Mike Davis, 76, Who Knew The Greed & Corruption Of Fontana

Mike Davis, the kid from Fontana who seemed fated to a blue-collar existence until the vicissitudes of that way of life pushed him into becoming a man of letters and a social critic par excellence, died in San Diego on October 25. He was 76.
When his father was injured and could no longer work, Davis dropped out of high school and took his place driving a truck for Davis’s uncle’s meatpacking company.
For the next dozen years, he was trucker, driving all order of lorries and commercial vehicles, from panel delivery vans, stake beds, 27-foot trucks, cement mixers, 40-foot trailers and 52-foot 18-wheelers.
Fate intervened, and he was laid off, only temporarily, he thought, when the company he worked for downsized.
He found part-time employment in newspaper production, which put him in contact with some UCLA students and two professors who were putting out a Marxist publication called the Picket Line, the charter for which was to support striking workers. He was yet working on the paper when in 1970 the Teamsters promoted a wildcat strike among truckers. Davis’s experience as a truck driver allowed him to make approaches and get information the other writers could not. The professors and students, impressed with his research and writing, talked him into matriculating at UCLA.
Davis for a time backslid, returning to driving a truck and then for a time he was a tour bus driver. But he took an academically-related night job that no others wanted at the time – teaching urban planning. Eventually an opportunity to teach elsewhere presented itself and he got a job teaching at universities in Canada. It was while he was there that he put together the idea for the book that would make his reputation, City of Quartz. The subtitle of that book is Excavating the Future of Los Angeles. Informed by Davis’s socialistic vision, it looks back at the powerful influences of the city’s past – the real estate hustlers, the journalists and writers who exposed them, the Chandler Family of the Los Angeles Times, the Protestant establishment, the Irish priests, monsignors, bishops and cardinals who tended the flock of faithful parishioners, who were largely composed of migrants from Mexico, all side-by-side with the Jewish intelligencia and bankers. Chronicled was the influx of Europeans to the metropolis in the decade before the Second World War.
In City of Quartz, Davis also covered the rise of the earnest working class, a reflection of Davis himself. And he did not forget the scientists who have made their way to Los Angeles’s institutions of higher learning, such as UCLA and Caltech.
Shown in stark profile are the disciplinarians, the Los Angeles Police Department.
A work of nonfiction, the book captures the soul of Los Angeles as it approached the turn of the millennium, with the precision and in the spirit of the pulp fiction novels of Raymond Chandler from 1930s and 1940s.
Closing out the tome is a chapter in which Davis returns to his roots, Fontana, what he called “the junkyard of dreams.”
At that time, Fontana had fallen into a state of abject de-industrialization with the shuttering of the Kaiser Steel Mill. The city had been victimized by Jack Ratelle, who had been the city manager there from 1973 until 1987, and he had exploited the place, taking bribes from many of those who had business before the city, laundering his kickbacks by making weekend trips to the dice tables Las Vegas, where he claimed an uncommon steak of luck, having the city’s taxpayers finance the bonds used to pay for the infrastructure built to accommodate the residential projects that enriched the developers who were paying him off, while several of the city’s elected leaders entrusted by the city’s voters were similarly profiting.
The corruption of Fontana infused Mike Davis’s vision of the world, and his writing captured how greed and capitalism go hand-in-glove, how the captains of industry guide the ship of government and community to the promised land, which flows with milk and honey for those who have the will to use their authority, power and the faith others have put in them to garner wealth and more power and more influence.

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