Participant Name: James Bullock Age: 57 Location: San Francisco, California Occupation: Cable Car Driver Date of Birth: May 7, 1948 Religion: None Income: Top decile (global)
About the Participant:
James Bullock was born in Pinetops, North Carolina, and raised in Portsmouth, Virginia. His first job, in the summer of 1966, was at a mattress factory with his father, who worked there for a total of twenty-five years. His mother also worked in a factory, though hers made Christmas tree ornaments. Both his parents were Southern Baptists, and he regularly attended church while he was growing up.
James came to California in summer of 1968, first living in San Diego as a medic in the US Marines. In September of 1971, James settled in San Francisco, where he met and married his wife, Nina, a construction forewoman. Before serving in the Marines, James had spent two years at Norfolk State University in Virginia, where he studied business, though he particularly disliked accounting and decided to drop it. After moving to California, he spent five years taking courses at San Francisco State University, mainly in creative writing and English, though he never ended up finishing a degree.
James has worked in San Francisco public transportation for more than twenty-seven years, as a cable car gripman for the past twenty-one, and before that, driving buses for six. James and Nina are both members of the labor unions for their respective occupations and are currently in the process of buying a house with three levels on a very steep hill in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. They love to host large gatherings at their home, which has a very pleasant vegetable garden and a large wooden shed that Nina built.
Artists' reflections on the shoot
On Thursday, November 17, 2004, the Global Lives team taped James Bullock, a 57 year-old cable car driver from San Francisco, for nearly seventeen consecutive hours. We arrived at James' house just after 4:00 am, and his wife, Nina, a construction forewoman, opened the door for us as she prepared to leave for work.
We had met with James and Nina the previous day and discussed what his routine would be like and how we could best keep up with him, on foot, in our car, inside of his car and actually on his cable car. We instructed James to try to just live his day as he would live any other day and do his best to not let us bother him. We only exchanged words directly with James when absolutely necessary and did our best to not get in his way.
We started taping at around 4:30 am, while James was still in bed, then followed him into the bathroom, downstairs to his kitchen for breakfast, and out into the back yard, where he called a friend to confirm his morning surf date. By 8:00 am, James and a friend were on the road in James' vintage pickup truck, on their way to the beach at Pacifica, around a half hour drive south of the city.
During the drive to the beach, we followed James in our rented convertible, using wireless microphones to pick up the conversation inside his car, while deftly attempting to tape him without crashing into him. We waded out into the surf to get good shots of him riding the waves, though we needed to trade off holding the camera frequently to keep our feet from going completely numb. After about an hour in the water, the surfing duo came back to shore, stretched, showered, changed clothes, and headed back into the city.
Back at home, James showered again and took a quick nap before hopping in the pickup again to head to the cable car barn, where he would start his eight-hour shift as a "gripman," alternately operating the levers that engage the car with the cable and the brakes. For variety, we alternated actually riding the car with him while taping and driving alongside him in the support car and shooting from there.
Eight hours may not seem like much in your typical day. But to us, and probably to James, too, the day seemed to drag by. That's not to say it wasn't fascinating to watch James travel up and down the beautiful hills of San Francisco. But as the appeal of voyeurism begins to dissipate, an almost nauseating form of self-awareness sets in. Watching James go about the minutiae of his day, from going to the bathroom, to sitting alone and eating--and not participating in any moment of it, other than to be a mute but unblinking presence in the room--began to create a particularly unnerving sort of existential discomfort. Participating so personally in the act of surveillance is truly an experience to behold...
By the end of the shift, we were almost as exhausted as he was, but we loaded in our umpteenth tape of the day and persevered. Back home to a hot dinner waiting for James (and us), prepared by Nina, a bit of TV news, some nice conversation, and then out the door again. James plays guitar most Thursday nights at an open jam session of a dozen or so very eclectic musicians, with drums of many varieties, keyboards, a few horns, bass, a couple guitars, and a number of other miscellaneous instruments.
A final stop at the corner bar to say hello to some friends and shoot a game of pool finished up the evening. Getting back home to James' house was a relief for all involved parties, though our work didn't end until he was washed up, teeth brushed, and in bed. We let ourselves out and left the key in the pre-arranged location, and headed back across the Bay Bridge to sleep at the end of a very long day.