Ep.13 Food and Feeders

When I eat out I think of myself as a customer of a particular place that serves some food. But according to the jargon of the restaurant industry, I’m a “feeder,” says my passenger Matt Carosi.

“I’m sort of a culinary jack-of-all-trades,” Matt says. “I’ve lived and worked in food industry for about 15 years now, starting as a dishwasher ranging now to restaurant design. So I guess it’s the stories in between.”

As his stories unfold Matt’s father was a great cook who instilled in him appreciation for a well-cooked meal: “I come from an Italian family. Growing up we always sat around the table and shared meals every night and broke bread and discussed the days events.”

Today Matt’s well-versed in the world of food service and feeders. For him it begins years ago in the basement of a small but busy restaurant in Pittsburgh, PA.

“I got a job through a friend at a restaurant washing dishes and it was certainly miserable at times and I questioned life every turn. After a few months of tolling away in a basement I was asked to start bussing tables. Tragedy struck one day though, it was my second or third day on the job, I had a big tray in the air, it was full of some lasagnas and it probably weighted about twenty five to thirty pounds. I had the tray all the way up in the air, another server bumped me and I lost the tray.

“The tray slams down in the middle of the table and this large dish hits this old woman in the head and she is just passed out. Face down. Yeah. And of course the entire restaurant stops and looks at me and it’s that busy that I have to just keep going. So of course they wheeled this woman out on a gurney. I am fairly certain that she survived the incident I actually miraculously was not fired that night.

“The subculture in the food service business is very militaristic. Usually in well-oiled kitchen at a high-end restaurant it’s completely silent. You just hear chef calling out orders and line chef’s calling back saying ‘Yes, chef.’ It takes a lot of discipline to be a good cook because you have to work clean, you have to look clean, you have to execute your dishes on time and to the correct degree of doneness. It’s not learning recipes, it’s learning methods and understanding the cooking techniques behind the method. It’s just chemistry really.

“So you have the chef who’s just like the general, as a line cook you’re on front lines. You’re a line cook, you’re being yelled at, you’re being screamed at, you’re under immense pressure to perform. It’s mentally and physically exhausting. I can recall many Friday nights where you’re in the midst of service and you have to just walk off the line for a second because it’s so intense. You go splash some water in your face and you have to get back at it. There’s no excuses. You have to perform or you don’t.

“Kitchens today tend to be more open because people want to experience sort of the thrill of live cooking. People want dinner and a show.

“We operate in sort of an upside-down world. When you’re working we’re off, when you’re off we’re working. So it’s night and day and after a while becomes unsustainable for health reasons and mental reasons.”

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Loopstache
recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

Ep.12 Finding Support System, Building Them For Others

AJ works in behavioral health industry and teaches kids how to provide tools for themselves; tools that might not be immediately available. “Sometimes I feel like I’m the most adaptable man on a planet,” AJ says. He often reflects on personal experience, on support system he had to build for himself at the age of five in order to survive.

“So I’m five years old and I make a friend that goes to the same school, he lives three doors down. I was constantly going to his house, and hanging with him, and then I started to hang out with his family. I’d kind of go over there in the morning and his mom would make breakfast, and I’d sit there and I’d eat a living crap out of this breakfast. How many tortillas do you want? And she made them from scratch, it wasn’t even tortillas that you’d buy at the store. So, how do you say ‘No’ to that? Yes, I want something to eat, yes, I will eat again. I found myself eating there everyday and then it became pretty consistent.

“There was a point in time where I didn’t want to go home. You know, my family was so involved in gangs and… So I just kept going over and eventually she kind of noticed the pattern of, ‘This kid’s always at my house!’ So she just took it in her own liberty, like ‘Hey, from now on, whenever you’re hungry, doesn’t matter if it’s morning, before school, if it’s after school, if it’s dinnertime or if it’s in the middle of the night – you come over and you eat.’ Of course this is all broken English.

“By the time I was ten years old I was spending five years with this family. They kind of started seeing the bits and pieces of my life. I was worried about things like bills, and food, and making sure that the water was coming out of the tap they didn’t shut it off; which is terrible for a ten-year-old.

