As some of you may have heard, there’s a strike going on here in Los Angeles. The writers of film and television have stopped working for the studios and production companies as they try to hammer out a fair and equitable working agreement.
I’m a writer. That means, for the first time in my life, I’ve been walking a picket line.
We, the writers, are all very committed to our goals in this strike (I won’t bore you with details – this isn’t the forum for it), and it’s been impressive how many have turned out to support the Writers Guild of America. We march with pride and purpose, and we have no intention of stopping.
Most days these last two weeks, I’ve walked four hour shifts, carrying a sign outside a television studio, and trying to convince passing cars and trucks to honk and show their support. Occasionally, there’s a little bit of chanting (“Writers! United! We will not be divided!”). But outside of that, pretty much all we do is walk in ovals back and forth across a driveway.
That being the case, we have to find something to talk about to fill the minutes – and the laps from one end of the pavement to the other. So I’ve made the most of the opportunity – trying to talk basketball with as many people as I can.
It’s been interesting, surveying folks as to their favorite teams. Most, of course, say the Lakers, but a surprising number proclaim their support for the Clippers. “We’re writers,” one woman told me. “We root for the underdogs.” There’s a sense of oppressors versus oppressed when it comes to Clipper fans…I wonder if they can go on strike against the purple and gold?
I’ve noticed that, among the cars that cross our picket line to enter the studio, drivers with Laker bumper stickers are much less likely to treat the picketers in a friendly way. Some do, don’t get me wrong, but some definitely don’t.
In all honesty, I’ve yet to see a car with a Clippers bumper sticker.
Laker fans among the strikers tend to fall into two categories: Lifers who have been here forever and are truly passionate about the team, and bandwagoners who are relatively new arrivals, seduced by the glitz, Kobe’s style, and the team’s shiny history. When I ask either group about Kobe, they say basically the same thing: “He’s a great player, but…” I get the sense they like watching him do what he does, but that they might be happier if it was anyone else doing it. Lamar Odom, Dick Cheney, Attila the Hun…Anybody.
But when I ask one man if he favors the Lakers trading Kobe Bryant, he squints at me, and answers with a question: “What would we get back for him?”
It’s Hollywood. Everything’s a negotiation.
Among picketers who have a preference for neither LA team, there are a fair number who don’t watch or care about basketball. I keep a list of those people, to remind myself who not to stand next to as I march. Some have hometown loyalties, so I marched the other day with a (God help him) Bucks fan. I’ve also come across a “Jazz nut,” (her words) and a couple Easterners with sad expressions who admit to rooting for the Knicks or Sixers. Boston fans, I’ve noticed, have a bounce in their step, but I guess I should expect that, since the Celtics and Patriots are undefeated, and apparently the Red Sox had a pretty good year.
When I mention to anyone who knows even the slightest glimmer about basketball that I’m a Suns fan, their eyes immediately light up with delight. “Steve Nash!” they exclaim. Apparently, it’s a new slang expression, interchangeable with “Awesome!” or “Too cool!” More educated fans compliment me (though they really mean the team, I’m pretty sure) on the Suns’ style of play, and how it’s helping rejuvenate interest in pro basketball.
Not one Laker fan gives me any grief over Raja Bell’s altercation with Kobe Bryant in the playoffs two years ago. A couple non-Laker fans recall the moment with guilty grins. A few grins aren’t even guilty.
I ask how they would respond if the players were in our situation, striking against their employers for better conditions, wages, or whatever. Would the players’ salaries, higher than most ordinary humans to begin with, make it hard to support them? I find myself agreeing when one woman answers, “Not a bit. It’s not their fault how much they get paid. They’re being paid what the market will allow. Their peak earning years are very short – eight to ten years, if they’re lucky – and they should do whatever they need to protect their financial futures and security.” It’s a pro-labor stance, obviously, which is to be expected, since we’re all feeling pretty pro-labor out here at the moment.
I like walking with these people, feeling part of a united community of writers. I like talking basketball with them, too. But we all have places we’d rather be – generally at keyboards in front of computers, telling the stories we love so much, rather than wearing treads in the asphalt as we shuffle along carrying our signs.
Our strike essentially coincided with the start of the basketball season. We’re hoping it doesn’t last nearly as long.