Cover image of UnFictional
(838)
Society & Culture

UnFictional

Updated 2 months ago

Society & Culture
Read more

This season on UnFictional: Stories of fantasy: a childhood dream that becomes a life, impossible goals, underground worlds, adapting to new realities, memories of old friends and relations that become more real than the truth. It’s UnFictional,...

Read more

This season on UnFictional: Stories of fantasy: a childhood dream that becomes a life, impossible goals, underground worlds, adapting to new realities, memories of old friends and relations that become more real than the truth. It’s UnFictional,...

iTunes Ratings

838 Ratings
Average Ratings
502
127
76
74
59

Meant to click the 5 star

By dumdlo - Jan 04 2019
Read more
New at this. Unfic has become my new go to. Thanks

The perfect story podcast

By Hanaruckus'sdogmom - Sep 28 2018
Read more
Thank you guys for introducing me to Joe Frank and a whole new genre of radio! I love this podcast!

iTunes Ratings

838 Ratings
Average Ratings
502
127
76
74
59

Meant to click the 5 star

By dumdlo - Jan 04 2019
Read more
New at this. Unfic has become my new go to. Thanks

The perfect story podcast

By Hanaruckus'sdogmom - Sep 28 2018
Read more
Thank you guys for introducing me to Joe Frank and a whole new genre of radio! I love this podcast!
Cover image of UnFictional

UnFictional

Latest release on May 21, 2020

Read more

This season on UnFictional: Stories of fantasy: a childhood dream that becomes a life, impossible goals, underground worlds, adapting to new realities, memories of old friends and relations that become more real than the truth. It’s UnFictional,...

Rank #1: Haunted

Podcast cover
Read more

Tara loves magic, and she'd always believed in ghosts, so she wasn’t surprised when she started to notice strange things at her Los Feliz apartment, like open doors and strange sounds. But then she discovered something more frightening than any ghost.


Tara with Eugene Burger, her teacher at the Magic and Mystery School.
Photo courtesy of Tara Walker


The first night Tara (right) attended the Magic Castle as a member,
with Sabrina (left) and friend Steve Shin. Photo courtesy of Tara Walker.


Tara's Los Feliz backyard with friends Photo courtesy of Tara Walker.


Tara's backyard. Photo courtesy of Tara Walker.

Mar 22 2018

18mins

Play

Rank #2: The Outsider

Podcast cover
Read more

Randy was a young nerd in 1982, obsessed with film director Francis Ford Coppola. When Randy ordered a pair of shoes from a magazine, it set off a chain of unlikely events that led him to the Tulsa, Oklahoma set of “The Outsiders” and a friendship with his favorite director. Randy’s cosmic twist of fate put him smack in the center of the “Brat Pack,” and jump-started his show business career.

Theme Music by Alex Weston  with music help from Joe Augustine and Narrative Music. Production help from Nomin Ujiyediin.

Episode art by Tina Carlson

You can find the Outsiders House on Facebook


Randy's first picture with the venerable Panaflex camera. Courtesy  Randy Shanofsky.
Randy poses with actors Emilio Estevez and Rob Lowe. Courtesy Randy Shanofsky.
Francis Coppola and Randy, May, 1982 and March, 2016. Courtesy Randy Shanofsky.
Randy on the set of The Outsiders with Susie Hinton and David Inhofe, May, 1982. Courtesy Randy Shanofsky.
Randy with Danny Boy O'Connor. Courtesy of Randy Shanofsky

Feb 22 2018

38mins

Play

Rank #3: Big Sur: The Secret Road

Podcast cover
Read more

Big Sur's sweeping cliffs and beaches are usually overwhelmed by tourists, traffic jams and chattering flocks of hikers. But when the road was blocked by an avalanche and a bridge collapsed, the village was suddenly and completely cut off from cars. We found a secret way into town, and hung out with the happily marooned residents.

Big Sur residentTracy Cheseborough stands next to his rusty VW truck. Photo credit: Carla Green.


Signs on the hike from the cut-off "island" to the "mainland." Photo credit: Carla Green.

Big Sur, May 1972 (Photo by Dick Rowan/Wikimedia Commons)


The view from Nepenthe Restaurant. Photo credit: Carla Green.

Mar 08 2018

29mins

Play

Rank #4: Punk Jubilee

Podcast cover
Read more

A girl gang goes on a violent rampage of sex, larceny and murder, all set to music in Derek Jarman’s British ‘70s punk film, “Jubilee.” Go behind the scenes of the film that documented the messy, chaotic birth of a movement and prophesied its demise: the selling-out of punk rock.

Producer: Victoria Farran

Editor: Bob Carlson

Credits: Theme music by Alex Weston, with music help from Joe Augustine and Narrative Music. Episode art by Tina Carlson.

Mar 29 2018

36mins

Play

Rank #5: Denial

Podcast cover
Read more

When Janey Williams was sexually assaulted by one of her best friends, she was afraid to face it. Once she did the big scary thing – tell the truth about what had happened – she found that it wasn’t enough. Because everyone around her covered it right back up again.

Janey Williams is the creator of the podcast This Happened, for which she initially did all the interviews featured in this episode and which has hours of intimate and revelatory tape and reflection beyond what's in this version of the story. Williams has also produced for Scene On Radio. She lives in Los Angeles, her hometown, with her husband and two sons, and recorded her most recent story while holding her baby in studio.


Janey Williams in her 20’s. Courtesy of Williams.

Mar 14 2019

30mins

Play

Rank #6: Man Choubam (I am good)

Podcast cover
Read more

Sharon Mashihi is a weirdo and refuses to conform to cultural standards, which has been hard on her relationship with her mom.  But Sharon saw a chance to mend the strife when she bought a ticket to a cruise with Farhang Holakouee, a famous Iranian talk-show psychiatrist. Could therapy and sunshine fix their relationship? Spoiler alert: on the way to the boat, the “Titanic” soundtrack played in the background.

Theme Music by Alex Weston  with music help from Joe Augustine and Narrative Music

Special thanks: Deena Ecker, Thatcher Keats, Nishat Kurwa, Third Coast Radio Residency for giving Sharon the time, space, community, and mentorship to work on this, all the people who attended Sharon’s listening party, and the most special thanks of all goes to Sharon’s mom.

Produced by Sharon Mashihi

Editors: Bob Carlson and Kaitlin Prest

Episode art by Tina Carlson
Illustration of Psychiatrist Farhang Holakouee by Jen Ng.

Feb 22 2018

43mins

Play

Rank #7: Bay of Smokes: The Day Smog Showed Up In LA

Podcast cover
Read more

When you think of Los Angeles, you think of smog. But have you ever heard about the day when smog just showed up in Los Angeles? An impressionistic trip with producer Aric Allen through the hazy history of the skies over Los Angeles.


Aric Allen is a video producer at the Huntington Library.

Editor: Nick White

Episode art by Tina Carlson

Credits: Theme Music by Alex Weston [ https://www.alexwestonmusic.com/ ], with music help from Joe Augustine and Narrative Music [ https://www.narrativemusic.com/ ]. Episode art by Tina Carlson.

Special thanks: Devan Schwartz, Caitlin Shamberg, Katya Apekina and Peter Gilstrap


In the smog battle a Los Angeles commuter wears an only slightly satiric gas mask on October 2, 1966. Automotive experts show how a new smog device cuts down on the emission of car fumes, while testifying before the California Assembly. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Archives.

It may look like early morning fog but it turns into smog, obscuring the Los Angeles City Hall, city buildings and the street. Smog is making it all hazy to look at and is thick enough to cause the eyes to smart. Image from the 1940s. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Archives.
Man at right defies convention and eye-searing pollutant as he strolls down Broadway wearing a gas mask, as Los Angeles battles another smog attack. Women on left suffer and use their handkerchiefs to wipe away their tears. Photo dated: September 19, 1958. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Archives.

Mar 01 2018

25mins

Play

Rank #8: The Dream is Over

Podcast cover
Read more

Pete’s always known there was treasure buried in the mountains near El Paso. But knowing there’s treasure and going to get it are two very different things.

Plus, Eddie Hart had been training for years – steadily making his way to the Olympics with laser-sharp focus. But once he got there, one mistake sent the whole dream crashing down around him.

Will McCarthy is a furniture mover and freelance journalist in Central Texas.

Kerstin Zilm is an independent producer from Germany living in Los Angeles.


The hole in Pete's backyard. Photo credit: Logan Dorne.

Pete. Photo credit: Logan Dorne.

Mar 21 2019

34mins

Play

Rank #9: Mauricio Across the Border - Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more

Growing up in Mexico City, Mauricio always dreamed of being on television. Then life came along – school, work, a difficult home life. He started working in car shops, first as a teenager in Mexico and then as an undocumented immigrant in Los Angeles. It seemed like he’d left his dreams of television behind. And then, he met Xzibit.

This story is also available in Spanish through NPR’s Spanish-language podcast Radio Ambulante.

Levi Bridges is an audio producer currently based in Moscow, Russia.


Photo Courtesy of Mauricio Hernández.

Read the script below:

LEVI: You don’t forget a guy like Mauricio Hernandez. He’s got a long pointy beard. Always wearing these dark sunglasses. And long dreadlocks that hang practically down to his waist.

The first time I met Mauricio, he was standing in a parking lot just outside Mexico City, speaking at some kind of promotional event. I thought I’d see him somewhere before. Maybe on TV. Back in the U.S.

Later that afternoon Mauricio and I ate some street tacos. 

MAURICIO: Uno, dos de nada más con puro papa.
LEVI: Dos campechanos.

And no joke, multiple kids stopped to ask Mauricio for his autograph.

As we ate, Mauricio told me about a dream he had growing up. Mauricio’s had lots of dreams over the years. And, somehow, many of them have actually come true.  

MAURICIO: My first dream was to be in television. That was my first dream...be famous. Some way somehow.

Mauricio says that when he watched TV as a kid, he’d imagine himself being one of the actors, like this one show that used to be on Mexican TV back in the 80s.

MAURICIO: ...that was called “Chiquilladas.”

[“CHIQUILLADAS” theme song plays]

MAURICIO: It was this TV show in Mexico that was all about kids. So I wanted to be on this show.

[ARCHIVE SOUND: “Bienvenidos chiquillitos y chiquillatas al programa de Chiquillliadas”]

When Mauricio was 8 years old, he learned that the crew who made Chiquiladas were offering acting lessons for children. Mauricio was psyched. He told his mom all about it.

MAURICIO: My mom… I remember she told me, like, ‘Hey don't get so excited… we don't have no money to do that.’ 

When Mauricio got  a little older, his childhood dream of being on television went on the back burner. He worked at a mechanic shop in high school to make extra money. Mauricio really liked working on cars –  almost as much as he liked the idea of being on TV. He wanted to buy his own car, but he never had enough money. Eventually Mauricio started noticing that lots of his friends were going to the U.S. to work. And they were coming back with cool stuff.

MAURICIO: Cars, motorcycles, clothes, tennis shoes. You know, I was like, wow! I was like "shit, man. I want to be there." 

When Mauricio was 16, his brother came back to Mexico to take him to California. Mauricio’s home life wasn’t great.  His mom would yell at him a lot. Mauricio says she sometimes got physical with him .

MAURICIO: As a kid, you never forget…the words, the objects where she used to hit...you.
LEVI: Was that part of the reason why you guys left home so young?
MAURICIO: I seen a lot of problems in my family. Especially with my dad… my dad is an alcoholic.

It was that year – 1991 – that Mauricio and his brother first tried to cross the border into California. They wanted to go to Los Angeles. 

MAURICIO: Back then the border didn’t have a wall. You could just cross so easy.

The guys got caught by Border Patrol twice. The second time, they spent a few hours in jail. And were deported back to Tijuana. Mauricio hated that feeling of being locked up. Like a prisoner.

MAURICIO: I told my brother: "if this time we don’t pass...I’m going back."  If we get caught again, I’m going back.

Mauricio crossed again. And this time he made it on a Greyhound. The bus eventually got stopped at an immigration checkpoint. And an officer came on board.

MAURICIO: He's kind of like walking towards me. And then, um, I close my eyes, and I started snoring.

The agent bought it. Mauricio looked too relaxed to be undocumented. He made it all the way to LA. 

MAURICIO: The Greyhound bus station and downtown L.A. is right about…in Skid Row.

[Sounds of Skid Row]

MAURICIO: And you get out of the bus and you start seeing all these homeless people, drug addict people…Dude, I wanted to, like, I wanted to go back!
LEVI: Was that not at all what you were expecting
MAURICIO: Yeah. I was thinking about seeing Disneyland right across the street.

It wasn’t at all what he was expecting in LA. And that wasn’t the only thing that surprised him.

MAURICIO: When I arrived to L.A. The cars were like really catching my eyes.

In California Mauricio saw a Pontiac Fiero — this little sports car with a spoiler on the back — that he was totally into. There was a  car renaissance going on in LA at the time. This was the early ‘90s and rappers like Dr. Dre started putting lowriders in their music videos. And the California street culture of tricking out cars went mainstream.

[DR. DRE song plays]

MAURICIO: The first time I seen a lowrider, I really went crazy, I was like, wow, I remember that time was it was very popular. The pickup trucks, when they used to put hydraulics above the bed and they used to make ‘em dance and get up and spin around…jumping. 

MAURICIO: My cousins were kind-of like in gangs and the gangster culture. 

Mauricio, by contrast, was pretty straight-laced.

MAURICIO: Normal. I guess, you know, tight pants, tennis shoes.

[KID FROST song plays]

MAURICIO: My cousin took me to a first lowrider show and they dressed me up as a cholo, because they were like: “You're not gonna go to a lowrider show dressing like you dressed.” They gave me some overalls, like, huge overalls… Nike Cortes…Flannel. And I had long hair. So they tell me "we'll get your hair in a ponytail." I didn't feel good because I was... that wasn't the way that I dressed up. But it was fun because I got the chance to see all these cars; the first time I heard Kid Frost. And all these popular artists from Chicano culture. And it was fun.

With his cousins in LA, Mauricio got to know a whole new part of his family. But that doesn’t mean he always felt welcome in California.

[ARCHIVE TV Sound] 

Man: We’re getting word this evening of some rock throwing by youths in South Central Los Angeles. 

Man: There’s a reported structure fire.

Man: The violence erupted after the acquittal of four white policemen in the beating trial of black motorist Rodney King.

Mauricio was still settling into LA when the city revolted in  the LA Riots of 1992. One night during the riots, Mauricio and his cousins were walking past a convenience store.

MAURICIO: It was kind of like a 7-Eleven…the lights were out….The windows were all broken. And we're like “Hey let's go get some more beers.” You know, they're free.

They went inside the store and picked up a couple 12-packs. But before they had time to walk out, the cops showed up.

MAURICIO: You could hear the tires and you see the lights that were already pointing inside the store and you could hear the officers…At that time, I didn't know any English, So when I heard these officers really mad and screaming really loud... Of Course… Put your hands up… you learn that right away. And I remember the officer. He…pulled me out of the store and threw me on the ground. Threw me on the floor. And then I remember I felt like about maybe four or five officers started kicking me. They started kicking me like, ah, fucking soccer ball. 

The cops let them go that night. Mauricio thought he’d get summoned to court for loitering or trespassing, but he says he changed addresses soon after and never got a notice in the mail.  The guys thought about pressing charges themselves — against the cops who beat them up. But they were too afraid to take legal action. Partly, of course – because Mauricio was undocumented.

---

Mauricio says, the longer he stayed in the U.S., the more his immigration status started to bother him. The fact that he couldn’t get a driver’s license. The possibility that he might get arrested and deported someday—treated like a criminal—were always in the back of his mind.

MAURICIO: It was something that will always, like, put you down.

Mauricio’s girlfriend, a young Mexican immigrant named Claudia, was also undocumented.

MAURICIO: I started a family and at a young age…I had a kid when I was 18 and having a kid is not easy. 

Mauricio and Claudia ended up having three sons. Maurcio was the breadwinner. And he found a job – doing something he loved.

MAURICIO: I wanted to work on cars professionally.

He had to start at the bottom — as a janitor at this body shop in Westchester, near LAX.

MAURICIO: I was cleaning the bathrooms,…sweeping the shop.. I was working with a lot of the Central American people. Central American people and Mexicans, we don't get along that well. They used to see me come in. They used to throw me the trash on my, on my feet. You know like here, ‘Pick that up.’

But Mauricio stuck around, learning more and more skills.

MAURICIO: Shampoo a car, you know, wax the car, clean interiors…And then I learned how to color sand and buff the cars… and then… body work and then I end up doing paint. 

[XZIBIT song plays]

Mauricio started picking up side gigs. Another one of his cousins was working for a body shop called West Coast Customs. One day, he asked Mauricio to help him do the body work on a vehicle that looked like a small delivery van.

MAURICIO: They used to call it Diahatsu…It was a Filipino car. 

The Diahatsu was a complete wreck. West Coast Customs needed all the body work on the van completely redone and repainted quick. 

MAURICIO: We do it Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. 

And as they worked, Mauricio noticed something.

MAURICIO: We start seeing cameras. 

People were coming out and filming them work in the shop. Mauricio had no idea what was going on.

MAURICIO: They didn't tell me anything. At first it was like maybe a documentary. I don't know…but it was all very professional cameras.

And even though he still dreamed of being on TV, he didn’t ask what was up. 

MAURICIO: I was like well we're here to... to do the job. Our thing was the money…Never mind the cameras, you know. 

But then one morning they were pulling masking tape off the Diahatsu to finish the paint job.

MAURICIO: I remember…we went early…And I see Xzibit walk into the shop. 

Xzibit.. The rapper.

---

Xzibit just showing up really took Maurcio off guard.

MAURICIO: Kind of like whoa. You know, like damn…So, of course, I tell him “Hey. Can you sign me an autograph?” And he was a really cool guy.

[ARCHIVE Sound of the first episode of  “Pimp My Ride”] 

Xzibit: I’ve always had a love affair with cars. Big ones. Fast ones. Especially expensive ones. Cause I’m your boy X-to-the-Z Xzibit

Mauricio got a picture with Xzibit and then he and his cousin put the last coat of paint on the Diahatsu.

MAURICIO: And they paid us and they tell us, “We want you guys to be on Wednesday at 5:00 p.m.” And my cousin and me were like, “For what?” “Uh cause we're recording this show and we want you guys to be there. All the people that work on the car. They got to be this TV show.”

They didn’t tell Mauricio anything else. Just come back on Wednesday to film something for a TV show. But Mauricio was pumped.

MAURICIO: I was like, dude, I'm gonna be a TV show. That I wanted since I was young. 

Next week Mauricio comes back to West Coast Customs. And there are cameras — everywhere.

MAURICIO: All right, guys, you guys right here. You guys right here. …And then they say action and you see Xibit coming in with the guy….The owner of the truck

[ARCHIVE sound of the first episode of “Pimp My Ride”]

Wyatt: Holy (beep)

Xzibit: Checkout the inside homey

Wyatt: I can tell you I’m impressed already.

MAURICIO: It was a pilot…  It was just a pilot 

The pilot — of “Pimp My Ride.”

---

[“Pimp My Ride” theme song plays]

“Pimp My Ride” aired on MTV in the early 2000s. It was kind of one of the first reality TV shows. The basic premise was every week the host, Xzibit, finds some poor girl or guy driving a real clunker. And then they’d pimp that car out.

[ARCHIVE sound of the first episode of “Pimp My Ride”]

Wyatt: Hi I’m Wyatt. I’m 18 years old. This baby is my ride. There are no shortage of things wrong with the car. Two words for you here: Duck tape. Top speed: 60 miles an hour.

Xzibit: Today’s your lucky day, Wyatt. I’m about to pimp your ride. 

Xzibit would bring the cars over to Ryan Friedlinghuas — the owner of West Coast Customs.

RYAN: Hi, welcome to West Coast Customs. I’m Ryan. And this is the shop….

[ARCHIVE sound of the first episode of “Pimp My Ride”]

Xzibit: Alright check this out Ryan man

Ryan: I have never seen one of these before in my life.

Xzibit: Yo man neither have I. I think there’s like two in the U.S.

Ryan: I think it more looks like a golf cart.

MAURICIO: They never thought it was gonna hit….it hit big. It hit, really big…I remember they call us like after the TV show airs. They called us like right away. 

West Coast Customs eventually hired Mauricio full time. He did the body work on a lot of the cars that appeared on Pimp My Ride.

MAURICIO: I feel so proud of myself to be on the first TV show of cars in MTV. We ended up doing “Pimp My Ride” for six years. Those six years were the happiest years of my life.

It was a dream come true. But after the pilot episode of “Pimp My Ride,” Mauricio says he didn’t appear on the show again. He was always behind the scenes. Working on the cars, not in front of the cameras.

MAURICIO: I wasn't on “Pimp My Ride” because most of the show was acting. 

When Mauricio says acting, he means that many of the people who you saw working on the cars weren’t necessarily the ones who actually pimped them out. Mauricio and some other guys from Mexico were the ones doing a lot of the grunt work. 

MAURICIO: So let's say I was sanding the car. And then the camera crew used to come to me and say, ‘Stop, stop. Can you give this to them?’ And so they can speak on on the camera. 

One of these stand-in workers was named Alex.

[Pimp My Ride audio]: Now me and Alex are gonna go out and test drive this thing.

Alex would take Maurico’s place working on the car. And then the producers would ask him questions.

MAURICIO: “So what are you doing Alex?” “Well I'm sending this car so we're getting ready for paint.” “Oh, OK. Cut!” So they used to give me back to the block and the sandpaper and I used to finish the car. 

MAURICIO: I didn't feel, like, offended. Because first of all, I wasn't getting paid to be on television. I was getting paid to work. And to me, being in television or being around the television show, that was a plus in my life.

LEVI: Wait the people they would bring in to say, ‘hey, this is the guy who is sanding the car,’ were they normally white?

MAURICIO: I can tell you this, they were not Mexican.

LEVI: And so who was really doing the work?

MAURICIO: Well most of the guys were Mexicans. At one point I remember the shop, it was probably about 80 percent Mexicans. 

This was the early 2000s – it was a different time. Enforcement of the U.S.-Mexico border was  ramping up after 9/11. There was a lot less immigration enforcement than there is today. 

MAURICIO: At that moment, I remember you could still go to Alvarado Street in Los Angeles, get a Social Security number and a fake alien card. You can tell right away it was fake. And people in body shops they knew. Of course they knew. 

LEVI:  The people who worked at MTV, did they know you guys were undocumented?

