Oil Hostage: Will Work For Justice

I don't know how much gas is today. The last time I filled up the tank, it was just under $3/gallon. It's an older car I drive--1989 to be specific, so of course the mileage isn't great. But it was cheap, and I paid cash. That's the only way I'll buy a car. I'm through with credit, and have been--since 1997. That was the year I made my last credit card payment.

When I moved here, to the South, I had excellent credit. Fresh from a year as a VISTA volunteer in New York, and a recent college grad, I had a couple of credit cards that I kept up with, and kept paid off. Back then, I could charge anything--a rental truck, a car, a hotel room. My credit rating was excellent. Until disaster after disaster struck.

The car started falling to pieces--literally. First, the brakes sank to the floor, then the other brakes failed. The rack and pinion rusted out, the muffler fell off, and other parts whose names I don't understand or remember, disintegrated. The culprit was rust, from the salt in the streets up north. So I put the repairs on credit cards. Maxed out one, then another. Said goodbye to my flawless credit rating. Finally, I sold the car to a salvage yard. You have to know when to walk away.

The jobs I found here were horrible. Delivering magazines--to people with no numbers on their houses-- and delivering phone books. Damn! They get heavy. Telemarketing: trying to get people to give up their credit card numbers so they could take advantage of "free" vacation packages just didn't work out for me, and I was terminated from telemarketing. Then there was the job sweeping the parking garage at the airport, which to me was preferable to being a cashier, because after eight hours standing in one place and being verbally abused by steroid monsters, and scammed by teenagers trying to buy beer with fake ID's, and gambling addicts scratching off thirty Lotto tickets, I never wanted to set foot inside another convenience store. And I don't. I avoid them completely. Like the plague.

The airport job was bad enough that I got inspired to do something about it. Tried to start a union. I got some of my co-workers to sign union cards, but management got rid of me before I could sign up the rest, and I was fired. The official reason was "insubordination." Because I'd left my area against management's orders to help an elderly customer get to the car rental office after he told me he was sick and felt like he was going to collapse. I didn't consider that "insubordinate." I considered that being human, and the "insubordinate" tag a pretext for getting rid of a union organizer.

The Labor Board agreed with me that I was actually fired for trying to unionize the place. Meanwhile, I'd moved on to another job. This one had a union. Unfortunately, it didn't have a happy ending either. Someday maybe, you'll read all about it in my book "Diary of a Wage Slave." If it's ever published. Because I need to be paid. We all do. The only people who've read it for free are my lawyer and my family.

So getting back to the oil hostage thing. It was 1996 or maybe early '97 when I was working in a convenience store, waiting for the health benefits that were "promised" to me after six months. (Lesson #1: Don't take the boss's word for anything: get it in writing!) I had in my hand two bills. One from the electric company, and the other for one of my maxed out credit cards. My paycheck would cover only one, so I had to choose. I decided to make a credit card payment because the electric company would wait another week, I thought.

I thought wrong. I came home from work that week to find my teenage son sitting alone in the dark. He had no lights, no TV, no microwave to cook his food, no stereo to listen to. My elderly neighbor told me when she saw him earlier he had looked so sad. He didn't know what had happened. I was making maybe $5 or $6 an hour then; I don't remember. Working full time, I could barely cover the bills. Right before the sixth month, I was "laid off" from my job with no explanation given, but I know why. It was to avoid giving me any benefits. A couple of jobs like that one is why I ended up needing two root canals.

I never made another credit card payment after that. It's been ten years since I've used any of those cards. When I get credit card offers in the mail I rip them into tiny pieces. Savagely, like it's personal. Because it is personal. I despise credit cards.

So back to the oil thing. Here in this medium sized Florida city, there actually is a bus system, though it's essentially worthless-- like health insurance that won't pay for a chiropractor for a person with a bad back. It would have taken three buses for me to get to my former job. It would probably have taken about two hours for a one way commute by bus. Move closer to the job? I live where I can afford to live. We all do. As a night shift worker, there was no bus service when I went to work, so to get to work, a car was necessary.

With car ownership, comes responsibility: insurance, oil changes, repairs. And gas. I had the fill ups down to a science. One gas fillup would cover exactly four trips back and forth to work. At 2005 prices. I was on a reduced schedule due to back problems and worked four nights a week, so I combined all shopping, family visits, and other trips within my travel to and from work. At the end of the week, the tank would be empty and I'd fill it up again, for four trips and four trips only. It wasn't quite freedom car ownership gave me--more like house arrest.

Sooner or later, a house built of cards must tumble down. Gas prices are up, again. There were some major repairs to be done, as you'd expect with a car this old. So I'm done. I'm through with the hostage situation. I want to be free. I'm seeking other opportunities. In a city with a real mass transit system. You know who you are. Read this blog, and you'll know who I am. Consider it my resume. Because you have to know when to walk away. I can't lift heavy things anymore, but I will work for justice. I always have. Fortunately, I'm not the only one. Another link to an organization that works for justice is www.aclu.org.

The local newsrags I've sent resumes more times than I can count say: nothin' doin'-- you don't have no stinkin' experience. I've only been writing since sixth grade, but yeah, I know what they mean. No experience writing for a daily newspaper such as theirs. Except for the letters to the editor I write when I get fired up enough to care, and which they always seem to publish. For free.

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