Chaka Can Chaka Can

Yeah, that line again. It has to have reached third-order plagiarism by now. You’ll be begging me to pigsploit Kwesi Millington anew if I keep this shit up. All night long, we would sing that stupid song. Imagine my surprise when I learned that our lifestyle involved Adderall. Imagine your surprise when you saw another unnecessary Steely Dan meme standing there.

Are you with me?

California has crapified the hell out of its bottle bill in a way that Oregon absolutely has not. Upstate New York doesn’t rival Oregon for bottle service, but it, too, is a huge improvement over California. New York City may be more hostile to bottle rats than Upstate; I haven’t looked into it, but I’d find it telling if it’s harder for the vulnerable population most in need of deposit money to get paid than it is for the affluent in the suburbs. For that matter, I’ve never been east of Jamaica, so as much as I’ve tittered about the Guyland in these pages, I have no idea what the bottle redemption regime is like in the sweet home of Joey Buttafuoco. (How is that motherfucker not a Mike Judge character? How in hell is he for real?)

Brender and Eddie may not have had it already, but I’ve had it with the shitty customer service I keep finding at California bottle redemption centers. These places suck ass without reverse vending machines. BottleDrop processes probably 95% of its cans through RVM’s (I rarely see much hand-counting there), and every grocery store I can recall visiting in Upstate New York in the past year or two has had RVM’s in good working condition. The engineering and design of these machines has improved dramatically in the past few years; they’re now much faster, more reliable, and more versatile. Yet California, a state with one of the three most comprehensive bottle bills in the country, one where taxi service has been most aggressively “disrupted” by Uber on behalf of the kinds of people who also need internet-mediated grocery and restaurant delivery services, has very few RVM’s. In many cities, the only redemption centers I can find are soulcrushingly ugly and unpleasant facilities that amount to a shabby trailer and some dumpsters in the middle of an unshaded parking lot.

These dumps are far worse than the closest equivalents I’ve found in New York. My parents and I do business with some family-run redemption centers without RVM’s. These places aren’t exactly nice, they can be staffed by strange rangers, and they’re as proximal as anything else to all the annoying bullshit that the Adirondacks have to offer, but they don’t make you feel like you’re gonna die. In California, the industry standard seems to be to spend half an hour or more roasting on the tarmac in Redding, surrounded by cold homeless who wish they were colder for a change, waiting for a lecture from a dentally and dermatologically challenged wonder on the differences between aluminum and “biometal.” It’s unpleasant. It’s degrading. It feels unreasonably dangerous for a state-mandated program not under the auspices of the prison system. The bums aren’t what’s wrong with it. In Oregon, bums use the machines at BottleDrop and Walmart all the time. The difference is that no one is forced to wait around in what feels like an outpatient prison yard for no telling how long and then fill out duplicate paperwork for Biometal Man. No one is ever asked for ID at BottleDrop. What the hell would anyone on staff do with it? If the bottle count hits 349 or 350, the RVM stops for a few seconds and spits out a receipt. Once the receipt has been taken, the machine goes back into service. Payouts are fully automated. You put the receipts under the scanner, push “Finished” when they’ve all been scanned, and cash money is spit out. I could be Saddam Hussein’s corpse, for all the ATM knows. It doesn’t care.

The California authorities care. At SiegelSuites, they do background checks because they care (TM). The principle is the same, and it’s a bad one.

Over the past year or two, I’ve become less and less willing to put up with ghetto chaos, rural squalor, slumlord abuses, and other shitty lifestyles that are inevitably impositions on the lives of bystanders. If I have options, I get away from the shit. I flee. When I look at the redemption centers I’ve used in Redding, Yreka, and Eureka, or at the RePlanet center on the ass border of Arden-Arcade and Del Paso Heights that I decided not to use because the parking lot was crowded to the verge of uselessness by a line that looked an hour long, I see businesses that rely on customers without options. These businesses are unethical. They deserve to fail.

I try to do what I can to keep them from succeeding. Sometimes they’re easy to boycott because, as Yogi Berra might have said, they’re so popular, no one goes there anymore. In other cases, boycotting them can cause some hardship, but it’s a hardship that is offset by not having the hardship of doing business with shitheads in slums. Rampant slumlording is one reason why I’m homeless. Police in four states have treated me better at rest areas where I’ve slept than my last landlords did at my own apartment building. I’ve sometimes had better neighbors at rest areas than I have at Crossland properties. This is especially true in Rancho Cordova. As I’ve been reminded, to my annoyance, I live by the light rail station in Rancho. So did my next-door neighbor when he tried to start a street fight in front of me with a guy he accused of selling meth to his kid sister. Two or three places where I’ve stayed or thought about staying in South Lake Tahoe have had police activity on account of assaults or homicides when I’ve been in the area. One of these incidents made the KCRA evening news out of Sacramento. Dude killed someone over a sour drug deal or some shit and got his skeevy ass in the news across a 150-mile broadcast radius if the Reno stations didn’t have something more salaciously violent to gawk at closer to home.

Rest areas and trailheads are usually too solidly middle-class for anything like that. South Lake is the poorie ghetto for the entire basin, and it attracts people from the valleys who are very sensibly trying to escape ghetto pathologies back home, aside from the minority who are trying to help the montagnards culturally appropriate shanking a motherfucker for stealing another motherfucker’s baby-mama and dissing his white, black, brown, Cantonese, and/or Cambodian ass. Victor Davis Hanson, where you at, cracka? The hordes are moving in on the high ground after all. Well, a few of them. South Midtown Sacramento isn’t nearly trashy enough for them, so they stay away, and the Capitol Mall has nice Chippies who, I assume, are less nice to brawling shitheads ballsy enough to wander in off #TheKay and start shit. Like Big Ears Teddy, the cactus and rose gardens shouldn’t have to see that, and they won’t. They don’t. As far as I can tell, anyway.

