Steaming, steel cut, Irish oatmeal loaded with fresh bananas, pecans, and raisins is sat in front of Steve for breakfast at the Dock & Dive on the Oakland Port. A small serving dish on the table contains three types of spread. He chooses two butters, unfolds each wrap with his butter knife, and scrapes the entire contents into the cereal.
The Dock & Dive, simply The Dock or The D, is an early breakfast, late lunch cafe just outside the gates of the Oakland port. Ten years old, it is built out of several shipping containers lashed together with wit, will, and a heavy coat of grease. The outside is painted blue-green, the color of the bay, with crude sea lions and seagulls painted and Spartanly spaced along two sides. It has three steel and wood picnic tables, chained to concrete pillars driven into the ground. The inside walls are painted white and covered in military and sports memorabilia, mostly beer adverts and photographs. There are five booths along the front and far walls. Along the middle of the space, separating the customers from the business works, there is a bar with 7 stools, and all the fixtures are stainless steel and blue-green vinyl, a color similar to the exterior. The cash register is on one end of the bar, across from the entrance. On the wall between the cash register and entrance is a dusty bulletin board. The owner is a native Oakland-ite, an ex-Marine who saw action in the first Gulf War. His primary responsibilities were frontline chow logistics as well as hunting for Saddam. He employs a short order cook and two waitresses, one full-time and the other is the owner’s daughter. She painted the marine life. The Dock is open from 5 A.M. until 3 P.M., six days a week, and serves a small selection of 3-5 domestic beers, depending on the owner’s mood.
Steve McSwain is hooking up with a Vanilla Shed distribution representative. Vanilla Shed is a California furniture chain that sells well made, but mediocre, American style-of-the-moment furniture to middle class sensibilities. McSwain and the rep will break open a shipping container from the east to deliver a special order to El Cerrito, and then, deliver the remaining contents to a distribution center in Concord, CA. Normally, Steve prefers to work through the local warehouse, but special orders pay well. It should be a simple job, deliver a couch, loveseat, and two chairs to a residence in the Mira Vista Country Club, then the warehouse. He doesn’t even have to load or unload the container. The VS Rep. is bringing “White Glove,” bonded muscle to follow him to the deliveries. All he has to do is drive and get paid; it’s pure gravy.
“Where’s my double bacon?” Steve asks the droopy-eyed waitress, as she returns to fill his coffee cup.
Her eyes widen; it takes a few minutes to access his order in her mind. She’s juggling three booths at the moment, and only one of them has more than one customer. “Hum?” She frowns and her gaze cinches up, agreeing with him. “Yes. I’ll check.”
Steve sips the black coffee, and picks up his spoon. He dives it into the gruel and mixes “the floats into the oats.”
Marlene returns to the table sans bacon, “I’m sorry hun, they misunderstood the order. It’ll be up in a moment.”
Steve’s eyes relax as he crunches the pecans. He turns and stares hard into her eyes and winks. Moist oats sticking to the corner of his mouth, he answers using his best Bogart impression with modified lines from Gone with the Wind, “Frankly Marlene,” he winks, “I do give a damn.” He grins, as his face turns red.
It is contagious and Marlene blushes. She titters, smiles, and turns to one of the other booths to keep from laughing out loud.
McSwain is not just a truck driver. Like almost everyone who lives in the Bay Area, Steve McSwain has artistic dreams or delusions of doing something more creative. He longs to be an actor on the big screen and on the stage. Steve has walked-on to several movies, TV series, and even advertising shoots. With the right cap and boots, just enough beard, and dusty or dirty makeup, he looks the perfect part of a longshoreman, merchant marine, or truck driver. McSwain is 28-years old, brown eyes, brown hair, and olive skin. He’s the image of a sublime man’s, man, who is muscular, rugged, direct, and if necessary, intimidating and threatening. One who never shows his emotions, and doesn’t speak much or out of turn.
People who meet him for the first time often ask, “Why San Francisco and not Los Angeles?” He started in L.A. but without much of a grubstake, he didn’t last long. The competition is fierce and not limited to acting. Classes have long waiting lists; agents will not take your call unless you already have minor success; waiters, bartenders, store clerks, even fast food service jobs are sought after with so much enthusiasm as to make one think, they were applying for a permanent position in Shambhala. He was waiting on line once outside a Bill’s Biggest Burger with application and resume in hand for a single position, one of five remaining applicants, when the person in front of him came out smiling, clutching a uniform.
Next thing, Los Angeles’ finest, Adam-13 or something worse, shows up and frisks everyone else in the line. They take names, address, and confiscate anything they consider to be contraband. Handcuffed, shoeless, sitting on a curb, McSwain asked as politely as he could to one of the officers standing over the group, “sir, what’s going on?”
The officer pulls out his baton, smiles, points it at Steve, “we got a call that you and your buddies here were smoking crack, attempting to sell a controlled substance, meth, and,” he pauses, shakes the baton at Steve’s nose “one of you is concealing a full-auto, Mac-10.” He turns to look at his partners who are searching each of us one at a time then back, “know anything about that, Sir?”
Steve’s uncle, retired Navy, lives in Alameda and owns a few delivery trucks. Until he had saved enough to move out and into a studio in Jack London Square, Steve lived with his uncle and still works for him as a freelancer.
Steve washed down his third bite with another slow drink of black coffee, when Marlene returns with a dinner plate stacked with bacon. She sits it down on the table, and he looks up at her, “I didn’t order that much?”
“It’s on me sweetheart,” Marlene smiles.
Steve’s gapping wonderment closes in a smile and he winks again. In his best John Wayne impression, he holds the wink, drops the same shoulder, wags his head, and says, “why, thank you mam, thank you, very much. If I ever sees you on the range, give me a yodel, and I’ll make sures you get to town safe.”
The two spend a moment laughing and talking about their favorite John Wayne film; his is Chisholm Trail, and she prefers the later works, True Grit and the Cowboys. Steve asks, “Hey Marlene, what’s the story on the tarot card taped to the front of the register?”
She turns her head to look, as if she’s not seen it before, and turns back. “It’s Yolanda’s, Mac’s daughter.”
“Mac’s the owner,” he interrupts.
“Yeah. She’s been learning the Tarot and plans to make a little extra cash here and in the saloons.” She answers.
“What is, The Tower?” He asks.
“That’s from yesterday; she’s been putting up a new one every day.”
“She says it’s for the person who recognizes the card.” Marlene adds.
“Why is it upside down?” Steve asks. He takes another sip of coffee and prepares to listen, intently.
“I don’t know, but you can ask her. I think she comes in at noon for a couple of hours.” Marlene turns her head to see one of her other customers motioning with his coffee cup. She pulls out her receipts and tears out his bill. “I gotta go, sweetie.” She lays it on the table.
I can’t wait that long, he thinks to himself. Steve McSwain finishes his oatmeal, gobbles down most of the pound of bacon, and knocks back his beaker. He reaches in his back pocket to pull out his wallet. It is retro-western brown, tan, and ivory cowhide model with the cow hair still attached the cured skin. The stitching is worn, and one corner has separated completely; it’s bent over. On the inside, a cowpoke, roping steer is carved into the outermost pockets across the fold. He opens the cash sleeve, and he only has Jacksons. The check comes to $14.50, but without change for a twenty, he leaves the full fifth.