Union City Blue

The irony of mockingly sad goodbyes to an unhealthy, fatuous food is not lost on me. But there is no irony to the nearly 18,500 jobs lost—most of them middle-class, union positions—perhaps because one of them was mine. After 25 years of waking before 3am, this Saturday I awoke at my usual time but without a truck to load and deliver. I tried to go back to sleep, but no luck. Like so many Americans, I’m suddenly unemployed, faced with the challenge of where to go from here.

One change: living in west Sonoma County, I will no longer have to deal with the responses to the way I earned my living, which ranged from reticent disapproval to laughter to outright hostility. Only being a drug pusher could have earned me more disdain. Yet often, privately, people admitted their nostalgic, guilty pleasure, a confession to a knowing priest, and I absolved and even indulged their transgressions. Clandestine vanilla Zingers, powdered Donettes, chocolate pies and Texas Toast handed over in hushed reverence.

Another irony is that for such a nonsubtle food source, our dissolution was amazingly complex. Numerous corporate buyouts over the course of my tenure, two chapter 11 bankruptcies in eight years, a takeover by vulture capitalists, the cooperation of all unions in accepting harsh cuts except the bakers, who didn’t seem to understand the court-negotiated contract was inflexible. Striking meant liquidation, and they struck anyway. While I was driving home without a job, a baker picketing Oakland’s closed-for-good plant late Friday said, stunned, “I guess they’re playing hardball.”

More complexity for those gleeful that Hostess went under: Americans have not had their last Twinkie or slice of Wonder Bread. The labels and recipes will be sold in liquidation; they are still popular across America. What are not popular are unionized workers making a middle-class living. But they play hardball, even with Ho Hos, and they struck us out in the bottom of the ninth.

Dave Dulberg lives and writes in Sebastopol. He drove a Wonder bread truck for nearly 25 years.

Open Mic is a weekly op/ed feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].