Retirement Grand Opening

My last day of working in jobs was August 6th. The next day was the soft opening of my retirement. I figured I needed at least two weeks to assess the damage to my life from unrelenting six day work weeks and make basic repairs. These are mostly maintenance disasters on my knoll and a couple past due filing issues. My dog noticed my increased presence and walk time right from the start.

The official Retirement Grand Opening of my retirement will be on Wednesday, August 24th at the Starry Plough Irish pub on Shattock in Berkeley. This is the longest running slam poetry venue in Northern California. Every Wednesday is slam poetry night. Slam poetry will be one of my top five ongoing projects in a dumpster load of one time and intermittent projects. I’m developing a concept called “race horse slam” to take this performance poetry to the next dramatic level. All I need is time. Expect to see more blogs and video at “tv8point1.com”.

It was such a pleasure to be able to accept a writing project. The old State Granges have been destroyed by an evil corporate conspiracy. Someone familiar with my work asked me to write a melodrama using former Grange members as actors that will point up and satirize the battle that took place. I can videotape the performance and post it on the internet for all the displaced former Grange members to see.

What are the other ongoing projects? There are videoed/dramatic bicycle and kayak runs. I am still in good shape. I will be writing a series of plays and screenplays. Creating a GPS resource of local movie locations and background actor lists to make me the goto person. I will replace the dry book club format with a video publicized “Homeland Security Book Review Hour.” And lets not forget my ongoing writing research in my “meth lab” library, named after the justification used by our rabid police for a warrantless raid.

Before my bus driving gig and after my stint as a taxi driver I struggled in this poor county. Jobs are few and mean. Finding employment had to compete with fighting hoards of homeless tweekers and politically motivated police attacks. There just aren’t enough hours in a day to work, repel thieves, fight City Hall, and pursue creative interests. Fortunately, by retiring early I added 50 hours per week to attend to the latter three’s time demands.

The knoll should be somewhat presentable as a work and show place next week. Not everything will be installed but I should have a visually interesting video location for creatives to visit. I’m certain code enforcement won’t appreciate the knoll’s artistic potential. But that brings up my civil procedure course project that I will be resuming soon. I also have to catch up on filings for my non profit – “Cache Creek Performance.”

In addition to regular treks to Berkeley, I can now hit the monthly open mics at the Catfish Coffeehouse and the last Thursday Writers Read in Ukiah. Upcoming annual events include the Fringe Festival in San Francisco and the Konocti Challenge bicycle tour around Lake County. I spent three years watching these happenings from the sidelines. Six day work weeks are not compatible with activities that are not planned around your work schedule.

The week before I retired I wrote two ballot arguments against a local sales tax. I now have time to participate in debates to defend my position. A previous version of the tax failed with no opposition. They deleted the clear sticking points but now they have official opposition – me. I could not have resumed my role as an involved citizen while being sidelined in a demanding job. From this point on there will be no more free ride for local goobers who think the City is their entitled cash cow and litter box. I will be responding.

My only regret is that most of the people I knew in Silicon Valley have dropped off the radar physically, mentally, and politically. This happens to many people in old age, whenever that begins. But too many people from my crowd have died or lost function before they reached official geezer status. Its probably just as well I moved to a fringe county where someone can reinvent themselves in a slow but evolving scene.

In spite of the time stress, it was good to finish the succession of jobs at the top of my game. A transit driver has to certify their ability, background, drug use, and social skills. Many of my former acquaintances and family could not do this. I left the world of work as a success at my job. Now it is time to complete my success as a life.

Last Bus Out

Yesterday was Bastille Day. Tomorrow I will be giving three weeks notice at the transit company, not to take another job but to live a different life. I chose this date last March. This is the second time I have moved up my departure date from the universe of jobs. I was not ready to go full-time last September but my number came up early due to the rapid attrition rate. I did not have time to prepare for the rains or install my new system of perimeter alarms – still in their boxes. Clearlake is a high crime area.

In January I had been working six day weeks for four months, doing damage control from the rains the best I could, when I was hit with another nasty burglary, losing a bicycle, a moped, and my precious kayak. That really hurt. I decided to finish the year, earning one paid vacation and a 20% vested in the company plan. I simply had to get my life back as soon as possible. These six day weeks are only for people who live to work. They are not for people trying to keep a writing and performance career from going completely cold.