“Mario and Maria are definitely the people that were – people from Mexico, where they’re originally are from, would come over and they’d stay with them for few weeks until they got on their feet, found a job – they were constantly taking care of someone. They had a little house in the back. They just did the same thing for me. Only instead of crossing the border I just passed a few houses.

“I think they taught me how to care for someone else genuinely, without asking for anything in return. From Mario’s aspect he taught me that it’s OK to make fun of each other, and make jokes, and not to worry. To be ten.

“I didn’t really reflect on any of this until about a year ago, to be honest with you. Mario’s passed away a few years ago. When he passed away I really felt like I lost my dad. The family that really was my support system, and they were the people that showed me about love and they showed me about carrying, there was even times when they were teaching my how to shave and doing all those parental things that weren’t there for me on the consistent basis. My security blanket, people that made me feel safe. And I do really well when there are people that say to me, ‘Hey AJ, I’m really proud of you,’ or ‘Hey AJ, you’re messing up,’ or ‘Hey, let’s just go and get lunch. Don’t worry about it, I’ll buy.’

“That’s when you see yourself going to talk to a boy or a girl that is way out of your league, or going for the job that pays much more and you’re kind of nervous about it, ‘oh, I don’t know…’

“And the only other thing I have to say is that the Suns got robbed on the NBA Lottery Draft.”

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by KomikuLoopstache

recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

Ep.11 Khalid el-Hakim, Black History 101 Mobile Museum

Sometimes I get to drive people that are well-known for the work they do. So is this passenger, Khalid el-Hakim who runs theBlack History 101 Mobile Museum.

“These artifacts are evidence of bad things that have happened,” Khalid says. “But some artifacts are proof of our resiliency in the face of this ugliness.”

Khalid has been collecting the artifacts for the past twenty six years and is traveling across the country with his museum to make sure that the conversation on race is happening in America. After completing the ride I just caught up with him at one of his many exhibitions to have that conversation.

“I’ve picked up pieces that affirm who I am as a Black man in America. And coming out of the Hip Hop generation my lens for even doing this work is through being inspired and being awaken by Hip Hop, by messages that would come from groups like Public Enemy, Rakim, X Clan, Queen Latifah in this era of Black consciousness in Hip Hop. Whereas maybe twenty years ago my point of reference might have been just Malcolm X, just Martin Luther King, just Rosa Parks. To see a timeline of Black contributions, Black success, Black resiliency just broadened my scope as a human being really. I don’t think twenty years ago I could have made that statement.

“The museum is a collection of Black memorabilia that dates from the transatlantic slave trade in America up to Hip Hop culture – it’s about seven thousand artifacts. All these artifacts are original and I’ve actually taken on a mission of sharing these artifacts in public spaces.

“The emotional response have been varied. People come here and cry. Some people are offended by it which you should be offended by it, by some of the stereotypical images that are represented in the museum. I’ve had people come in and they smile and laugh when they see things that reminded them of their lived experience. You might have forty- or fifty-year-old person come in and see Sugarhill’s album cover and remember Rapper’s Delight or The Message from Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. And then you see people just love to see artifacts, signed documents by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X.

“We use these as opportunities to have a conversations about race in America and what we need to do to move this nation forward. Like we have Black Lives Matter movement and to look at that movement in a framework of collection that take up the exhibits I do and to realize that Black lives in America have never mattered. So to know that to be a fact reinforces my commitment to continue the struggle and to continue to be committed to social justice when it comes to educating our youth on the importance of knowing our history. Your history what makes you who you are.

“We need to have the conversation. People are afraid to have that conversation. One other thing that this work allows me to do is kind of nudge and push people to have that conversation because you can’t be exposed to some of this material and not respond to it. If people are not willing to have truthful, honest conversations about race in America then we’ll never move forward. And we know what happens when conversation doesn’t happen. You know what I’m saying? When the conversation doesn’t happen the conflict becomes physical and violence happens; and violence happens because people have lack of communication, right?”