MAURICIO: They knew. Because there were people that didn’t really speaks English. It came to a point where nobody cares. You know? Nobody cared about you being illegal if you would just show me fake social security numbers and a fake card. So as long as you have those papers, you feel so confident about looking for a job anywhere. 

Mauricio says it was kind of an open secret that some of the guys who helped pimp out the cars were undocumented.  He remembers that the people who worked on the show would even joke around with the Mexican mechanics about their immigration status.

MAURICIO: They used to just scream, just laughing, “Hey la migra! La migra!” We used to turn around and say, “Who cares?” 
One day, someone way more important than la migra came to West Coast Customs.

ARCHIVE: Hi, this is governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of the great state of California.

At one point, Mauricio says that Schwarzenegger also brought his car to West Coast to have some work done. It was right after he had just vetoed a bill that would have given undocumented immigrants the right to get driver’s licenses in California. When Schwarzenegger came to get his car, Mauricio looked over at his boss, Ryan.

MAURICIO: I remember Ryan, tell me: "Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to come and pick up his truck." Ryan, he was a sarcastic man. Ryan's like “you drive the truck. Give him the keys.” And it was funny because like Schwarzenegger doesn't wanna give us a driver's license and I'm driving this car. So it was funny. (LAUGHS)

The media and popular culture often portray undocumented immigrants as living in the shadows. But Mauricio says he was right out in the open, driving the car of a Republican governor — who’s also an immigrant. Over the years, lots of other celebrities also brought their cars to West Coast.

MAURICIO: We had cars for Paris Hilton. Shaquille O'Neal. For Kobe Bryant. Sylvester Stallone. For Snoop Dogg. 

By day Mauricio  was leading a glamorous life meeting the rich and famous. At work, being undocumented didn’t really matter. It’s like West Coast Customs was a miniature sort of sanctuary city. But even though Mauricio  worked on cars for a living, he never drove a nice one himself. Mauricio worried his car might get impounded if he ever got caught driving without a license. And it wasn’t like Mauricio was just rolling around with Snoop Dogg all day. The job was tough. Long hours, and really hard work, for not a lot of money.

MAURICIO: Most of these cars, of course, were like trash. Body shop had three days to finish the car and give it back to them. Finish. 

I remember there were days that we were probably leaving 2 o'clock a.m., 3 o'clock in the morning. And wake up at seven o'clock in the morning to go to work at 8:00 o'clock in the morning.

And  all those long nights in the shop had a serious effect on Mauricio’s family.

MAURICIO: I sacrifice my family. I did sacrifice my kids. But I don't have no regrets because the money that I was making, of course, it was for my kids, for my family, for my house.

But his partner did not see things the same way.

MAURICIO: At one point she told me to leave West Coast. Leave it because you don't 

have a life. You work too many hours. We need you at the house. We need you to be the dad. Me the mom. A family. And I didn't listen.  

Mauricio says he figured he’d get a better job in the future, so he could give his kids the kind of opportunities he never had. Like a college education. But in the short term, fixing the cars that Xzibit presented on MTV wasn’t always the most glamorous gig in the world.

MAURICIO: Fuck it was a hard job. 

LEVI: And how much money were you making?

MAURICIO: It was 300 a week, I believe. It was more the experience to be there. To me it was fun to be at the show.

It was fun, but there are signs that West Coast Customs had taken advantage of their workers in the past.  In 2014, West Coast paid a settlement to workers after an investigation by the Department of Labor found that the company  paid employees less than minimum wage, in addition to other abuses. According to the settlement, West Coast owed the workers thousands of dollars in back pay. By that point Mauricio had left West Coast. I’ll explain why later. But Mauricio didn’t see his boss, Ryan Friedlinghaus, as some cruel tyrant exploiting undocumented immigrants.

MAURICIO: He was not the romantic, sentimental guy. He always was the mean face, the strong guy. Ryan will always called the shop the "war field." 

LEVI: The war field? 

MAURICIO: Yeah, the war field. And he used to call us soldiers. And he used to say, “Well you're the one of the best of my soldiers. My best soldiers, they always go out on the front.”

Mauricio says that he and Ryan developed a close relationship. Mauricio was always working late, polishing the cars, making everything look good. And he says Ryan noticed.

MAURICIO: Ryan used to invite me in his office to eat with him. With his family, with his kids, with his dad, with his mom. You know, we're the same age. We were buddies.

Around that time, Mauricio says that Ryan was going through a divorce. He kept a lot of it private. But he came to rely on Mauricio. One night, Mauricio says, Ryan broke down. 

MAURICIO: I remember his face. His face couldn't take it anymore. He started crying. And he told me, “I'm sorry. I got a lot of problems. And this car has to leave tomorrow to Dubai. And nobody's here.” I give him a hug. He hug me. He's like “Are you sure you can you help me finish the car?” I say “Yes for sure.” I looked at him and I told him, “You know, I got you.”

MAURICIO: You were kind of Ryan's right hand man. 

MAURICIO: Yeah. Even though he always called me his soldier. I know I was more than that.


Mauricio’s neighborhood in Mexico City lined with mechanic shops and auto parts stores. Photo Courtesy of Levi Bridges

The work that Ryan and Mauricio did on Pimp My Ride had given West Coast Customs national exposure. But a body shop that refurbishes old clunkers, Mauricio says that wasn’t what Ryan wanted West Coast to be known for. He wanted to get back to high-end work for LA movie stars.

MAURICIO: West Coast was built up about celebrities. And once we did “Pimp My Ride,” we were the joke of the celebrities. 

Ryan decided to leave "Pimp My Ride" altogether and move to a new state-of-the-art shop in Corona, California. Outside LA. Mauricio was one of the first people Ryan approached about the plan.

MAURICIO: And he told me right away that "no you have no option. You're coming with me." 

The idea wasn’t just to launch a new shop. Mauricio says Ryan wanted to start his own TV show about what really went on inside West Coast Customs. That idea turned into a real show called “Street Customs” that aired on TLC and the Discovery Channel.

[Archive sound of “Street Customs”]

Announcer: On this episode of Street Customs…

Ryan: My name is Ryan. This is my company. This is my life. And this is Street Customs.

MAURICIO: “Street Customs” it was a really reality show, more than “Pimp My Ride.” It wasn't no actors. 

Meaning no stand-in replacements for the guys working on the cars. Ryan offered Mauricio a spot as one of the main workers who appeared on Street Customs.

MAURICIO: Ryan saw me like a character. And he did give me a lot exposure on the show, on TLC. 

[ARCHIVE sound of “Street Customs”] 

Ryan: I’ve always had this thing with Mauricio. He’s worked for me for almost seven years now. I’ve always told him, ‘Dude, we’ve gotta cut your hair. We’ve gotta cut your hair.’

With his signature long dreads and pointy beard, Mauricio became one of the show’s most recognizable personalities.

[ARCHIVE sound of “Street Customs”]

MAURICIO: Ryan keeps telling me like, ‘Oh you should cut your hair.’ He told everybody he put a price on my dreads. Saying that he will give 100 dollars for each dread that anybody cut.’

Ryan: 100 bucks dawg.

And this is where Mauricio’s childhood dream became a reality. After they started producing Street Customs, Ryan asked Mauricio to represent West Coast at a really important car show: the SEMA show in Las Vegas. 

MAURICIO: You see these people, you see everybody start clapping. And they’re clapping to you. And you're walking through this red carpet, through the stage. I feel like I made it. I remember they never stop clapping, (SNIFFLES) We were recognized as the people, we put the automobile industry on television. We were huge. We were artists. We were the best. 

Mauricio was a main character on the show. He was relatable. Cool. The kind of guy you’d want to have show up at your party, Mauricio personified a  character on television that served as a bridge that could connect people to the Latino community. And he did all this while he was undocumented.

MAURICIO: I did live two lives.  You know stuff like, I’m gonna get caught. I don’t have a license. I’m not gonna do my taxes. 

And there were always reminders everywhere of what could happen.

MAURICIO: Sometimes when you hear the news, when I used to hear that this happened over there. 

[ARCHIVE sound]

TV Anchor: Across northern California over a dozen immigrants are behind bars right now after a new crackdown…

TV Anchor: The battle between California and the feds overs illegal immigration.

MAURICIO: That that's going on over here. 

[ARCHIVE sound]

TV Anchor: Homeland Security began flying plane loads of illegal immigrants into Southern California.

TV Anchor: Immigrant communities across the country bracing for an ICE crackdown to kick into high gear

MAURICIO: You know, it was not something they will not let me sleep. But that it was something that you had to live with every day. 

Mauricio really wanted to find a way to get legal status in the U.S. And eventually, he found one. . A wealthy Mexican who had some work done at the shop approached Ryan about buying the rights to open a West Coast Customs franchise in Mexico.

Mauricio helped with the negotiations. And the Mexicans had one key condition.

MAURICIO: "We're gonna buy the franchise. But Maurico's coming with us. Because we want him to build a shop and once it’s done, once he gets it running, then he comes back."

Mauricio was excited about the possibility of going back to Mexico. He was opening  a franchise for a company with international recognition — Mauricio felt proud about that. After the two guys from Mexico left, Mauricio sat down with Ryan to hash out the details.

MAURICIO: I told them after they left I say, “Hey dude. But I don't got no papers and how am I going to come back?” And he's like “I’ll bring you back. Don't worry. I'll bring you back. I'll pay. The coyote,” he told me. “To bring you back, or we will find a way to get you a visa so we can get you back.”

A visa would mean legal status in the U.S. No more sneaking around always worried about getting deported. So in the winter of 2009, Mauricio said goodbye to his partner and three kids… and he crossed the border from San Diego to Tijuana – the same place where he’d first entered California as a teenager – and then he got on a plane to Mexico City.

 Mauricio was worried that this whole business venture in Mexico might fail. But he reminded himself that he wouldn’t be gone long. Mauricio promised his kids that he’d be back by next Christmas, if not earlier. 

But… Mauricio never returned to the U.S. again.

More on the next episode of Unfictional. 

Apr 09 2020

30mins

Play

Rank #10: Mauricio Across the Border - Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

Mauricio moves back to Mexico. He finds himself in a whirlwind of fame as the star of the hit television show, Tunéme La Nave, the Spanish-language version of Pimp My Ride. But then life catches up with the fantasy. Maurcio tries to cross back to the U.S. and is abandoned in the desert.    

Miss part one of this story? Listen here.

This story is also available in Spanish through NPR’s Spanish-language podcast Radio Ambulante.

Read the script below:

LEVI: Mauricio grew up in a historic neighborhood where a guy rides a bicycle through the streets at night selling tamales.

MAURICIO: The tamale guy, it’s a really popular thing over here in Mexico. 

The street Mauricio grew up on is like a parody of what you’d expect. 

MAURICIO: I used to miss this...

It’s in a car neighborhood, lined with parts stores and mechanics who specialize in different repairs.

MAURCIO: Every business here is about cars: bolts, cables, batteries, radiators. Right across, you have engines, they fix transmissions. On the other side they fix the suspension.

Mauricio used to ride his bike through here, peering in at what the mechanics were doing on his way back home.

MAURICIO: Well this is the house.

The house Mauricio grew up in is small, painted green green – shaded by tall palm trees that his grandfather planted. When he left LA, it was his first time back here in nearly 20 years. His first time in Mexico as an adult. And he realized there were parts of his own identity that he hadn’t really explored.

MAURCIO: If you go outside Mexico… and live outside your country for 20 years, you come back to your country, it’s like coming back home. You feel so [much] more Mexican. If you were Mexican, you feel two thousand percent more Mexican.

Mauricio’s got tattoos all over his arms, including a huge West Coast Customs logo. And when he got to Mexico, he started adding tons of new ones of important figures in Mexican culture and history. 

MAURICIO: Zapata. Pancho Villa. Miguel Hidalgo, Benito Juárez, La Quetzalcoatl, Coyolxauhqui. Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez.

Mauricio left Mexico with dreams of being on television. But what’s extraordinary about Mauricio is his wildest dream did come true. Just not on the side of the U.S. border he would have expected.

Sunset at Mauricio’s shop (Photo Courtesy of Levi Bridges)

[SOUND: "TUNÉAME" THEME SONG]

Once Mauricio got back to Mexico, the two guys who brought the West Coast Customs brand to Mexico came up with the idea to launch a version of "Pimp My Ride" in Spanish. And Mauricio became the host. They called the show “Tunéame La Nave” — it’s a direct translation of "Pimp My Ride" that’s so perfect it’s almost poetic.

MAURCIO: To me when they say we're going to record this show to me was a test. Let's see what happens. 

Mauricio didn’t get his hopes up. They made a pilot, but nobody was sure whether it would go anywhere. The idea was that people would send in pictures of their cars each week and Mauricio would choose which one would get tuned up.

[ARCHIVE SOUND FROM "TUNÉAME"]

Woman: ¡Ay por favor no sea mala onda, tunéame la nave de mi hermano!

Man: ¡Por favor TV Azteca tunéame la nave!

Mauricio designed most of the show himself. He didn’t want there to be any acting, not like on "Pimp My Ride.” But most of all: he wanted the show to be funny.

MAURCIO: I wanted to put the salsa in it. Mexicans we always wanna put chili in it, we want to put lemon in it, we want to put salt in it. So I wanted to put the spices in it, you know.

The result was a like a blend of Three Stooges and "Pimp My Ride". Where workers bumble around the body shop spilling paint thinner on each other.

Fade up archive tape, fade out under next track

[ARCHIVE SOUND FROM "TUNÉAME"]

Mauricio: ¡Eh Churromais qué te pasó!

Churromais: Disculpe Mau, la neta.

Mauricio: ¡Mira nada mas me llenaste de tinner.

The show got picked up by TV Azteca, one Mexico’s main television channels.

MAURCIO: After the show air, it hit big. I had fans from five years old to 70 years old. 80 years old.

Suddenly Mauricio’s show was being broadcast  to every state in Mexico.. Mauricio became famous in his own country. He was literally the Xzibit of Mexico’s "Pimp My Ride".

[ARCHIVE SOUND FROM "TUNÉAME"]

xxxxxxxxxxxx Announcer: Siempre existe un líder en cualquier proyecto. ¡Él es Mauricio!
Mauricio speaks before a crowd of fans in Mexico. Photo Courtesy of Mauricio Hernández

MAURCIO: Nobody told me you're gonna become famous. A lot of people started to recognize me. 

Not long after the show started to air, Mauricio went to downtown Coyoacan — not far from the Mexico City neighborhood where he grew up. A crowd of people surround him.

MAURCIO: And they start asking me for a picture. And then it was an autograph. And then it was a picture. Then it was an autograph.  It was full of people, you know, so I couldn't move. I just started walking fast, walking fast. And everybody was following me like 'Hey come on, come back.' 

LEVI: And when you were a kid, you always wanted to be on TV. Did you think about that part of it? [MAURICIO LAUGHS] You know that like you can't just go out of the house anymore? Were you aware that was part of the deal?

MAURCIO: Of course! When you're a little kid, you never thought about being famous. I always wanted to be in television. 

Mauricio didn’t let it go to his head. He was flattered by the attention. And pimping out cars for free, that felt so good in a country like Mexico. Where it’s way harder for people to afford things. Where material things, especially cars, can sometimes have way more value than in the U.S..

MAURCIO: When you buy your first car in Mexico, you take care of your car for long, long time. People of Mexico, we love our car. The car is part of the family. You talk to them, you call 'em your baby, you put a name on the car. I can say if we Mexicans can put our car inside the living room and watch TV with the car, we would do that. That’s how we are, Mexican people that's how we are.

Tunéame La Nave was supposed to be kind of a comedy. But the show would also get emotional. . People were really moved when they saw the finished cars.

Photo Courtesy of Mauricio Hernández

[ARCHIVE SOUND FROM "TUNÉAME"]

Man: Fue del año 83 cuando me accidenté. Me dieron un balazo en mi pierna. Perdí mi pierna.

MAURCIO: I had a, like, sadness inside of me because it was hard for me to see people crying, see people getting really sentimental. I wanted to cry with them, you know. So at the end of the recording sessions, I would go to my office, close the door. And I remember I used to cry a lot. 

Mauricio’s a genuine kind of guy. And that came through in the show. It’s probably part of why fans were so drawn to him. But Mauricio says the attention  he was getting in Mexico created a rift between him and Ryan — the owner of West Coast Customs.

MAURCIO: I don't want to call it jealousy, but when I became a celebrity in Mexico with his brand, I guess he felt kind of jealous. And I totally understand that. But, it was not something that I planned. 

Mauricio says that Ryan eventually came down to Mexico for an event promoting West Coast.

MAURCIO: And we sit down in the table of signing autographs. And we had this line full of people that wanted to get an autograph. And I remember Ryan was right next to me and people would come to me to get an autograph. And I was already thinking, this guy is gonna get mad because people didn't recognize him.

Mauricio says that after just a few minutes Ryan got up from the table and left.

MAURCIO: I felt something was wrong, because I knew him

So Mauricio went to check in with Ryan. He wanted to know what happened.

MAURCIO: And he's like 'Nothing.' I was like 'You sure?' And he told me, Yeah, I'm sure. Why don't you go and take care of your fans? They all want you.' And after that, it, it wasn't the same. 

It didn’t just affect their friendship. Mauricio says when Ryan sold the franchise they made an agreement.

MAURCIO: Ryan was supposed to get me a visa back so I could go and see my kids. And that's so I can come back and keep working for West Coast Customs in the States. That was part of the deal that we made before I was come into Mexico.

Mauricio tried talking to Ryan about the visa. But he says, Ryan just kind of ghosted on him. Ryan didn’t talk to me for this story, so you won’t be hearing from him. I reached out to him a few times, and his publicist sent me an email saying they wish Mauricio “ our very best.” When I first talked about all this with Mauricio five years ago, I got the impression he was kind upset with Ryan. But that’s not how Maurcio’s describes what happened.

LEVI: Did you feel like he betrayed you in any way by not saying, 'oh, yeah, of course, I'll get right on this and bring you back. I know you want you to come home.’ How do you feel, how would you describe it?

MAURCIO: Not betray. But yeah, left. Left alone. Kind of abandon. Just abandoned me. Probably it’s not that I wasn’t like I wasn’t important to him. But it’s just like I didn’t wanted for him to feel like that. Like that ‘Oh I have to do it. Oh I have to bring this guy.’ I wanted it to for him to come out from his heart. I woulda like for him to love to do it. Like 'when can I bring you back? How can I bring you back?’ 

Mauricio was really stranded in Mexico. Getting his own TV show, becoming famous, that was not part of the plan. And despite all the cool things that ended up happening, Mauricio wasn’t planning on staying in Mexico.

MAURCIO: I had a promise to my kids in the States that I was gonna come back on Christmas Eve so I could be with them. 

He’d been in Mexico for about six months. By this point, it was summer 2009. Time was ticking. And if he was going to make it back in time for Christmas, Mauricio realized he couldn’t count on Ryan anymore to get there.

MAURCIO: I was like if he doesn't want to help me, then I'm going to do it. 

Mauricio chats with one of his workers at his shop in Valle de Chalco, Mexico. Photo Courtesy of Levi Bridges

So Mauricio says he tried applying for a tourist visa. People who don’t earn a lot of money in Mexico often get denied visas because folks in U.S. consulates think they’re just trying to find a way to work in the U.S. But a Mexican television host. Easy.

MAURCIO: And the people at the embassy they asked me, you know, have you ever been in the States? Which I say, “No.” And at that moment, they told me, ‘OK, well, your visa is approved.’  But then a week after, the embassy called me up and tell me that I had to go again. You know, there was some kind of problem. I went to the appointment and the same consul he asked me right away, he say 'Why you lie to me?'

The consular workers investigated Mauricio. He still had a record from that time during the LA Riots when the cops found Mauricio and his cousins taking beer from that looted convenience store. 

MAURCIO: So they give me a five-year penalty to get into the United States. But because I had that promise with my kids about me going to see them on Christmas Eve, I had to be there, get there, no matter how. I just wanted to get there. 

Mauricio was committed to reuniting with his kids. He only planned on being gone from LA for four months. Now almost a year had gone by. He’d already missed out on a lot of their life helping Ryan build West Coast Customs.

MAURCIO: I wasn't the perfect dad. But I can tell you I was always trying to be the perfect dad.

And he was damned if he wasn’t going to keep this promise. So Mauricio did something really bold -- there was really only one way he could get back to his family. He went up to Tecate, a Mexican town on the border with California, and hired a coyote. A smuggler. To take him over the border.

MAURCIO: It was five thousand dollars which I was going to pay to cross, and they were going to cross me through the mountains. At that moment, I can tell you honestly, I was scared. 

He was afraid of getting caught by the Border Patrol. Of getting locked up. Spending Christmas in jail instead of with his kids. Maybe never getting back to California at all.

MAURCIO: It was hard to cross at that moment. They had, like, so much security around the border. 

Crossing the border is dangerous. Thousands of migrants have died trying to get to the U.S. Many trying to reunite with their families. And here was Mauricio, a Mexican celebrity—a guy with a national TV show— making good money, walking through the arid borderlands. Like countless other migrants.

Mauricio met up with two coyotes in Tecate who planned to sneak him over the border, walking, with a group of migrants who were also trying to reach the U.S.

MAURICIO: We were like about twelve people, 15 people. I remember it was people from Oaxaca. It was people from Guatemala.

The coyotes told them all to empty their pockets. Get rid of everything they had.

MAURICIO: An ID, cell phone, keys, coins, bills, wallet. You couldn't take anything. Just water. 

They set off around midnight. Slipped under a barbed wire fence and started walking through the darkness. Tecate’s a small city in the mountains east of San Diego and Tijuana. It’s high, semi-desert country, with scrappy shrubs and these massive boulders scattered everywhere.  Before they left, the coyotes made sure that nobody, especially not the Border Patrol, could track them.

MAURICIO: They gave us this carpet. With some wire. Whatever you were wearing: boots, tennis shoes, whatever. You had to put carpet on the bottom. So you don't make the footprints.

With the pieces of carpet attached under everyone’s shoes, Mauricio says they took off trudging up into the mountains. The coyotes were walking fast. Really fast. Something about them didn’t seem right to Mauricio.   

MAURICIO: I knew a lot of people doing different drugs, you know, and I knew those two guys were getting high on the way. I knew the smell of crystal meth. And I like caught 'em like a couple of times smoking. And that's why they were walking so fast. They were not getting tired. I had that feeling that something was, something was wrong.

As they walked into the darkness behind these two methed out coyotes, the temperature kept dropping.

MAURICIO: It was cold. It was in December, I remember it was really cold. I had this bad ass jacket. 

One of those big puffy jackets for winter.

