A thousand or so years ago when I was 17, I hitchhiked to California. I had maybe 10 bucks in my pocket and no prospects, but went anyway.

One day in the town of Salinas, I heard that every morning a bus pulled up to a certain corner, and if you got on, you could work in a farm field and get paid that same day in cash.

The bus came and I got on, along with a ragtag assortment of guys. When we reached our destination, some spot in the middle of nowhere, we got off. Each of us was given a large bunch of rubber bands to place on our left wrist.

The job was to protect cauliflowers from the sun. It went like this: Gather the leaves of a cauliflower plant and hold them together in your left hand. With your right hand, slide a rubber band from your wrist over your left hand and onto the leaves, holding them together. Repeat from morning until evening.

The rows of cauliflowers seemed to go on forever. I don’t remember actually getting to the end of one.

Soon, my back was complaining from the constant bending forward. Every fifth plant or so, I had to straighten up and lean backward for a moment.


The sun grew hot and I was drenched with sweat. Every so often a guy with a bucket of water came along and we all drank from the same ladle, one at a time as he came to us.

Mid-morning, some guys in uniform showed up. They were friendly, walking among the workers and making small talk.

“How ya doing?”


“Hot work, huh.”

“Sure is. Wish I’d been smart enough to wear a hat.”


“I bet. Where were you born?”

“Cleveland, Ohio.”

“Thanks. Have a nice day.”

A few of the workers were not able to chat in English or answer the ‘where were you born’ question. They were escorted from the field.

At noon, work stopped for half an hour and we gathered around a truck for sandwiches, fruit, sodas, and salt.

At the end of the day, we lined up at a folding table and were paid in cash. I don’t remember how much, but it was enough that I didn’t feel cheated. We were herded back onto the bus and returned to the same corner in Salinas where we’d been picked up.


I worked a few days and was thankful for the work, but also felt certain there must be easier ways to earn a living.

Funny how most of your life fades away, but some parts don’t.

Every autumn, I remember those few days, bending over in the sun sliding rubber bands onto cauliflower leaves. I remember the refreshing taste of scooped-out water from a bucket.

I remember my conversation with the border-patrol officer. The long, long rows of cauliflower, disappearing into the distance. The aches from a long day of fieldwork. The creaking of the bus as we rode back to Salinas. The restaurant meal I had in the evening. Buying a hat.

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