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The Docks

The Docks

Bill Sharpsteen
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    The Docks
    Book Description:

    The Docksis an eye-opening journey into a giant madhouse of activity that few outsiders ever see: the Port of Los Angeles. In a book woven throughout with riveting novelist detail and illustrated with photographs that capture the frenetic energy of the place, Bill Sharpsteen tells the story of the people who have made this port, the largest in the country, one of the nation's most vital economic enterprises. Among others, we meet a pilot who parks ships, one of the first women longshoremen, union officials and employers at odds over almost everything, an environmental activist fighting air pollution in the "diesel death zone," and those with the nearly impossible job of enforcing security. Together these stories paint a compelling picture of a critical entryway for goods coming into the country-the Port of Los Angeles is part of a complex that brings in 40% of all our waterborne cargo and 70% of all Asian imports-yet one that is also extremely vulnerable.The Docksis a rare look at a world within our world in which we find a microcosm of the labor, environmental, and security issues we collectively face.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94709-2
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    The Port of Los Angeles is bewildering in its size. And yet, because its function is so simple, so timeless, in a way—a place where cargo is moved from ship to shore or vice versa—few people notice the port or realize how important it is to the various markets it serves throughout the United States. I have to admit, after living in Los Angeles for more than ten years, the port was for me nothing more than a bit of economic DNA until 1998, when I sneaked onto a pier posing as a longshoreman wannabe (hey, the guard...

  6. ONE Valet Parking
    (pp. 5-23)

    Most people board a cargo ship on a gangway, a safe, though perhaps steep, ramp that goes from dock to ship’s deck with just enough metallic, rickety sounds to make it feel unique and even romantic in a nautical sort of way. Then there’s how I’m about to board a ship with port pilot Captain Ron Rogers: we’ll do it, like pirates, by climbing up a ship’s hull on a wet rope ladder dangling above a sloshing ocean 2 miles from shore. And, oh, by the way, I’m told it’s kind of dangerous.

    This has me a little distracted when...

  7. TWO A Carpet of Containers
    (pp. 24-32)

    Riding a ship through the port’s Main Channel is a lot like going down the central aisle in a huge shopping mall. The profusion of piers, ships, cranes, containers, and, if you look hard enough, people engulfs you. The rest of the world seems to disappear, and all that’s left is an industrial bazaar with too much sensory input to adequately put any of it in perspective. I needed a way to view it all from a distance, to simplify the clutter that comes when you’re in the middle of it, a way to let the parts blend together into...

  8. THREE Moving Cans
    (pp. 33-51)

    Let’s face it—there’s nothing attractive about theXin Wei Hai.Then again, how pretty does a ship need to be when its sole purpose is to haul some two thousand 40-foot containers stacked five high? As cargo ships go, it’s medium in size, with the blunted lines of a skateboard. But the world’s got enough sleek sailing vessels that can rip your heart out with their beauty. What we need now are big hulking tubs with one purpose—to lug all that stuff being made in Asia to our shores. About the only thing this ship’s got going for...

  9. FOUR The Landlord
    (pp. 52-59)

    Geraldine Knatz’s fifth-floor office has the kind of boffo vista of San Pedro Harbor that you would expect for the executive director of the Port of Los Angeles. Nearly 50 feet of window space point east toward the port’s 7,500 acres. In the sort of image that’s starting to nag me, all one can see of this place is calm, like an industrial garden of metal petunias glittering in the sun, when—just as I felt standing on the bridge of theWan Hai 312—the port’s conflicted soul seethes somewhere below. It seems to me that in place of...

  10. FIVE The Diesel Death Zone
    (pp. 60-91)

    As I approach San Pedro, driving south on the 110 freeway, the West Basin of the Port of Los Angeles seems to suddenly spring up in my windshield like a page from a pop-up book. It’s not the cargo ships that first hit me but the cranes clustered around the water, so massive they actually blot out the Vincent Thomas Bridge, which was once the area’s most prominent landmark. In fact, from just about everywhere in San Pedro that sports a harbor view, the 350-foot erector-set cranes scratch at the sky with such visual intensity that the stacks of containers,...

  11. SIX The Union
    (pp. 92-124)

    As I met more and more longshoremen, I couldn’t believe my whitecollar ears: “We run the place,” they boasted, in one way or another. Even some of the people I met in the Port of Los Angeles administration implied that the union was in charge—you want to get access to the docks, they’d tell me, ask the ILWU local. As a guy who comes from a world where the term “employee” is synonymous with “powerless peon,” I found this flip-flop in hierarchy at first nearly impossible to believe.

    Granted, this power inversion is more a state of mind than...

  12. SEVEN The Employers
    (pp. 125-141)

    Jim McKenna seems like a decent fellow. From what I understand through secondhand sources, Jim Spinosa, the ILWU international president in 2004, isn’t always so thrilled with him, but that’s to be expected. An ILWU leader can go only so far in praising the president and CEO of the Pacific Maritime Association, unless it’s at the guy’s funeral.