MAURICIO: And it was really, really warm. But it was making that noise. It was them kind of material that makes noise. So I remember that guy he told me he’s like you cannot go with that jacket. 

The coyote told Mauricio, he had to throw the jacket away. Any sort of extra noise, it might draw attention to their group from Border Patrol. Mauricio said he wasn’t going to walk without a jacket. So the coyote gave him his.

MAURICIO: His was cotton. He gave me this crappy ass jacket.

They crisscrossed up into mountains, back and forth following an unmarked trail of switchbacks.

MAURICIO: And I was already tired. I was really tired. It was really tough, like going through those mountains. 

LEVI: I've seen those mountains they are steep. 

MAURICIO I knew, physically I wasn't prepared.

LEVI: Why? Were you just not in good shape?

MAURICIO No, I wasn't in good shape. I was never doing exercise. I smoke, I smoke a lot.

Mauricio was having trouble keeping up with the group. Eventually they all stopped in a cave up in the mountains. Mauricio collapsed on the ground.

MAURICIO: I remember they told us just to wait there. And I could hear ‘em like smoking outside because you could hear the lighter going, going and going and going. / And because I was tired, I don’t know, it just happened in one snap. But I was tired. I don't remember, like, sleeping for a long time. But I do remember when I woke up, there was nobody at the cave.. At first I thought they're all outside, you know. And when I went outside. It was nobody. Nobody. 

The coyotes abandoned him out there. This is actually pretty common. As a reporter covering immigration and the border, you hear lots of stories about stragglers getting abandoned by coyotes during border crossings. Mauricio was out there all alone with nothing. The coyotes had made everyone empty their pockets.

MAURICIO: But I kept my cell phone. I hide it.

Mauricio had the number of the guy back in Tecate who had arranged this trip, so he gave him a call.

MAURICIO: He kind of like got mad first, but then he told me stay there, we're going to come and get you.  I was scared. It was really scary because then I was alone, left out in the mountains. The only light we had, it was the moon. You could hear snakes. tsts-tsts. You could hear the bushes move. 

LEVI: And you're like a city guy. Have you ever been out in the middle of nowhere by yourself like that?

MAURICIO: No, of course not. No. No way. Never. 

Mauricio was just out there totally freaked out. Waiting and waiting. But nobody ever came.

MAURICIO: And after like half an hour  I called this guy and when I tried to call him, there was no phone. They shut down the phone. It never went through again. 

Mauricio started walking through the night, trying to find his way back to Tecate.

MAURICIO: I was already getting desperate. I will see the Border Patrol. Like far away up in the hill. I will see the lights. I will scream, so they could hear me. I wanted to get caught by the immigration because I wanted to be safe. 

But Border Patrol didn’t see him. He kept walking through the cold night. It was getting harder to see.

MAURICIO: The moon went away. It starts getting cloudy, and then it started raining, like really hard.

Now Mauricio was starting to panic. He kept tripping and falling in these deep depressions in the earth, bruising his arms and legs.

MAURICIO: I couldn't see nothing. Like nothing.  Like you will have your eyes open and you will see only darkness. Just like a blind people, but it was more desperate because you had your eyes open.  I got panic. I panic a lot. Thinking ‘I'm going to die here.’ So I remember I started saying 'Mauricio start thinking, thinking, what you going to do?' 

He still had the cell phone. So when the rain died down, he called this Mexican emergency hotline.

MAURICIO: And they told me, “How much battery do you have?” And I said ‘I don't have that much. Can you find out with a satellite where I am? I don't know. Something.’

But no. This was back in 2009. For the Generation Z kids in the room, the Find My Phone app wasn’t really a thing yet. The people on the other end of the emergency hotline urged Mauricio to just stay in one place. Wait until morning.

MAURICIO: I was already all wet because of the rain. And I started shaking. Like bad. Like really, really bad. I started having hallucinations, my kids’ faces in the sky. And I will scream their names and tell them that I'm sorry so many times and I will cried and then I will laugh. I was getting nuts. I started remember when I was a kid, when I was a boy. What I did right, what I did wrong. I was preparing myself to die. I remember I told God I don't want to die like this, please. I don’t wanna die right here. The worst thing that went through my mind it was like, ‘I'm going to die here and nobody's ever gonna find my body.’ 

Mauricio kept walking. Even after sunrise, Mauricio says there was this thick fog hanging over the mountains.  It was still hard to see. He called the SOS number one last time.

MAURICIO: And then this lady answered the phone. I told her ‘I'm really desperate. And I didn't have that much battery anymore.’ I know it was the last shot that I was gonna had. And I told her, ‘please tell my mom, tell my kids that I love them. But I know I'm going to die here.’ 

They kept talking, trying to get Mauricio to give them any details that might help them find him. As the sun rose higher the fog lifted a bit, just enough to see the landscape ahead.

MAURICIO: The land was like painted red. The trees, the bushes, everything was red.

All that red was a long ribbon of flame retardants that had been dropped from the air to put out a wildfire. The emergency hotline transferred Mauricio to a guy who knew the region well.

MAURICIO: He's like, “I know where you are.” He told me that as long as I will see red walk in that direction. That was the last call because then my phone shut off. I knew if I will follow the instructions, I was gonna save my life.

Mauricio kept walking, following the line of red flame retardants over a hill. And at the top, the city of Tecate came into view. In the city below, Mauricio saw  an ambulance that had been sent for him. He ran down the hills toward the arms of a paramedic.

MAURICIO: He hugged me with his blanket. And I don't remember nothin else. 

Later that night he finally regained consciousness.

MAURICIO: I woke up with all this bags full of water warm around my body. They couldn’t believe it because I had a 90 percent of hypothermia in my body. They couldn’t believe how I survived.

When the doctors released Mauricio, he got on a plane back to Mexico City.

MAURICIO: I was feeling sad. I was feeling empty. I was feeling happy. 

Happy that he’d gotten a second chance at life. Sad and empty because he had run out of options to get back to his family in California. The trip over the border, almost dying, really traumatized Mauricio.

MAURICIO: I was already having fearness of darkness. I had a panic. I couldn't sleep. 

He couldn’t bring himself to try crossing the border again on foot.

MAURICIO: No way was I gonna try that again.

Now Mauricio had to confront a new reality, one where he wouldn’t be living with his kids.

MAURICIO: And my mind was like: I let them down you know. I told them, “well, I can't go. I can't go anymore.” I risk my life to see you guys and almost die. I'm sorry. I know they were young, they couldn't understand.

Mauricio started thinking about starting a new life in Mexico. Staying their permanently. He asked his partner to join him.

MAURICIO: Bring the kids, come over here, let's make a life together. And she will always laugh. She will always laugh and say, ‘Do you think I'm going to go there and leave the States and go back to Mexico? That's never gonna happen.

Not long after that conversation, Mauricio and his partner separated. Mauricio’s kids came down to Mexico a few times to visit. But their relationship wasn’t really the same. Things felt strained with all the distance. Over the years they grew further apart. Today, they hardly talk.

MAURICIO: Sometimes people gets the chance in life to become a good father. And some of us, we just don't. For some reason it doesn't happen because trust me that I try.  

As Mauricio was trying to accept everything that happened, he threw himself back into producing the TV show in Mexico.

MAURICIO: Like they say you know the show has to continue.

But doing the show wasn’t the same.

MAURICIO: I was missing my kids. I was missing a family life.

During season three of Tunéame La Nave, Mauricio ended up hitting it off with someone he met on the show. They decided to start a family and eventually had a daughter. Mauricio’s other kids are all boys. He always wanted to have a girl.

MAURICIO: I will always like to be around my my sisters  I used to comb their hair, get 'em dressed up to take them to school. Pick pick 'em up from school. I wanted to have my own girl. I wanted to have my own daughter. 

It felt like a second chance.

MAURICIO: The love that I feel for my daughter, it's undescriptable. It's magic.

Mauricio’s daughter was born during the last season of Tunéme La Nave. TV Azteca canceled Tunéame in 2013, after four seasons. Mauricio said there were problems between the producers and the network. But even though this was the thing he’d dreamed of doing since he was a kid, losing the show didn’t feel like that big deal. Especially after everything else he’d been through.

MAURICIO: I didn't really care, we had the brand, we had West Coast. We had a shop. So I was like, well, we don't have a TV show. Let's make cars. I had this platform. I'm famous. I know how to work in cars. So I could just open up my new shop. 

Maurcio was happy just running his own body shop. And being a father again. But it was a financial adjustment.

After he lost the show, Mauricio says that lots of people he’d grown close to, that he thought were his friends, really just wanted to be around him because he was on TV, or because he had money.

MAURICIO: You rather be by yourself, then be with somebody that probably is going to hurt you. Because that people that you say that's my friend, he probably end up stabbing you in the back.

A couple years later Mauricio’s new partner also left him, along with their daughter. And although Mauricio doesn’t want to get into all the details, he says part of the reason is that she lost interest when Mauricio’s show got canceled. They had to reduce their standard of living. Mauricio was just a guy working at a car shop now.

MAURICIO: It really hurt me. The separation really hurts me a lot. I had a lot of times of depression.  

Mauricio still had a national following in Mexico, and he’d hold events for his fans. He was struggling with depression. And a big part of his job now was trying to put on a happy exterior for the people who adored him.

LEVI: What were you experiencing that you felt like you couldn't tell them?

MAURICIO: My fans they seen a strong Mauricio. But I couldn't be that guy. From inside I was dying. A lot of people think being famous is easy. And it’s hard. It’s like you have to deal with your personal life and the life of the people, that think they know you.

Mauricio says the love he got from his fans did help cheer him up. But only for a little awhile.

MAURICIO: It’s like a drug. You need that. But then when you turn off the light, when the show is over, then you end up in the room with nobody. 

MAURICIO: I didn’t want to get recognized. I wanted to just cut my dreads, leave my cell phone, everything. Grab a backpack and just go anywhere. I don’t want nobody to know about me.

He ended up taking what might sound like a drastic step for a television celebrity in his mid-40s. He moved back home. With his grandmother.

MAURICIO: She said ‘I know where are you going through, why don’t you just come here?’ So I came back to the house. Being around my grandmother will always make me happy. Just listening to her, watching her walk, cook.

Being home was just what he needed. Mauricio’s relationship with his ex in Mexico eventually improved. He sees his daughter regularly and sometimes they do things as a family, even if they aren’t together. Overtime he started to adjust.  And Mauricio started opening up to his fans on social media about what he’d been through. He made himself vulnerable to them.

MAURICIO: I started getting a lot of messages asking me for help. I was starting to be a psychologist for my fans once they see me strong, asking me how I did it. I lost a TV show, a family. How am I still strong?

His fans started reaching out to him about their personal problems. People going through breakups or feeling depressed because they were overweight or lost their jobs. Some people reached out just because they were thinking about going to the U.S., to a place like California, like Mauricio did.

LEVI: When you meet Mexicans who tell you that they want to go to the US, what do you tell them?

MAURICIO: Not to go. It’s not worth it.

When Mauricio was living in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant, he always felt like a second class citizen. Like he was living in a country where he didn’t belong. And he wants to spare Mexicans from experiencing that.

MAURICIO: I had saved a lot of people from going to the States.

It’s hard to say whether things would have worked out so well for Mauricio if he’d stayed in Mexico — whether he ever would have gotten a TV show or owned  his own business. Living in the U.S. is part of what helped Mauricio make his wildest dreams come true. But along with all the good things that came out of that, being an immigrant also caused him a lot of pain. And he wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

[AMBIENT SOUND: MAURICIO’S NEIGHBORHOOD]

Walking around Mauricio’s old neighborhood in Mexico City, we talked about what it felt like coming back here for the first time after 20 years away. He says it was like a breath of fresh air after so many years suffocating in the U.S.

MAURICIO: I feel like I could breathe again. I feel like I could be free again. I could be myself. I could walk the streets. And not worry about anything.

Apr 16 2020

33mins

Play

The Man Inside the Radio

Podcast cover
Read more

Radio hosts drinking whiskey and coke at six in the morning, news stories from the Hollywood bowling alley, and the musical lifeblood of highschool for surfers, stoners, and straight laced teens looking to join the ride. It was the peak 70s in Los Angeles, the height of rock radio power, and KMET and KLOS were all over the billboards. UnFictional host Bob Carlson talks to some of the radio kings he listened to when he was in high school in a personal appreciation of radio in two parts. A story of L.A.'s rock radio history, and his own experience when the wild fantasy became reality.    


KMET’s logo was often displayed upside-down. Photo courtesy of Jason Groman.
Photo courtesy of Jason Groman

Full script below:

JIM:  So hi. 

BOB: Hi

JIM: Bob, how are you, man?

BOB: I'm good

JIM: It’s been like what? 35 years?

BOB: I know! You sound like I remember you sounding, though. 

JIM: Yeah. I don't look the same, though. 

I talked to Jim Nelson — veteran radio DJ, programmer and industry journalist. We’ve both worked around radio for a really long time, and went to high school in the same era.

JIM: We didn't have YouTube on our phones in our pockets, we didn't have the Internet. You either had radio in your car or you had a cassette or an 8-track in your car and that was it. There were no other options. 

It was during this conversation that I remembered something I’d forgotten, why radio? I couldn’t remember what made me consider radio of all things as a career. My college major was radio, but it’s an industry that now seems like a relic of a different time. And in fact, Jim reminded me of the time when radio was godhead, and why it seemed so epic and loomed so large in my formative years. It was specifically rock radio

JIM: It was a time in our lives. You and I happened to be in high school and college, when rock radio in Los Angeles was really good. That's the time in your life when music has an opportunity to play such a huge role because you don't have the responsibility of a mortgage and family and you can go to licorice pizza or Tower and buy three or four albums for 20 bucks. 

[KMET ad]

Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus on Warner Brothers Records, now just 5.69 the tape 5.99 at Licorice Pizza

And radio was KMET: the musical lifeblood of high school.

[KMET clip]

JIM LADD: This is 94.7 KMET, Los Angeles. It’s about two minutes before midnight…. Two minutes before the change of the day….

JIM MORRISON: All Hail the American Night!

JIM: They were so big and such a major force in this town in the late 70s.

KMET was the default soundtrack for surfers and stoners for one thing. I was neither, but it was a significant constituency of my Southern California high school.

JIM: You were listening in your car, and maybe you had a few friends over, maybe you were in your house, whatever. Everyone had nice stereos with big speakers back then because that's what you did, right?

JIM: I remember that the music mix was perfect — like every song was good. Every single DJ knew everything about all the music and they were all interesting to listen to.

[KMET clip] 

RADIO HOST: Hey! 

GUEST: Yes my little salamander

RADIO HOST: Hey, how you doing?

GUEST: Hey tip top.

JIM: I’m Jim Ladd and I’m just sitting here minding my own business and who should walk through the door?

JIM: Look out, look out. Breaking half the men’s hearts in Long Beach.

JIM: You know, you'd have Cynthia Fox, Bob Coburn and Jack Snyder, or as they would call them, Jackson B Schneiderfish (unintelligible) is what they would name him, paraquat Kelly, Mary Turner, Jim Ladd.

BOB: They were cool and very prominently political, anti-Nixon, anti-Reagan. The station led official protests against nuclear power plants and in favor of marijuana legalization. 

[KMET clip]

JIM LADD: But you’re just a number, that’s it, just a number, just a digit on some tape somewhere. So it bothers me a lot you know, and it bothered Bob Sieger enough to write this song called Feels like A Number. So as I play this song, I’m going to light up a number. Just for the cause, I figure we’d remove em, we remove em one at a time. And sooner or later if everyone burned two, three numbers a day, pretty soon there won’t be any left. Anyway this KMET Los Angeles. I think that’s right.

JIM: Oh and by the way, they got paid for it

It was the height of rock radio power. You could see eye catching KMET billboards all over town, usually hung upside down to make them even more eye catching. I definitely understand why I would have thought of it as a prestige job when I was in High School.

[KMET AD]

Levi’s chord flares, and Levi’s denim flares are made to last….

When my clock radio went off every day, the first thing I heard was the morning team of Jeff Gonzer and Ace Young

[KMET clip]

AD: at Mervyn’s back-to-school sale today. ‘At Mervyns today, Mervyn’s today!’

GONZER: Thanks Merv, love your jeans and your chromosomes aren’t bad either (ah shut up!)

Many major world events of the late 1970s, I heard first from Ace Young. 

[KMET clip]

ACE: News and surf at nine, more at ten. I’m Ace Young, you’re up to date. As KMET informs Southern California… now KMET rocks Southern California… rock and roll Tuesday morning and Jeff Gonzer.

GONZER: …and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers...KMET

There are two important events in my early life: when rock and roll radio stopped being a fantasy, and I got to see it being made in person. Here’s the first one.

Once a month Jeff Gonzer and Ace Young would do broadcasts from a venue that used to be called The Country Club, which was in Reseda in the San Fernando Valley, an hours drive from my house in the South Bay. I got up before sunrise one Friday morning during the summer and drove to Reseda, and for the first time I saw people in real life doing radio.

[KMET clip]

GONZER: I’m Jeff Gonzer, it’s finally a Friday on a Thursday from the Country Club.

The Beatles on Ed Sullivan launched a million bands, seeing Jeff Gonzer and Ace Young live at the Country Club made me want to do radio.

[KMET clip]

GONZER: LA’s own answer to the two stooges: Flo and Eddie.

FLO (or EDDIE): Are we really on the radio now?

GONZER: Yeah how about this guys?

FLO (or EDDIE): Wow

The fact that we were in a rock and roll venue made people do all the things they’d normally do at a rock club, drinking whiskey and coke for example, but now it was six o’clock in the morning.

GONZER: I think we did 'em once a month with different themes and different guests. And it was insane.

This is Jeff Gonzer

GONZER: And as far as drinking goes, the waitresses who worked the night before, whoever it was at the Country Club, would stick around until six o'clock in the morning because the tips were infinitely better from our audience than they were from people who were coming to see some band.

BOB: From your perspective, what was the KMET listener like at the time? I was, you know, a suburban kid who drove in from the South Bay.

GONZER: Well, they were you guys, they were people in their 20s, there were people who were looking for a soundtrack of their lives. Our listeners were people looking for something to identify with that wasn't kind of plastic and prepackaged, and something that was very relatable: getting stoned, surfing. It was that ultimate Southern California lifestyle. 

[KMET clip]

ACE: It’s 10:06 and a half, I’m Ace Young you’re up to date. As KMET informs Southern California… now ladies and gentlemen KMET rocks Southern California…..

ACE: It was a terrible place to try to do the news. 

This is Ace Young

ACE: You know, it's too noisy in the background. And by the first hour, I'm not going to do the news anyway. People are passing around way too many things. 

[KMET clip]

GONZER:... alright we’ve done, Ace we’ve done 3 hours already, can you believe it? We’ll be back… KMET rocks the hell out of Reseda.  Woowhaa

ACE: 1972 I started, and I was there for fourteen and a half years. In fact, I think I had the record for the longest person ever to be there. Maybe Dr. Demento with his Sunday night show there was longer. 

I almost forgot to mention, Dr Demento originated out of KMET — the weirdest thing to listen to the night before school the next day.

KMET was one of a group of commercial rock stations in the country who had their roots in the underground rock radio movement of the late 60s, where old time rules of on air behavior were being re-written. It was an attitude of doing whatever you could come up with.

ACE YOUNG: I couldn’t imagine being in a better time for radio than I faced during those days. For example we were doing the underground nuclear test in Nevada. They would tell us exactly when they would take place, like at 12 noon or something. They wanted the public to know too because they did shake Las Vegas. We were talking to the maitre’ d on top of the Dunes hotel with his champagne glasses all filled with water to see if they would jiggle when the bomb went off, you know?

BOB: Wait, that was real? Or was that a joke thing?

ACE: No, that was real! That was real! And the maitre’ d was such a funny guy. So to be able to do those live on the radio, and you know have the guy at the top of the Dunes where there was more sway and stuff like that, we just milked it for everything it was worth.

[KMET AD]

‘When you want a sound that’s clear and high, and you wanna kiss the hiss goodbye! BASF Pro II chrome!

As a teenager I was pretty straight laced, so I didn’t party as hard as the KMET lifestyle, but I could still enjoy the wild ride. In the same way that I didn’t surf, but it was entertaining to listen to the surf report.

[KMET clip]

KMET: ‘Pro II chrome!’ BASF Pro II chrome cassettes, at The Federated Group.

ACE: I know that guy… Here we are Tuesday morning, 94.7 KMET, checking out the surf

SURF REPORT: Morning Ace, Gabriel Wisdom, here in La Jolla, surf is...

ACE: I mean, the first thing I did when I went to KMET was there's no effing surf report. Someone living in the San Fernando Valley doesn't know if it's foggy in Malibu or if it's breaking. 

[SURF REPORT clip]

it’s a beautiful day, waves they’re breaking one to two feet, aoooo… for the South Bay this is The Flamer for Redondo Chart House...

ACE: The surf report became huge. In fact, some of our surf reporters were actually sponsored and they were pulling down, you know, fifteen hundred dollars a month just for the sponsored surf report!

Bob: I remember those guys

[SURF REPORT clip]

From Horizons West surfboards in Santa Monica, this is Jennifer. We have another warm sunny day and the fifths are about one to two feet with fair shape…  

Until I talked to Ace Young, I don’t think I fully appreciated the quality and depth of the KMET news department — a rock and roll station.

ACE: The idea was that we would have correspondents all over the country, all over the world. So in London, this is so and so for KMET news, it was so cool to do that. And whenever we did some great coverage, if it were a local story at the end of the story, it's KMET ahead of the times. The Times of course, being the reference to the Los Angeles Times. 

And Ace Young hired Pat Paraquat Kelly as the afternoon news guy. He was part of the idea of making news fun and interesting, rather than something you’d just tune out.

ACE: Tell Pat to do a story from the Hollywood Bowl and it would be from the Hollywood bowling alley or whatever, just whatever we wanted to do, you know.

His most memorable feature was probably his salacious fish report.

[FISH REPORT clip]

Crisco’s landing up in western county reports 23 angeleurs, nine hook nosed necrophiliac carp, 45 psycho-somatic….

ACE: Fish Report with a Beat? Yeah, and some of that stuff… I don't think would be on the radio anymore, with some of the names of those fish frankly.

[FISH REPORT clip]

Was that an (unintelligible) rainbow trout…? Yes it was, rare… I’d like to ah, fry those right up in a pan… So rare… With some punjo pudding.

It’s true that when you listen to the old KMET recordings, a lot of the jokes sound really cringey now. There’s a lot of objectification of women and humor that hasn’t aged well. But for the times, it was all in the service of the KMET style of freewheeling fun. They were into whatever their listeners were into, and when they wanted to, KMET could mobilize that connection with listeners.