Two months later in March, Spring had arrived along with police raids on my knoll. It was a spill over from pot farm frenzy down the road. Of course there was no warrant and no apologies – not even for impounding my dog. What could I do? I had no time to shop for a lawyer. I was too busy working six day weeks with nothing open on Sunday. I could have filed papers myself if I had the time to finish my civil procedure course. But I didn’t. These stupid six day weeks forced me to kiss the jack boots of our masters like a good little peasant. Police have no respect for working people.

I decided the next day after I posted my “Pot Police and Pirates” blog to quit as quickly as possible. Forget the vacation and the 401. My tight calculations meant trading money for time. Leaving in early August meant I would have just enough time to rebuild for Winter. At this date, Social Security would give me $1179 per month. I prepared a budget based on this number. I won’t be eating out often or buying much equipment or supplies.

I would have liked to drive the bus for a couple more years, maybe more part time. The problem is work is supposed to add more to your life than than it takes away. Retiring from jobs early so I could get serious about my work reminds me of not being able to begin my true education until I left college. Professors would sometimes hint that the real deal was outside class.

Future plans for a third act promises an interesting show for my useful life. Let’s see, I have a succession of one hour plays to write and produce. There’s the changes in slam poetry performance and judging I want to popularize. My experiments in dramatic video editorials have annoyed so many people I simply have to do a lot more. I’ve got a couple full length plays and screen plays in mind but I won’t make a habit of these old school genres.

I suppose everything else would fall under performance art. Everything would be put on video from puppets, found art crafts, to themed bicycle, kayak, and run events, to videotaped radio shows, cheesy video and parody contests to rustic and medieval salons. There are no limits when you have your health and lots of time.

Maybe I’ll get my teaching credential back and offer to teach a killer economics class. I can’t do that driving a bus six days a week. This will be after I finish my civil procedure course so I won’t have to worry about getting sand kicked in my face anymore by small town goobers.

A bus driver continues to build skills through experience after their official training ends. Many things can only be learned or discovered by doing them over and over. This human capital represents value added for the company and the public. When drivers are forced to leave the result is lost investment in human capital and value for the passengers. The drivers who are forced to leave often have to preserve their own human capital in their personal life. People have values and interests outside work that require maintenance.

Mismanagement of driver hiring and retention has damaged both Lake Transit’s and the drivers’ human capital. In my case, I’ve waited as long as I could to prevent total disaster.

Argument Against Measure “V”

During the past 10 years Clearlake has received two infusions of State road bond money and a Federal stimulus package. It was all spent on our major road arteries. This money could only be used for CalTrans designated roads that benefit everyone – even people without cars. To spend public money that primarily benefits private property would be enriching specific individuals at public expense.

Before the 1970’s developers were not required to put in roads of any kind. Neighborhoods had to form Road Assessment Districts to build and pay for their own roads since they received most of the benefits. The paved roads you see in Clearlake Park and several other areas in Clearlake were paid for in this way.

This fair and commonsense way of paying for residential roads ended when Clearlake incorporated. From this date on there has been no serious effort to form neighborhood owned and controlled road assessment districts. We are told by local leaders that we should not bother because they are diligently working on ways to subsidize private property.

The proposed one-cent sales tax will take exactly that amount from sectors it is now being spent within. That means a reduction of jobs. It will regressively hit the lower half of incomes the hardest. Only extraordinary measures can reduce the regressivity of sales taxes.

Residents that are already below Federal Poverty Level Guidelines should not be paying the road bills of property owners. Out -of-County trash lot owners will never pay a penny of local sales tax. Neighborhoods that pursue the proven solution of assessment districts will make absentee owners pay their share.

There is a City Hall belief that tourists will come here to spend sales tax money in a city that has not invested in infrastructure first. This is magical thinking.

My Transit Union Goon Experience

 

Lake Transit is run by a contractor chosen by a three government “Lake Transit Authority.” That contractor then contracts with a labor union who represents the rank and file employees. On July 1 the labor contract was to expire. January 1, 2017 the contractor’s contract was to expire. The bus workers chose me to work with the negotiating committee for the labor contract.

Contractors are not like entrepreneurs. They do not have their own capital at risk. They can pack up and leave by not bidding on the next operations contract and have lost nothing. The buses, yard, equipment, and transit infrastructure are publicly owned capital. This reduces the contractor’s incentive to settle labor issues quickly. A contractor can lowball their contract bid and tell workers a raise in pay or benefits is not in their budget. Strike if you want to. We don’t care. This makes unions look ineffective.