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Queen LatifahLoopstache

recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

Ep.10 Long Way To Achieve Dreams, Inspire Others

Wendy Haro represents a small pool of Latinas in software engineering industry. Her path wasn’t straight and wide one, rather she had to create one for herself. Raised in South Central LA by immigrant parents, living through LA Riots, dealing with the turmoil at home and in the neighborhood, Wendy says she’d never thought about her future. Until other people began to shape the way she thought of the things ahead. Among those people were some members of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, or SHPE. Today Wendy, besides her full-time job as a Software QA Analyst, does community outreach, working with kids to make sure they know there’s another life, different from what they might see in their neighborhoods.

“Picture a room full of kids and everyone tells their different story and I will always start with, ‘Have you guys heard of South Central LA?’ Usually get some hands up. ‘Have you seen a movie Straight Outta Compton?’ You see all the hands go up. ‘Well, I lived through that,’ and you see faces like ‘What? Wow!’ And I always tell them that I come back and talk to you guys as kids because I don’t want you to go through what I went through.

“When I think of my childhood, I think of my grandmother visiting from Mexico. I remember my father. He’s an alcoholic and I remember my mom and dad fighting and they got very physical and my grandma watching and crying and begging for him to stop.”

Revazova: Despite the turmoil in the family, Wendy found a way to shine. She was a bright kid, the nerd of the family, advanced in math and always into electronics.

“Whenever it came to the math section, you had the entire class working on whatever third grade math was working on, and then you had another little table on the side of the room where you had a few Asian kids and little Hispanic Wendy there doing advanced level mathematics. And I remember telling my parents about it and them kind of teasing me about it: ‘Wow, you’re sitting with the little Asian kids! You must be smart.’

Revazova: In late 80s-early 90s LA Riots broke out.

“You could hear everything. You could hear the gunshots, you could hear the helicopters, you could smell the smoke.’

Revazova: As everything was going on at home and in the neighborhood Wendy began to lose an interest in education.

“I just started acting out, just not paying attention, not doing my homework. Stopped showing up to class or to school in general. So my mom ended up reporting me and putting me on probation. That’s how I ended up in the continuation high school.

Revazova: She was terrified by the things she saw and heard from her classmates there. Some would come to the class under the influence. There were gang fights everywhere. So she’d hang out at the principal’s office, with her teachers.

“And I remember our computer system being upgraded on campus. The guys that was doing all the work, and me being curious – I was asking questions and he would answer so many questions that after a while he just asked if I was willing to do it myself. So he led me to take control of the keyboard. He was just telling me what to push and what to enter. It was a secret language that you had to do the way in order for the computer to understand it. That’s what fascinated me. Similar to how I felt as a third grade Wendy sitting there doing advanced level math.

“I never thought about my future, to be honest. It just… I don’t know if it was combination of where I lived and the family life. My brother has never graduated from high school, my sister at that time hadn’t graduated from the high school either. So it just didn’t seem something that I would do because I hadn’t seen it. And then also living in the neighborhood that I did – you never know if you would get caught up in some random drive-by shooting. It was more like taking it day-by-day and surviving day-by-day.

“In high school where I met some really good friends. That family is how I first got more encouraged in regards to going to college. I ended up enrolling for the computer informations systems program. At that time I didn’t know what STEM was, I just knew I wanted to program.

“I found an organization called The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and it was through SHPE that I learned that I wasn’t the only Hispanic kid, first generation American trying to make it in college. I was not the first or only Hispanic kid that had no idea what they were doing in education system. And it was through this organization that I learned to really seek out role models.

“To have a professional member who has already been successful in the field for X amount of years – to have them come and show interest in me? And to ask me what my ambitions are? And to just to show me that encouragement and that support, I think that what was the most pivotal for me; that a complete stranger who doesn’t know me and is talking to me with the sole purpose of getting to know me, to help me succeed, that what was so amazing to me. Like, you don’t even know me, and you want me to achieve my dreams. That was cool. It was really cool. It’s why I continue to do it myself.