Being able to get away from unrelenting chaos and creepiness is a blessing. Far too many Americans are caught in Catch-22’s that make such an escape impossible. California and Nevada seem to have more than their fair share of these. Oregon seems to less than its fair share. Oregon certainly doesn’t have nearly as much of its state and business apparatus ordered to kicking the poor when they’re down. This is why it has BottleDrop instead of a bunch of sorry ghettosiders waiting around in a parking lot in the ass end of Arden for the single clerk posted out front to process their cans.

Refusing to participate in this bullshit and fleeing it is not just a service to oneself but also a mitzvah to one’s entire society. Complaints about young people spending too much on coffee and too little on rent are garbage. Starbucks doesn’t act like an agency of the Brezhnev Politburo; many American landlords do. The contrast in customer service and even fundamental morality could hardly be starker. Coffeehouses don’t depend on desperate customer bases with no alternatives. I keep forgetting that most of Starbucks’ customer base is stably housed, allowing it to easily brew its own coffee. If it treated its customers like shit and served them shit for drinks, it would lose business. 7-Eleven is less exposed to this free market, and it shows, mainly in customer service but also in hot dog quality.

Why the hell should we rent ratholes from slumlords if we can couchsurf with friends or relatives? Why should we pay nosy but negligent creeps under the terms of contracts that are onerous only for us, not for them, if we’re comfortable sleeping at rest areas instead? Competitive free markets are apparently bae as shit until it’s time to smear some young adults as childish layabouts for not rushing out to get places of their own under terms that contractually subordinate them to creepy shitheads. Once that’s on the agenda, free markets are an untenable, even scandalous privilege sparing Millennial whiners from their obligation to participate in rigged housing oligopolies enforced by networks of private informants and corporate dossiers on tenants.

If the customer base goes away, this creepy shit will stop. There’s much less of it in high-end housing because the landlords know that they’ll get badmouthed to hell and back by their aggrieved if they’re lucky enough not to get sued. They know that they’ll lose business if they don’t work to earn it. This means fixing infrastructure when it breaks, not stalking tenants, that kind of thing. At motels, a tenant can decline to renew his tenancy by the day or the week and run very little risk of being blacklisted. At a long-term apartment, it’s often impossible to breach a tenancy without retaliation, even if the tenant has articulable cause and legal counsel.

If unethical landlords can have it their way, this regime will get even more dystopian. Landlords and employers are already trying to link social media accounts to housing and personnel files for purposes of surveillance and social control. There are some very, very bad people in property management and HR.

The same dynamic enabling slumlords explains why Greyhound is traditionally such a shitty mess. Its problem is that it’s a common carrier of last resort and acts that way. Where competitors have shown up, as they have in a number of major markets, it has been pretty quick to stop screwing its customers over and treating them like shifty bums on parallel routes. Amtrak is also a common carrier of last resort in some markets, but it conceives of itself as being in competition with the airlines and with private motoring, so it’s better at keeping the abuses in check.

There are people who do not want bums to be able to make even a shabby partial living hustling cans. There are people who don’t want anyone to be able to get by without submitting to petty tyrants. Fuck them. They aren’t our masters. As Odafin Tutuola said, “Didn’t you hear? Lincoln freed the slaves.” (They enjoy whitesploiting the Upper East Side on SVU. The ghettoside killings may be more numerous, but they just aren’t as interesting.) I think I’ve finally figured out the RePlanet website and found some reverse vending machines in Placerville, by the way. I guess they keep the flatlanders away by installing the good stuff in the town Thomas Kinkade’s biographies always called “hardscrabble.”

There’s something else about California’s bottle bill that’s really weird, especially given how difficult it is to redeem cans in so much of the state. California has been reporting small net losses on its deposit program, while Oregon has been reporting net profits so high and consistent that a statute automatically doubling the deposit amount to ten cents effective next year has been triggered. California’s agricultural inspection stations (naked and jackin’ it at state lines away from San Diego) have caught drivers trying to sneak trucks full of deposit bottles into the state. The articles I’ve found were vague, but it sounds like the drivers were let off with a warning to use Scout’s Honor and not redeem cans from out of state. Yeah, that’ll work.

I don’t see how a scam like that could be made to work in the aboveboard market. The transportation and labor costs would be too high. I can, however, see it working through the exploitation of the mentally ill or the use of trafficked grunt labor. A mobbed-up state with extreme concentrations of poverty in large cities near the California state line like, oh, I dunno, Nevada, sounds up to the job.

Maybe. That’s still a shitload of fuel to get the cans into the promised land. Flat-out fraud is more believable. Just make up some numbers, no actual Chaka Can Chaka Can needed to ka-ching ka-ching. Don’t be too outraged, though: California uses its state prisoners for very similar purposes of local economic development. It’s like Gogol’s Dead Souls, except they’re alive.

I don’t just pay for my own Starbucks. I pay for the CHP’s Starbucks every time I renew my car registration. Why, of course, officer, I bought all these cans in California, not in Nevada, which is a quarter mile up the street.

There’s a dedicated bypass lane around the South Lake Tahoe agricultural inspection station, intended for locals and Tahoe layabouts, and I’ve hardly ever seen a driver not use it. California doesn’t get everything wrong.

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