This year is a little different. CalTrans, who has the final word on all matters transit, has put the LTA and the contractor on a strict timeline to create a new operations contract. This is due to the many contract extensions that were granted. The first speed bump date is July 11th. This is when the LTA’s draft Request For Proposals for a new operations contract must be sitting on CalTrans’ desk. To write this draft RFP all current costs must be listed, including labor. If there is a union their contract has to be put into the package but apparently is not binding on the new contractor.

I decided early on in the labor negotiations that I would only contribute my document research from CalTrans, my unique experience of going to all the LTA meetings, and quoting its general manager whenever possible. Just mentioning his name causes contractors to avert their eyes. The Union rep would keep the long formal process chugging along. Other bus workers at the table would pound on specific proposals.

After the third negotiating session it was clear nothing else was coming over from the other side of the table. Moving numbers around the columns and changing wording was not even inching us forward. Up to this point, the “progress” was the Union throwing out things from their original proposal. What was left was a few minor changes in conditions and trying to get a raise in some part of the three year contract.

The contractor was adamant that the money drivers got from the Valley Fire disaster funds was our raise for the rest of the year even though they did not pay any of it. At an earlier LTA meeting I pointed out that this infusion only covered most of the new minimum wage increase of one dollar. New drivers got an increase of 86 cents. So they were still further behind the minimum wage gain. The LTA’s manager, Mark (avert your eyes) Wall thought the difference between the minimum wage and starting driver pay should be two dollars.

So now its Tuesday morning, day 5. The Union committee decides that since the contractor wanted to wrap things up today we would oblige by giving our Best and Final Offer. Unlike three years ago when the drivers got their butts kicked, the contractor is under some pressure from the LTA to meet a deadline because the LTA is under pressure from CalTrans to move on their calendar.

So the contractor and Union committees face off across the table. The Union hasn’t budged since yesterday and says “Hey guys, how about your Best and Final offer so we can take it to our members tonight along with a strike vote.” Predictably, the contractors tensed up and asked for a brief recess. When they came back their fake smiles had vanished. Then they alternated between lecturing us as if we were naughty three year olds and accusing us of violating the National Labor Relations Act, without examples, and seemed to be on their way to charging us with crimes against humanity when we decided to break for another Union paid for lunch.

After lunch more trees had been sacrificed at the copy center. The contractor had made progress in wages that they might never pay because they would not start until after the operations contract had been awarded. Starting drivers would still start at $11.34 an hour till January First. On the First they would get $2.50, maybe. If the current contractor does not bid they won’t pay it. And a new contractor would technically have to agree to sign on to the Union agreement.

During break, the Teamster guy asked us what we thought and if the membership would vote for this contract. He thought that since the present contractor did not seem likely to put in a serious bid for themselves that this was probably the best we could get. I thought most would follow his lead but any drivers likely to quit soon, because of the mandatory six-day weeks caused by the driver shortage, probably would vote against the contract. The rest of our committee voiced concerns that the members were too tired to go out on strike. Lucky for low ball contractors, until we get too tired to drive and quit.

Sure enough, that night the members voiced their disappointment with different shortcomings of our thin work but still voted for the contractor’s meager three year contract offer which may end up back on the table with a new contractor. I wonder if the serfs felt this way – new Lord, same field to plow.

Meanwhile, the relentless march of the CalTrans procurement schedule leading to an operations contract award begins July 11 and ends with an award November 9th. The CalTrans approved RFP is released to potential bidders August 5 but I really need to see the draft that CalTrans sees July 11 so I can pitch a fit if a performance clause is not in it. An operation that is on forced six day work weeks for over a year is not fully staffed. When qualified drivers quit due to burn outs and melt downs, the money spent on training and increasing driver experience levels go down the drain.

What would such a staffing clause look like? I suggested a trigger of a three driver shortage over three months. This would be the indicator of a systemic fault. When both of these conditions exist continuously the contract should require a written explanation from the contractor of why this is an extraordinary glitch, how it is being fixed, and why they should not be fined for non performance. Mark Wall is simultaneously planning route reductions based on a grant shortfall. He doesn’t need the additional headaches from another low ball contract. I will now avert my eyes.

Who Will Drive My Bus?

