A many-splendored oppression

I got away with it. I think.

I had been looking forward to Arundhati Roy’s appearance in San Francisco tonight, but as luck would have it, I got only my second substitute teaching job since signing up for it in December today. That meant I was out of the house before dawn (I am normally a late riser) to get to it.

Both these jobs have reinforced a dissonance between the greater experience of learning I have had in post-secondary education with the experience of seeing children treated more or less as prisoners at a middle school and the experience today of seeing children with an irrepressible exuberance confined to chairs near the beginning of their learning careers who inevitably become “discipline” problems in a primary school.

So for me, there is a paradox on top of a dissonance. Children need to learn. If they don’t, in this economic system, when they grow up, they will surely be condemned to low wage jobs–if they can find employment at all–that don’t pay rent, jobs that are often even worse than my abusive experience at Luxor Cab. But to attempt to contain this energy seems to me like asking the sun to stop shining. Worse, I fear it risks an anti-intellectual backlash as these kids mature.

And so, as I was driving to San Francisco, a place I generally avoid, tonight, my heart was heavy and my mind was pondering this paradox on top of a dissonance. Hitting traffic on Highway 101 getting into San Francisco meant I was also running out of time. Tired and under pressure, I chose the worst of four reasonably direct but also reasonably rational routes to the Arundhati Roy event. It was a rookie mistake, inexcusable in someone who has lived in and around San Francisco for as long as I have (all but about two years of the last forty-three) and who has driven cab there. It was an unmistakable sign my judgment was impaired.

But I also anticipated parking problems around the event; parking in almost every part of San Francisco has become dramatically more difficult particularly since voters approved the creation of the Department of Parking and Traffic. This agency was supposed to ease parking problems but has instead turned into the bane of most San Francisco car owners’ existences, generating a vast stream of revenue for the City. So I was delighted when approaching Mission High School, I spied its faculty parking lot, with spaces available.

At first, I didn’t give it a second thought. I pulled in and parked. I was attending a function in the school’s auditorium and there were lots of other cars in the parking lot–only some of which were displaying permits for overnight parking–and I assumed the rest were also owned by people attending the event. And nearly anywhere else I’ve lived, this would be a sensible way of viewing the situation.

But this is San Francisco. And when you’re unemployed, as I am, desperate, as I am, and broke, as I am, any ambiguity in a situation is unlikely to be resolved in your favor. San Francisco makes a fortune off of the naïve and off of people who share many aspects of my situation. I’m not faculty at Mission High School. I didn’t have one of those orange parking permits that I saw on the dashboards of some other vehicles. This reality began to sink in as I walked into the event.

As was to be expected, Arundhati Roy had many sensible and valuable things to say about oppression in the Kashmir, in India, and in other places, but by the end of her appearance, I was more than anxious to get out of there to retrieve a pickup truck that I would not be able to afford to get out of impound. And I had more to think about as I noticed a double flash of a red light camera that I think (hope) was aimed in another direction as I began making my way back out of the City and towards home.

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