“It seems like every year as I meet more students you kind of see whom you can take under your wing, who you can help develop. There are so many students and of course you do your meetings and presentations and you talk to the whole group, but every once in a while there’s one student that you gravitate to and I’ve been pretty fortunate to have couple of those. One in particular, I got a random phone call one day and he told me, ‘Wendy, I just want to let you know you changed my life.’ That just means so much to me.”

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Julie Maxwell and Loopstache

recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

Ep.9 Juan’s Desert Parties

Juan is a bus driver by day.

“I just drive people from the airport and back home,” Juan says.

And at night he turns into… “Super star DJ Phox!”

Juan grew up in Chicago, had aspirations of becoming a pilot. One night he was riding his bike home.

“I heard shots at me and I ducked on my bike and as soon as I ducked I felt something smacked my face.”

He was shot in the eye which put an end to his aviation dreams. To deal with depression, Juan gets into electronic music and later into DJ-ing.  At night he takes crowds to party in the wilderness: to the cliffs of California, canyons, deserts and mountains of Arizona. Why DJ-ing out there? Because it’s like being a pilot, Juan says, you take people with you, and you’re in full charge.

“When I was in high school I saw a flyer, and I saw some of my favorite DJs, how they’d move the crowd, they were like Pied Piper and we’re like the mouse.

“When I was still in Chicago, just to get away from the streets and get away from all that stuff that was going on, because I just didn’t want to be a part of that no more, I got myself some old rinko-dinko turntables I found somewhere and I used to go to the record shop all the time and just buy records. I’d invite all my friends to the basement of my house and we would act like we were DJ-ing. We’d play the songs and everybody would dance and would be like, ‘that was good,’ awesome, I’ll take a credit for that.

“Flash forward when I moved to Phoenix, I started looking for the scene out here – people that DJ-ed or if that even existed out here. It took me a year and a half and I finally found a flyer to this party. It was for a desert party, and I thought, holy smoke, what’s that? I was like, I need to go to this, I need to go to this…

“I had some friends that were here that were into electronic music. They were like, ‘We’ll go with you to Tucson.’ Sure enough as soon as we get there, just flashback to those events back in Chicago but it was in the desert. It was cactus around and dust everywhere and tents up because people were camping. It was halfway to Mexico from Tucson. It moves me in such a way that I was like, I’m back home, you know what I mean? I need to be part of this.

“It’s more open and free so you can hear it a lot farther distances, believe it or not and at times you can even hear it echo off the canyons or off the mountains at times. That’s how loud that clap is at times.

“I became real good friend with this DJ that was kind of new to the scene and we kind of teamed up together and we started teaching each other the tricks, we started playing together at shows, started getting bookings.

“Keeping the party alive, keeping people on the dance floor, keeping the beat going, keeping the energy going, keeping people happy… People want to sing along, want to dance, want to have good time, just forget their feelings, forget their stress and just let go of everything. Just put it all right there on the dance floor, let it all loose right there and let go of everything.

“Desert parties are more free, more relaxed. Security isn’t uptight. Just to be yourself, and to be with the nature out there is very, very unique. The stars are really bright, you can see the satellites flying around up in the sky, sometimes even a  space station – that’s how clear it is at night, sometimes even intimate. It’s crazy, it’s crazy spot.”

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by DJ PhoxLoopstache
recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

Ep.8 Awkward Dates Are Entertaining

Awkward dates! How many one should go through to find a good fit for herself? A million dollar question, right?

“Hello, how is it going?”

My rider Ashley got on with her career and went pretty far for her young age.

“I think I look good. Some people described me as absolutely beautiful. Oh, you’re just too much, too much!”

She’s naturopathic medical doctor and sometimes what she does really gets on the way when it comes to dating.

“It is intimidating for them and I try not to come off as intimidating. It’s just what I do is intimidating.”

Here’s her story…

“I got approached by a lot of guys that think they know what kind of woman I am but when I tell them I am a doctor they think I am a Type A, kinda hard-ass girl. I’m like no, I’m a goofiest, silliest person you can come around. I feel like a lot of guys are trying to overcompensate for showing that they are worthy of my time. I know you’re worthy of my time.

