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San Diego's tugboat and truck drivers, El Cajon shopping cart retrievers, gutsy stuntmen

Who works in a circus, a sober lobsterman, 2900 pounds of urchins in one day, brutal life of a Brawley roper

Andy Anderson, right; Mark Jennings, left. “This was a dead-stick tow, dead stick is when you have no power on the ship." - Image by Robert Burroughs
Andy Anderson, right; Mark Jennings, left. “This was a dead-stick tow, dead stick is when you have no power on the ship."

Push Comes to Shove: Life on San Diego's Few and Mighty Tugboats

“We’d come out here at low tide, bring the working hands out to the job, they’d work off the boat. We moved the tires that ring the bridge piers. They were state workers so they didn’t work too hard. We were sitting there three o’clock one morning, taking a break, and this one guy was telling ghost stories about people jumping off the bridge. All of a sudden that little two-man submarine popped up.”

By John Brizzolara, March 4, 1993 | Read full article

At 4:30 a.m., we get off I-15 in Corona and drive into a big rock quarry called Chandler Aggregates. It’s still very dark, but the place is swarming with trucks.

Anything That's Man-Made You Don't Trust

We leave Terry with his Coke and Fritos and continue south, picking up 163 and 805 south, which we take all the way to Chula Vista, where Gerry has his yard just south of the Sweetwater freeway. Manuel double-parks the truck in front, unhooks the trailer, and backs down the driveway into a corner pile, where he dumps the sand. Then he drives back out, transfers the trailer bin into the truck bin, and repeats the routine.

By Ernie Grimm, May 1, 1997 | Read full article

Eddy tells me this man separates the carts by store for Eddy. In return, Eddy brings him cheeseburgers.

God is Building a Home in Heaven for Us, but We Still Need a Place Until Then

The cart Rey had spotted from the road belongs to a young lady, who looks to be 19 or younger. A homeless man shouts, “Yo, confiscate it, bro!” The woman reluctantly begins to remove her belongings from the cart, which include a large canvas tote bag, leather jacket, pink feather boa, money cup, and a “Will Work for Food” sign. Rey tells me afterward that he sees a lot of runaways on the street.

By Pat Sherman, Aug 5, 1999 | Read full article

Hawk: “If I found a mattress in an alley, I’d drag it home. My mom used to get mad, because I’d bring all this stuff back to my makeshift stunt ranch I had going."

Die Trying

I call them ‘little people.’ They actually have a Little People of America organization. “There are thousands of these little people, and they have a code of ethics: ‘We’re on a set, you speak to us as an equal, and we’re called little people, we’re not called dwarfs.’ They will walk if you say something like ‘Look at the midget,’ which is disrespectful. Treat them as equals. Who cares if they’re a little shorter?"

By Patrick Daugherty, Oct. 3, 2002 | Read full article

Rex is incensed by the idea of a lottery. He believes he should be chosen outright. He stomps and curses.

Tent Slime

Rex joins the group of townies waiting to get paid as Victor peels bills from his wad and signs them off. “I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. Never out of your blood. So, I do it for five, six bucks an hour.” He hitches up his pants, bringing his frame to full height. “Forty-eight years old! I tell you, I can still whip a young man’s ass! Still outwork him!”

By T.C. Johnstone, August 26, 1993 | Read full article

“That one’s legal.” He gauged him to make sure (they must measure three and a quarter inches from the eyes to the end of the body shell, not counting the tail) and tossed it in the bucket.

Sweet, Wet, Ugly, and Tough

Culbertson fished out of La Jolla for years. “I was born in La Jolla; that was my home. I rented a two-bedroom house there for $75 a month. I fished out of my home, like all the fishermen. This was a time when people raised chickens in their back yard. As things began to change, I was told by my neighbors that I was a detriment to the neighborhood, that I had a messy back yard."

By Steve Sorensen, Nov. 29, 1979 | Read full article

Mac Connell: “Had a spine in my hand for two years. It finally worked its way out the other side."

One More Jump

O’Brien pops open a Budweiser and says that all urchin divers at some time will be jabbed by a spine that breaks off inside the flesh of a knee, a hand, an elbow, or anything else that can brush against the bottom during a working dive. The lucky wounds, he says, are the ones that “pus up and the spine pops out.” Others will callous over and make a bump. “Some divers have bumps all over their bodies.”

By Rick Geist, March 9, 1989 | Read full article

Carter Taylor: "I've always had a real good motion. Smooth. No problems. Then all of a sudden I couldn't even throw the rope I'd be missing everything. Then I couldn't ride. My horse didn't know what I was doing."

The Ropers

Number 2 got out fast and took a long lead on Moore. It had started toward the wall when Moore, his hat flying, finally cut it off and turned it down the arena. Maybe ten seconds went by before Moore could get off his shot. Caught, the steer swerved to face Moore while Taylor let fly at the heels coming around. The rope grabbed only one. The time was 15 seconds and 5 seconds added for one-legging.

By Joe Applegate, Dec. 7, 1989 | Read full article

I look around at our campfire, study 20 working men. Turn to the man nearest me and say, “I’m surprised at the healthy, low-cal lunches. If it weren’t for all the ugly faces, you could almost swear this is some kind of a yuppie cafeteria.”

Blood, Sweat & Twinkies

The building hasn’t been closed in. Today, there are ten stories of poured concrete floors and exposed supports. Red construction cage elevators run up and down partially finished walls. I find the nearest one, pop up to the third floor, step out, gratefully accept the cool, breezy, surprisingly moist air.

Tiptoe over construction litter — discarded strips of wire and 2-by-4 ends, cardboard, screws, nails — head to the west wing and a group of 20 men eating lunch.