As you know, we live in a market economy. Any attempt to buy something by paying less than the market price for a good or service results in a shortage or just plain no-takers. The alternative to making a better offer is to go to a slightly different market where your price may be accepted.

The obvious choice is to consider lowering quality, which tends to reduce price. In the case of transit drivers this may not be feasible to do on paper due to government regulations. Changing the paper is always a possibility but that takes a lot of work and creativity.

I have been proposing several recruiting strategies that appeal to niche markets. These will take a lot of effort and any one strategy won’t be very productive. The likely result of not changing our bus driver hiring practices will be canceled routes due to staff shortage.

The regular meetings of the Lake Transit Authority is a good first stop to make recruiting suggestions. In recent meetings I have suggested implementing a two year internship program that would enhance drivers employability for other jobs. The over 55  market is already well represented in driver ranks but we need to outreach to those who have given up in an otherwise disinterested market for older workers.

As the situation gets more desperate I have recommended raiding Napa for bus drivers with materials showing that the lower pay in Lake County would be offset by cheaper housing prices. Tighter definitions of background checks would allow expungement assistance by an auxiliary group. Many crimes would still be beyond expungement.

In a more innovative vein, we could hire a flex person with the guarantee of full time status after one year of reliable service. We could also take a big gulp of reality and acknowledge that many people need two part time jobs to survive but its hard to coordinate work schedules. The offer of a negotiated, fixed schedule would pull in a couple drivers who already have a part time job. And yes, flexibility needs would limit the number of fixed schedule drivers possible.

Another barrier to hiring two-job people is scheduling for only a few hours nearly every day. We have lost several quality people due to this practice. This reduces the chances of going to another job on those days. It would be more attractive to driver applicants to offer full day scheduling to accommodate work at other jobs on other days.

These measures require ongoing staff time and thinking outside the employment box. But another obvious step to recruiting does not. There needs to be a more effective job listing in CalJobs, the interlinked goto job board maintained by EDD. However the Paratransit notice for drivers is not optimized for keywords like “driver” or “bus” or “bus driver.” A short list of Clearlake “driver” jobs does not include our bus driver position. Job openings at the Lake County site only pop up in a complete dump of all job openings within 10 miles of the bus yard. Most people will not wade through pages of irrelevant listings.

The text of this elusive job notice could be rewritten also. Remember, qualified applicants are not lined up outside the door. If the pay offered is not top tier you need to sell the job to applicant buyers. There seems to be resistance to making effective pitches to potential drivers. Maybe someone who understands how the market system works needs to take over the driver recruiting job.

Grumpy Reviews

I have a general grumpiness about the state of playwriting. Looking through the American Theater Magazine and the TCG Publications catalog is depressing for what is not being written or produced. Everything that is deemed worthy by official pundits seems pointless, trivial, or ordinary. Especially ordinary. I hate ordinary and if I wanted pure entertainment I’d go see a movie. Unlike plays, movies are pre chewed, partly digested, and fortified with quick edits and special effects.

Plays that are painful, frightening, or confusing – that is, plays that should be written and experienced, are best categorized as surrealist. Other terms that work for me are “theater of the absurd”, dadaist, commedia, and deep satire. These genres can be entertaining but can also leave audiences wondering why they were entertained since often the material is very dark. Its stick to your ribs stuff.

I do support local theater in Lake County, or rather Lake County writers and actors. But I go steeled for a product pitched to local tastes. I don’t expect to be enlightened. What I do expect is reasonable technical proficiency.

A couple weeks back a friend and I went to see a local rock musical done to Elton John music called “Good Bye Yellow Brick Road.” Obviously the band played Elton John music. A local person wrote a thin story that interspersed with the songs. This is what we expected. We are supporting local theater so that maybe it will evolve into something quirky and relevant.

Unfortunately, the show’s producer, Michael Adams, dropped the ball in the sound department. The performance was at the Soper Reese Theater so sound wasn’t going to work by itself. Someone had to make it happen. The producer selected separate stage and music directors. However the band was autonomous as far as being responsible for their own miking and amplification.

So whose job was it to mike the singing? Ultimately this is the producer’s responsibility to designate someone. During intermission a band member made it clear it wasn’t their job. Nick Reid was listed as the music director but his reputation is as a voice coach. I have only seen him work with light acoustic back up. If there was a full dress rehearsal the lack of functional voice amplification would have been obvious. Only the seats up front could hear all of the singing. Everyone else had to wait for the occasional pumped up segments.

