(This is the fifth excerpt from "Lunch Bucket Paradise," East Bay author Fred Setterberg's fictionalized account of growing up in San Leandro's Washington Manor -- Jefferson Manor in the novel. See links to prior excerpts below.)
After quitting high school, my Uncle Win set out to see the world as a fruit tramp. He followed the harvest up and down the coast. Work started at five each morning and wound down just before sunset when the men were paid for their day’s labor according to their barrel tally. The prevailing wage ran about forty-five cents. At night, Win sometimes added to the bundle at blackjack.
Many men new to the fields didn’t last their first shift. Stoop labor was excruciating, but Win didn’t mind working hard; he could work as hard as anybody when he wanted. With a long reach and a fighter’s fast hands, he adapted quickly to the job, relying on his balance and agility to ripple down the rows, plucking out the ripe cukes from their tangle of foliage, never even sneaking a glance at the man ahead of him. Over the weeks, Win acquired speed, his barrel rate climbed and topped out at eighty cents per day. But then he started losing at cards during the evening bunkhouse game. Perhaps he felt too tired from the extra effort in the fields. In any case, he didn’t play smart. Work added up to a wash and Win decided to move on.
For over a year, he traveled courtesy of Southern Pacific’s boxcars, criss-crossing the Northwest, stopping off in Spokane, Boise, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Coos Bay, Fortuna.
He unloaded trucks, cleaned up kitchens, painted houses, swept out barns and cleared store fronts. The work lasted two weeks, a week, a day. Win picked up his bag and followed his nose, figuring that almost anywhere something to eat and a place to sleep were waiting for him.
He was just a kid, still in his teens. Win loved this time on the road, his days of labor and nights to himself, the world in his pocket. The Great Depression – they sure got that right. Win always said that it was the best time in his life.
Down in California – it was May in Redding, the temperature already hitting 105 – the sheriff arrested Win and two other young guys straight out of the railroad yard. After convicting them of vagrancy, the judge put them to work for two weeks tarring public roads and laying down back-acre sod on properties belonging to the mayor, district attorney, and other good citizens of the town. Win told himself that work was work, and now he had seen Redding. He didn’t owe nobody nothing, he didn’t have a care.
Retired from stoop labor, he pictured himself in San Francisco. Maybe high up in the air painting those pretty bridges or working on a cable car. Wearing a smart uniform and creased cap. Clanging the silver bell like a lunatic referee at the end of a twelve-round prize fight.
All those girls and a few drinks and their nights off strolling along the beach without the compromising light of the moon and nobody to tell him what to do until the next job rolled around.
Also on Patch:
If this is your first exposure to "Lunch Bucket Paradise," check out these prior excerpts.
- Meet the .
- The enjoyed by working families.
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(Publisher Heyday Books in Berkeley has offered San Leandro Patch readers a 30 percent discount off the $15.95 cover price of "Lunch Bucket Paradise." To order call 510-549-3564 (extension 304) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to mention "PATCH" to get the discount.)
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