Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Remnant: Work

Standard north-is-up format. Distance from St Joe to Ottawa is 3000 feet.

Morning came too early.

Jarrell made two bowls of oatmeal in the microwave. One he gave to Merle. He ate the other.

He hopped onto his bike and rode the four miles into town. Merle kept pace beside him. The roads had been plowed but not salted. Government employees were still paid although the buying power was rapidly eroding.

A year ago it would have been suicidal to ride down a state highway in the dark. Now, there was hardly any traffic.

Jarrell dropped his bike and Merle off at his buddy’s house. Merle would hang out with his canine buddies and Jarrell knew his bike would not go riding off.

Jarrell walked three blocks from his buddy's house to the bus station and waited. He dressed in layers. He had a couple of sandwiches in one pocket, an apple in another and a water bottle in a third.

Even though he was wearing layers, he wouldn’t take any of them off. There was just too much risk of them disappearing if he so much as laid them down. He wore layers for the extra pockets and because he could zip or un-zip as necessary.

Jarrell had been taking a backpack to Lansing when he first started working there. Most days he would take it empty and fill it with “loot” as the day progress and he came across items that might be useful or have resale value.

That ended the day he saw a fellow itinerant mugged because of what the thugs thought might be in the backpack. The victim could not spin quickly enough to defend himself and ended up on the pavement with his face kicked in. The only reason they chose him rather than Jarrell was dumb luck or maybe because the other fellow’s backpack appeared to be full while Jarrell’s was still empty.

The ride to town in the converted school bus was ominously quiet.

Early on, there had been conversation. That dried up as some of the more gregarious and trusting were disappeared. Then, one of the chatter-boxes who flitted around and engaged random people in conversation was knifed in the back as she was leaving the bus. Somebody had put two-and-two together and determined that people disappeared after Miss Chatter-box had conversations with them.

After that, nobody spoke on the bus and almost nobody disappeared any more.

Jarrell was carrying both his and Ashley’s smartphones.

The hiring process was simple. You became eligible for a job thirty minutes after you entered a geo-fence. You had five minutes to accept the job and another ten to get to the job-site.

Most of the jobs were close to the State Capitol so that is where most of the unattached workers went.

Jarrell didn’t know what the hiring algorithm was but he kept track. Ashley’s phone got three times as many offers as his phone did. That was not a problem because most weeks he was lucky to get two “offers” of work that might total 12 hours.

Nobody gave a shit.

Nobody gave a shit that he showed up instead of Ashley because the funds went to her phone.

Nobody gave a shit whether he actually picked up litter or handed out food or shoveled the snow or washed the windows or vacuumed beneath the rocks in the landscaping.

Jarrell did a little more than most but not enough to stand out. Tomorrow another crew would be gigging litter and shoveling snow and washing windows, but mostly cleaning up after the riots from the night before.

Most days, Jarrell hung-out with the army of unemployed workers near the river-walk. The walk was out of the wind and there were places that reflected the sun and were pleasant even in late February. Not that the sun shown all that much in Michigan in February. 

Later in the day, when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to get a gig, Jarrell went walk-about and looked for loot.

Pickings were slim. Sometimes it was a pair of sneakers that had been tossed. Sometimes it was little more than some cardboard. Once, it was a squirrel that had been run over. Jarrell stuck his pinkie finger into its mouth and determined that the body was still warm.

Fights were becoming increasingly common. More than one worker had been pitched into the river because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The workers were separating into gangs and marking off territory. It was increasingly difficult for an unaffiliated worker to move about and Jarrell was pondering what his next move would be.

It is not as if there were any jobs for Program Managers, and even if there were it was clear he had been black-balled and would never work in that capacity again.

Today was a little bit different. He picked up some bricks at a dead-drop. His job was to deposit the bricks in places where they would be out-of-sight to the causal rioter but still have a clear line-of-sight to traffic on northbound Grand Avenue. Grand Avenue was the single, viable road from the Detroit-to-Lansing freeway and the north side of the State Capitol building where the big-shots parked.

The bricks were sniffers. Their directional antenna reached out and "shook hands"with passing electronic devices like smartphones and laptops. They stored the data and dumped them when tickled.

Jarrell had lots of options for placing the bricks. Grand Avenue, two scant blocks from the State Capitol was a desolate waste of unused parking lots and vacant buildings. The high-gain, directional antenna meant that he didn't even need to be close to the road. Jarrell was even able to plant one brick on Ottawa by dropping it and nudging it beneath a trash basket.


1 comment:

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