Mr. Rogers never lived in Sacramento, but if he had, I have to think that he would have lived in a modest but tasteful house near Land Park. He was the kind of person who would have enjoyed Land Park, as well as the other parks and museums not too far away in downtown Sacramento. These municipal treasures are wasted on Sacramentans.

Sacramento has trolley service, too, but it ain’t Mr. Rogers’ trolley service. To be fair, the clientele on the San Diego trolleys can fall short of the Rogers standard, too. The only time I’ve ever been referred to as a “nigga” was on the San Diego Blue Line, by a dude who was “borrowing phones from random niggas and shit” (and not thanking them afterwards, asshole). Sac Regional Transit has not, to the best of my knowledge, reached that promised land of post-racial equality, although with its teeming masses of wiggers, it can’t be far off.

Many people would argue that the language I used in the preceding paragraph is racist, regressive, inflammatory, and hence irresponsible. Some of these people would like to ignore and euphemize racial slurs until they go away forever; personally, I’d like to envision Mariska Hargitay fucking me silly until she in fact jumps into bed with me and doesn’t utter a critical word about my premature ejaculation. Straight dope, yo, that’s about the chance that the euphemists have of purging society of four centuries of racial bigotry by guilting everyone else into being as hypersensitive as they are. There is some ancient nastiness ingrained in the racial attitudes of this country, attitudes that we’ve been very successful at exporting to other countries lately (along with things like the three-drug lethal injection cocktail, which our own courts have finally started recognizing as an imprecise and inhumane method inspired by a very stupid but earnest sort of hypocrisy); one does not simply create a just and humane society by banning use of the “N-word” and derivatives thereof.

As I’ve discovered anew over the past couple of weeks, Sacramento has a special cultural nastiness of its own, one that draws heartily from the deep well of American racial bigotry. To adopt the local parlance, a lot of the homeboys and a few of the homegirls around here are hella fucked up. So when I refer to some of these asshats as “wiggers,” I do so deliberately. These white boys aren’t so much playing that funky music as they are adopting the dress, speech, mannerisms and attitudes of the black underclass for their transgressive effect, or something. I can’t say how self-aware some of these people are; how does one say “transgressive” in ebonics? Besides, there’s a good chance that their goal isn’t to be transgressive, and hence irritating, but rather to be intimidating. This is a subtle but very important difference: there may be no extenuating circumstances for commissioning Wayne Brady’s strangulation of a jive-assing loser for looking like a fool with his pants on the ground, but there probably are extenuating circumstances for commissioning his strangulation of an asshat whose body language suggests that he’s one trifling provocation away from committing battery on a stranger. This proposal is a sort of “Minority Report”-meets-White Kensington vigilante dystopia, but if it sounds totally nuts, you probably haven’t been on the Sacramento light rail system lately.

What actually is totally nuts is probably over one percent of the population of the cities of Rancho Cordova, Sacramento and West Sacramento. There are a lot of loony motherfuckers on the loose around here. I haven’t seen all of them, but I’ve seen enough to figure that 6,000-odd isn’t an implausible nut count. You have to figure, too, that a lot of irredeemably useless eaters who spend their days motoring around their Section 8 apartments on their scooters eating KFC leftovers aren’t mixing it up with the light rail crowd that often, and that their isolation and physical infirmities don’t leave them entirely right in the head. Regional Transit has more than its fair share of Scooter Store customers under 60, but I can’t imagine that a majority of the prematurely nonambulatory in metro Sac are on or around the transit system at a given hour. The underclass really comes into prominence after business hours, when so many of the competent people who spend their work weeks downtown head for the hills, likely El Dorado Hills, which has a per capita household income of over $100k. This is a case in which correlation probably is causation: the hordes of civil servants and government hangers-on are able to pull in the big bucks because they’re more or less able-bodied and not Looney Tunes.

What’s really telling about the losers, thugs and nuts on and around Regional Transit and Yolobus (for those of you who #YOLO, or hate on those who #YOLO, I did not make that up) is that their prevalence is wildly out of proportion to what I’ve found on the LA Metro and OCTA systems. There are some mighty strange rangers among Metro-Big Blue transfer passengers (again, I did not make up Santa Monica’s wackadoodle SWPL name for its municipal bus system, the Big Blue Bus), but they’re ultimately just eccentric; for all their oddities, they have manners and a fair amount of dignity. Similarly, the white trash on Harbor Boulevard in Orange County have found ways to let their freak flags fly on the 43 bus without resorting to antisocial displays of pride. Reserving a seat on a crush-loaded forty-footer for the bowl of instant soup that one is snorting in the hope of annoying the taciturn Mexican lady across the aisle is not antisocial by Sacramento standards; sporting a fullet and belting out a tone-deaf rendition of “Fly Like a G6” (that is, more tone-deaf than the studio version) doesn’t come close. There’s a lot pathos there, since homegirl is not on track to buy a G6, and the 43 is arguably the least fly line in the OCTA network (which says a lot), but none of that suggests that the whole fucking county is being taken over by street criminals.