Pat Paraquat Kelley, got his ironic nickname from an herbicide used against cannabis fields in Mexico in the early 70s. Paraquat was used to kill cannabis, but it could also kill people. And the United States was assisting in the spraying, so KMET was really involved in the protest to get them to stop.

ACE: Having rallies from from San Diego to Santa Barbara collected 2 million signatures, and for me to follow that up and deliver those two million petitions to President Carter at the White House... it's not only covering a story the way we should cover it… and no one else was covering it, by the way, but to the very end and getting them to stop the program.

[KMET clip]

PAT KELLY: Ace Young is somewhere in Washington DC. 

ACE: Tomorrow’s a big day, not only for me, but for the thousands of Southern Californians who participated in this incredibly successful program. And I’m just happy to see it go to fruition at this point.

PAT KELLY: Well Ace, we’ll be looking forward to talking to you tomorrow. And have a good stay in the big… what is it, the big dome? Washington DC?

ACE: The big dome, the big peanut plantation

BOB: I listened to KMET all through high school. It always just kind of felt like a clubhouse. Like everybody was just sort of hanging out, ready to do their thing. I mean, what did it feel like to be there?

GONZER: It felt like a clubhouse, we were just kinda screwing around.

Here’s Jeff Gonzer again

JEFF GONZER: But I think that was one of the problems with our longevity. We didn't really take it as seriously as a business. That may have been the reason why it was so much fun for us and for you to listen to. You know, because we felt like the audience was all part of this grand collective, it was like a supernova!

Right as I graduated, KMET was at the height of their popularity, but this was the peak of 70s rock and roll radio. Even though it seemed like they were doing it for fun, KMET made a ton of money, and helped create the whole idea of classic rock.

GONZER: The biggest heyday for KMET, when we influenced an awful lot of people and the industry and was kind of a template for rock and roll radio stations, was 1976 to 1984. Then it was kind of struggling, and as soon as the company started dicking around with the format and bringing in consultants, it was the beginning of the end.

Plus KMET had competition. Their rival rock station was KLOS, but the stations also traded staff back and forth as fortunes changed.

JIM: I mean, we've talked about KMET quite a bit in this conversation, but KLOS was also really good at that time. So you had two really good rock and roll stations in Los Angeles when we were in high school and college.

When I was two years into college and taking an intro to broadcasting class, they had a big book of internships, and I got one in the programming department of KLOS: my first official position, albeit unpaid, as a man inside the radio.

BOB: If you're gonna be coming to a radio station for the first time... this was fairly intimidating... because for years, if you live in Los Angeles, every now and then you're driving up and down La Cienega Boulevard and you'd always see the big signs that said KLOS KABC and go like... oh, I wonder what that's like inside. Not just anybody gets to go in there, and then to be actually parking in the parking lot and then going through... there's like a security desk where you had to check in and then you'd walk in… and then immediately there would be the programming office where...

JIM: Oh, yeah. If you don't turn left immediately, you miss it. 

BOB:  Yeah. So you're inside. But just inside. 

JIM: Just barely.

You’ve been hearing my colleague Jim Nelson, radio veteran. This where I worked with Jim, 35 years ago, we were the interns.

JIM: We've had our careers and it all started right there, and what a great way to get it started.

BOB: Can you describe how you looked like in those days?  

JIM: Yeah, I had shoulder length hair and always had a beard and was always wearing jeans or shorts and tennis shoes and definitely a rock ‘n roll t-shirt. I'm sure I had, you know, long dangling earrings. I was living the lifestyle, so I looked like somebody who probably worked in rock and roll.

And for about a year I, short hair, button down shirt, slim jeans, lived the rock ‘n roll lifestyle as an intern at KLOS. I was a fly on the wall as rock ‘n roll characters passed through the studios. I saw the dudes who sang that Radar Love song, and the dudes from Journey, Tom Petty was there, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Stevie Nicks looked at me this one time.

But it didn’t exactly feel like a clubhouse. By this time rock radio was a cut throat business: one close eye was always kept on the ratings. The morning man was Fraser Smith who was now direct competition to Jeff Gonzer at KMET

BOB: I always remember, cause when I was coming in, they would be finishing. And he was always in show mode.

JIM: He’d walk through there to go in and have his meeting with his boss, so that was what was on his mind.

BOB: And it was a very, very, very, very, super long hallway as I recall, we were at one end of the hallway and then there’d be studios 

JIM: which were about halfway down on the left. Yeah. 

BOB: Occasionally when you’d go into the DJ booth, because it was all vinyl records... so the DJ booth had to always have the most pristine copy of each record. So occasionally you’d have to walk from the programming office and hand deliver a fresh copy of a vinyl record to the DJ. I was always crazy nervous, like; am I gonna open the door at the wrong time, am I gonna cough?

One DJ who was often on when during my shift was Bob Coburn. He been one of those DJs on KMET I’d listen to, but now he was over here at KLOS.

BOB: He was always so cool, and he was the first one to like... he started showing me how everything works, and he goes ‘at this point the audio compressor will kick in.’ I had no idea what an audio compressor was at that time, and I’d go ‘ah interesting.’ 

Our main job was to maintain the LP vinyl records that were in the current play rotation of KLOS. If the records got scratched, we got to call the record companies and get new copies.

BOB: And this is where you got a little bit of a sense of power as an intern. You got to just call the record company from the Rolodex and ask them to send another one and they would.

JIM: Yup, we need five more copies of Boston's debut album, please, and five copies of Fleetwood Mac Rumors, and five copies of Led Zeppelin III. 

But this was a whole different time for music, 1983. At this point a lot of listeners were tuning into the more punk and new wave KROQ, and in the KLOS programming department there were discussions of what even constitutes rock ‘n roll.

JIM: You know, where do the Bangles, where do where do a Flock of Seagulls, or ABC, or the Thompson twins fit on the spectrum of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen... and Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Great White. So you almost had the old guard, which wasn't really that old at the time… the classic rock that is now known as Pink Floyd, Jackson Browne, etc.

My intern partner Jim was primed for the rock and roll life, so he was hired out of the internship after a few months, and he stayed at KLOS for a long time.

JIM: I worked there for five and a half years all together, and by the time I left, Bob, I was actually the interim music director.

BOB: So you used it. You went places, you know? I was… I'm sort of an introvert anyway. So I think it takes me months even to get comfortable anywhere. So I don't think I ever felt... like went anywhere beyond that nervous intern phase at anytime that I was there     

In real terms I was only there for about a year, but I was hoping Jim remembered something more than I did.

BOB: Do you remember this guy? He was a funny guy, always dressed as a skater. And one day he laid down this LP record down on the desk, on top of that he put one of those little bus things that drives around the record and it has a speaker on top and it plays it… and he was playing ‘Thriller.’

JIM: No

BOB: Do you know who I’m talking about?

JIM: Vaguely

BOB: Do you remember when I was standing on a desk to reach a high album, and my knee gave way and I crashed down on top of our supervisor Lynette, assistant to the program director?

JIM: Wow! I had not remembered that until you brought it up. Yeah, that was weird.

BOB: I had this weird knee issue when I was a teenager. Everyone looked at me like I’d lost my mind, like I was attacking Lynette.

I left college in Southern California, and went to school in Boston for two more years, where I was introduced to punk music, Run DMC, and the world of public radio

But KMET was my station in high school, and it’s the soundtrack to all those memories, good and bad. KLOS was the first radio station I ever set foot in and it set the idea of what a radio station looks like. Even today, as I do this program from the closet of my house, I salute the rock radio gods of the 1970s.

May 21 2020

26mins

Play

Rolling Thunder

Podcast cover
Read more

Musician Mary Lorson’s youth was marked by constant motion, with her mother and sisters frequently moving from one place to another. Over the last several years she’s been working on an epic song cycle documenting her childhood. She produced this excerpt of the saga for UnFictional. It’s about her father, who has always been a bit of a mystery to Mary. He’s really just a character in her mind, created from a handful of memories of brief interactions and gifts received.


Mary Lorson and her Polaroid Swinger. Photo courtesy of Mary Lorson.

Rolling Thunder polaroids. Photo courtesy of Mary Lorson.

Full script below:
BOB: UnFictional is a program of true stories, personal documentaries and radio movies, and always interested to find new ways of telling stories. On this episode you can add something different…. It’s a musical documentary written by Mary Lorson

MARY: I say that I'm a writer who makes music and stories. Also, I was an English teacher for a very long time and it's an excellent job for a writer because there are so many different types of stories and ways to deliver a story. If I were given one word, I'd say I'm a writer, 

BOB: Which is interesting because what I knew of you was as a musician, you were in bands that I had known. 

[Madder Rose song plays]

Mary’s been recording music for a long time in bands like Madder Rose, Saint Low and the Soubrettes and under her own name.  

MARY: Yeah, I was a writer long before the music thing. I loved playing music and always did, but I never thought that I could really do it professionally, that just sort of happened in my 20s. But at the same time, music is just one of the possibilities, it seems. 

A NEW possibility for something Mary could try… A personal memoir set to music. It came to her mind while she was writing a screenplay

MARY: It was an historical screenplay about a famous vaudevillian named Eva Tanguay. She was incredibly famous in her day, but her fame didn't last. She was right on the cusp of electronic media. So vaudeville was her medium and she was larger than life. But she was also like a sex addict, and she was your classic over indulgent, crazy hypomanic pop star. 

[Sound clip: Eva Tanguay]

MARY: She did not make the transfer into talkies very well. She made one movie, it only exists now in parts. I got interested in her because my great grandmother worked for her, turned out, and toured with her. I loved the idea that in my band I played in a lot of those old vaudeville houses. They are now on the circuit for rock bands 

[Sound clip: Eva Tanguay]

MARY: I loved thinking about my great grandmother being in those places as Eva Tanguay’s employee, so I was writing that. Historical fiction is so interesting because you have to imagine the minuitest experience, the little moments, or that's the way I did with her. I was really curious about the texture of her life, the clothing that she wore, and the fabric... and what her body must have felt like after a really hard performance, as she was a crazy dancer and she basically beat her body up.

[Sound clip: Eva Tanguay]

MARY: She and I had a bunch of things in common, interestingly, Eva Tanguay. We were both the youngest of four, and we were both kind of hyperactive kids that nobody knew what to do with in a family with no father and and a pretty absent mother, and being a creative, hyperactive type. So those were the touch points for me to try to imagine her experience. 

BOB: Mary wrote a musical memoir of her own life, and we’re going to hear a part of it called Rolling Thunder… it’s a section of a longer stage performance called Signals

MARY: ...Which is a full length performance memoir. It's an hour and a half long. We did it, I think three or four times in Los Angeles at small theaters and then maybe three or four times here in New York in small theaters. There are two video screens that play continuously, and the band is in the center, and I play guitar, piano or sometimes just talk. 

It was such a pain in the ass for the band to learn because none of the pieces are like rock songs. They don't have a chorus in the same place every time, and they don't have the same types of patterning that rock songs or pop songs have. So my amazing band… they were game. 

BOB: From KCRW I’m Bob Carlson and this is Rolling Thunder…. written by Mary Lorson and produced for UnFictional

[Rolling Thunder begins]

MARY: I wasn't a bastard but I kind of felt illegitimate. Dad and Mom had eloped three months after meeting. My sisters from Mom’s first marriage loved him like mad, but one day Dad vanished, before I could form one single memory of him. 

I've always wondered why that day was the finale. How do you walk away from a beaming little two-year-old face, one that looks like you? I was there, but unaware. I want the scene.   

My sisters say: Dad was great.  

Mom says: All you need to know is he walked away. 

Dad said: Mom kicked him out that day, that he crammed his suits and stereo into the Mustang  and rushed to the city for a meeting, paying a kid twenty bucks to guard the car, which was empty anyway when he came back out. 

Later, once I knew him, I asked: “Was there another woman?”  

His answer: “There must have been.”   

MARY AND VOCALISTS (SUNG): They blamed it all on alcohol.

MARY: They blamed it all on alcohol.

Mom said: infidelity wasn't the only problem; unofficial-seeming “bill collectors” were showing up at the house.  

My sisters said: Dad made life fun, played the piano, adored Mom. But skillets and invectives would fly in the night… and then Dad went missing, with hundreds of thousands of some investor’s dollars. By the time my sisters were eight, ten and eleven, they had lost two fathers.    

Mom hadn’t worked since modeling before her first marriage. She borrowed tuition for a full-time secretarial course and sent me to stay with her brother, another charming alcoholic with money problems and a fed-up wife. Mom and the girls stayed behind, in the lovely house on Manor Lane. 

I rejoined them fifteen months and few blocks but a world away, in a garden apartment behind the Country Club. Mom kept the crystal chandelier and her gown from the Kennedy Inaugural, and a suite of heavy furniture that wasn’t made for small rooms. 

Sometime later, Dad called Mom for a friendly chat. He was glad to hear she was in love and admitted that he and his girlfriend had a baby. He asked her to sign some papers for a Tijuana divorce. Sure, Mom said, and I’ll take the trip to Mexico too. She came back with castanets and a tan. I remember understanding then that my parents would never get back together.

I had Dad's nose and hair and musicality, but couldn’t remember a thing about him. Mom said I was lucky I didn't know what I was missing. The older girls talked about their happy chapter with my dad all the time, but I’d wait alone out front for the Mustang that didn't come. One day, though, he showed, and this was my own first memory of Dad: Christmastime, Chinatown, and three wrapped presents: a Dancerina doll, a Polaroid Swinger, and a camel hair coat from Saks. The surviving Polaroids show a serious dad and a manically happy me.

Dad promised that now he was going to bring all his kids together regularly. He'd repeat this song on our scattershot dates over the years, but that visit was the beginning of our intermittent, fond, indulgent, dishonest bond. After that, I lived in obsessive anticipation of the next visit, never knowing when it would be. 

A Dancerina doll, a Polaroid Swinger, and a camel hair coat from Saks. Dad gave me these, and went back to wherever he went.

During Kindergarten, I roomed with Mom, but she was out most nights.The big girls had the other bedroom. I wasn’t allowed in, but from the other side of the door I’d smell and listen attentively. Incense, patchouli, cigarettes, maybe pot? Talking, laughing, singing Joni Mitchell, CSNY...yelling, hitting, screaming, cursing. I swear I could hear the brushing of their long beautiful hair, the swinging of their unhindered double-D breasts...meanwhile people kept mistaking me for a boy.

“You have your father’s thin hair,” Mom complained, so she took me to the barber on the corner, who gave me a buzz cut... and rationalized it this way: “It don't matta if she looks bad now; it mattas what she looks like when she's 18.” Mom thought this was a riot. There was none of this “you're beautiful because you're you” bullshit with Mom. You either looked good, or you didn't. 

MARY AND VOCALISTS (SUNG)

There in the cathode light, nobody beamed up bright

Enough for her to like noone to walk beside

Yeah, you hardly knew us

That was just our life/that was just our life

[Instrumental break]

MARY: Then, In first grade, I almost had another sister! Jeanne!

MARY AND VOCALISTS (SUNG): Jeanne! Jeanne! Jeanne! Jeanne!....Jeanne!

MARY: We had a great time together.

MARY (SUNG): Mom met her father at the giant step, a piano bar in New Rochelle. She’d got my deadbeat dad the gig, and he showed up. Went down so she could grab the tips, and let the admirers buy her drinks led by the very handsome Ed Desonne.

MARY (SPOKEN): Mom was passionate and needed a rescue; Ed DeSonne was a prosperous investment banker. Both were raising broods of four alone. He wasn’t divorced yet, but soon he and Mom got engaged, and we were going to be like the Brady Bunch, with martinis.

SINGERS: Yeah, it’s never simple, but we’ll give it a try; maybe be alright

MARY: In the meantime, he was paying the rent on our roomy townhouse on Carol Avenue...

[Instrumental break]

MARY: Jeanne too was the youngest of four. She was fearless and funny, and once the parents were married, she would be my roommate. But until then, I had to spend a few more nights with one or another of my unwilling sisters. One such Saturday, Knockout Diane was supposed to watch me while Shy Karen went to a party for once, but Diane sneaked out. Karen wailed, but Mom had plans with Ed, who arrived in a cloud of aftershave and tapped his shiny toe in the foyer. Mom appeared in glamorous good cheer and ordered me to kiss him. I didn't wanna. 

“Go ahead: give him a little kiss,” Mom said, and Ed reached out gamely, but I wound back and fired a fierce little first-grade kick right into his suited shin.

Today we'd say I was “acting out.” But back then, everybody just yelled. Then the grownups... went out. And the television...went on. And then: Ed DeSonne disappeared, changing the channel on a whole other level.

MARY AND VOCALISTS: Ed, we hardly knew ye…

[Instrumental break]

MARY: In first grade you learn to add two plus two. I overheard the word “funeral” and didn’t see Jeanne’s dad for a week; these factors equalled --to me-- that he was dead. When Mom announced it, the big girls wailed like the world was ending. But I just said: “I know.”

I wasn't glad Ed was dead, but I wasn't sad, either. I didn't know how much we lost.         

Mom told everyone the aneurysm happened while Ed was driving; years later she told me the rest of the story. She also told me that, in her grief, she'd called my dad, as a friend, and that he'd sneaked away to be there with her at Ed's funeral.

In the instant it takes for a blood vessel to pop, Mom became bereft, unemployed, and homeless, and our family dispersed like seeds in the wind. Diane went to live with her father in the city. Joni went to live with her best friend. The rest of us were taken in by another divorcee with a sun-porch we shared for the nervous, chilly months it took Mom to save up a security deposit. Karen cried, Mom cooing in her ear and breaking Valiums in half. But worst of all, Jeanne was sent into foster care.   

I only saw her once again after that, but we’re Facebook friends now. 

[Instrumental break]

MARY: While we were staying with the other family, Dad got tickets for the TV show "Wonderama", for me and our host's daughter, and she won the big prize! The moms picked us up, tipsy on high heels, and loaded the prizes in the back of a Checker, ignoring candy-starved Moonies in white shirts and dark blazers who tried to sell us carnations.  

Mom found an apartment. It was in Tuckahoe, so we switched schools. I was in Second grade; Joni, Seventh; Karen, Ninth. I got sent to the principal's office for wearing pants; he showed me a paddle, said next time he'd use it. But maybe it wasn't just the trousers. 

Men landed on the moon, “Evil Ways” was in heavy rotation, and “Spinning Wheel.” Our apartment sat at a dead end by a highway. At night the passing cars projected an abstract slideshow on our bedroom wall. In the living room, Mom would light a candle and drink wine. The apartment often smelled of the burned bottom of a saucepan.That Christmas Eve, Mom fell asleep and the candles burned all the way down, through the tablecloth, and into the nice oak table. I woke up when the fire department arrived.

MARY AND VOCALISTS SUNG: Yeah, we hardly knew you/ that was just our life/ that was just our life

MARY: Karen was 15 and wanted privacy; I was seven and wanted company. One day these opposing desires clashed at a bedroom door, both sides pushing until the big kid won, my middle finger slammed in the door jamb.

The top was hacked completely off. Mom raced me to New Rochelle Hospital, where the surgeon told her to retrieve the tip of my finger or I'd have a stump for the rest of my life. Meanwhile, back at the apartment, Karen tried to flush my finger, along with her shame and horror, down the toilet.

Thanks to low-rent plumbing, my fingertip didn't disappear, and the toilet water even kept it alive. Mom carried it in a baggie back to the surgeon, who successfully reattached it. Now, there’s a parent's errand. They kept me in the hospital for a week, because I was hyperactive and the doctor feared I'd bang the stitches open.

It's possible I was on painkillers, because when Dad appeared he was like a dream, swinging down the hall with his great suit and his smiling blue eyes. He'd stopped at the gift shop, and gotten me a dozen long stemmed American Beauty roses and a music box. When you opened it, a ballerina pirouetted to this song: 

ALL VOCALISTS: “Oklahoma” break:

Oh, what a beautiful morning

Oh, what a beautiful day

I’ve got a beautiful feeling

Everything’s going my way

[Rest, then instrumental break]

MARY: The roses died, of course. I kept that box, though, long after the ballerina broke off and the inside felt was smutty with lipgloss and melted Jolly Ranchers. I didn’t see Dad again for another four years.

May 14 2020

19mins

Play

The Rescue

Podcast cover
Read more

When Fedelina Lugasan moved to the U.S. from the Philippines for work, she was comforted by the fact that she’d start her new life with a family she trusted. But her life and job were not what they told her it would be, and she was cut off from family back home. When an opportunity presented itself, she took her freedom into her own hands.


Fedelina Lugasan at her nursing home, taken February 2020. All photo credits belong to Paulina Velasco.

The translations from Tagalog used for the Fedelina voice-over were done by Mark Escalante, with editing for clarity by Carla Green and Paulina Velasco.

The voice-over actor is Alice de la Peña.

From KCRW I’m Bob Carlson and this is UnFictional

A person living as a slave in a suburb in America, doesn’t seem possible, but it happens... and sometimes a situation can start out as something more straight forward and above board. For example in the Philippines there’s an historical cultural tradition of helping out your family and extended family

Rhacel Parreñas: So in the Philippines, the patronage system in which a wealthy or family member brings in a much poorer member of their extended family to their household. It’s quite common.

I spoke to Rhacel Parreñas

RHACEL PARREÑAS: I'm a professor of sociology and gender and sexuality studies at USC.

She’s studied domestic workers around the world including The Philippines. 

RHACEL PARREÑAS: So I know that in the Philippines there is this strong extended kinship, and so your sense of family extends way beyond your nuclear family.

So let’s say a Filipino family comes to the U.S. to start a business, they can bring over a member of their extended family to work not for a salary… but for something even more valuable.

RHACEL PARREÑAS: That's how they would give them a visa, so they would bring them into their household. Among Filipino domestic workers here in the United States, there's actually a sizable number that were quote unquote, sponsored by a Filipino family.

But in the wrong household, a situation can turn darker…. And that’s what happened in the story on this episode.

RHACEL PARREÑAS: I would say Fedelina’s story is definitely one of slavery.

Fedelina is the name of the woman in this story,  and a situation like hers can turn bad slowly over time… without realizing it, until the position has gone from unpaid worker to slave.

RHACEL PARREÑAS: I follow the definition given by the eminent sociologist Orlando Patterson. He says you have to experience violent domination, you have to experience natal alienation, and that you experience the erasure of your dignity 

And Orlando Patterson defined that term natal alienation as the “alienation of a person from all formal, legally enforceable ties of blood” and from all “rights or claims of birth” 

RHACEL PARREÑAS: I would just say that her situation of Fedelina here in Los Angeles is probably the worst case scenario that individuals in that situation would ever face.

