My brother is coming back home. More than ten years ago he moved to Charlotte, somewhat reluctantly, because the company he worked for left the San Fernando Valley and relocated to North Carolina to cheaper digs. Kris never took to the South -- too slow, too far away from home -- but he had the job and a very comfortable house that he'd paid a ridiculously low price for, an amount that wouldn't get you an outhouse here. Overall it was a good bargain for him, if not a transformative one. A good thing on paper. If he couldn't live happily he could at least live well.
But the company didn't exactly keep up its end of the bargain. The downsizing started several years ago and accelerated during the recession. Last month, pretty much everybody was laid off after management announced yet another move south, this time to Texas. Kris had had enough. He's decided he'd rather be unemployed in L.A. than follow his job yet again to another state he doesn't want to live in. The company did say he'd have a job in Austin, but, unlike the first time, they weren't moving him or anybody else; it would be on his dime. He'd rather spend that dime somewhere else.
Last week a friend around the corner who works in aerospace told me that she'd been laid off, too. This is after 31 years on the job. The layoff is technically an opportunity for employees to reapply for the jobs they're already doing, or for jobs they've never done. There didn't seem to be much inbetween. Laurie says the company is hunkering down for the draconian cuts in the federal budget that, unless Congress reaches some kind of agreement very soon, are scheduled to hit March 1. If they don't hit, people will still lose jobs. Either way, things won't be the same, Laurie says. She was too disgusted to be sentimental about maybe losing a job that afforded her and her two now-grown daughters a decent life and a nice home, one of the nicest in the neighborhood -- pale green with blond wood shutters and a bright red door, spare in an Asian way, tasteful. I think of Laurie as an anchor of the middle-class sensibility that keeps us all assuming that we have slightly more than we do, and that security is something we've more than earned and will get eventually. She keeps me confident when I have no reason to be. I'm hoping for the best.
Just north of us in Inglewood, the workers at Hollywood Park Casino are facing losing their jobs, all 600 of them. Just a quarter of them are unionized. Many of them are older, some have been on the job since the casino opened in '94; they seem not to be what the new management or the city of Inglewood has in mind for the new, upscale, lifestyle-oriented development that is supposed to help fill the entertainment void created by the eventual shuttering of nearby Hollywood Park racetrack (that's been imminent for the last five years). The union workers at the casino have been holding occasional protests for the last month or so, but in the private sector, it seems to make little difference these days whether you belong to a union or not. When a company wants to get rid of you, it does, and there is virtually no hell to pay. Or it is the wrong parties paying all the hell.
The picture in the L.A. Times today (read the story here) of those workers raising their voices and their signs of protest moved me greatly. It also alarmed me. At least one worker built a whole middle-class life -- he bought a house in Crenshaw, not far from Inglewood -- on his job as a minimum-wage porter at the casino. Truly, we all have so much to lose.
I was in Darby Park this morning with the dogs. The south end of it overlooks the practice track for Hollywood Park, and a few horses and jockeys were making rounds, working out. The scene was peaceful and measured, like it always is, with no hint of the big change coming. I took it in, as I've been doing for the last five years, with great appreciation and with the knowledge that this look might be my last. The comforts of home are not what they used to be.
Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. Read all her posts here.