Saturday, January 26, 2008

Crossing the Line

I’ve never been a big fan of unions. It could be because I was brought up by a capitalist who believes that unions are sucking the competitive edge out of America. It could be because of my early exposure to Ayn Rand and my resultant belief in meritocracy. It could be because when I worked for a major corporation creating a Times Square theme restaurant, I was appalled to see a 40-year old 7th grade drop-out earn $40 an hour for pushing the construction elevator button up or down while I, a college grad, made $15 an hour running the office. The elevator operator was in the Union. I was a mere temp.

Whatever the genesis of my dislike, I am surprised to find myself now a huge union supporter. At least of one particular union. Though I am not yet a member of the Writers Guild of America, I hope to be. I imagine WGA membership is what separates the real writers from the wannabees in this town. I long for that validation that my membership will bring. Not only will that make me part of the club, it will mean I have sold a script. It will mean I have made money off my art.

As I drive around town during the strike, I honk in solidarity when I pass picketing writers. I am one of you, I long to shout. I get smiles and waves in return. I feel like I am part of something bigger – fighting the good fight against the greedy corporations. OK so I wouldn’t be Sally Field in “Norma Rae,” but I’d be one of the beleaguered farm workers cheering her on.

“Come by for lunch today!” my friend enthused. A great idea, as the friend in question is one of my best and we always have a good time talking over the ups and downs of our lives. The only problem: she works on a major studio lot – the same one where I used to work.

Up until this point, I’d always managed to schedule meetings and lunches with studio friends off the lot but the logistics of this day made it impossible. I didn’t like the idea of having to cross the picket line of my fellow writers but it’s not like it was for work. That made it OK, right?

I drove up to the main studio gates and waited for the light. The picketers slowed at my approach. No one cleared the way even as the light turned green. I inched across the sidewalk, conscious that I was now blocking the road and cars going straight were getting pissed. My fellow writers did not hurry their progress from my bumper. One guy adopted a slow, shuffle-step and paused to glare at me with each shuffle. It was every bit the uncomfortable, traitorous experience I had feared it would be.

“No, you guys!” I wanted to shout, “I’m one of you! I’m not working here. Just meeting a friend for lunch.” I willed the message out of my eyes at Shuffle Dude. On he glared. I think he even slowed down.

“We’re not even buying food from the studio, we brought from outside!” I eye-pleaded.

Nothing.

After about a year, the angry guy shuffled aside enough for me to pass to the security gate where I was warmly greeted by old friends. Even though my visit to the lot was completely un-work or money related, even though my presence on the lot would in no way impact the studio's business, I still felt like a horrible traitor.

These strikers saw me every day as I drove to one of my ends-meet part time jobs. I always honked. They would know my car. They would probably think I was selling them out; a scab. How would I repair this rift between myself and the members of my aspired-to union?

As my friend and I ate it began to rain. I was too queasy from the whole line crossing experience and could only nibble at my sandwich. By the time I left her office, it was raining in earnest. I got in my car and drove toward the gates. I prepared myself for the wall of anger and misunderstanding to hit me.

Maybe, I thought, the thing to do would be to park across the street and come back and explain everything to them. I could picture their rain splattered faces laughing as I got to the “We even got the sandwiches from off the lot” line. They would become new friends and we’d commiserate over the studios’ greed. I’d be brought back into the fold.

Confident in my plan, I idled my car up to security. It was late and wet. The picketers were gone.

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