My working thesis is that Orange and Los Angeles Counties have retained enough of a productive economic base to maintain a genuine working class, while Sacramento County has failed in its efforts to prop up its downwardly mobile working class with bullshit make-work projects, and has been left with what is better described as a former working class. But that’s only a partial explanation. As a state capital, Sacramento has a huge concentration of well-paid jobs in state government, but there is a large underclass that apparently does not aspire to these jobs, despite living practically on the doorstep of countless state offices. I suspect that the former importance of the military to the regional economy explains some of the trouble; to quote Captain Bones, “those, my friend, are the enlisted.” There’s also the matter of surplus losers effectively being exiled east of Eden, so to speak. The social pathologies that I’ve witnessed in Sacramento are similar to what I’ve heard described of parts of the Inland Empire, especially the cities of San Bernardino, Victorville and Riverside. The industrial economies in the latter cities, especially Victorville, are undeveloped compared to those in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Victorville is basically a prison town, much like a number of shitholes in the Central Valley. It’s easy to imagine those who got drunk and fell off the vo-tech wagon early in life moving inland to stretch their Wal-Mart and social services checks. In any event, the situation with the underclass in Sac looks like an intractable mess. Even if these shitheads are employed, it’s hard to see them moving up into positions of any responsibility with their feral stance towards life.

If you’re thinking that redemption will come from the middle and upper classes: in your fucking dreams. I’ve already alluded to evidence that the productive and competent segments of the population have largely seceded from the most dysfunctional areas of greater Sacramento. As a result, the latter neighborhoods are, like the characters of America’s most popular apocalyptic fiction, Left Behind (TM). The best we can hope for is that the children of the middle and upper classes will keep gentrifying downtown and Midtown, by going out drinking and that kind of thing, but that doesn’t answer what is to be done about the hard cases. One option is to give them one-way light rail tickets and tell them, “Hop off at Zinfandel and be a dirty menace all you like, but don’t come back here, okay?” I submit that this sort of thing is a much more common social services policy in the United States than mainstream media reports suggest. It works in Paris, too.

What might actually work would be to ramp up inpatient and outpatient social services. As it happens, this afternoon I heard a guy ask a lady at the Power Inn station, completely in earnest, “Are you inpatient or outpatient?” It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. In fact, it’s always a beautiful day in the neighborhood when former USP Coleman correctional officer Erin “you’re a dead man” Sharma is serving a life sentence at Sacramento Community Corrections. The problem with this social services approach, of course, is that it costs money. A lot of money, because the social services agencies can’t hire just anyone at minimum wage to deal with alcoholics, the mentally ill, ex-cons and that ilk. Doing it on the cheap only increases the risk that a discipline problem like Sharma will end up festering on the payroll until she snaps and solicits the murder of an asshole who assaulted her.

That’s the thing with government services. There’s some waste, there’s some fraud, there’s some incompetence and featherbedding and self-justification, but there’s also some trying to facilitate the social adjustment of down-and-out losers whom the social workers and cops on the scene are often of a mind to strangle, Wayne Brady-style, and there’s some driving the 21 bus through Rancho Cordova, where one witnesses hostile, likely unemployable wiggers raising children. Governments hire people to deal with some really ugly shit, and they generally pay these people a premium because they’re dealing with ugly shit, and maybe also firearms or forty-foot buses. Yeah, they could be making minimum wage on the night shift at 7-Eleven, so maybe the whole set-up isn’t fair to convenience store clerks who get shot by armed robbers, but still, it’s better than most of the alternatives. If fairness is what gets our panties into a bunch, it isn’t fair that night-shift bodega clerks aren’t career corporate bullshitters who pull in $60k as “HR specialists,” either. Look: something has to be done about the druggies and nutters so that they stop making life unbearable for everyone else in their neighborhoods, so do we want to hire qualified and competent people for the job, or do we want to do it on the cheap and hire Erin Sharma? We could probably get a good rate on her since she’s a felon.

What does the middle class in greater Sacramento want to do about these people? The anecdotes I’ve heard on the subject aren’t encouraging. One of the drivers on Yolobus, who truly is a class act despite his dubious politics, tends to bend his passengers’ ears about what thieves the Democrats are and how welfare “was meant as a hand up, not a handout.” To be clear, I’d rather have EBT beneficiaries be productive and engaged than consumptive and idle, but trimming the welfare rolls won’t come close to fixing West Sac. There are an awful lot of people on food stamps who are in every regard but their overt government dependency well-adjusted and respectable, and there are more than a few beneficiaries who would be resorting to theft or worse to make ends meet without food stamps. Similarly, Section 8 keeps a lot of people off the streets, which is a huge public benefit; better yet is well-run public housing (not the Robert Taylor Homes, to be clear), which cuts out the tyrannical crooks who infest private property management.

Another, worse, anecdote than the Yolobus driver is the very well-coiffed lady I overheard at a noodle joint on Broadway this afternoon, complaining about how one of her friends “is a bleeding heart. The problem is that he thinks we should be bled.” It takes some gall for a Sacramentan to say such a thing. This is a government town that would be at the uppermost headwaters of Shit Creek if the state agencies disappeared. Every living soul here is a beneficiary of net government expenditures. There is no way around this truth. No amount of complaining (probably truthfully) about the incompetence of the DMV negates the crucial effect of state spending on Sacramento’s economy. If these whiners really care about small government, they’re free to move to Stockton, which has one.

This pseudolibertarian gibberish illuminates one of the subtle but insidious things about right-wing hypocrisy: its simpleminded earnestness. Lefties lose debates because their introspection and sense of nuance compel them to admit to their own hypocrisy and entertain some measure of self-loathing. Right-wingers deal with contradictions by blithely ignoring them, instead presenting as gospel truths whatever pat, contradictory tautologies fit their prejudices. Some of the bigger names on the right are cynical demagogues (as are some on the left), but other right-wing leaders, and a great many of their followers, appear not to notice that they’re basically making shit up. It shouldn’t be hard to see, however, why I find this sort of rhetoric much less objectionable coming from someone who has daily exposure to some of the most fucked up bus transit passengers in California than from someone who looks like she may never have set foot on a city bus.

Niggas be fucked.

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