It’s the story of how a woman was found living as a modern day slave for decades and how she was able to finally leave.

The reporter is Paulina Velasco

PAULINA: Sometime in late 2017 or early 2018, two older Filipina women showed up at a hospital in Los Angeles. One woman was in her late 70s, the other maybe in her early 80s. The younger one was having a medical emergency, and needed to be put on dialysis. The older one was her companion.

Then the older companion did something strange: she begged a nurse to give her some food. After she ate, she vomited and fainted. The nurse alerted the hospital's social worker.

Early one morning in 2018, in a gated community in Northridge, the FBI knocked for the first time on the door of the Cox family house.

FEDELINA V.O.: They would come early, around 6 AM. And they were always drinking coffee.

They were looking to speak to Fedelina Lugasan.

FEDELINA: My name is Fedelina Lugasan.

That’s Fedelina. She mostly speaks in Tagalog, so you’ll hear an actor translating 

FEDELINA V.O.: I’m Fedelina Lugasan. I’m from Manila. 

She was the domestic servant at the household – nurse, caretaker, cook, maid, for an elderly lady named Benedicta Cox. The FBI were asking her to leave because they’d found out she’d been working – without being paid.



Fedelina Lugasan reunited with her relatives from the Philippines who she had not seen in decades, March 10, 2020.

FEDELINA V.O.: The FBI would show up at my front door, and I’d go outside to meet with them. They were trying to convince me to leave because I wasn’t being paid. 

They’d ask Fedelina to go outside and talk to them.

FEDELINA V.O.: There were four people who’d come – two Filipinas and two white ladies. 

MYRLA: Women like the Charlie's Angels, women type, and they spoke so gently...

There were two law enforcement agents, a Tagalog–English translator, and this woman, Myrla….

MYRLA: I'm Myrla Baldonado and I'm the lead organizer of the Pilipino Workers Center. The worker center assists in empowering domestic workers and low income workers, Filipino American workers, for their lives to improve, getting more rights or enforcement of laws so they could get the right wages that they should be getting.

Law enforcement needed someone from the Filipino community to come along to their visits with Fedelina. So they called the PWC, where Myrla works.  

MYRLA: Our human trafficking Program case manager called me and she said, do you have time to go and rescue somebody? 

Other people on the manager’s team weren’t responding to her. And Myrla is basically always  always at the office.

MYRLA: Yeah. I pick up the phone easily. People hate me for me calling in the wee hours of the morning or whatever, but I pick up the phone. If I have time, I'll do it.

Myrla was told to meet the FBI agents – the Charlie’s Angels as she calls them – at a coffee shop at a mall in Northridge.

MYRLA: And that first morning, I was given a briefing on what the case was about, but you could hardly grapple with what was given to you.

She says they didn't tell her much. Just the bare minimum.

MYRLA: So, yeah, they told me that I'm just going to be there and be helping them encourage the person to... to be rescued, to get out of her employer’s place. I think the only question I asked was what is the possibility of her coming with us today? “Oh, we've been doing this for quite some time now. It's not very likely that she will come with us.”

FEDELINA: Myrla will go to my house, and then she asked me, go with me now. I said, no. But this lady said you have a good house, you can leave. I said no, I don't like... (laughing) Myrla, she's "Go with me now, leave the lady….” I said no. (laughs)

At first Myrla thought the FBI could just pick Fedelina up and rescue her.

MYRLA: I started to realize, it seems like they cannot force the person to go with them. It's like she has to go on her own volition.

But Fedelina wasn’t ready to do that yet.

FEDELINA V.O.: They really wanted me to go with them, but I couldn’t just leave. Who’d be left to take care of my employer? 

And that was frustrating for Myrla.

MYRLA: So they had to really wait for her to make a decision. I mean, here you are, law enforcement agency... Oh, come!  You can not command this person to go with you?! What? It appears like you cannot force her to go with you.

So she kept going back to visit Fedelina, over and over again

MYRLA: Every week for two months! Every time I would go, I would figure out something to say to her, something where she will feel like she will increase trust in me. And so I had to explain to her that I have taken care of a lot of people who are in the same situation and they got a visa to stay in the U.S. and they were even able to reunite with their families.

But it took awhile for Fedelina to take it all in.

MYRLA: The other day I was talking to her and I said, why did you not go with us right away? Well, because I didn't even know you! (laughs)

And why would Fedelina trust Myrla, who she had just met two months ago – over the family that she had worked for, for nearly 70 years?

Fedelina was born in Leyte, in the Philippines – an island near the center of the country. Then she moved to the capital to live with her niece. Not long after she was hired by a middle-class family to be their live-in housekeeper in Manila: the Cox family.

Sometime in the 70s or 80s – Fedelina says it was 1974, reports say 1980 – Benedicta Cox, who the family called Benjy for short, brought Fedelina to the U.S. to take care of her sister. Fedelina would have been in her late 30s or early 40s.

FEDELINA V.O.: When she brought me to the U.S., she told me “don’t worry – they’re nice people, they’ll treat you like family”. That was a lie. 

PAULINA: Did you know anyone else in the US when you came? 

FEDELINA V.O.: No – I didn’t know anyone in the US. And when they brought me they told me I’d be taking care of just one person: Benjy’s sister. Just her. I had no idea I was going to be looking after the entire family.

Fedelina found herself taking care of Benjy's entire family: Benjy’s mother, her children and grandchildren, her sister and her sister’s children and grandchildren...

FEDELINA V.O.: Every morning I’d get up, take the bus from where I was living with Benjy to the other house so I could take care of the other family. I’d wake up at 4:30 in the morning to get to the bus stop by 6. The families lived far apart, and I didn’t have a car, so I had to take the bus to get between the houses. And when I got there, I’d take care of everything in the house: cook, clean, do the laundry, iron clothes, and look after the kids. That was my job.

But a job where she wasn’t getting paid at all. She was doing all that work – for no money.

FEDELINA: When then the lady says can you cook me this, this this, I cook. She eats first before me. Sometimes I did not eat. I'm cleaning, I'm cooking, she talks to me bad words. I did not answer. I go out and clean outside. After, I go inside the house to cook dinner.

She would cook for Benjy’s grandchildren when they visited, and Benjy would take the credit.

They didn’t include her in family dinners, even though she did all the cooking. They never asked her to jump in on family photos, and she would go outside when everyone was eating.

FEDELINA: Sometimes I go out. And then the grandchildren call me. Come in, get inside. We will eat, and then I go inside and eat. If she did not ask me to come, no, I will not go there.

FEDELINA V.O.: I never wanted to ask them for anything – not even on holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving. I was always there, but I wouldn’t ask to eat with them, or to be included in anything they did. And usually, they wouldn’t include me. Usually, I would just stay in my corner while they ate or did whatever they were doing as a family. 

The only people who she says would ask her to be in photos, or eat dinner with them, were Benjy’s sister, and the sister’s son. Benjy’s sister would take her on family trips.


Myrla Baldonado (left), Fedelina Lugasan (center), Hannah De Castro-Abinubam (right) from the PWC on a visit to Fedelina’s nursing home, February 2020.

FEDELINA V.O.: She’d give me money and invite me out with them. Whenever she’d invite me, I’d try to protest, and say that I had work to do and that I should stay behind. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She’d say – ‘Your chores can wait. If I tell you to come with us, you should come. I’m the one inviting you.’ 

FEDELINA: Yeah, yeah. I go to Julian!

Julian, the cute California town known for it’s apple festival

FEDELINA V.O.: I always went along with her, she never left me behind. We went to Julian, I got to try warm apple pie, I picked apples, oranges, cherries, grapes. 

FEDELINA: Apple pie? It's too sweet!

PAULINA: Oh I love it

FEDELINA: Like this big!

PAULINA: Yeah the Julian ones are very big!

FEDELINA V.O.: Yeah! Then we pick that apple, orange, cherry, and grapes! That's why that lady told me, when we are going somewhere, you always go. Everybody will go out.

But then Benjy’s sister died of an asthma attack on a trip to Las Vegas. And things got worse for Fedelina.

FEDELINA V.O.: Benjy accused me of killing her sister. 

Fedelina wasn't even on that trip. The accusation didn't make any sense. But that didn't stop Benjy from making it. 

FEDELINA V.O.: Benjy said the cops were going to arrest me for killing her sister.

Benjy used the accusation as a threat – to keep Fedelina from leaving. And with the sister’s death, Fedelina was left to take care of just Benjy – both of them older women at this point, living  alone in a  big house. Fedelina slept on the floor next to Benjy’s bed.

FEDELINA: It was just the two of us. She had three rooms in her house, but I still slept on the floor. Even when I got sick, she wouldn’t give me medicine or go get me food. I would have to force myself to stand just so I could go get food and water.

Benjy would accuse Fedelina of stealing her jewelry, and threatened to call the cops on her.

FEDELINA: She’d say to me, ‘If you leave, I’ll have you arrested.’ And I’d tell her, ‘Go ahead! Ask the cops to dig through my things! Let’s see if they find anything.’

MYRLA (to Fedelina): Hindi mo ba alam 'yong ano, 'yong salitang "alipin?" (Are you familiar with the word "alipin?")  Alam mo 'yong ibig sabihin ng "alipin?" (Do you know what it means?) 

“Are you familiar with the word “alipin,” Myrla asks Fedelina.

MYRLA: So I was asking her: have you ever heard of the word slave, which is alipin in our language? And what do you think when people say you’re like a slave? 

FEDELINA V.O.: Well, I couldn’t leave the house. When Benjy’s sister was alive, she’d take me with her wherever she went. She wouldn’t trap me in the house like Benjy did.

MYRLA: Yes, she is, because she couldn't leave - to go around and be free. She thinks yes, yes, she was.

When Myrla asks Fedelina if not getting paid was an issue, she brushes it off. Still, she only ever had money when Benjy’s nephew would give her some. And she’d use it to do the one thing that made her feel free – she’d go out.

FEDELINA: I ride the bus! I know how to ride the bus.

FEDELINA: Back and forth. I go to JC Penney, Sears, Robinson and Macy’s! (laughs) 

PAULINA: For clothing? 

FEDELINA: Yeah, I ride the bus. I go to Victoria's Secret! 

PAULINA: Oooo! 

FEDELINA: (Laughs) Yeah! 

But then when Benjy would catch wind that she had some cash, she’d get into a fight with Fedelina about buying food. 

FEDELINA: If somebody gave you money, buy your own food, because you have money. Don't eat my food. Because I go … (pauses, her voice breaks). She told me, and I said, I will not eat your food!

Maybe that’s why Fedelina didn’t always eat. And why she fainted that fateful day at the hospital, when she brought Benjy in for an emergency.

MYRLA: She was taking care of this woman who was on dialysis already and she had to go to the hospital. When she was confined in the hospital and Fedelina as her companion there – she fainted. 

FEDELINA V.O.: One day, I hadn’t eaten anything. Benjy was on dialysis, and there was a Filipino nurse supervising the treatment. I was embarrassed, but I was so hungry. So I told him, ‘I’m embarrassed to ask you this, but I’m starving. Could I get something to eat?’ He was kind about it. He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, Nanay. I’ll go down to the kitchen and get you something to eat.’ But then, after I ate, I started to feel sick – and then I vomited. 

The nurse who gave Fedelina the food told the hospital’s social worker.

FEDELINA V.O.: The nurse who gave me the food alerted the hospital.

MYRLA: She was malnourished, and she wasn't being taken cared of well….  She looked different, she didn't look normal. She was like kept, you know, somebody you keep at home. It shows that she was just so domesticated and so tied to this person that she was taking care of.

And the social worker started asking Fedelina some questions.

FEDELINA V.O.: The social worker was Filipino, and asked me all these questions: if Benjy’s family paid me a proper salary, if I was given regular meals, if I was free to go out, and how many days a week I worked.

And Fedelina – she lied.

FEDELINA V.O.: I told them I was paid for my work, that I could go out as much as I wanted, and that I was given proper meals. I didn't want Benjy’s family to get in trouble. I would rather take the blame than they get in trouble.

Fedelina says Benjy found out that she had talked to a social worker. She tried to tell Benjy that she hadn’t said anything. It might've been the nurse or social worker –  Somebody didn’t believe Fedelina and knew she was covering up for her employer. Because not long after that, the FBI came knocking. And Fedelina’s home turned into a pressure cooker.

FEDELINA V.O.: The FBI showing up caused problems with Benjy’s family – they got mad at me. They asked me what I told the FBI, why they were there all the time. And I told them – I don’t know! I have no idea!

FEDELINA V.O.: Benjy shouted at me. She said, ‘F**k you.’ I said it right back: ‘F**k you too.’ 

Benjy told Fedelina the FBI was going to take advantage of her.

FEDELINA V.O.: Benjy told me the FBI was going to enslave me. And then when I told the FBI what she’d said, they said – no. Benjy just doesn’t want you to leave, because then there will be no one to look after her. 

Fedelina was feeling pressure from all sides. It was all up to her. She was the one that had to decide what to do. She was still thinking of Benjy’s welfare – this was someone she had been taking care of for so long. She couldn’t just leave.

Benjy had a chauffeur. And he’d gotten wind of what was happening with the FBI and Fedelina.

FEDELINA V.O.: The final straw was when the driver took Benjy’s side.

FEDELINA V.O.: And he confronted me, like – ‘Make up your mind! Are you going with the FBI, or staying with Benjy?’ That made me mad. The chauffeur didn’t get it, he was paid. 

How could he be so flippant towards Fedelina, when he’s getting paid and she’s not, she thought. The only person who ever slipped her any money was Benjy’s nephew.

And he was visiting one day when Benjy and Fedelina got into a screaming match.

FEDELINA V.O.: And Benjy’s nephew said to her – ‘what did Fedelina ever do wrong? If you don’t want her around anymore, give her some money so she can go home!’ And that made Benjy mad. She yelled right back – ’I’m your aunt. How could you take her side?’ And she said ‘She’s not part of our family.’

But he did – he took Fedelina’s side.

FEDELINA V.O.: He said, ‘Fedelina and I are not related but you’re the one who’s wrong here. You’ve got no right to always be angry with her when she hasn’t done anything wrong.’

Ruben – Benjy’s nephew – told his aunt to let Fedelina leave if that’s what Fedelina wanted. He stuck up for her.

FEDELINA: She did not do anything to you. Why you always mad at her?

And it meant the world to Fedelina to hear him do that.


Fedelina Lugasan is honored at a Pilipino Workers Center event with her long-lost relatives, members of the PWC, and representatives from the Philippines Consulate, March 10, 2020.

FEDELINA: That's why I am happy. (laughs) I'm happy because I'm the one who take care since he born. 22 years old she love me.

Fedelina had taken care of the nephew Ruben since he was born. And now he was coming to her side and explaining the truth of the situation to his Aunt Benjy

PAULINA: Is that what changed your mind? When did you decide you… ? 

FEDELINA V.O.: Yes. I said, "Okay. I will go." 

And so she went! 

FEDELINA V.O.: I hadn’t packed anything. But I decided to go. So the FBI told me, ‘Let’s go – go get your clothes!’ And I asked them, ‘where am I going to live now?’ And they told me not to worry and that they had a place for me. The Filipina translator, and the PWC worker who had replaced Myrla at this point scooped up her clothes.

FEDELINA: All my clothes! (laughs, gestures a scoop with her arms)

And Fedelina left. 

FEDELINA: I did not say bye! No! I am happy! To go out in the house because somebody saved me my life. Now am free! I'm happy.

In January of 2019, Benedicta Cox, Benjy, was taken to court for her treatment of Fedelina.

Fedelina was awarded $101,119 dollars and 98 cents. The Pilipino Workers Center calculates that assuming she worked 24/7 from the day she arrived in the US, just based on the minimum wage, no overtime ... she’d be due back-wages of over $1.6 million dollars. And yet… 

MYRLA: The judge asked if when they ruled in favor of her, if she would like to put this woman in jail, and she said, no, I forgive her.

Fedelina refused to send Benjy to jail.

MYRLA: You got her off the hook!? When she's this woman who, almost like, enslaved you. She said, yeah! I did! Because I also cared for her. It wasn't at all surprising...  But the surprising part is how she was able to articulate it. You know, and show her wisdom. Because before she left, her reasoning was always for her boss. But now, she could reason for herself.

Benjy was placed on house arrest, and in May 2019, she passed away. Fedelina says she cried when she heard of her death. She put flowers on her tomb last time she visited the cemetery. 

Fedelina lives in a nursing home now, where she is taken care of for a reduced fee.

FEDELINA V.O.: They’re all nice to me here. They call me Nanay!

She says they all call her Nanay, a term of respect for an older woman in the Philippines. 

FEDELINA: In the morning when I wake up, I say. Good morning. Good morning Nanay! (laughs) Everybody's calling me, also the guy! 

FEDELINA: They all show me respect.

MYRLA: Now we joke about her that she is already a doña.

PAULINA: What's a doña? 

MYRLA: Doña is something like a rich woman, matriarch of a rich family. Just joking. So that's a joke. Doña ‘kana! (laughs)

After a lifetime of taking care of other people, someone’s finally taking care of Fedelina. She gets manicures now. There’s a salon inside the nursing home where she gets her hair done.

FEDELINA V.O.: I’m happy, look at my hands, my nails are nice … my palms are soft…  

Fedelina laughs

PAULINA: Very nice. 

FEDELINA V.O.: Thank you!

She doesn’t get out much, which is disappointing to her, and she wishes the food were a little  better. But she’s friends with the cook, so she’d never say anything – wouldn’t want her friend to know why she doesn’t always finish her meals. She celebrated her first birthday party ever, last year, in the nursing home dining hall. Since she lost her paperwork so long ago, she isn’t sure of her exact age. But the authorities calculated, about 83. She was born on the Fourth of July.

BOB: Before we go, I want to go back to Professor Rhacel Parreñas of USC… who you heard from in the beginning of the program. I asked her if there’s anything else she would want people to know after they hear this story.

RHACEL PARREÑAS: What I don't want is for individuals to stereotype, you know, Filipino households, as oppressive units that you know and that this practice is common in the Philippines. I would definitely say that that is not true, that, you know, such mistreatment of workers is not common.

May 07 2020

34mins

Play

The Philosophy of the Flying Saucers

Podcast cover
Read more

Seth discovers an old reel to reel recording of a man discussing flying saucers, a secret language, and a race of evil aliens living in caves below the Mojave desert. Seth realizes that the man on the tape is his father, who was part of what could be America’s first viral conspiracy theory; The Shaver Mysteries. 


The Shaver Mystery. Photo courtesy of Seth Whaland.

CHARLIE (TAPE):  I have your latest letter in front of me, February 19th, but it wasn't mailed until March the 1st. And uh, I want to go over that. I have a bunch of Shaver’s letters here, and all this…there’s so much to go into. This is probably going to take me a couple of days. Because I don't know what all to say here. One thing that I want to say now while I think of it — this is to do with the flying saucers.

WILL: My friend Seth was going through old boxes that his family had and he found a reel to reel tape. He just thought it was cool so he kept it around. Eventually all this time later his friend offered to dub it for him. And so he put it on, he was with some friends and they started listening to it. 

SETH: We put it on and it's just a man talking. 

CHARLIE (TAPE): I work at General Electric here in Allentown, I’m on the assembly line. 

SETH: It has that old timey sort of timbre — it just sounds old. 

CHARLIE (TAPE): And the woman that works aside me is a rather elderly woman. And she goes for walks sometimes at one or two in the morning. 

SETH: Then starts mentioning stuff that I hadn’t thought about in a long time.

CHARLIE (TAPE): This particularly night she was out and she saw an object in the sky, a luminous roundish shaped object. It came down near this field. As she went through the tree and she could see this object she came close enough to see humanoids come out of the object. They were not green but they were sort of grayish in color, just walking around and talking right around the ship. They were plainly seen because of the ship still giving off this luminous glow. And there were footprints of tiny creatures all around this object. Well this is one of those things that I’ve heard, and I believe it.

The man on the tape wasn’t just telling a story he’d heard, he seemed to be part of an investigation of some kind…. communicating with others and corroborating stories.

CHARLIE (TAPE): The proof was there are far as footprints. Of course that’s not real proof, but I mean there was evidence there. It’s gone now, and it would have been a good landing report.

He also kept mentioning a man named Richard Shaver, who seemed to be a focal point of the discussions and a leader of the investigation

CHARLIE (TAPE): Now what should I say about Shaver? Well you’re getting tapes from him so you must know something about him by now. ‘Dick was pretty annoyed with some of the things you said in your tape’.  Huh. Well that guy gets awful annoyed awful easy and then he gets mad if you get annoyed at something that he says. I don’t know.

The man mentions something called the Shaver Mystery… and even describes driving to Summit Arkansas to meet Richard Shaver himself.

CHARLIE (TAPE): When I was down there, that was an awful expensive trip, I think it cost me 200 and some dollars when you figure everything out. Well I learned my lesson, I'm not going to drive down to Arkansas alone in my Oldsmobile again. When I finally found this town I went to the general store and I asked if they had ever heard of a Richard Shaver. They said sure, he's 3 houses down the road. So I walked around and knocked on the door, and he said come on in. I said I’m Charlie Whaland from Allentown.

This is my friend Seth again

SETH: It wasn’t until he said I’m Charlie Whaland, from Allentown Pennsylvania, that I was like — oh wait. That’s my dad.

CHARLIE (TAPE): Dear Mr.Whaland, I hear that you are a personal long time friend of Dick Shaver. If you have time I would love to find out your opinions of Dick and the Shaver Mystery. 

The story of the Shaver Mystery began in 1943 when a man named Richard Sharpe Shaver sent a letter to Amazing Stories, an early science fiction magazine. But Shaver said his story was not fiction, it was an incredible thing that had actually happened to him. These are excerpts from Shaver’s writing, read by an actor.

Copy of Amazing Stories, March 1945. Photo credit: Ziff-Davis Publishing / Robert Gibson Jones (CC BY 2.0)

VOICE READING EXCERPT: I myself cannot explain it, I know only that I remember Lemuria. Remember it with the faithfulness that I accept with the absolute conviction of a fanatic. And yet, I am not a fanatic. I am a simple man, a worker in metal employed at a steel mill in Pennsylvania.

While working in a factory, Shaver said he gained the ability to hear the thoughts of others. He quit his job, he became a hobo for a while, and that led to his discovery of a race of Pre-historical extraterrestrial creatures called the Titans. They were once part of a large civilization here on earth,  but most of those had left in spacecraft… while a few were abandoned here on earth. Of those, a small number were the Noble Teros. But unfortunately, a larger number of the ones left behind became mutated by the sun’s radiation into sadistic savages. They were called Dero.