If this was some corny but charming assortment of local talent like Lake County Live that charged 5 dollars to get in I wouldn’t be writing this. But Yellow Brick was promoted as a serious production that charged a full range of ticket prices (I bought 2 of the 18 dollar seats). I expected a minimum of technical competence. If a producer charges for professional work they are obligated to deliver the product. Given that there was no original music, perfunctory writing, and an aging cast the very least one would expect is minimum sound quality.

I’m getting a little tired of local dilettantes who won’t put in the minimum of effort to create a quality product but expect the public to pick up their slack at the ticket booth. Remember, the Bay Area is always an option as a theater destination for Lake residents. When no one responded to our complaints during intermission that there was a sound problem we walked out. We felt a little abused. If Adams wants me to show up at another one of his music events he’s going to have to announce “OK, I get it. It won’t happen again.”

The Entertainment Candidates

Why should we vote for President? How can mere citizens be trusted to select their supreme leader directly? Actually America’s real leadership is behind the scenes so we need not worry about choosing the wrong leader in a voting process. Does voting for president serve any purpose at all? Yes it does. As a once over lightly treatment of America’s values and principles voting focuses on what is truly important to the average person. You know, the kind of person who does not do heavy analysis or fact checking.

What is the over riding standard that all presidential candidates are judged. The one factor that determines whether you will even be listened to is the all important “entertainment standard.” Competence and principles have their place but America isn’t interested if you can’t make them entertaining. Bore me or exceed my attention span and you’re done.

Normally, big money and big media will package some political hacks that can be made to appear marginally entertaining. It does not matter who the public chooses as long as its one of the company’s products. Repetition of names and slogans generally guarantee that non company products won’t get on the shelf.

This election the Republicans and Democrats both have the same problem. A non company product has gotten on each of their shelves. They aren’t very good products but they have passed the entertainment test. The market is interested. The Republican and Democratic product lines look stale and tired by comparison. Emergency repackaging is almost too late.

The first non company product to generate interest is actually the result of a previous mistake. Non company products are not supposed to make it to the Senate but occasionally one slips through the filter in a small state. Bernie Sanders slipped into the Senate and was thus entitled to media coverage on a regular basis, gradually building his product’s name recognition in spite of the company’s disapproval. He was able to recapture the outrage of an earlier era because current events seemed to duplicate the era when these solutions rang true. Nostalgia at the right time is entertaining.

The Donald Trump product is a whole study in itself. He barely has any package at all so noisily rolls around on the shelf with most of the same ingredients as the company products but unscented and unbuffered. Not only are the company products being ignored but they’re getting stunk up in the process of mimicking the upstart. Worse yet, Trump doesn’t need to suck up to distributors because he can pay for his own marketing. Producer to consumer with no middleman.

Ronald Reagan, Al Franken, Arnold Schwarzeneggar, and Jesse Ventura would not have nosed over the finish line without an established past as entertainers. There may be minor and independent candidates that are also more entertaining than company products but it will take several years of developing and promoting this aptitude before they will earn their own shelf space as political entertainers. Trump’s reality show from Hell only established him as a serious entertainer who has already given voters something up front – entertainment. What has Cruz or Hillary given us? Nothing.

There’s always a chance that the party oligarchs will preempt on the ballot what the voters have already decided on their plasma TVs. This would not bode well for democracy. The remote controls would start clicking every time one of the entertainment substitutes flashed on the screen. The canceled Bernie and Trump pilots may develop into a more popular political commentary. How about “Real Estate vs. 5th Estate”? And play it opposite any official party babbling.

People have told me that selecting candidates based on entertainment ability is a very cynical view. “What about expertise? Experience?” But most of the boring hacks squeezed out of the sausage mill don’t know anything about the levers of power either. Things happen because career bureaucrats and advisors make them happen. The public has only a hazy awareness of who some of them are. Elected Presidents get to choose from a very short list in each category. So why not make the front person an entertainer? Let’s transform the figurehead Commander in Chief to a functional Entertainer in Chief.

For those just starting out on the political path I would not start out on the school board or city council if you want to go far as your own person. I would begin a stealth career as a musician, actor, or comedian. And when your opponents criticize you for your lack of political experience you can look smugly into the camera and say “I have plenty of political experience. Just look at my entertainment ratings.”