    As for McKenna, he chooses his words slowly, carefully, whenever he discusses his labor counterpart, preferring mild grumbles over the tirades the ILWU pours out whenever there’s a spat between the two. His obvious restraint not only suggests stronger feelings within but...

  13. EIGHT The Importer
    (pp. 142-154)

    A wine tasting is supposed to be a cultured affair, with dainty pours of selected vintages barely puddling the bottom of your glass. The host, usually a vendor looking for future customers, lovingly describes the vineyard—its grapes, soils, age—to establish the wine’s quality lineage while you swirl the liquid and hold it to the light to see how it drains down the sides of the glass. The host tells you what flavors to anticipate just before you swish the wine over your palate, hoping that your taste buds will actually detect the peach undertones. And if you really...

  14. NINE The Shipper
    (pp. 155-163)

    For small importers such as the late Great Wines International, a shipment’s punctuality usually has little impact on profit margins so long as the product doesn’t hit the shore more than a few days late. All things being equal, the costs are the same whether the wine arrives on Tuesday or Friday. Larger companies, however, employ an inventory strategy known as “just-in-time,” which means that being late and being early are equally bad. The idea is that a retail item or a factory part, for instance, will arrive exactly when it’s needed, whether it’s going to be stocked on store...

  15. TEN Los Troqueros
    (pp. 164-184)

    It’s ten minutes before 6:00 P.M., and outside the Evergreen America terminal, parked trucks choke the shoulder of the road as though they’ve been abandoned—2 miles of tractors, tractors with empty containers, and perhaps a few with cargo, strung bumper to bumper in the kind of grinding gridlock that must look like money thrown into a bonfire to the drivers sitting there. After all, they get paid only for delivering a container, not for the time they spend in line—and some of them have been there for three or four hours. They won’t be moving soon, either. When...

  16. ELEVEN The Hold Men
    (pp. 185-203)

    Like most longshoremen in the 1950s, Art Almeida was a hold man. The men who worked with him were soldiers, gladiators, the sweaty, muscled foundation of shipping. They toiled in the pits, down in the ship’s shadowy lower decks where the real work was done, all backs and elbows. This made the hold men the most important guys on the waterfront.

    At a time when cargoes were loaded and unloaded almost entirely by hand, a typical ship required five to eight gangs of eight hold men each to discharge cargo. On a good day, they might pump out 15 tons...

  17. TWELVE The Women
    (pp. 204-219)

    As she speaks, I’m trying to picture what it was like to be Gretchen Williams back then. In my imagination, she’s standing on the broad asphalt field outside a cargo ship, a clerk’s clipboard in hand, directing an all-male parade of longshoremen driving new Toyotas out of the hold and to the parking spots she assigns them. She’s in her early twenties, five-foot-one, a self-described “voluptuous surfer chick” with sun-bleached hair. As far as the lead-footed yahoos joyriding past her know, she’s the only woman out there, or, for that matter, anywhere on the docks. Small, alone, an easy target....

  18. THIRTEEN The Clerk
    (pp. 220-229)

    When he was young, George Love wanted to be an accountant, but he became a marine clerk at the Port of Los Angeles instead. That’s not to say his second career option turned out all that badly. The responsibility for monitoring the flow of containers at a terminal gives the job a certain weight; a clerk is an important pivot point, a traffic cop of sorts in the movement of cargo. Still, as we eat lunch at a restaurant frequented by dockworkers, it’s clear he would have been just as happy taking a sharp pencil to the withering array of...

  19. FOURTEEN Security
    (pp. 230-253)

    I’ve just met bo’sun’s mate second class Christopher Hurley, and already he’s whipping out his gun. Outside the Coast Guard’s Los Angeles/Long Beach office, he pulls his weapon, a black .40-caliber Sig Sauer P229 that he wears halfway down his right thigh, and bends over a large metal tube slanted toward the ground and lined with a rubbery material. He could be tying his shoe, his actions are so automatic. He sticks the gun barrel a few inches inside the tube and crisply, casually snaps back the slide. With that, he straightens, secures the gun, and lopes down the sidewalk...

  20. FIFTEEN The New Normal
    (pp. 254-263)

    When Balwinder Samra delivered his prototype electric truck to the Port of Los Angeles during the first week of 2008, Geraldine Knatz, the port’s executive director, went to Costco and bought him a case of Cupa-Soup. This might have been more an unintentional message than a joke. Samra had just spent more than a half million dollars of the port’s and the state’s money to build the truck, and considering that neither benefactor was all that flush with cash at the time, this came across—just a little—as the most Knatz could afford for a bonus. For his part,...

  21. SIXTEEN Hawse Piper
    (pp. 264-278)

    When Ed Brooks and his tugboat, theMaster,first sidle up alongside theXin Chang Sha,there’s a surreal moment when the ocean is blocked so completely from his view that it seems as though the tug has been swallowed whole by the enormous Chinese shipping vessel. An ominous humming fills the background as engines, splashing water, and wind all beat together like a storm in the distance. Dreamlike, an incongruous sign painted on the monstrous hull appears—a large white arrow pointed down, with the word TUG in block letters above it.

    Brooks glances out the portside window from...

    (pp. 279-302)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 303-310)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 311-311)