VOICE READING EXCERPT: A race of Dero is produced whose every through movement is concluded with a decision to kill. They will kill instantly. They will instantly kill or torture anyone who will make contact unless they are extremely familiar with them and fear them. That is why they do not instantly kill each other.

And the reason Richard Shaver knew so much about Deros and the underground caverns, is because he was held prisoner by the Deros in the Cavern World. He saw how they used rays to read and manipulate people’s minds. Now he was here to tell readers… they’re still doing it

VOICE READING EXCERPT: By the elder gods. I swore to myself with the realization that no god ray was going to protect us. It’s true, our perfect government is not so perfect after all.

The series began when Shaver’s original letter was turned into a novella, called I Remember Lemuria. It was written along with the editor of Amazing Stories, Raymond Palmer who enhanced the Shaver stories with scantily clad women and more action… and it began the most successful series in the history of the magazine.

VOICE READING EXCERPT: To me, it is tragic. That the only way I can tell my story is in the guise of fiction. And yet I am thankful for the opportunity to do even this. And to editor Ray Palmer I express my unbounded gratitude. I know that if even a few of you go to the length he has gone to check many of the things I remember. A beginning will have been made to something. The ending of which, if ending there is, awes me beyond my core power to express my feelings.

They called it The Shaver mystery.

TORONTO: The Shaver mystery at the time was a new approach to science fiction in that it was claimed to be real.

I found Richard Toronto through a website called Shavertron, which he’s run for almost 30 years. He also wrote a book on Shaver’s life called War Over Lemuria. At first he didn’t want to talk to me because he said he was retired from serving as a Shaver spokesperson. But eventually he came around to the idea. 

TORONTO: I mean it was huge, it was written up in Life magazine at the time. To me it was the beginning of conspiracy theories, UFO’s — I mean it was ground zero right there with Shaver mystery.

For people who were unhappy in their lives, The Shaver Mystery explained a lot. It wasn’t their fault things were going badly for them, the problem is we’re all being manipulated by Deros.

TORONTO: I guess if you just say, “oh yeah there's these really ugly demon-like creatures living in caverns, and they have these weird machines, and they can put thoughts in your heads and they control us, and they make all these bad things happen” No one likes to think that they’re being controlled although its happening constantly. If you go to conspiracy lore in general, it’s like — forget physics, it’s conspiracy that runs the universe. 

Richard Toronto told me about Vaughn Greene, another long time Shaver mysteries fan. He’s 90 years old now, but he’s still very invested in the mystery.

VAUGHN: A group of extraterrestrials and they came to the earth called the Titans. There were two groups, the bad guys were the Deros and the good guys were the Teros. Shaver would say that’s why a lot of these things happen, like wars, massacres and plagues. Because Deros were doing this stuff. 

Photo courtesy of Seth Whaland.

TORONTO: There was this movement after it all became real popular in ‘46, ‘47, people forming clubs and going out looking for cavern entrances. Everyone wanted to get into the caves and find those Deros and wipe ‘em out, and stop all this mind control that was going on.

VAUGHN: Well what happened was, I guess it must have been around 1947. I had a motorcycle, we figured we’d try to find some caves that Shaver was talking about. So we looked on the map and there was this place called Mitchell’s caverns out in the Mojave desert. We packed a kerosene lantern, kerosene, a couple of pistols, all kinds of stuff — you know we were looking for caves, entrances. We didn’t know what we were going into.

These are excerpts from “I Remember Lemuria,” read by an actor

VOICE READING EXCERPT: Any person is Ro who is weaker than the mental impulses about him. Men are Ro today because they are not self-determining, though they think they are. We are part of a huge juggernaut, and we are ro in consequence..

WILL: Seth’s dad, the man on the reel to reel tape was another one of those people caught up in the Shaver Mystery conspiracy theories. But he had met Shaver himself, and like Shaver, he saw this as a kind of philosophy…a way of examining human behavior. The word Ro means a person who is subservient, a slave.

CHARLIE (TAPE): I had in mind a book on Ro and what it is to be Ro, and explain the various ways in which we are becoming a race of Ro people. What if Ro is inevitable? And if this is the case, let it be a state of Te-ro, and not Dero.

He could feel the negative influence the Dero were having on him, and having on society in general. 

CHARLIE (TAPE): I get disgusted times like the last couple months. Very disgusted with everything. I believe that it’s almost a hopeless case, and I almost decide to become Ro. But I don’t know, it’s not in my makeup.

The language of The Shaver Mysteries, words like Tero and the Dero, it’s an ancient language that Richard Shaver said he learned during his time in Cavern world.

VOICE READING EXCERPT: The universal language of space; a language originated by a Titan Elder of the far past. The name of the language is Mantong. 

This is Richard Toronto again

Vaughn Greene. Photo courtesy of Will McCarthy.

TORONTO: The Mantong language was an alternate alphabet that Shaver developed. Each letter which was just like our letters, coincidentally, ABCDE, each letter stood for a concept.

VOICE READING EXCERPT: A is for Animal, B is to Be, C means to See, D disintegrate

TORONTO:  It’s supposed to be the original language here on earth, mantong. By using his alphabet you could decipher what the real meanings of words were.

VOICE READING EXCERPT: D disintegrate energy, detrimental, E energy, R horror, dangerous quantity of Dis force in the object, O orifice, a source concept 

CHARLIE (TAPE): My main interest in this Shaver mystery, as I look over all the material I have here, is in the philosophy of it. I’m interested in the philosophy of the flying saucers. 

WILL: Here’s my friend Seth again

SETH: He was just a guy that was my dad. I knew that when he was young he was in a band that toured. He was really into weightlifting and bodybuilding, and he was really into UFOs.

SETH: I never really saw him read a whole lot. Then, in his last few years, there would always be books on the kitchen table about how God doesn’t exist.

CHARLIE (TAPE): Now I’m not a religionist in the sense you might think. I’m no godly person. I don’t believe in that sort of thing. But I believe in the philosophy of this. 

This all happened before Seth was born. His dad never told him about meeting Richard Shaver, but they did talk about his theories sometimes.

SETH: So on Sunday nights he would drive my brother and I back to my mom’s. In the winter the sun would set at 5 pm, so we’d always be driving back in the dark. In those winter months on the drive home he would be more inspired to talk about UFOs or the Dero and the Tero or things he had read about or heard about. Describing this almost other theory of good and evil.

CHARLIE (TAPE): I’m wondering whether I’m making any sense to you.

CHARLIE (TAPE): Well, Shaver and I talked over doing a book. Just writing down things from day to day, things that are on your mind. And then one day sitting down with all these thousands of sheets of paper and trying to make a story out of it. Well I had thought of doing this, a story on my life. Not that I’m anyone to do a story on my life, but you can write about life as you see it and you know it. 

Amazing Stories published its last The Shaver Mystery story in 1948, even though Richard Shaver continued to write stories in other publications.

As fast as it became popular, it also just went away. I think the biggest part of that is that there was a very vocal contingent of science fiction fans who just hated the idea. They thought it was a hoax, they thought it was a gimmick, this whole true story thing. They staged letter writing campaigns, they talked about it in their local sci-fi clubs and they were able to build enough momentum that the whole Shaver Mystery ended up being blackballed by the science fiction community.

TORONTO: Science fiction fans, as crazy as they look on the outside, are really kind of conservative bunch. They always were. 

But even though Amazing Stories stopped publishing the Shaver Mystery. Richard Shaver’s philosophy still stuck with people… like Seth’s dad, Charlie Whaland

CHARLIE (TAPE): (slurps) Drinking a little Pepsi Cola here.

CHARLIE (TAPE): Uh, I didn’t want to get into this sensationalism. I wanted it to be the people who went along with Shaver, not this constant controversy all the time. Explain different people and what they’re doing, exactly what's being done, and what can people do. How can they get on the ball with this sort of thing.

SETH: We went every weekend to look for turtles and snakes. We would eat a meal together, drink a lot of ice tea, or drive back roads listening to the eagles game on the radio while we looked to see if there were any snakes in the road. Or sometimes we just would sit at the kitchen table at my grandmother’s eating slices of cheese and watching the birds. You know he wasn’t a dope, but he was also curious enough that he just wanted to know.

CHARLIE (TAPE): I believe that Shaver is closer to the truth than anyone. I believe that his story of the past is the story of the future. There are a few of us who can see this. Whether we can do anything to change the situation or not remains to be seen. I’ll get back to that later, this tape is coming up near the end anyway. I see the tape coming up near the end but I don’t know how much time I ha- (CUTS OUT, TAPE BUZZ)

Seth’s dad passed away in 2013 after battling cancer. 

SETH: He lived the entire decades of the 70s and I might have this one hour and a half long tape of him talking, but for me that’s all I have. Since he’s not around to share any stories anymore this is one concrete story that I have.

There are sources who indicate that it was likely Richard Shaver suffered from bi-polar disorder. And part of the time he claimed to have been held captive, he was actually a patient in a psychiatric hospital.

But there was a time when the stories he wrote with Raymond Palmer were not only wildly popular, they also connected with readers in a deep way; It made them question their lives and jump on a motorcycle to hunt for secret caverns.
This is Shaver fan Vaughn Greene again. One of the guys who had gone searching for the Deros out in the desert. 

Vaughn Greene’s library. Photo courtesy of Will McCarthy.

VAUGHN: A lot of people thought Shaver was either crazy, or a hoaxer. But a lot of things he did make me think he was really sincere.  He was onto something, but maybe he was onto it on the wrong track or something.

This is Richard Toronto again

TORONTO: The weird thing was, another pulp fiction writer living at the time and writing at the time: L. Ron Hubbard. He was pretty much saying the same things.

WILL: Worked out pretty well for him.

TORONTO: It worked out really well! Some people said, Shaver, if you had just turned it into a religion.

2 years after Amazing Stories Magazine published their final Shaver Mystery stories in 1950, L. Ron Hubbard published Dianetics… the canonical text of Scientology. 

TORONTO: What Shaver didn’t have that L. Ron Hubbard had was a way out. L. Ron Hubbard had a whole system of getting clear and Shaver really didn’t have that part of it. Like… redemption.

Apr 30 2020

23mins

Play

The Rowing Man

Podcast cover
Read more

In late summer of 1984, a man rowed across the treacherous North Atlantic Ocean. Alone, except for a cat curled at the bottom of the boat, Ove Joensen was trying to be the first to row from his home in the Faroe Islands to Copenhagen in Denmark. He hoped to kiss the statue of the Little Mermaid. Ove failed his first attempt, when he had to be rescued below the cliffs of the remote Shetland Islands. This is a story about finding a village full of friends even when you’re rowing alone across a ferocious sea. It’s a story told by villagers in the Shetland Islands who still think of him as family.  

The Shetland Times.Photo courtesy of The Shetland Times
Ove in the Shetland Times. Photo courtesy of The Shetland Times

Apr 23 2020

42mins

Play

Mauricio Across the Border - Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

Mauricio moves back to Mexico. He finds himself in a whirlwind of fame as the star of the hit television show, Tunéme La Nave, the Spanish-language version of Pimp My Ride. But then life catches up with the fantasy. Maurcio tries to cross back to the U.S. and is abandoned in the desert.    

Miss part one of this story? Listen here.

This story is also available in Spanish through NPR’s Spanish-language podcast Radio Ambulante.

Read the script below:

LEVI: Mauricio grew up in a historic neighborhood where a guy rides a bicycle through the streets at night selling tamales.

MAURICIO: The tamale guy, it’s a really popular thing over here in Mexico. 

The street Mauricio grew up on is like a parody of what you’d expect. 

MAURICIO: I used to miss this...

It’s in a car neighborhood, lined with parts stores and mechanics who specialize in different repairs.

MAURCIO: Every business here is about cars: bolts, cables, batteries, radiators. Right across, you have engines, they fix transmissions. On the other side they fix the suspension.

Mauricio used to ride his bike through here, peering in at what the mechanics were doing on his way back home.

MAURICIO: Well this is the house.

The house Mauricio grew up in is small, painted green green – shaded by tall palm trees that his grandfather planted. When he left LA, it was his first time back here in nearly 20 years. His first time in Mexico as an adult. And he realized there were parts of his own identity that he hadn’t really explored.

MAURCIO: If you go outside Mexico… and live outside your country for 20 years, you come back to your country, it’s like coming back home. You feel so [much] more Mexican. If you were Mexican, you feel two thousand percent more Mexican.

Mauricio’s got tattoos all over his arms, including a huge West Coast Customs logo. And when he got to Mexico, he started adding tons of new ones of important figures in Mexican culture and history. 

MAURICIO: Zapata. Pancho Villa. Miguel Hidalgo, Benito Juárez, La Quetzalcoatl, Coyolxauhqui. Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez.

Mauricio left Mexico with dreams of being on television. But what’s extraordinary about Mauricio is his wildest dream did come true. Just not on the side of the U.S. border he would have expected.

Sunset at Mauricio’s shop (Photo Courtesy of Levi Bridges)

[SOUND: "TUNÉAME" THEME SONG]

Once Mauricio got back to Mexico, the two guys who brought the West Coast Customs brand to Mexico came up with the idea to launch a version of "Pimp My Ride" in Spanish. And Mauricio became the host. They called the show “Tunéame La Nave” — it’s a direct translation of "Pimp My Ride" that’s so perfect it’s almost poetic.

MAURCIO: To me when they say we're going to record this show to me was a test. Let's see what happens. 

Mauricio didn’t get his hopes up. They made a pilot, but nobody was sure whether it would go anywhere. The idea was that people would send in pictures of their cars each week and Mauricio would choose which one would get tuned up.

[ARCHIVE SOUND FROM "TUNÉAME"]

Woman: ¡Ay por favor no sea mala onda, tunéame la nave de mi hermano!

Man: ¡Por favor TV Azteca tunéame la nave!

Mauricio designed most of the show himself. He didn’t want there to be any acting, not like on "Pimp My Ride.” But most of all: he wanted the show to be funny.

MAURCIO: I wanted to put the salsa in it. Mexicans we always wanna put chili in it, we want to put lemon in it, we want to put salt in it. So I wanted to put the spices in it, you know.

The result was a like a blend of Three Stooges and "Pimp My Ride". Where workers bumble around the body shop spilling paint thinner on each other.

Fade up archive tape, fade out under next track

[ARCHIVE SOUND FROM "TUNÉAME"]

Mauricio: ¡Eh Churromais qué te pasó!

Churromais: Disculpe Mau, la neta.

Mauricio: ¡Mira nada mas me llenaste de tinner.

The show got picked up by TV Azteca, one Mexico’s main television channels.

MAURCIO: After the show air, it hit big. I had fans from five years old to 70 years old. 80 years old.

Suddenly Mauricio’s show was being broadcast  to every state in Mexico.. Mauricio became famous in his own country. He was literally the Xzibit of Mexico’s "Pimp My Ride".

[ARCHIVE SOUND FROM "TUNÉAME"]

xxxxxxxxxxxx Announcer: Siempre existe un líder en cualquier proyecto. ¡Él es Mauricio!
Mauricio speaks before a crowd of fans in Mexico. Photo Courtesy of Mauricio Hernández

MAURCIO: Nobody told me you're gonna become famous. A lot of people started to recognize me. 

Not long after the show started to air, Mauricio went to downtown Coyoacan — not far from the Mexico City neighborhood where he grew up. A crowd of people surround him.

MAURCIO: And they start asking me for a picture. And then it was an autograph. And then it was a picture. Then it was an autograph.  It was full of people, you know, so I couldn't move. I just started walking fast, walking fast. And everybody was following me like 'Hey come on, come back.' 

LEVI: And when you were a kid, you always wanted to be on TV. Did you think about that part of it? [MAURICIO LAUGHS] You know that like you can't just go out of the house anymore? Were you aware that was part of the deal?

MAURCIO: Of course! When you're a little kid, you never thought about being famous. I always wanted to be in television. 

Mauricio didn’t let it go to his head. He was flattered by the attention. And pimping out cars for free, that felt so good in a country like Mexico. Where it’s way harder for people to afford things. Where material things, especially cars, can sometimes have way more value than in the U.S..

MAURCIO: When you buy your first car in Mexico, you take care of your car for long, long time. People of Mexico, we love our car. The car is part of the family. You talk to them, you call 'em your baby, you put a name on the car. I can say if we Mexicans can put our car inside the living room and watch TV with the car, we would do that. That’s how we are, Mexican people that's how we are.

Tunéame La Nave was supposed to be kind of a comedy. But the show would also get emotional. . People were really moved when they saw the finished cars.

Photo Courtesy of Mauricio Hernández

[ARCHIVE SOUND FROM "TUNÉAME"]

Man: Fue del año 83 cuando me accidenté. Me dieron un balazo en mi pierna. Perdí mi pierna.

MAURCIO: I had a, like, sadness inside of me because it was hard for me to see people crying, see people getting really sentimental. I wanted to cry with them, you know. So at the end of the recording sessions, I would go to my office, close the door. And I remember I used to cry a lot. 

Mauricio’s a genuine kind of guy. And that came through in the show. It’s probably part of why fans were so drawn to him. But Mauricio says the attention  he was getting in Mexico created a rift between him and Ryan — the owner of West Coast Customs.

MAURCIO: I don't want to call it jealousy, but when I became a celebrity in Mexico with his brand, I guess he felt kind of jealous. And I totally understand that. But, it was not something that I planned. 

Mauricio says that Ryan eventually came down to Mexico for an event promoting West Coast.

MAURCIO: And we sit down in the table of signing autographs. And we had this line full of people that wanted to get an autograph. And I remember Ryan was right next to me and people would come to me to get an autograph. And I was already thinking, this guy is gonna get mad because people didn't recognize him.

Mauricio says that after just a few minutes Ryan got up from the table and left.

MAURCIO: I felt something was wrong, because I knew him

So Mauricio went to check in with Ryan. He wanted to know what happened.

MAURCIO: And he's like 'Nothing.' I was like 'You sure?' And he told me, Yeah, I'm sure. Why don't you go and take care of your fans? They all want you.' And after that, it, it wasn't the same. 

It didn’t just affect their friendship. Mauricio says when Ryan sold the franchise they made an agreement.

MAURCIO: Ryan was supposed to get me a visa back so I could go and see my kids. And that's so I can come back and keep working for West Coast Customs in the States. That was part of the deal that we made before I was come into Mexico.

Mauricio tried talking to Ryan about the visa. But he says, Ryan just kind of ghosted on him. Ryan didn’t talk to me for this story, so you won’t be hearing from him. I reached out to him a few times, and his publicist sent me an email saying they wish Mauricio “ our very best.” When I first talked about all this with Mauricio five years ago, I got the impression he was kind upset with Ryan. But that’s not how Maurcio’s describes what happened.

LEVI: Did you feel like he betrayed you in any way by not saying, 'oh, yeah, of course, I'll get right on this and bring you back. I know you want you to come home.’ How do you feel, how would you describe it?

MAURCIO: Not betray. But yeah, left. Left alone. Kind of abandon. Just abandoned me. Probably it’s not that I wasn’t like I wasn’t important to him. But it’s just like I didn’t wanted for him to feel like that. Like that ‘Oh I have to do it. Oh I have to bring this guy.’ I wanted it to for him to come out from his heart. I woulda like for him to love to do it. Like 'when can I bring you back? How can I bring you back?’ 

Mauricio was really stranded in Mexico. Getting his own TV show, becoming famous, that was not part of the plan. And despite all the cool things that ended up happening, Mauricio wasn’t planning on staying in Mexico.

MAURCIO: I had a promise to my kids in the States that I was gonna come back on Christmas Eve so I could be with them. 

He’d been in Mexico for about six months. By this point, it was summer 2009. Time was ticking. And if he was going to make it back in time for Christmas, Mauricio realized he couldn’t count on Ryan anymore to get there.

MAURCIO: I was like if he doesn't want to help me, then I'm going to do it. 

Mauricio chats with one of his workers at his shop in Valle de Chalco, Mexico. Photo Courtesy of Levi Bridges

So Mauricio says he tried applying for a tourist visa. People who don’t earn a lot of money in Mexico often get denied visas because folks in U.S. consulates think they’re just trying to find a way to work in the U.S. But a Mexican television host. Easy.

MAURCIO: And the people at the embassy they asked me, you know, have you ever been in the States? Which I say, “No.” And at that moment, they told me, ‘OK, well, your visa is approved.’  But then a week after, the embassy called me up and tell me that I had to go again. You know, there was some kind of problem. I went to the appointment and the same consul he asked me right away, he say 'Why you lie to me?'

The consular workers investigated Mauricio. He still had a record from that time during the LA Riots when the cops found Mauricio and his cousins taking beer from that looted convenience store. 

MAURCIO: So they give me a five-year penalty to get into the United States. But because I had that promise with my kids about me going to see them on Christmas Eve, I had to be there, get there, no matter how. I just wanted to get there. 

Mauricio was committed to reuniting with his kids. He only planned on being gone from LA for four months. Now almost a year had gone by. He’d already missed out on a lot of their life helping Ryan build West Coast Customs.

MAURCIO: I wasn't the perfect dad. But I can tell you I was always trying to be the perfect dad.

And he was damned if he wasn’t going to keep this promise. So Mauricio did something really bold -- there was really only one way he could get back to his family. He went up to Tecate, a Mexican town on the border with California, and hired a coyote. A smuggler. To take him over the border.

MAURCIO: It was five thousand dollars which I was going to pay to cross, and they were going to cross me through the mountains. At that moment, I can tell you honestly, I was scared. 

He was afraid of getting caught by the Border Patrol. Of getting locked up. Spending Christmas in jail instead of with his kids. Maybe never getting back to California at all.

MAURCIO: It was hard to cross at that moment. They had, like, so much security around the border. 

Crossing the border is dangerous. Thousands of migrants have died trying to get to the U.S. Many trying to reunite with their families. And here was Mauricio, a Mexican celebrity—a guy with a national TV show— making good money, walking through the arid borderlands. Like countless other migrants.

Mauricio met up with two coyotes in Tecate who planned to sneak him over the border, walking, with a group of migrants who were also trying to reach the U.S.

MAURICIO: We were like about twelve people, 15 people. I remember it was people from Oaxaca. It was people from Guatemala.

The coyotes told them all to empty their pockets. Get rid of everything they had.

MAURICIO: An ID, cell phone, keys, coins, bills, wallet. You couldn't take anything. Just water. 