“But then I get these weird encounters. One guy asked me for a date, but he was one of those people that were asking for money at this Starbucks patio. He asked me if I had any change, I said I’m sorry, and I’m thinking, this is odd…

“Oh, another fun one. I went on a date with this guy and he wanted to impress me because I think I talked about how much I love food and he ordered this blackened fish at the restaurant. He started sweating profusely during this lovely meal. He turned red in the face. He had to take napkin and wipe his forehead several times. He sweated through his shirt yet he’s trying to keep calm and collective. You know what? You can stop eating fish anytime. You don’t have to eat complete meal.

“I get first dates, see how the second date goes. Second date – wow, wow! Let’s get the third one. My thing is if it’s your idea to go on a date I expect you to pay. If it’s my idea then I’m going to pay. I brought up this standard to one guy but he took that as me using him for dates as well as using him for his money and he called me a ‘professional,’ like I’m a professional escort or something like that. So that pissed me off of course. I’m thinking, it’s a lice of pizza for one and it costs like two, three dollars and soda is another dollar. You don’t have four-five bucks for a date? What’s that? And then, two, sure, call me a professional, you couldn’t afford me because my price is obviously is out of your pay. So yeah.

“I’m just looking for the one true love I guess. I’m like a romantic, a hopeless romantic it seems like. I’d love somebody to sweep me off my feet that whole deal. Is it a reality? I don’t know, doesn’t occur yet. So I’ll just see. If it happens – awesome. If it doesn’t I’ll just keep dating and see what’s out there. Hopefully someone is there to tell me: ‘You know what? I really want to do that. Can I try to sweep you off your feet? Is it possible? How can I do it? Give me some hints.’ Okay, here you go, here’s A, B, and C.

My running joke with friends and family is, hey, if they can pass not just a background check but also psychic test and a DNA profile and deal with me – yeah! We should be on point.

“Thanks for the ride, I really do appreciate it.”

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Loopstache
recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

Ep.7 “I knew I’m going to meet you today”

My next rider, whose name is Steve, was on the way to a body shop. His car’s front spoiler had to be repaired. I knew we’re going to meet, Steve said, because few hours earlier he said he prayed to “put someone in my day to share with and to have the words to say.” Well, here are his words.

“So I remember when I was eight years old laying in bed one night and hearing God’s voice telling me that he loved me and that I was special to him. I used to think there was something really good about me that he admired and that’s why he chose me but I think it’s more like a Forrest Gump kind of special, like you’re special and you need my help more than anybody.

“There are times in my life where I’ve been very selfish and rebellious and I’ve just not wanted to hear from God or have anything to do with him. During those times my life just spirals out of control and my relationships and everything just goes South because I’m just focusing on myself and what I want and in fact I think I’ve probably gone ten years in a row without even saying a word to God.

“I’ve gone through times when I just, you know, gotten really into trying to grow my business and just focusing on money and even a time in my earlier life where I divorced my wife and just wanted to go and be free and single and do my own things. My kids really suffered because of that. The things that I thought were going to make me happy really just became more and more of a bondage to me. I was obsessed with finding a perfect woman to have a relationship with and thought that if I could find that that would make me happy. I’d date people and would have no joy or peace in that in whatsoever. I was trying to take in those relationships instead of give.

“Sometimes you don’t know how to handle insecurities so you try to.. you know I got really into body building and thought well, if I got really big people would think I was really cool. So you chase down all these things but they turn into addictions. I spent a lot of time overeating and doing drugs and trying to get bigger. My body got sick and I got attention from it but it never made me more secure. If someone paid attention because of that, I think in the back of my mind I thought, they’re only paying attention to me because the way I look. What if I don’t look like that for the rest of my life? What happens when I grow old?

“I think I just got to the point where my life was so horrible where I just didn’t want to keep rebelling anymore and I realized that I had it so good when I was serving him that I would just out of the necessity just come back to him and start doing the things I used to do and just ask him for forgiveness and his mercy. Every time I would come back he’d put someone in my life to show me his love and forgiveness.