By Patrick Daugherty, Sept. 3, 1992 | Read full article

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It feels like the fine dining experience we know but can’t afford.
Andy Anderson, right; Mark Jennings, left. “This was a dead-stick tow, dead stick is when you have no power on the ship." - Image by Robert Burroughs
Andy Anderson, right; Mark Jennings, left. “This was a dead-stick tow, dead stick is when you have no power on the ship."

Push Comes to Shove: Life on San Diego's Few and Mighty Tugboats

“We’d come out here at low tide, bring the working hands out to the job, they’d work off the boat. We moved the tires that ring the bridge piers. They were state workers so they didn’t work too hard. We were sitting there three o’clock one morning, taking a break, and this one guy was telling ghost stories about people jumping off the bridge. All of a sudden that little two-man submarine popped up.”

By John Brizzolara, March 4, 1993 | Read full article

At 4:30 a.m., we get off I-15 in Corona and drive into a big rock quarry called Chandler Aggregates. It’s still very dark, but the place is swarming with trucks.

Anything That's Man-Made You Don't Trust

We leave Terry with his Coke and Fritos and continue south, picking up 163 and 805 south, which we take all the way to Chula Vista, where Gerry has his yard just south of the Sweetwater freeway. Manuel double-parks the truck in front, unhooks the trailer, and backs down the driveway into a corner pile, where he dumps the sand. Then he drives back out, transfers the trailer bin into the truck bin, and repeats the routine.

By Ernie Grimm, May 1, 1997 | Read full article

Eddy tells me this man separates the carts by store for Eddy. In return, Eddy brings him cheeseburgers.

God is Building a Home in Heaven for Us, but We Still Need a Place Until Then

The cart Rey had spotted from the road belongs to a young lady, who looks to be 19 or younger. A homeless man shouts, “Yo, confiscate it, bro!” The woman reluctantly begins to remove her belongings from the cart, which include a large canvas tote bag, leather jacket, pink feather boa, money cup, and a “Will Work for Food” sign. Rey tells me afterward that he sees a lot of runaways on the street.

By Pat Sherman, Aug 5, 1999 | Read full article

Hawk: “If I found a mattress in an alley, I’d drag it home. My mom used to get mad, because I’d bring all this stuff back to my makeshift stunt ranch I had going."

Die Trying

I call them ‘little people.’ They actually have a Little People of America organization. “There are thousands of these little people, and they have a code of ethics: ‘We’re on a set, you speak to us as an equal, and we’re called little people, we’re not called dwarfs.’ They will walk if you say something like ‘Look at the midget,’ which is disrespectful. Treat them as equals. Who cares if they’re a little shorter?"

By Patrick Daugherty, Oct. 3, 2002 | Read full article

Rex is incensed by the idea of a lottery. He believes he should be chosen outright. He stomps and curses.

Tent Slime

Rex joins the group of townies waiting to get paid as Victor peels bills from his wad and signs them off. “I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. Never out of your blood. So, I do it for five, six bucks an hour.” He hitches up his pants, bringing his frame to full height. “Forty-eight years old! I tell you, I can still whip a young man’s ass! Still outwork him!”

By T.C. Johnstone, August 26, 1993 | Read full article

“That one’s legal.” He gauged him to make sure (they must measure three and a quarter inches from the eyes to the end of the body shell, not counting the tail) and tossed it in the bucket.

Sweet, Wet, Ugly, and Tough

Culbertson fished out of La Jolla for years. “I was born in La Jolla; that was my home. I rented a two-bedroom house there for $75 a month. I fished out of my home, like all the fishermen. This was a time when people raised chickens in their back yard. As things began to change, I was told by my neighbors that I was a detriment to the neighborhood, that I had a messy back yard."

By Steve Sorensen, Nov. 29, 1979 | Read full article

Mac Connell: “Had a spine in my hand for two years. It finally worked its way out the other side."

One More Jump

O’Brien pops open a Budweiser and says that all urchin divers at some time will be jabbed by a spine that breaks off inside the flesh of a knee, a hand, an elbow, or anything else that can brush against the bottom during a working dive. The lucky wounds, he says, are the ones that “pus up and the spine pops out.” Others will callous over and make a bump. “Some divers have bumps all over their bodies.”

By Rick Geist, March 9, 1989 | Read full article

Carter Taylor: "I've always had a real good motion. Smooth. No problems. Then all of a sudden I couldn't even throw the rope I'd be missing everything. Then I couldn't ride. My horse didn't know what I was doing."

The Ropers

Number 2 got out fast and took a long lead on Moore. It had started toward the wall when Moore, his hat flying, finally cut it off and turned it down the arena. Maybe ten seconds went by before Moore could get off his shot. Caught, the steer swerved to face Moore while Taylor let fly at the heels coming around. The rope grabbed only one. The time was 15 seconds and 5 seconds added for one-legging.

By Joe Applegate, Dec. 7, 1989 | Read full article

I look around at our campfire, study 20 working men. Turn to the man nearest me and say, “I’m surprised at the healthy, low-cal lunches. If it weren’t for all the ugly faces, you could almost swear this is some kind of a yuppie cafeteria.”

Blood, Sweat & Twinkies

The building hasn’t been closed in. Today, there are ten stories of poured concrete floors and exposed supports. Red construction cage elevators run up and down partially finished walls. I find the nearest one, pop up to the third floor, step out, gratefully accept the cool, breezy, surprisingly moist air.

Tiptoe over construction litter — discarded strips of wire and 2-by-4 ends, cardboard, screws, nails — head to the west wing and a group of 20 men eating lunch.

By Patrick Daugherty, Sept. 3, 1992 | Read full article

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