They set off around midnight. Slipped under a barbed wire fence and started walking through the darkness. Tecate’s a small city in the mountains east of San Diego and Tijuana. It’s high, semi-desert country, with scrappy shrubs and these massive boulders scattered everywhere.  Before they left, the coyotes made sure that nobody, especially not the Border Patrol, could track them.

MAURICIO: They gave us this carpet. With some wire. Whatever you were wearing: boots, tennis shoes, whatever. You had to put carpet on the bottom. So you don't make the footprints.

With the pieces of carpet attached under everyone’s shoes, Mauricio says they took off trudging up into the mountains. The coyotes were walking fast. Really fast. Something about them didn’t seem right to Mauricio.   

MAURICIO: I knew a lot of people doing different drugs, you know, and I knew those two guys were getting high on the way. I knew the smell of crystal meth. And I like caught 'em like a couple of times smoking. And that's why they were walking so fast. They were not getting tired. I had that feeling that something was, something was wrong.

As they walked into the darkness behind these two methed out coyotes, the temperature kept dropping.

MAURICIO: It was cold. It was in December, I remember it was really cold. I had this bad ass jacket. 

One of those big puffy jackets for winter.

MAURICIO: And it was really, really warm. But it was making that noise. It was them kind of material that makes noise. So I remember that guy he told me he’s like you cannot go with that jacket. 

The coyote told Mauricio, he had to throw the jacket away. Any sort of extra noise, it might draw attention to their group from Border Patrol. Mauricio said he wasn’t going to walk without a jacket. So the coyote gave him his.

MAURICIO: His was cotton. He gave me this crappy ass jacket.

They crisscrossed up into mountains, back and forth following an unmarked trail of switchbacks.

MAURICIO: And I was already tired. I was really tired. It was really tough, like going through those mountains. 

LEVI: I've seen those mountains they are steep. 

MAURICIO I knew, physically I wasn't prepared.

LEVI: Why? Were you just not in good shape?

MAURICIO No, I wasn't in good shape. I was never doing exercise. I smoke, I smoke a lot.

Mauricio was having trouble keeping up with the group. Eventually they all stopped in a cave up in the mountains. Mauricio collapsed on the ground.

MAURICIO: I remember they told us just to wait there. And I could hear ‘em like smoking outside because you could hear the lighter going, going and going and going. / And because I was tired, I don’t know, it just happened in one snap. But I was tired. I don't remember, like, sleeping for a long time. But I do remember when I woke up, there was nobody at the cave.. At first I thought they're all outside, you know. And when I went outside. It was nobody. Nobody. 

The coyotes abandoned him out there. This is actually pretty common. As a reporter covering immigration and the border, you hear lots of stories about stragglers getting abandoned by coyotes during border crossings. Mauricio was out there all alone with nothing. The coyotes had made everyone empty their pockets.

MAURICIO: But I kept my cell phone. I hide it.

Mauricio had the number of the guy back in Tecate who had arranged this trip, so he gave him a call.

MAURICIO: He kind of like got mad first, but then he told me stay there, we're going to come and get you.  I was scared. It was really scary because then I was alone, left out in the mountains. The only light we had, it was the moon. You could hear snakes. tsts-tsts. You could hear the bushes move. 

LEVI: And you're like a city guy. Have you ever been out in the middle of nowhere by yourself like that?

MAURICIO: No, of course not. No. No way. Never. 

Mauricio was just out there totally freaked out. Waiting and waiting. But nobody ever came.

MAURICIO: And after like half an hour  I called this guy and when I tried to call him, there was no phone. They shut down the phone. It never went through again. 

Mauricio started walking through the night, trying to find his way back to Tecate.

MAURICIO: I was already getting desperate. I will see the Border Patrol. Like far away up in the hill. I will see the lights. I will scream, so they could hear me. I wanted to get caught by the immigration because I wanted to be safe. 

But Border Patrol didn’t see him. He kept walking through the cold night. It was getting harder to see.

MAURICIO: The moon went away. It starts getting cloudy, and then it started raining, like really hard.

Now Mauricio was starting to panic. He kept tripping and falling in these deep depressions in the earth, bruising his arms and legs.

MAURICIO: I couldn't see nothing. Like nothing.  Like you will have your eyes open and you will see only darkness. Just like a blind people, but it was more desperate because you had your eyes open.  I got panic. I panic a lot. Thinking ‘I'm going to die here.’ So I remember I started saying 'Mauricio start thinking, thinking, what you going to do?' 

He still had the cell phone. So when the rain died down, he called this Mexican emergency hotline.

MAURICIO: And they told me, “How much battery do you have?” And I said ‘I don't have that much. Can you find out with a satellite where I am? I don't know. Something.’

But no. This was back in 2009. For the Generation Z kids in the room, the Find My Phone app wasn’t really a thing yet. The people on the other end of the emergency hotline urged Mauricio to just stay in one place. Wait until morning.

MAURICIO: I was already all wet because of the rain. And I started shaking. Like bad. Like really, really bad. I started having hallucinations, my kids’ faces in the sky. And I will scream their names and tell them that I'm sorry so many times and I will cried and then I will laugh. I was getting nuts. I started remember when I was a kid, when I was a boy. What I did right, what I did wrong. I was preparing myself to die. I remember I told God I don't want to die like this, please. I don’t wanna die right here. The worst thing that went through my mind it was like, ‘I'm going to die here and nobody's ever gonna find my body.’ 

Mauricio kept walking. Even after sunrise, Mauricio says there was this thick fog hanging over the mountains.  It was still hard to see. He called the SOS number one last time.

MAURICIO: And then this lady answered the phone. I told her ‘I'm really desperate. And I didn't have that much battery anymore.’ I know it was the last shot that I was gonna had. And I told her, ‘please tell my mom, tell my kids that I love them. But I know I'm going to die here.’ 

They kept talking, trying to get Mauricio to give them any details that might help them find him. As the sun rose higher the fog lifted a bit, just enough to see the landscape ahead.

MAURICIO: The land was like painted red. The trees, the bushes, everything was red.

All that red was a long ribbon of flame retardants that had been dropped from the air to put out a wildfire. The emergency hotline transferred Mauricio to a guy who knew the region well.

MAURICIO: He's like, “I know where you are.” He told me that as long as I will see red walk in that direction. That was the last call because then my phone shut off. I knew if I will follow the instructions, I was gonna save my life.

Mauricio kept walking, following the line of red flame retardants over a hill. And at the top, the city of Tecate came into view. In the city below, Mauricio saw  an ambulance that had been sent for him. He ran down the hills toward the arms of a paramedic.

MAURICIO: He hugged me with his blanket. And I don't remember nothin else. 

Later that night he finally regained consciousness.

MAURICIO: I woke up with all this bags full of water warm around my body. They couldn’t believe it because I had a 90 percent of hypothermia in my body. They couldn’t believe how I survived.

When the doctors released Mauricio, he got on a plane back to Mexico City.

MAURICIO: I was feeling sad. I was feeling empty. I was feeling happy. 

Happy that he’d gotten a second chance at life. Sad and empty because he had run out of options to get back to his family in California. The trip over the border, almost dying, really traumatized Mauricio.

MAURICIO: I was already having fearness of darkness. I had a panic. I couldn't sleep. 

He couldn’t bring himself to try crossing the border again on foot.

MAURICIO: No way was I gonna try that again.

Now Mauricio had to confront a new reality, one where he wouldn’t be living with his kids.

MAURICIO: And my mind was like: I let them down you know. I told them, “well, I can't go. I can't go anymore.” I risk my life to see you guys and almost die. I'm sorry. I know they were young, they couldn't understand.

Mauricio started thinking about starting a new life in Mexico. Staying their permanently. He asked his partner to join him.

MAURICIO: Bring the kids, come over here, let's make a life together. And she will always laugh. She will always laugh and say, ‘Do you think I'm going to go there and leave the States and go back to Mexico? That's never gonna happen.

Not long after that conversation, Mauricio and his partner separated. Mauricio’s kids came down to Mexico a few times to visit. But their relationship wasn’t really the same. Things felt strained with all the distance. Over the years they grew further apart. Today, they hardly talk.

MAURICIO: Sometimes people gets the chance in life to become a good father. And some of us, we just don't. For some reason it doesn't happen because trust me that I try.  

As Mauricio was trying to accept everything that happened, he threw himself back into producing the TV show in Mexico.

MAURICIO: Like they say you know the show has to continue.

But doing the show wasn’t the same.

MAURICIO: I was missing my kids. I was missing a family life.

During season three of Tunéame La Nave, Mauricio ended up hitting it off with someone he met on the show. They decided to start a family and eventually had a daughter. Mauricio’s other kids are all boys. He always wanted to have a girl.

MAURICIO: I will always like to be around my my sisters  I used to comb their hair, get 'em dressed up to take them to school. Pick pick 'em up from school. I wanted to have my own girl. I wanted to have my own daughter. 

It felt like a second chance.

MAURICIO: The love that I feel for my daughter, it's undescriptable. It's magic.

Mauricio’s daughter was born during the last season of Tunéme La Nave. TV Azteca canceled Tunéame in 2013, after four seasons. Mauricio said there were problems between the producers and the network. But even though this was the thing he’d dreamed of doing since he was a kid, losing the show didn’t feel like that big deal. Especially after everything else he’d been through.

MAURICIO: I didn't really care, we had the brand, we had West Coast. We had a shop. So I was like, well, we don't have a TV show. Let's make cars. I had this platform. I'm famous. I know how to work in cars. So I could just open up my new shop. 

Maurcio was happy just running his own body shop. And being a father again. But it was a financial adjustment.

After he lost the show, Mauricio says that lots of people he’d grown close to, that he thought were his friends, really just wanted to be around him because he was on TV, or because he had money.

MAURICIO: You rather be by yourself, then be with somebody that probably is going to hurt you. Because that people that you say that's my friend, he probably end up stabbing you in the back.

A couple years later Mauricio’s new partner also left him, along with their daughter. And although Mauricio doesn’t want to get into all the details, he says part of the reason is that she lost interest when Mauricio’s show got canceled. They had to reduce their standard of living. Mauricio was just a guy working at a car shop now.

MAURICIO: It really hurt me. The separation really hurts me a lot. I had a lot of times of depression.  

Mauricio still had a national following in Mexico, and he’d hold events for his fans. He was struggling with depression. And a big part of his job now was trying to put on a happy exterior for the people who adored him.

LEVI: What were you experiencing that you felt like you couldn't tell them?

MAURICIO: My fans they seen a strong Mauricio. But I couldn't be that guy. From inside I was dying. A lot of people think being famous is easy. And it’s hard. It’s like you have to deal with your personal life and the life of the people, that think they know you.

Mauricio says the love he got from his fans did help cheer him up. But only for a little awhile.

MAURICIO: It’s like a drug. You need that. But then when you turn off the light, when the show is over, then you end up in the room with nobody. 

MAURICIO: I didn’t want to get recognized. I wanted to just cut my dreads, leave my cell phone, everything. Grab a backpack and just go anywhere. I don’t want nobody to know about me.

He ended up taking what might sound like a drastic step for a television celebrity in his mid-40s. He moved back home. With his grandmother.

MAURICIO: She said ‘I know where are you going through, why don’t you just come here?’ So I came back to the house. Being around my grandmother will always make me happy. Just listening to her, watching her walk, cook.

Being home was just what he needed. Mauricio’s relationship with his ex in Mexico eventually improved. He sees his daughter regularly and sometimes they do things as a family, even if they aren’t together. Overtime he started to adjust.  And Mauricio started opening up to his fans on social media about what he’d been through. He made himself vulnerable to them.

MAURICIO: I started getting a lot of messages asking me for help. I was starting to be a psychologist for my fans once they see me strong, asking me how I did it. I lost a TV show, a family. How am I still strong?

His fans started reaching out to him about their personal problems. People going through breakups or feeling depressed because they were overweight or lost their jobs. Some people reached out just because they were thinking about going to the U.S., to a place like California, like Mauricio did.

LEVI: When you meet Mexicans who tell you that they want to go to the US, what do you tell them?

MAURICIO: Not to go. It’s not worth it.

When Mauricio was living in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant, he always felt like a second class citizen. Like he was living in a country where he didn’t belong. And he wants to spare Mexicans from experiencing that.

MAURICIO: I had saved a lot of people from going to the States.

It’s hard to say whether things would have worked out so well for Mauricio if he’d stayed in Mexico — whether he ever would have gotten a TV show or owned  his own business. Living in the U.S. is part of what helped Mauricio make his wildest dreams come true. But along with all the good things that came out of that, being an immigrant also caused him a lot of pain. And he wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

[AMBIENT SOUND: MAURICIO’S NEIGHBORHOOD]

Walking around Mauricio’s old neighborhood in Mexico City, we talked about what it felt like coming back here for the first time after 20 years away. He says it was like a breath of fresh air after so many years suffocating in the U.S.

MAURICIO: I feel like I could breathe again. I feel like I could be free again. I could be myself. I could walk the streets. And not worry about anything.

Apr 16 2020

33mins

Play

Mauricio Across the Border - Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more

Growing up in Mexico City, Mauricio always dreamed of being on television. Then life came along – school, work, a difficult home life. He started working in car shops, first as a teenager in Mexico and then as an undocumented immigrant in Los Angeles. It seemed like he’d left his dreams of television behind. And then, he met Xzibit.

This story is also available in Spanish through NPR’s Spanish-language podcast Radio Ambulante.

Levi Bridges is an audio producer currently based in Moscow, Russia.


Photo Courtesy of Mauricio Hernández.

Read the script below:

LEVI: You don’t forget a guy like Mauricio Hernandez. He’s got a long pointy beard. Always wearing these dark sunglasses. And long dreadlocks that hang practically down to his waist.

The first time I met Mauricio, he was standing in a parking lot just outside Mexico City, speaking at some kind of promotional event. I thought I’d see him somewhere before. Maybe on TV. Back in the U.S.

Later that afternoon Mauricio and I ate some street tacos. 

MAURICIO: Uno, dos de nada más con puro papa.
LEVI: Dos campechanos.

And no joke, multiple kids stopped to ask Mauricio for his autograph.

As we ate, Mauricio told me about a dream he had growing up. Mauricio’s had lots of dreams over the years. And, somehow, many of them have actually come true.  

MAURICIO: My first dream was to be in television. That was my first dream...be famous. Some way somehow.

Mauricio says that when he watched TV as a kid, he’d imagine himself being one of the actors, like this one show that used to be on Mexican TV back in the 80s.

MAURICIO: ...that was called “Chiquilladas.”

[“CHIQUILLADAS” theme song plays]

MAURICIO: It was this TV show in Mexico that was all about kids. So I wanted to be on this show.

[ARCHIVE SOUND: “Bienvenidos chiquillitos y chiquillatas al programa de Chiquillliadas”]

When Mauricio was 8 years old, he learned that the crew who made Chiquiladas were offering acting lessons for children. Mauricio was psyched. He told his mom all about it.

MAURICIO: My mom… I remember she told me, like, ‘Hey don't get so excited… we don't have no money to do that.’ 

When Mauricio got  a little older, his childhood dream of being on television went on the back burner. He worked at a mechanic shop in high school to make extra money. Mauricio really liked working on cars –  almost as much as he liked the idea of being on TV. He wanted to buy his own car, but he never had enough money. Eventually Mauricio started noticing that lots of his friends were going to the U.S. to work. And they were coming back with cool stuff.

MAURICIO: Cars, motorcycles, clothes, tennis shoes. You know, I was like, wow! I was like "shit, man. I want to be there." 

When Mauricio was 16, his brother came back to Mexico to take him to California. Mauricio’s home life wasn’t great.  His mom would yell at him a lot. Mauricio says she sometimes got physical with him .

MAURICIO: As a kid, you never forget…the words, the objects where she used to hit...you.
LEVI: Was that part of the reason why you guys left home so young?
MAURICIO: I seen a lot of problems in my family. Especially with my dad… my dad is an alcoholic.

It was that year – 1991 – that Mauricio and his brother first tried to cross the border into California. They wanted to go to Los Angeles. 

MAURICIO: Back then the border didn’t have a wall. You could just cross so easy.

The guys got caught by Border Patrol twice. The second time, they spent a few hours in jail. And were deported back to Tijuana. Mauricio hated that feeling of being locked up. Like a prisoner.

MAURICIO: I told my brother: "if this time we don’t pass...I’m going back."  If we get caught again, I’m going back.

Mauricio crossed again. And this time he made it on a Greyhound. The bus eventually got stopped at an immigration checkpoint. And an officer came on board.

MAURICIO: He's kind of like walking towards me. And then, um, I close my eyes, and I started snoring.

The agent bought it. Mauricio looked too relaxed to be undocumented. He made it all the way to LA. 

MAURICIO: The Greyhound bus station and downtown L.A. is right about…in Skid Row.

[Sounds of Skid Row]

MAURICIO: And you get out of the bus and you start seeing all these homeless people, drug addict people…Dude, I wanted to, like, I wanted to go back!
LEVI: Was that not at all what you were expecting
MAURICIO: Yeah. I was thinking about seeing Disneyland right across the street.

It wasn’t at all what he was expecting in LA. And that wasn’t the only thing that surprised him.

MAURICIO: When I arrived to L.A. The cars were like really catching my eyes.

In California Mauricio saw a Pontiac Fiero — this little sports car with a spoiler on the back — that he was totally into. There was a  car renaissance going on in LA at the time. This was the early ‘90s and rappers like Dr. Dre started putting lowriders in their music videos. And the California street culture of tricking out cars went mainstream.

[DR. DRE song plays]

MAURICIO: The first time I seen a lowrider, I really went crazy, I was like, wow, I remember that time was it was very popular. The pickup trucks, when they used to put hydraulics above the bed and they used to make ‘em dance and get up and spin around…jumping. 

MAURICIO: My cousins were kind-of like in gangs and the gangster culture. 

Mauricio, by contrast, was pretty straight-laced.

MAURICIO: Normal. I guess, you know, tight pants, tennis shoes.

[KID FROST song plays]

MAURICIO: My cousin took me to a first lowrider show and they dressed me up as a cholo, because they were like: “You're not gonna go to a lowrider show dressing like you dressed.” They gave me some overalls, like, huge overalls… Nike Cortes…Flannel. And I had long hair. So they tell me "we'll get your hair in a ponytail." I didn't feel good because I was... that wasn't the way that I dressed up. But it was fun because I got the chance to see all these cars; the first time I heard Kid Frost. And all these popular artists from Chicano culture. And it was fun.

With his cousins in LA, Mauricio got to know a whole new part of his family. But that doesn’t mean he always felt welcome in California.

[ARCHIVE TV Sound] 

Man: We’re getting word this evening of some rock throwing by youths in South Central Los Angeles. 

Man: There’s a reported structure fire.

Man: The violence erupted after the acquittal of four white policemen in the beating trial of black motorist Rodney King.

Mauricio was still settling into LA when the city revolted in  the LA Riots of 1992. One night during the riots, Mauricio and his cousins were walking past a convenience store.

MAURICIO: It was kind of like a 7-Eleven…the lights were out….The windows were all broken. And we're like “Hey let's go get some more beers.” You know, they're free.

They went inside the store and picked up a couple 12-packs. But before they had time to walk out, the cops showed up.

MAURICIO: You could hear the tires and you see the lights that were already pointing inside the store and you could hear the officers…At that time, I didn't know any English, So when I heard these officers really mad and screaming really loud... Of Course… Put your hands up… you learn that right away. And I remember the officer. He…pulled me out of the store and threw me on the ground. Threw me on the floor. And then I remember I felt like about maybe four or five officers started kicking me. They started kicking me like, ah, fucking soccer ball. 

The cops let them go that night. Mauricio thought he’d get summoned to court for loitering or trespassing, but he says he changed addresses soon after and never got a notice in the mail.  The guys thought about pressing charges themselves — against the cops who beat them up. But they were too afraid to take legal action. Partly, of course – because Mauricio was undocumented.

---

Mauricio says, the longer he stayed in the U.S., the more his immigration status started to bother him. The fact that he couldn’t get a driver’s license. The possibility that he might get arrested and deported someday—treated like a criminal—were always in the back of his mind.

MAURICIO: It was something that will always, like, put you down.

Mauricio’s girlfriend, a young Mexican immigrant named Claudia, was also undocumented.

MAURICIO: I started a family and at a young age…I had a kid when I was 18 and having a kid is not easy. 

Mauricio and Claudia ended up having three sons. Maurcio was the breadwinner. And he found a job – doing something he loved.

MAURICIO: I wanted to work on cars professionally.

He had to start at the bottom — as a janitor at this body shop in Westchester, near LAX.

MAURICIO: I was cleaning the bathrooms,…sweeping the shop.. I was working with a lot of the Central American people. Central American people and Mexicans, we don't get along that well. They used to see me come in. They used to throw me the trash on my, on my feet. You know like here, ‘Pick that up.’

But Mauricio stuck around, learning more and more skills.

MAURICIO: Shampoo a car, you know, wax the car, clean interiors…And then I learned how to color sand and buff the cars… and then… body work and then I end up doing paint. 

[XZIBIT song plays]

Mauricio started picking up side gigs. Another one of his cousins was working for a body shop called West Coast Customs. One day, he asked Mauricio to help him do the body work on a vehicle that looked like a small delivery van.

MAURICIO: They used to call it Diahatsu…It was a Filipino car. 

The Diahatsu was a complete wreck. West Coast Customs needed all the body work on the van completely redone and repainted quick. 

MAURICIO: We do it Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. 

And as they worked, Mauricio noticed something.

MAURICIO: We start seeing cameras. 

People were coming out and filming them work in the shop. Mauricio had no idea what was going on.

MAURICIO: They didn't tell me anything. At first it was like maybe a documentary. I don't know…but it was all very professional cameras.

And even though he still dreamed of being on TV, he didn’t ask what was up. 

MAURICIO: I was like well we're here to... to do the job. Our thing was the money…Never mind the cameras, you know. 

But then one morning they were pulling masking tape off the Diahatsu to finish the paint job.

MAURICIO: I remember…we went early…And I see Xzibit walk into the shop. 

Xzibit.. The rapper.

---

Xzibit just showing up really took Maurcio off guard.

MAURICIO: Kind of like whoa. You know, like damn…So, of course, I tell him “Hey. Can you sign me an autograph?” And he was a really cool guy.

[ARCHIVE Sound of the first episode of  “Pimp My Ride”] 

Xzibit: I’ve always had a love affair with cars. Big ones. Fast ones. Especially expensive ones. Cause I’m your boy X-to-the-Z Xzibit

Mauricio got a picture with Xzibit and then he and his cousin put the last coat of paint on the Diahatsu.

