They look like they’re up to something…
It’s been a saying for many generations that men who stand on corners are looking for trouble – especially in minority communities. Passersby feel threatened, looking to them with criminalizing and condescending eyes.
Growing up on the Golden Mile, I always thought about the men on McCain Drive looking for work. I envisioned my exchange with these men for many moons, thinking it was going to be light, endearing, and friendly. I had my first encounter recently.
I pull into the Home Depot parking lot with a friend I hired as a translator. I wish we got out of our cars together, or maybe wore an “I’m with him” T-shirt. All of a sudden, my car is encircled with men at every bend, peering into my windows to see who the newest customer is. I am immediately on the defense. I feel almost violated, and without realizing, I dive right in.
Feeling intimidated and not having time to put my big girl drawers on, I swing open my door and greet everyone with a big grin and chipper “Hello!” I give my animated speech that many cannot follow on who I am, why I’m here, and what I need from them.
Most of the men walk away clueless and unresponsive seeming uninterested. I take it they value the principle, “if it don’t make money, it don’t make sense.” All but one leave the scene. His name is Francisco, Frank for short. And he isn’t there to work at all; he’s just hanging out with the fellas at 7 a.m.
Make no mistake, these men are here to work. Just before sunrise, these Hispanic/Latino men on McCain Drive off Route 40 wait for jobs. Some sit, some stand. Some can be seen laughing, some scowling, some eyeing every car for potential clientele. Sure, a little sporadic camaraderie and casual congregation is fine here and there, but their goal is a hard day’s work. These men are the providers of their families.
Consider them entrepreneurs, or CEOs’ of their business. They provide
services; negotiate rates, terms and conditions of payment. They do what
they can with what they know.
It’s a smart business. Paid with cash, for the service and not by the hour. It’s cheaper for the consumer. Though work is not guaranteed, it’s the potential for income that keeps them there, posted and searching.
The location is perfect. There’s no other place like it in town.
Contractors go to Home Depot, purchase materials and hire the workers on the spot. Summer Saturdays and Sundays are the most lucrative when lawns
need to be manicured and decks need to be built. But there are risks and rewards when self-employed. Just like any business, they suffer losses. Some of the men recounted past experiences of being hired and underpaid or not paid at all.
Even with obstacles, the men are there season after season. They exemplify dedication and perseverance to a demanding capitalistic society. These men are not troublemakers. They seek opportunities, grasping their little chip of the American Dream, just like the rest of us.
*Re-published from OUT40 Magazine, LLC © 2014