Sheila was looking through the plate glass windows that faced the Union Hall for ATU: Local 1277 as she watched the woman get off the bus.
The woman was wearing a poofy white, cotton blouse, Dickies, sandals and a straw hat. By Los Angeles standards, the woman was dreadfully underdressed.
The woman entered the union hall and walked up to the receptionist’s desk. Sheila was not energized by people who arrived by bus. The bus stop was primarily a courtesy as Local 1277 represented the Metro Drivers.
“I looked at the website for the Union Hall and it said that this is when the Chairman has open office hours. Will it be possible for me to schedule some face time with him?” the woman asked.
“What is your name, honey?” Sheila asked.
“Hey, Tony. Some lady wants to know if she can schedule a meeting with you.” Sheila shouted down the hall.
“What’s her name?” Tony shouted back.
“She says her name is Denice Delarosa.” Sheila hollered back.
“When does she want to meet with me?” Tony hollered.
“She is standing right here, now.” Sheila responded.
“Oh shit!” Tony exclaimed. The music from the back room was turned off.
Tony Martinez’s head popped around the corner. “Come on back. Can I buy you a cup of coffee.”
Denice said, “I would kill for a cup of coffee.”
Tony walked over to the vending machine. “Our local represents folks who maintain vending machines. So, we drink our coffee out of these one-armed bandits. Actually, the coffee is not too bad if you have somebody who knows how to tune them in and if management is willing to spend the money to have them serviced right.”
Walking back to Tony’s office, Tony asked “And what do I owe the honor of this visit to?”
Denice said, “I have an assistant who is really sharp with computers and data bases. I gave her parameters of the kinds of people who I want to meet. Your name came out at the top of the list.”
“Oh yeah? I cannot imagine it is because I represent a large local, because it is not that big.” Tony observed.
“Nope. You are at the top of the list because Liz found out about ‘Tony’s Table’” Denice said.
Denice said, “I am a face-to-face kind of person. The fact that you spent an hour of every shift change sitting at a table in the central depot tells me you are too. That, and the fact that you did it for two months AFTER you had won the election tells me that you really care.”
“And you are still doing it. Not every day, but two days/nights a week you are sitting at Tony’s Table when the drivers are punching in and out.”
“I didn’t think anybody noticed.” Tony said.
“Everything is on social media, Tony, everything.” Denice said.
“That still does not explain why you come into my dojo and want to talk to me.” Tony said.
Denice took a long sip of her coffee.
“I never really appreciated that SD-LA no longer had a police force until I came here and tried to get information about what is happening out in the neighborhoods.” Denice said.
“I remember hearing about it. It was a radical idea. I think the administration wanted to distance itself from the bad press of police brutality, so they privatized policing. What you might not realize is that the source of our policing pays a concession fee for the privilege. Of course, the only group with the resources and the incentive to pay to police SD-LA is the Cartel.”
“It has worked very, very well. It is almost like old-time policing when the Irish flat-foot walked the neighborhood. Think about the Prohibition. Did the fact that the pictures of cops busting up barrels of whiskey were smoking cigarettes seem strange? That is because the whiskey barrels were filled water, not 180 proof booze.”
“Same thing. Don’t disrupt Cartel business or you will get your head knocked. Don’t ask too many questions about how the Cartel keeps the peace. Don’t ask any of the particulars about the drug busts.” Denice said.
“So, the information I get is all sent to Sacramento and comes back to me thoroughly sanitized. We truly live in the best of times.” Denice said.
“Tell me, what percentage of buses are out of service right now? Is that information you can get?” Denice asked.
Tony said, “Wait a minute.” He pressed a speed dial number on his phone. “Roger, this is Tony. How many buses are in the fleet? OK. How many are redlined. Yeah. Right now. So what percentage of buses are off-line. Thanks”
Tony said “Roger over at the bus garage said that about 38% of our buses are not in service. Why?”
Denice said, “The official information I get is that we only have 2% off-line and that is so they can be upgraded with roof-top solar panels.”
“That is my biggest problem.” Denice said. “Everybody is covering their ass and I cannot get good information. I need a guy with his ear-to-the-ground and who is not afraid to give me bad news. And that would be you.”
Tony said, “People would not be scared to give you bad news if you did not fire them left and right.”
“You mean the folks in IT. They needed firing. Besides, this cover-your-ass problem started long before I showed up.” Denice said. “Your drivers get closer to the public than anybody else in city government. They cover more miles of road than anybody else in city government. I need to know what is biting them in the ass.”
“You pretty much nailed it with the buses off-line.” Tony said. “Our mechanics can’t fix things when management does not order parts. We are so short of working busses that we are running red-lined equipment to even come close to making schedule. Next on the list are the roads. They are going to hell. Finally, somebody has to do something about the walkers. They have no sense of self-preservation. They just wander right in front of the busses with no warning…although they have not been as bad the last few months.”
“I have a plan.” Denice said. “It starts with my giving you my cell phone number and then we need to do a little bit of coordinating….”
“The other thing I need to know about is the Sanitation Department. What can you tell me about them…”