February 10, 2000. In the news, Steve Forbes drops out of the Republican Primary after having invested $66 million into his own campaign. Jason and Chris stand at the bar, tipsy, while Oscar works and listens in the background. Jason shows Chris and Stan a photo of the Harley motorcycle he’s thinking about buying, brushing off Stan’s concerns about what Jason’s mom will think—she made it clear that she’s done parenting Jason when she kicked him out after his 21st birthday last October. Stan comments that this does sound like Tracey.
The headline about Forbes, who has $66 million of personal wealth at his disposal, serves as a stark contrast to the play’s main characters, who are struggling just to get by. Clearly, there are people getting ahead despite (or even because of) the working class’s plight. Meanwhile, this portrayal of Jason and Chris eight years prior to Act One, Scene 1 provides more insight into their pre-prison relationship: they—like Tracey, Cynthia, and Jessie—are clearly close friends who come to the bar to relax and escape from the pressures of daily life.
Jason estimates that he can afford the bike after another month and a half of saving, complaining that he has little money left over because the union appropriates most of it for benefits. Chris commiserates with Jason—between his new girlfriend, high taxes, and the temptation to buy things like expensive sneakers, Chris is struggling to save money for school. Jason is surprised to hear Chris mention school, but Chris reveals that he’s been accepted to Albright College’s teaching program. Stan congratulates Chris, but Jason mocks him, teasing that he won’t last as a teacher and that he’ll come begging for his old job at Olstead’s back.
Jason and Chris’s money woes are telling: despite how hard it is to work at Olstead’s (as evidenced by the serious injury Stan sustained on the job), they scrimp by without much discretionary income. Jason’s dismissive and mocking reaction to Chris’s news indicates that he likely feels jealous or insecure about his own future—whereas Chris has big dreams, Jason is only focused on short-term and relatively frivolous goals like getting a motorcycle.
Stan reluctantly agrees with Jason—it’s unwise to walk away from Olstead’s given how high the pay is and how in-demand jobs at the plant are. Chris counters that he has aspirations and wants to do something different than his parents. Jason teases him about these aspirations, asking if it’s Black History Month (Chris replies that it is, actually) and says that it should be called “Make White People Feel Guilty Month” instead. Stan refuses to back Jason up on this.
Stan’s cynicism about giving up the sought-after pay at Olstead’s implies that even when working-class people have the opportunity to raise their station in life and take a safer job, they often choose not to do so because of the uncertainty and break with tradition that it requires. Jason’s taunting reinforces his insecurity about Chris’s aspirations, as it’s clear he resorts to casual racism out of his own discomfort and jealousy.
Chris continues to defend his decision to leave Olstead’s, complaining about the loud machines and reasoning that their jobs could easily be automated. He asks Jason if he has a backup plan, but Jason is set on retiring from the plant at 50 with a pension. Suddenly, Jason seems hurt and questions why Chris didn’t tell him about the teaching program until now. Chris can’t leave, Jason says—they’re supposed to be a team that retires and opens a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise together. Chris says that this is just something he has to do, and Jason begrudgingly accepts this before asking Stan to pour Chris a shot to shut him up.
Jason is hurt that Chris didn’t tell him about Albright before now, and he’s disappointed at the thought of his best friend leaving him. This is similar to Jason’s mother Tracey’s discouraging reaction to Cynthia going for a promotion at Olstead’s: clearly, neither wants to be left behind while their friend attempts to get ahead in life. Chris is understandably afraid of getting stuck at Olstead’s (like Chris and Jason’s parents have), as such work is high-paying but dangerous, insecure, and devoid of much potential for advancement.