Chad opened the first bag of corn seed. He was already in a foul mood. He was not set up to grow corn. He also knew that there were no processing plants nearby and that picking and shipping it would be a real pain.
He stared at the seed in disbelief. He plunged his hand into the bag and pulled out a handful of seeds.
“What’s wrong, El Patrón?” Hua asked. Hua Yang was his crew boss. In a highly unusual move, the Department of Education had not completely changed out his crew. Hua and Belladonna had been with him last year. He was not complaining. It was much easier to train new people when there was some continuity.
“They sent us the wrong, damned seeds.” Chad said.
“How can you tell? It looks like corn to me.” Hua replied.
“Sweet corn seed look like dried boogers. They are all shriveled and don’t hardly weigh anything. This is field corn.” Chad told him. “Check out a couple of more bags. Maybe it is just this one bag.”
“Nope, El Patrón.” Hua said. “They all look the same.”
Cussing, he pulled out his phone and called Mardi. Mardi was his wife and handled the paperwork end of the business.
“Hey Mardi!” Chad said. “They sent us the wrong seed. They sent us field corn. Can you call the Department office and get this straightened out?”
Mardi said, “Yeah. You guys might as well chill out. This is likely to take the rest of the day. Why don’t you take some pictures of the label on the bag and a picture of the seeds.”
“While you are at it” Chad said, “find out how much they want us to plant each week. I am sure they don’t want us to plant the entire forty acres. No way in hell can we harvest that much sweet corn in one week.”
Chad was surprised when Mardi called back twenty minutes later.
“I guess we are not the first to call. It is the right stuff. The office manager said something about a new technology, recessive genes and better germination.” Mardi said.
“And the lady said to plant it all this week. She said they had the harvesting logistics handled.”
Chad shook his head. Whatever. “Ok boys and girls. Playtime is over. We have a field to plant.” At least those smooth, plump kernels would feed through his old corn planter like greased ball bearings. Planting would go fast this year.
“Hey Kenny,” Chad said into his phone, “do you still consider yourself a connoisseur of sweet corn?”
“You betchya! Ain’t nobody knows their way around a cob of sweet corn better than old Kenny Lane.” Ken said.
“Consider this a formal invitation.” Chad said. “Why don’t you and Miguel come over on Wednesday and we’ll have a party? We will take a day off, boil up four or five dozen ears of sweet corn and eat until we can’t eat anymore.”
Miguel had been Chad’s crew boss the prior year and had naturally transitioned over to working with Kenny in trucking when he aged out of the education system on his 26th birthday.
“By the way, have you heard anything about contracts for picking and shipping the sweet corn?” Chad asked.
“Nope.” Kenny said. “It is the strangest damned thing I ever saw. Usually we get calls from the Department when you are planting the crop telling us to pencil in our calendar for when it is gonna be ripe. Then we get told a month before harvest what the shipping schedule is gonna be. I ain’t heard shit from them and I been asking around. The other truckers ain’t hearing shit either.”
“Well,” Chad said, “that is one more thing we can talk about at the corn roast.”
One Wednesday, Mardi put a platter of corn in front of Ken.
Twelve sets of expectant eyes watched Kenny as he buttered up the first ear and took a big bite.
Ken nearly spit the first bite out. He chewed slowly and swallowed. He added some more salt and took a second bite and a third bite. He smiled weakly. “It kind of grows on you and it is really filling.” he said.
Chad asked, “But it ain’t sweet corn is it?”
Ken looked relieved. “Nope. It ain’t. Its field corn. No doubt about it.”
“That’s what we thought.” Mardi said. “We have been eating it for a week and it is just not getting any better.”
At that, everybody else dug in; Chad, Mardi and the field crew.
Later, after everybody had eaten their fill and the crew had moved off to entertain themselves away from the “adults”, Chad, Mardi, Ken and Miguel sat on the porch and drank “Red-eyes”.
Chad said, “It is not sweet corn. There are no contracts to haul it anywhere. There are no canneries nearby that would take it even if it was sweet corn. I think somebody at the Department of Food Security screwed up.”
Ken nodded noncommittally. “It can happen. Especially in a big bureaucracy.”
“You know, maybe they have a back-up plan. Maybe they plan to cut it for silage.” Chad suggested.
Ken said, “We still would have been hearing something. Somebody would have been telling us to block out our calendar. Silage is bulky and it takes a lot of truck loads.”
You know,” Ken said, “the other thing is that there are lots of forty acre corn fields scattered around the county. I been keeping my eyes open and I have never seen this much corn planted and it is all big, strong looking plants like yours, not that scrawny stuff that sweet corn usually looks like.”
Mardi said, “I have been talking to my contacts at the Department of Food Security. They keep telling me that there is a plan but they cannot tell me any details. When I press, they tell me that they cannot share any details because they have not been told any of the details.”
Chad reached for the pitcher of Red-eyes (home-brewed beer and tomato juice). “Every time we ended up in a massive cluster f___ in the Military it was because some Second Lieutenant was sure he had everything “handled”. I hate sitting here like a deer in the headlights. I really want a back-up plan on how I am going to sell this crop and recover some of my costs.”
Kenny asked, “What are you thinking?”
“I know that Miguel has become your right-hand man, but can you spare him for a couple of days?” Chad asked.
“Sure. Why?” Ken said.
“One of my old crew bosses, Jose Munoz, lives in Los Angeles. He has a job as an ‘expediter’ with an organization that, well, operates on the shady side of the law. If anybody can get rid of a half million pounds of undocumented corn it will be Jose.” Chad said.
“Ya, I remember Jose. He is a straight up kind of guy.” Ken said. “How is Miguel going to find him. Los Angeles is a big place.”
“Jose’s parents have a restaurant in Huntington Park. I thought you (looking over at Miguel) could take a bus to LA, have a nice meal in the restaurant and tell the owner that I sent him and that he wanted to talk to Jose. Tell them you will wait as long as it takes.”
Miguel looked uncomfortable. “Huntington Park is a tough part of town. They ain’t exactly ‘my people’” he said.
Chad smirked over at Ken. “Take a good look at us. Do you think a couple of Angelo shit-kickers will fit in any better?”
“I’ll tell you what.” Chad said. “Think of yourself as a sales person. We will send you with a sample. I still have some of the seed corn. What we harvest won’t be exactly like the seed but it will give you something to show you are serious. We will send you with, say, ten or twenty pounds…all cleaned up and pretty.”
“Ya, I suppose that could work.” Miguel said.
Miguel had been Chad's crew leader the previous year and had aged out of the education system at 26. Ken picked him up as a second driver that had not quite panned out. The extra loads had not materialized but the need for security due to “Walkers” (people wandering the countryside looking for food) had more than picked up the slack. Ken and Miguel spent a lot of time together. They took turns. One driving. The other, literally, riding shotgun.