MAURICIO: And they paid us and they tell us, “We want you guys to be on Wednesday at 5:00 p.m.” And my cousin and me were like, “For what?” “Uh cause we're recording this show and we want you guys to be there. All the people that work on the car. They got to be this TV show.”

They didn’t tell Mauricio anything else. Just come back on Wednesday to film something for a TV show. But Mauricio was pumped.

MAURICIO: I was like, dude, I'm gonna be a TV show. That I wanted since I was young. 

Next week Mauricio comes back to West Coast Customs. And there are cameras — everywhere.

MAURICIO: All right, guys, you guys right here. You guys right here. …And then they say action and you see Xibit coming in with the guy….The owner of the truck

[ARCHIVE sound of the first episode of “Pimp My Ride”]

Wyatt: Holy (beep)

Xzibit: Checkout the inside homey

Wyatt: I can tell you I’m impressed already.

MAURICIO: It was a pilot…  It was just a pilot 

The pilot — of “Pimp My Ride.”

---

[“Pimp My Ride” theme song plays]

“Pimp My Ride” aired on MTV in the early 2000s. It was kind of one of the first reality TV shows. The basic premise was every week the host, Xzibit, finds some poor girl or guy driving a real clunker. And then they’d pimp that car out.

[ARCHIVE sound of the first episode of “Pimp My Ride”]

Wyatt: Hi I’m Wyatt. I’m 18 years old. This baby is my ride. There are no shortage of things wrong with the car. Two words for you here: Duck tape. Top speed: 60 miles an hour.

Xzibit: Today’s your lucky day, Wyatt. I’m about to pimp your ride. 

Xzibit would bring the cars over to Ryan Friedlinghuas — the owner of West Coast Customs.

RYAN: Hi, welcome to West Coast Customs. I’m Ryan. And this is the shop….

[ARCHIVE sound of the first episode of “Pimp My Ride”]

Xzibit: Alright check this out Ryan man

Ryan: I have never seen one of these before in my life.

Xzibit: Yo man neither have I. I think there’s like two in the U.S.

Ryan: I think it more looks like a golf cart.

MAURICIO: They never thought it was gonna hit….it hit big. It hit, really big…I remember they call us like after the TV show airs. They called us like right away. 

West Coast Customs eventually hired Mauricio full time. He did the body work on a lot of the cars that appeared on Pimp My Ride.

MAURICIO: I feel so proud of myself to be on the first TV show of cars in MTV. We ended up doing “Pimp My Ride” for six years. Those six years were the happiest years of my life.

It was a dream come true. But after the pilot episode of “Pimp My Ride,” Mauricio says he didn’t appear on the show again. He was always behind the scenes. Working on the cars, not in front of the cameras.

MAURICIO: I wasn't on “Pimp My Ride” because most of the show was acting. 

When Mauricio says acting, he means that many of the people who you saw working on the cars weren’t necessarily the ones who actually pimped them out. Mauricio and some other guys from Mexico were the ones doing a lot of the grunt work. 

MAURICIO: So let's say I was sanding the car. And then the camera crew used to come to me and say, ‘Stop, stop. Can you give this to them?’ And so they can speak on on the camera. 

One of these stand-in workers was named Alex.

[Pimp My Ride audio]: Now me and Alex are gonna go out and test drive this thing.

Alex would take Maurico’s place working on the car. And then the producers would ask him questions.

MAURICIO: “So what are you doing Alex?” “Well I'm sending this car so we're getting ready for paint.” “Oh, OK. Cut!” So they used to give me back to the block and the sandpaper and I used to finish the car. 

MAURICIO: I didn't feel, like, offended. Because first of all, I wasn't getting paid to be on television. I was getting paid to work. And to me, being in television or being around the television show, that was a plus in my life.

LEVI: Wait the people they would bring in to say, ‘hey, this is the guy who is sanding the car,’ were they normally white?

MAURICIO: I can tell you this, they were not Mexican.

LEVI: And so who was really doing the work?

MAURICIO: Well most of the guys were Mexicans. At one point I remember the shop, it was probably about 80 percent Mexicans. 

This was the early 2000s – it was a different time. Enforcement of the U.S.-Mexico border was  ramping up after 9/11. There was a lot less immigration enforcement than there is today. 

MAURICIO: At that moment, I remember you could still go to Alvarado Street in Los Angeles, get a Social Security number and a fake alien card. You can tell right away it was fake. And people in body shops they knew. Of course they knew. 

LEVI:  The people who worked at MTV, did they know you guys were undocumented?

MAURICIO: They knew. Because there were people that didn’t really speaks English. It came to a point where nobody cares. You know? Nobody cared about you being illegal if you would just show me fake social security numbers and a fake card. So as long as you have those papers, you feel so confident about looking for a job anywhere. 

Mauricio says it was kind of an open secret that some of the guys who helped pimp out the cars were undocumented.  He remembers that the people who worked on the show would even joke around with the Mexican mechanics about their immigration status.

MAURICIO: They used to just scream, just laughing, “Hey la migra! La migra!” We used to turn around and say, “Who cares?” 
One day, someone way more important than la migra came to West Coast Customs.

ARCHIVE: Hi, this is governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of the great state of California.

At one point, Mauricio says that Schwarzenegger also brought his car to West Coast to have some work done. It was right after he had just vetoed a bill that would have given undocumented immigrants the right to get driver’s licenses in California. When Schwarzenegger came to get his car, Mauricio looked over at his boss, Ryan.

MAURICIO: I remember Ryan, tell me: "Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to come and pick up his truck." Ryan, he was a sarcastic man. Ryan's like “you drive the truck. Give him the keys.” And it was funny because like Schwarzenegger doesn't wanna give us a driver's license and I'm driving this car. So it was funny. (LAUGHS)

The media and popular culture often portray undocumented immigrants as living in the shadows. But Mauricio says he was right out in the open, driving the car of a Republican governor — who’s also an immigrant. Over the years, lots of other celebrities also brought their cars to West Coast.

MAURICIO: We had cars for Paris Hilton. Shaquille O'Neal. For Kobe Bryant. Sylvester Stallone. For Snoop Dogg. 

By day Mauricio  was leading a glamorous life meeting the rich and famous. At work, being undocumented didn’t really matter. It’s like West Coast Customs was a miniature sort of sanctuary city. But even though Mauricio  worked on cars for a living, he never drove a nice one himself. Mauricio worried his car might get impounded if he ever got caught driving without a license. And it wasn’t like Mauricio was just rolling around with Snoop Dogg all day. The job was tough. Long hours, and really hard work, for not a lot of money.

MAURICIO: Most of these cars, of course, were like trash. Body shop had three days to finish the car and give it back to them. Finish. 

I remember there were days that we were probably leaving 2 o'clock a.m., 3 o'clock in the morning. And wake up at seven o'clock in the morning to go to work at 8:00 o'clock in the morning.

And  all those long nights in the shop had a serious effect on Mauricio’s family.

MAURICIO: I sacrifice my family. I did sacrifice my kids. But I don't have no regrets because the money that I was making, of course, it was for my kids, for my family, for my house.

But his partner did not see things the same way.

MAURICIO: At one point she told me to leave West Coast. Leave it because you don't 

have a life. You work too many hours. We need you at the house. We need you to be the dad. Me the mom. A family. And I didn't listen.  

Mauricio says he figured he’d get a better job in the future, so he could give his kids the kind of opportunities he never had. Like a college education. But in the short term, fixing the cars that Xzibit presented on MTV wasn’t always the most glamorous gig in the world.

MAURICIO: Fuck it was a hard job. 

LEVI: And how much money were you making?

MAURICIO: It was 300 a week, I believe. It was more the experience to be there. To me it was fun to be at the show.

It was fun, but there are signs that West Coast Customs had taken advantage of their workers in the past.  In 2014, West Coast paid a settlement to workers after an investigation by the Department of Labor found that the company  paid employees less than minimum wage, in addition to other abuses. According to the settlement, West Coast owed the workers thousands of dollars in back pay. By that point Mauricio had left West Coast. I’ll explain why later. But Mauricio didn’t see his boss, Ryan Friedlinghaus, as some cruel tyrant exploiting undocumented immigrants.

MAURICIO: He was not the romantic, sentimental guy. He always was the mean face, the strong guy. Ryan will always called the shop the "war field." 

LEVI: The war field? 

MAURICIO: Yeah, the war field. And he used to call us soldiers. And he used to say, “Well you're the one of the best of my soldiers. My best soldiers, they always go out on the front.”

Mauricio says that he and Ryan developed a close relationship. Mauricio was always working late, polishing the cars, making everything look good. And he says Ryan noticed.

MAURICIO: Ryan used to invite me in his office to eat with him. With his family, with his kids, with his dad, with his mom. You know, we're the same age. We were buddies.

Around that time, Mauricio says that Ryan was going through a divorce. He kept a lot of it private. But he came to rely on Mauricio. One night, Mauricio says, Ryan broke down. 

MAURICIO: I remember his face. His face couldn't take it anymore. He started crying. And he told me, “I'm sorry. I got a lot of problems. And this car has to leave tomorrow to Dubai. And nobody's here.” I give him a hug. He hug me. He's like “Are you sure you can you help me finish the car?” I say “Yes for sure.” I looked at him and I told him, “You know, I got you.”

MAURICIO: You were kind of Ryan's right hand man. 

MAURICIO: Yeah. Even though he always called me his soldier. I know I was more than that.


Mauricio’s neighborhood in Mexico City lined with mechanic shops and auto parts stores. Photo Courtesy of Levi Bridges

The work that Ryan and Mauricio did on Pimp My Ride had given West Coast Customs national exposure. But a body shop that refurbishes old clunkers, Mauricio says that wasn’t what Ryan wanted West Coast to be known for. He wanted to get back to high-end work for LA movie stars.

MAURICIO: West Coast was built up about celebrities. And once we did “Pimp My Ride,” we were the joke of the celebrities. 

Ryan decided to leave "Pimp My Ride" altogether and move to a new state-of-the-art shop in Corona, California. Outside LA. Mauricio was one of the first people Ryan approached about the plan.

MAURICIO: And he told me right away that "no you have no option. You're coming with me." 

The idea wasn’t just to launch a new shop. Mauricio says Ryan wanted to start his own TV show about what really went on inside West Coast Customs. That idea turned into a real show called “Street Customs” that aired on TLC and the Discovery Channel.

[Archive sound of “Street Customs”]

Announcer: On this episode of Street Customs…

Ryan: My name is Ryan. This is my company. This is my life. And this is Street Customs.

MAURICIO: “Street Customs” it was a really reality show, more than “Pimp My Ride.” It wasn't no actors. 

Meaning no stand-in replacements for the guys working on the cars. Ryan offered Mauricio a spot as one of the main workers who appeared on Street Customs.

MAURICIO: Ryan saw me like a character. And he did give me a lot exposure on the show, on TLC. 

[ARCHIVE sound of “Street Customs”] 

Ryan: I’ve always had this thing with Mauricio. He’s worked for me for almost seven years now. I’ve always told him, ‘Dude, we’ve gotta cut your hair. We’ve gotta cut your hair.’

With his signature long dreads and pointy beard, Mauricio became one of the show’s most recognizable personalities.

[ARCHIVE sound of “Street Customs”]

MAURICIO: Ryan keeps telling me like, ‘Oh you should cut your hair.’ He told everybody he put a price on my dreads. Saying that he will give 100 dollars for each dread that anybody cut.’

Ryan: 100 bucks dawg.

And this is where Mauricio’s childhood dream became a reality. After they started producing Street Customs, Ryan asked Mauricio to represent West Coast at a really important car show: the SEMA show in Las Vegas. 

MAURICIO: You see these people, you see everybody start clapping. And they’re clapping to you. And you're walking through this red carpet, through the stage. I feel like I made it. I remember they never stop clapping, (SNIFFLES) We were recognized as the people, we put the automobile industry on television. We were huge. We were artists. We were the best. 

Mauricio was a main character on the show. He was relatable. Cool. The kind of guy you’d want to have show up at your party, Mauricio personified a  character on television that served as a bridge that could connect people to the Latino community. And he did all this while he was undocumented.

MAURICIO: I did live two lives.  You know stuff like, I’m gonna get caught. I don’t have a license. I’m not gonna do my taxes. 

And there were always reminders everywhere of what could happen.

MAURICIO: Sometimes when you hear the news, when I used to hear that this happened over there. 

[ARCHIVE sound]

TV Anchor: Across northern California over a dozen immigrants are behind bars right now after a new crackdown…

TV Anchor: The battle between California and the feds overs illegal immigration.

MAURICIO: That that's going on over here. 

[ARCHIVE sound]

TV Anchor: Homeland Security began flying plane loads of illegal immigrants into Southern California.

TV Anchor: Immigrant communities across the country bracing for an ICE crackdown to kick into high gear

MAURICIO: You know, it was not something they will not let me sleep. But that it was something that you had to live with every day. 

Mauricio really wanted to find a way to get legal status in the U.S. And eventually, he found one. . A wealthy Mexican who had some work done at the shop approached Ryan about buying the rights to open a West Coast Customs franchise in Mexico.

Mauricio helped with the negotiations. And the Mexicans had one key condition.

MAURICIO: "We're gonna buy the franchise. But Maurico's coming with us. Because we want him to build a shop and once it’s done, once he gets it running, then he comes back."

Mauricio was excited about the possibility of going back to Mexico. He was opening  a franchise for a company with international recognition — Mauricio felt proud about that. After the two guys from Mexico left, Mauricio sat down with Ryan to hash out the details.

MAURICIO: I told them after they left I say, “Hey dude. But I don't got no papers and how am I going to come back?” And he's like “I’ll bring you back. Don't worry. I'll bring you back. I'll pay. The coyote,” he told me. “To bring you back, or we will find a way to get you a visa so we can get you back.”

A visa would mean legal status in the U.S. No more sneaking around always worried about getting deported. So in the winter of 2009, Mauricio said goodbye to his partner and three kids… and he crossed the border from San Diego to Tijuana – the same place where he’d first entered California as a teenager – and then he got on a plane to Mexico City.

 Mauricio was worried that this whole business venture in Mexico might fail. But he reminded himself that he wouldn’t be gone long. Mauricio promised his kids that he’d be back by next Christmas, if not earlier. 

But… Mauricio never returned to the U.S. again.

More on the next episode of Unfictional. 

Apr 09 2020

30mins

Play

The Dream is Over

Podcast cover
Read more

Pete’s always known there was treasure buried in the mountains near El Paso. But knowing there’s treasure and going to get it are two very different things.

Plus, Eddie Hart had been training for years – steadily making his way to the Olympics with laser-sharp focus. But once he got there, one mistake sent the whole dream crashing down around him.

Will McCarthy is a furniture mover and freelance journalist in Central Texas.

Kerstin Zilm is an independent producer from Germany living in Los Angeles.


The hole in Pete's backyard. Photo credit: Logan Dorne.

Pete. Photo credit: Logan Dorne.

Mar 21 2019

34mins

Play

Denial

Podcast cover
Read more

When Janey Williams was sexually assaulted by one of her best friends, she was afraid to face it. Once she did the big scary thing – tell the truth about what had happened – she found that it wasn’t enough. Because everyone around her covered it right back up again.

Janey Williams is the creator of the podcast This Happened, for which she initially did all the interviews featured in this episode and which has hours of intimate and revelatory tape and reflection beyond what's in this version of the story. Williams has also produced for Scene On Radio. She lives in Los Angeles, her hometown, with her husband and two sons, and recorded her most recent story while holding her baby in studio.


Janey Williams in her 20’s. Courtesy of Williams.

Mar 14 2019

30mins

Play

Friends in Juggalo Places

Podcast cover
Read more

If you’ve heard anything about juggalos, you may have heard that they paint their faces like clowns – or maybe, that they don’t get how magnets work. From the outside, the rabid fans of Insane Clown Posse seem incomprehensible. But once you get to know them, the logic of juggalo culture starts to reveal itself. Producer Carla Green took a bus trip across the country with a juggalo – and learned some things about the people who sometimes call themselves the most hated family in the world.


Roger Tedi has been a juggalo since he was a teenager, and went to the Juggalo March on Washington in 2017. Photo credit: Woodrow Currie.
A juggalo at the Juggalo March on Washington in 2017. Photo credit: Woodrow Currie.
Children at the Juggalo March on Washington in 2017. Photo credit: Woodrow Currie.
One juggalo applying face paint to another at the Juggalo March on Washington in 2017. Photo by Woodrow Currie.
Roger Tedi (left) with Jake Jones (AKA Sidehawk Ninja) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the Juggalo March on Washington in 2017. Photo credit: Hazin of Juggalo News.

Mar 07 2019

30mins

Play

1-800-KISS-MY-ASS

Podcast cover
Read more

At the turn of the millennium, Aric Allen reluctantly started work at a call center selling get-rich-quick schemes to the hapless folks still awake in the wee hours of the morning. He eventually unleashed a side of himself that he could barely recognize.

Feb 28 2019

22mins

Play

Vampire of Barcelona

Podcast cover
Read more

Enriqueta Marti was connected to several child disappearances in Barcelona during the early 20th Century. She has been immortalized in stories, songs and operas. Hers is the scary story that’s told to make children behave. According to legend, she would steal children and would sell unguents made from human ingredients to aristocrats. But then, a 21st Century historian uncovered the truth about Enriqueta Marti.

Feb 21 2019

23mins

Play

Strangers in a Good Way

Podcast cover
Read more

First, a hypnotic search for a common language, and one girl’s ardent prayers to speak in tongues.

Then, another girl’s ardent prayers for letters. When 12-year-old Lauren fell for Darryl in the ‘90s, he was a skater boy who loved Nirvana and drawing. They were pen pals for years. She’d check her mailbox multiple times a day, hoping for a letter from him. But when she finds him online decades later, his feed is filled with guns and right-wing hashtags. It seems like he's become an entirely different person. So she gives him a call to catch up.


A TripAdvisor review for Smith Island.


One of Darryl's letters to Lauren.



The envelope of a letter from Darryl to Lauren.
The envelope of a letter from Darryl to Lauren.


The envelope of a letter from Darryl to Lauren.

Lauren with her "new troll doll."

Feb 14 2019

29mins

Play

Purple Rain

Podcast cover
Read more

Warning: This episode is disturbing, and has one scene of unexpected and brutal domestic violence, as well as explicit language.

In the Begijnenstraat prison in Antwerp, Belgium, the prisoners produce a once-a-month radio program featuring interviews and music; poetry and true stories. “Mihai” – a pseudonym he chose himself – has a lifelong history of drugs and psychosis. He’s in a wing for prisoners who have been deemed by the state as too dangerous to be released. He tells the story of the fateful day that landed him in prison.

This episode is produced by Wederik De Backer, in association with Radio Begijnenstraat. Wederik (Brussels, 1988) is an award-winning Belgian radio maker, specializing in radio drama, satire and radio documentaries. He has produced documentary features and audio plays for the major radio broadcasters in Belgium, the US, the Netherlands and Germany.
Mihai's drawing of the event. Courtesy of Wederick de Backer.

Feb 07 2019

17mins

Play

My Foolish Illusion

Podcast cover
Read more

John Elder Robison spent his youth designing custom stage guitars for rock icons KISS. As an adult, Robison was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. He was invited to participate in an experimental treatment that could temporarily increase his ability to read social cues, something he’d been unable to do all his life. But the treatment worked almost too well.

John Elder Robison is the New York Times best-selling author of three books: Look Me in the Eye, Be Different, and Raising Cubby. For more information about Robison and his work, see: John Elder Robison.
John Elder Robison. Photo courtesy of John Elder Robison.


John Elder Robison getting an experimental brain treatment that temporarily allowed him to understand social cues and other similar subtleties. Photo courtesy of John Elder Robison.


John Elder Robison. Photo courtesy of John Elder Robison.

Jan 31 2019

28mins

Play

Stories of Perception

Podcast cover
Read more

Imagine what it would be like if you could experience the world the way someone else does. That the barriers between your reality and mine could just… melt away. In the brand new season of UnFictional, we’re looking at perception – and how we come to know the unknown parts of ourselves. It begins on January 31st.

Producer: Bob Carlson

Credits: Theme Music by Alex Weston, with music help from Joe Augustine and Narrative Music.

Jan 24 2019

1min

Play

Halloween 2018

Podcast cover
Read more

Photo credit: Barry Davis.

Oct 31 2018

22mins

Play

Punk Jubilee

Podcast cover
Read more

A girl gang goes on a violent rampage of sex, larceny and murder, all set to music in Derek Jarman’s British ‘70s punk film, “Jubilee.” Go behind the scenes of the film that documented the messy, chaotic birth of a movement and prophesied its demise: the selling-out of punk rock.

Producer: Victoria Farran

Editor: Bob Carlson

Credits: Theme music by Alex Weston, with music help from Joe Augustine and Narrative Music. Episode art by Tina Carlson.

Mar 29 2018

36mins

Play

Haunted

Podcast cover
Read more

Tara loves magic, and she'd always believed in ghosts, so she wasn’t surprised when she started to notice strange things at her Los Feliz apartment, like open doors and strange sounds. But then she discovered something more frightening than any ghost.


Tara with Eugene Burger, her teacher at the Magic and Mystery School.
Photo courtesy of Tara Walker


The first night Tara (right) attended the Magic Castle as a member,
with Sabrina (left) and friend Steve Shin. Photo courtesy of Tara Walker.


Tara's Los Feliz backyard with friends Photo courtesy of Tara Walker.


Tara's backyard. Photo courtesy of Tara Walker.

Mar 22 2018

18mins

Play

Her Name is Ember

Podcast cover
Read more

For a long time, the garden was the only place Ember could be herself. And as she tried be her true self out in the world, she was stymied, again and again – by her family, by a car crash, by prescription drugs. But Ember finally got past the roadblocks and could be her true self: a woman.

Ember Jackinsky. Photo courtesy of Ember.

Producers: Emrys Eller and Greg Eller

Editors: Carla Green and Nick White

Credits: Theme music by Alex Weston, with music help from Joe Augustine and Narrative Music. Episode art by Tina Carlson.

Special thanks: to Ember Jackinsky for sharing her story.

Mar 15 2018

17mins

Play

iTunes Ratings

838 Ratings
Average Ratings
502
127
76
74
59

Meant to click the 5 star

By dumdlo - Jan 04 2019
Read more
New at this. Unfic has become my new go to. Thanks

The perfect story podcast

By Hanaruckus'sdogmom - Sep 28 2018
Read more
Thank you guys for introducing me to Joe Frank and a whole new genre of radio! I love this podcast!