JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

A strange day in LaLa Land

As I write this I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Murrieta, California, a nowhere noplace nothing town about 1 1/2 hours away from Los Angeles. I’m here because, for one of the few times in my journalism career, I had to drive to a subject’s house and knock on his door—without a heads-up phone call.

Of course, I loathe doing this sort of thing. And, in this case, I loathe it even more—because the person wasn’t home. So I left a note, asking him to call me. Which, I’m 97 percent, certain, he won’t. Which means I drove for 1 1/2 hours to have an iced tea/lemonade combo at Starbucks. Three words: Not worth it.

Earlier today, in another rarety, I visited a jail. I’d rather not get into details of the assignment I’m on, but this may well be the first time I’ve sought out a behind-bars interview. The person I came to see has been in jail for a few months, and I was told one can, spur of the moment, stop by and see if he’ll talk. So I stopped by to see if he’d talk.

I got there at, oh, 11 am, and waited on a line of about 200 people. It was hot—89 degrees in the shade—and unpleasant, until I met two women, Lita and Mary, who were visiting an inmate. Lita’s husband (actually, she’s her boyfriend. But they’ve been together for seven years, so she calls him “husband.” Who am I to quibble?) is in jail for driving without a license—and for doing so with a lengthy criminal history. She was a lovely woman … 50, mother of six, grandmother of nine. She first got pregnant when she was 14; watched her father get run over in a fatal truck accident; has put two kids through college and (sadly) one into jail. She served time, too—three days for something little. Her friend also served time—three days, drug related. As we waited and waited and waited, we chatted and chatted and chatted. Both women were Hispanic, and they spoke of the despair in their communities. No jobs, lots of crime, little hope. I wanted to hug them, and toward the end—although we merely shook hands—I think Lita wanted a hug. Sigh.

Anyhow, the above photo was taken about 10 minutes ago. I was thinking, of all the bad jobs this world offers, there may well be no worse than streetcorner sign holder. On the one hand, it’d be nice, every so often, to go unchallenged and just chill. But this gig seems to suck in all realms: Low pay—check. Hot as fuck—check. Brainless—check. Little respect—check.

Hope the guy comes inside ASAP …