DOWNEY, CALIF. — One day in 1967, Bob Thompson sprayed foam on a hunk of metal in a cavernous factory south of Los Angeles. And then another day, not too long after, he sat at a long wood bar with a black-and-white television hanging over it, and he watched that hunk of metal land a man on the moon.
On July 20, 1969 — the day of the landing — Thompson sipped his Budweiser and thought about all the people who had ever stared at that moon. Kings and queens and Jesus Christ himself. He marveled at how when it came time to reach it, the job started in Downey. The bartender wept.
On a warm day, almost a half-century later, Thompson curled his mouth beneath a white beard and talked about the bar that fell to make way for a freeway, the space-age factory that closed down and the town that is still waiting for its next great economic rocket, its new starship to the middle class.
They’ve waited more than a decade in Downey. They’ve tried all the usual tricks to bring good-paying jobs back to the 77-acre plot of dirt where once stood a factory that made moon rockets and, later, space shuttles. Nothing brought back the good jobs.