Twenty Two: El Sueño Grande

Posted: December 3, 2012 in The Road to Skid Row

“Be ready to go in five minutes. I just got you a job!” Bob was walking around half-naked, his ample belly hanging like a sack of flour nailed to a wall.

“Okay, sure! What’s the job?”

“Hard work. It’s working on my friend’s boat. We’re leaving in five,” Bob repeated, before slugging down his giant mug of green tea.

The 405 down to Long Beach was moving quickly at 10.30 in the morning. When we got onto the Harbor Freeway in Carson the demographics of the road changed completely: suddenly hundreds of trucks hauling 53ft containers appeared. Trucks from all over the west coast were heading to the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – two adjoining authorities which together form the busiest port in the country.

We took the Wilmington exit and within a few minutes we were parked outside Berth 55 Fish Market and Seafood Deli. Tom Petty was playing over the speakers and the air was salty fresh, or as fresh as sea air can get in an industrial waterfront.

I followed Bob as he waddled onto the boardwalk. Bob was way too overweight; he struggled to walk short distances and easily became out of breath. He won’t be around much longer if he doesn’t lose some pounds fast.

Bob turned onto an adjoining boardwalk and waved at a middle-aged guy on the deck.

“Morning Dean!” Bob yelled.

Dean Takada was a third-generation Japanese-American who – he liked to point out – had never been to Japan. He was the owner of the El Sueño Grande, an 85-ft sport fishing boat which could carry up to 50 passengers overnight.

We stepped onto the boat and Dean showed us our jobs for the week.

“Now if you two just paint these wooden railings, these loose ones lying here. If you can paint these with primer, that would be great. But first off, I want you to sand them.”

We spent the next four hours sanding the railings, taking breaks every so often for water – Bob liked taking lots of breaks. The SoCal sun bleached my t-shirt an even whiter white; it was hot but it was just what I needed. I have always liked outdoor work and standing on the deck I remembered why.

A cool breeze blew over the harbour during the afternoon, saving us from the worst of the heat. Looking at the pale blue California sky and the kaleidoscope reflection of water on the hulls of the boats, I pitied the poor bastards who had to work in air-conditioned zombie offices on a day like this. I especially pitied the people in Skechers café, serving time in “the trenches” with two sleazebag bosses – Sven, who belonged on Wall Street, and Dan, who belonged in the SS.

Four hours later we were done. Bob was exhausted and insisted we clock off early.  As I rode shotgun in the Mercedes I couldn’t believe I had just been paid for the easiest, most relaxing afternoon of my life.  Whoever said boat work was hard I thought to myself, as we crossed the Vincent Thomas Bridge going north.


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