If you are under the persuasion to join the US Marines, have a pair of testicles and live west of the Mississippi then you will have the privilege of going to boot camp in California. Colloquially you will be called a Hollywood Marine. Marines are made, but we make this look good. Everybody else goes to Parris Island, NC. Besides having females in the same training environment, Parris Island has sand fleas. Fleas that give them itches and rashes and whole other slew of other things to gripe about. The Island is also two years older than Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. This causes a long winded rant about who has the pedigree of a real Marine. On and on they go. Being a Hollywood you have to defend why your version of boot camp is harder, even if only slightly. In response you will usually hear one thing, “The hills.”
When I speak of the Hills in relation to California I am not speaking of the shitty TV series. What I am referring to is those actual hills that the Hollywood sign is on. More importantly taking a seventy plus pound pack on your back and going on what the Corps lovingly refers to as humps or hikes for all you others. Most of the guys from back east will reply with that trademark blow hardiness that only exists on their side of the creek, well it’s just a hill. Well one man’s hill is another’s Appalachian Mountain.
These hills are seared into your brain with every painstaking step. Sweat and some bastard’s idea camouflage face paint slowly drip into your eyes. But you better not get fucking pink eye. Under these conditions the Marines come up names like Old Smokey, The Microwave, The Ankle Breaker and Mount Motherfucker. Each aptly named. Another tradition of going on humps is some will yell a phrase that tries to act like rallying cry of old. That if the men hear it they will suddenly be overcome with the passion for more misery. At some point in the past some man who fancied himself as a new Theodore leading these very Rough Pedestrians came up with, “Up the Hill!” Surely he thought that this was so simple and powerful that it would cause a Hazah as his men rallied to the top. At some point one of my counterparts came up with a witty retort, “Fuck the Hill!” That phrase is simple and powerful. Fuck this hump, fuck this hill and get the fuck out of my way. In the military they own you. Insubordination of individual is swiftly dealt with. Insubordination of the mass is a respite. Since the enlisted are in charge of training their own they have made a tradition of this. For generations a drill instructor will call out in mocking remembrance, “Up the Hill!” to a deafening “Fuck the Hill!”
In this economy with a liberal arts degree finding work in an architecturally unremarkable building is a must. To commute from the suburbs to Seattle becomes a routine. Fortunately the town that public transportation forget has played a good amount of catch up in the last decade. Unfortunately they put their train station at the bottom of hill. If you get a job at the shapeless building at the top of the hill have fun walking. But it gives you a good reason to pay attention in math class. If the train drops you off at the bottom of the hill with fifteen minutes to get to work and the connecting bus takes 25 minutes and walking 12 minutes, how much will you reek of sweat with you get to the top of the hill? Arriving at work like you just ran from a car wreck is gets old extremely fast. Even worse is that work requires dress slacks and button up shirts.
Few cities in the world have a similar topography to Seattle. The closest would be San Francisco which is a city on a hill. Seattle is a city on hills. The workplace is adjacent to a neighborhood known as Yesler Terrace, also synonymous with the projects. Also what would come out of a drunk’s mouth when attempting to say, “Yes sir.” With sounding racist this means that a white kid has to make his way a black neighborhood, but during daylight to limit my own paranoia. Yet others still react as though I have just turned water into wine.
Most of the people that you pass on your way up Yesler in the morning are headed downtown but they don’t appear to be wearing professional attire. They wear jackets with sports teams, have large head phones on and dress in the same fashion as most young black men of their age and neighborhood. Normally this is what the suburban paranoia would react to. But a simple head nod and peace symbol and we pass each other with very little interaction. It’s not exactly a dream fulfilled but it is acknowledgement of each other and our space.
If you have to walk up a hill for a view you get a reward. When you walk up a hill for work your relief from physical exertion is only met by more work. So when the start of this daily Himalayan pilgrimage began I fell back on my old habits saying, “Fuck the Hill!” Not yelling as I used to but a simple under my breath venting of frustration. When this was heard in passing by an elderly black woman and greeted with a look of disgust I can only imagine what she thought I was saying.
This elderly black woman did not look like the rest of the younger kids that come down Yesler in the morning. Dressed professionally with a determined look and ambitions for the day, she wasn’t just headed downtown for the day. Leaving from the Terrace at such an early hour can only imply that she was headed to a job. She made something up herself but stayed in the Terrace as way of keeping herself grounded. To hear some commuting yuppy moaning a fuck upon entering her neighborhood is an insult. The insult is unfounded if you are only passing through for your own convenience. Without context to the expletive will continue to spur hate in her.
On the first day she heard it she met me with a glare of disgust. Then scorn for everything that followed. A simple head nod did not suffice as a greeting for her. This woman would accept nothing but respect to repair the offense done to her and her neighborhood. The first morning a simple gesture was put forth to make amends. “Good Morning Ma’am,” as simply as it could be put. The expression which it was received with was neutral. A few more mornings of this and response even became warranted. Even if this wasn’t a friendship it was a mutual understanding on a daily basis.
If you ride a train you are stuck to that trains schedule. If it is late then you are late. Even worse is if you have to walk from your train to your final destination the distance you have to walk doesn’t get any shorter. Just as you press on the gas pedal in a car, you must also do with your feet. Running up a hill though is excruciating. It is especially not recommended in business casual. If you pass that familiar face you may let an old expletive or two slip. That is when you are met with the scowl that cuts through you. If she can walk this every day with a smile you can to. That’s when you can only shake your head as to what this daily incline has done to you. When you reach the peak you sigh, “Fuck the hill.” Not in a moment of contemptuous victory, just contempt.