willie can obtain. He’s worked his whole life and should probably be retired, but truth be told, he’ll probably never rest until he’s in his grave. He laughs when his son talks about taking vacation: He never had one and probably wouldn’t know what to do if he did.
His wife started talking that maybe they should leave — the city doesn’t love them back. They’re getting pinched while all the money, all they resources pour into what used to be the neighborhood where he lived, worked, where he no longer feels he’s welcome. Where his livelihood is a mockery and disdained. Where he is ignored, dismissed, by the oblivious that don’t see a truck pulling on to a freeway, and like idiots — brake — when he lays on his horn to warn them he’s entering the lane.
The insurance agent phoned Willie’s home, and the call was answered by his wife. He explained the reason for the call and asked if Willie might have some time. Politely, his wife explained, “I’m sorry, sir — but Willie’s been detained.”