I like bars for the same reason I like Facebook: I can come face-to-face (literally and metaphorically) with people who have different opinions than I do. When I was growing up in the middle of Illinois, liberals were hard to come by, so I couldn't wait to head west and surround myself with other radicals. Once I arrived here and realized that everyone felt the same way, I quickly got bored. Not only that, but something really terrible happened: I began to move to the center. Being a journalist helped with that — you can have a political hypothesis, but once you actually go out and test it through reporting, you see that the world is not all black and white.
Not surprisingly, my favorite watering holes consist of strange mixtures of people. These are usually places that straddle more than one neighborhood. Case in point, Sutter Station on Market, which caters to a trickle of tourists from the Embarcadero, blue-collar guys who work in the nearby hotels, suits who want to find a place to drink where they will not run into any of their co-workers, and a few scruffy sorts cashing in their recycling change. It's also down the street from my own day job, so I dip in on occasion to escape the maddening crowd.
It doesn't matter what time of the day it is — if you walk into the Station, you will be able to pretend it is midnight. The place is dimly lit, with an old California vibe, as if Sutter's Mill were actually its namesake. There are people sitting on stools who look like they haven't gotten up in decades. The bartenders move slowly but deliberately, like men who have seen it all and don't abide no bullshit. The bar is in the same shotgun style of many in this town, but it is bigger and wider than most, with cozy tables along the wall and a big back room with pool tables.
I sat down and ordered a drink, then warily turned my phone on to see how much action the status update I'd posted that morning on Facebook was getting. I knew that questioning the logic of closing down the Port of Oakland was going to be controversial, and it had indeed set off a flurry of discussion between my friends. As a liberal Democrat, you are not supposed to question the Occupy movement. I could handle people disagreeing with my post, but I was worried that some of them would unfriend me. I don't understand that logic; my favorite posts are from people I disagree with. For example, a guy I went to high school with has repeatedly been posting about "putting the Christ back in Christmas." He even said that candy canes were created with the idea that the treat would be shaped like a "J," for Jesus, and the red part of the cane represents blood, and the white part represents purity and the cleansing of sin. I did not know that.
A man sat next to me in what looked like an expensive suit. "You off?" I asked him, and he said yep. He ordered a Jameson and ran his hands through his hair. "Long day?" I said, worried that I was pressing him.
"Yeah..." he said, trying to be friendly but no doubt secretly wishing I would leave him alone. Poor fella. There was no way I was going to do that. I asked him what he did, and he said that he was an underwriter.
"Ooh!" I exclaimed, "The Man!" He snorted a little laugh. I told him that I was following Occupy's closure of the port. He just shook his head and rolled his eyes. After seeing what I interpreted as a snide response, I immediately wanted to defend the action, despite railing against it on Facebook all day. I can question the movement, but this Republican bastard had better not.
"If they really want to make a difference they need to stick with attacking Wall Street," he said, taking a sip of his drink. Huh? Did I hear him right? "It's a game to these guys [investment bankers]; a big, giant Vegas crap shoot. They could give two shits about the little guy."
Damn. Hadn't seen this coming. He continued: "Noam Chomsky was right, you know, with the Manufacturing Consent thing. Capitalism is so huge, so ubiquitous that now even the far left is unwittingly attacking working people by impeding their ability to make a day's wages."
I just sort of sat there, stunned. "True dat," was all I could say back. This guy had somehow thrown Chomsky in. He was hardcore. I had to give him his space. I shut up and we both sat there, in silence.
I'm not sure I totally get the connection with Manufacturing Consent, but one of the things that bugged me about the port closure was how the protesters seemed to prop up the workers and insist that most of them were on their side. This was not true. In fact, their actions had a direct effect on the lives of many of the workers. I can't see that as being moral. How had things become so twisted up that people on the left, who hold Karl Marx in esteem, would kneecap someone's salary?
"Such is the cost of revolution," wrote one of my friends on my Facebook post who's name is not, in fact, Mao Zedong. I felt very sad. I turned off my phone and turned my gaze to the TV, as did my accidental companion. Suddenly, a sports wrap-up seemed fascinating.