Tales from Big Sugar

A blue sky showcases the C&H logo on the top of their huge sugar distribution facility in Crockett, CA. A colorful train on the tracks moving by in the foreground of the image.

California & Hawaiian Sugar Company on an October day, 2013. In the 1920s the company employed 99% of Crockett’s population now less than 1% work there. It is a forbidding place with broken windows and dirty grounds. The company has been cited for 144 water-permit violations and 72 instances of records falsification since 1995.

Looking up from the C&H Sugar Factory arcs of the bridge

View under the bridge at C&H Sugar Factory

Industrial shapes and metal worn with wear decorate the landscape.

Shapes abound at the C&H Sugar Factory. Industrial metal colored by wear and weather.

I found myself at the C&H (California and Hawaiian) Sugar Company as a CR England driver, another adventure with Laura. We wove down a steep hill in the 18 wheeler searching for an entrance to the facility. When we did find an unmarked path into a dirt parking lot, the disgruntled guard directed us to drive through a maze before telling us we had to back up half the length of a football field. The shabby grounds were filled with other trucks who had been waiting hours to be loaded. Menus from take out joints in the area were posted nearby, a testament that we would be there for hours, hungry and waiting. It was a full moon and as the night closed in the broken glass windows and victorian looking factory took on a solemn and haunting feeling and one could imagine the ghosts of many souls having traveled through the place.

Consider that sugar was the oil of the 19th Century perpetrating slavery, war and colonialism. We all know the sweet stuff which is extracted from sugar cane and sugar beets. The C&H Factory makes their sugar only from the cane. It is situated along the waters of the Carquinez Strait a narrow tidal strait in northern California, part of the tidal estuary of the Sacramento and the San Joaquin rivers as they drain into the San Francisco Bay. The C&H sugar distribution factory manufactures 6 million pounds of sugar a day.

Sugar is recognized as an addictive substance and a major factor in causing obesity and chronic disease. Now many Americans are slaves to sugar based diets and this insidious manipulation of the food supply is spreading around the globe.

According to Wikipedia, “In 2005, the common stock shares were acquired by American Sugar Refining (ASR, better known as Domino Sugar), a company owned by Florida Crystals and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. Florida Crystals is a privately held company that is part of FLO-SUN, a sugar empire of the Fanjul family whose origins trace to Spanish-Cuban sugar plantations of the early 19th century.” The Fanjul family is famous for their pollution of the Everglades. They were parodied in Carl Hiaasen’s 1993 novel Strip Tease, which features a pair of Cuban brothers who own a large sugar conglomerate, that receives enormous profits from the exploitation of immigrant labor and the subsidies regularly voted to them by the United States Congress.

Now their spin is that they are the model of “environmental stewardship” for the cleanup of the Everglades but those of us from Florida know different. I recognized their name sitting in that truck searching on my iPhone for information about C&H. Beware Big Sugar in all it’s forms. It’s staggering to think after making billions of dollars from sugar causing war, pain, pollution and now human suffering. The C&H grounds are shabby and distressing. Still, as a photographer I was fascinated by the industrial landscape and as a human humbled by the contrast I find in this great wide world.

From “White Collar” to “Blue Collar.” How I found “The Weekend” or Getting a CDL in California

The image shows a blue sky, mountains, a layer of fog and a golden field. On the left one can see a highway extending forward.

Layer of fog in the early morning traveling east from California toward Salt Lake City, Utah

In September I entered a training program with CR England to get a CDL (Commercial Drivers License) in California. It was a fast and furious immersion into a new skill. I got a permit within a week and within another two weeks had learned how to operate a semi tractor to pull containers/trailers and had taken the exam by a California certified DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) examiner. The CR England program entails entering two phases of training culminating in driving 30,000 miles and staying on a truck for about 2 months straight. In December I graduated their program and now I’m working on the Relief & Recovery Fleet – finding my way and gaining experience and confidence. The program was not easy, it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life…definitely out of my comfort zone.

My first trainer, Laura, is only 24 years old but a consummate professional with a great work ethic. Compassionate and funny she was a blessing. As a lover of music she introduced me to “The Weekend” aka Abel Tesfaye, a Canadian recording artists and record producer. He’s really hot right now and is often categorized as alternative R&B. His voice has been compared to Michael Jackson.

Learning about music is important to me as I market “Island Voices Reggae & New Jamaican Music,” written by Fureus and I. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to get a CDL – finding a corporate position has eluded me since being downsized by AT&T Wireless several years ago and making stable income with my consulting company, art gallery and other efforts has not been successful. Trucking for some reason is the door that continues to open now and I’m embracing it.

It has been a surreal transition going from a “white collar” corporate person to a “blue collar” worker. I have considerable investment in my education and spent the last several years gaining more technology skills, teaching certifications, etc. Those efforts were for naught in terms of employment but looking at the big picture – all good in terms of my interests and goals. My maternal grandfather was a teamster and I come from good solid people – father and brothers in the auto body business though my Dad was the mayor of our hometown, Leominster, MA. I was the first in my family to have the privilege of a college education, with my mother following quickly after (she graduated at the top of her class – I did not). As “smashing the ego” is a good thing all the way around, I welcome being on the open road instead of in a cubicle but as with all professions there are good and bad aspects. One feature of trucking that I love is my exposure to America – new vistas everyday and the ability to make images along the way and interact with a multitude of people. Some of them look sad at the truck stops but I think they are mostly tired and I am of the philosophy that a smile is a free gift I can give to all. I have decided this journey is in alignment with my publishing goals to create and market electronic and audio books about travel and tourism. In my blog and social media sites I’ll be sharing photos and reflections along the way.

This image taken on the truck with Laura is the early morning fog as we traveled through Utah on the way to Salt Lake City.

“Island Voices Reggae & New Jamaican Music” – Get Out of the Cold and Visit Jamaica

cover of our ebook/digital music guide

Island Voices Reggae & New Jamaican Music -an Ebook/Digital Music Guide for Tourists & Visitors to the Island.

The United States is experiencing the dead of winter, snow, ice and below freezing temperatures. For those who can escape, why not go to Jamaica and experience the blue, green island and the beautiful people there. When you go, take our book on your smartphone or digital reading tablet. It links to hundreds of songs, artists and websites that you can explore. Don’t feel like a stranger – feel at home with the people and their culture through a love of the music. Reggae is education through music and each generation evolves the music further.

In addition, if you need a guide while you are there, I can hook you up with Fureus, a rap composer, producer and co-author of our book that can show you the secret, best places.

Click on the link on the home page of this blog “My Book” to buy the ebook. Call me or Fureus or email us from our book page. Happy Travels!