“What I found is that the weakest areas of my life have been the greatest source of strength because they force me to call out to him and ask him for his help and he’s always faithful. I really struggle sometimes, I own four different businesses and seems like every day something goes horribly wrong in one of the businesses. It used to just ruin my day because I’d just stress about what to do about it, how to fix a problem. Now I just ask him for his wisdom and his help and I just leave it there with him. I don’t take the stress of it on or worry about it anymore until I feel like I have an answer what I’m supposed to do. Inevitably the answer comes much quicker than if I was stressed out and not really trusting him because when you’re in that place it really cuts off all your and all your ability to really think well and when you open yourself up to him obviously he’s the most creative being in the universe. I think Gods wants to be creatively involved in our lives, much-much more than we allow him to.

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Stein Thor and Loopstache 

recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

Ep.6 The Cycle Of Addiction

Ben got in my car to get a ride to work. Soon after he asked if he can tell me about his life, although it might be boring, he added quietly. I said, “sure.”

“I grew up in a small town in Idaho, playing sports and…” snowboarding, skateboarding. He’s coming from loving and carrying family.  “Very young I tried smoking pot, this is all around age twelve and it was pretty harmless and then when I was eighteen I started experimenting with pharmaceuticals like xanax, somas; I tried cocaine for the first time and then Vicodin. I started dropping out of classes and that took over.

“If I didn’t have anything I had to find at least a little bit of weed and it became desperate. How crack addict fixates on crack. My parents found out I was doing drugs and my mom brings me to the rehab. I’m sober for like three or four days in there. Finally, this is the first time I’ve been sober and I started feeling really good. Right when I was having that feeling in walks the first person I’ve ever bought a Heroin from. Within ten minutes of talking to him we started skimming how we can get some in there. I get high there for two days and just decide to leave.

“There are some people on the streets that started talking to me about Jesus: ‘Do you know Jesus?’ And I’m like: ‘Yeah-yeah, Jesus is cool!’ and they’re like ‘I think Jesus is going to show himself to you today.’ The lights on top of the South Mountain, if you look at them from the certain angle you could see the word ‘love’ in the lights. As I’m driving just to find a place to sleep that night – I was mostly just parking in apartment complexes to sleep in my car – I’m looking through my windshield driving down the road and I’m seeing the lights from South Mountain, like in my view. I’m remembering what those kids were saying, like I think you gonna see Jesus today.

“For the next few days it was just a cycle of smoke weed for six month and then start smoking heroin again, maybe go to some meetings again and stop; living in my car; relapsing on heroin, relapsing on heroin, trying to just smoke weed; shooting up heroin again and for the next three years was the worst time of my heroin use. That was when I really-really turned into something bad.

“I’d work jobs but the job would never pay quite enough for my habit so I’d be like stealing. It’s such a weird thing with heroin. You want to be sober but you also… that switch can flip so easily of just anything. When I didn’t have job we would be like flying signs on the side of a freeway saying homeless, can you help. When you by yourself holding a sign on the side of the road you just feel so alone in the world and the only thing that’s gonna bring me any pleasure at that point is getting high.

“There’s so much shame involved in doing heroin for me because I’m coming from this loving family. I’m using drugs right now, so as of today I’d definitely just get high with you.”

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Lee Rosevere, Loopstache, and The Disco Boys

recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

Ep.5 Porn Industry Is Dangerous. It’s Like Drugs

Aly is my next passenger. It was dark when I picked her up. First I saw a silhouette approaching my car. She had a backpack on her shoulder and a skateboard in her hands. We hit it off immediately. We found a lot in common.

“Since you are from the Russian descent I said hey… my grandpa is from Saint Petersburg actually, and I’ve been there few times, Moscow, ballet and stuff. That is the thing a lot of people don’t think about because I look more African American than I do Russian.”

Then she said she works in ‘adult industry.’ I had to ask her several times: ‘What do you mean by that?’ And she told me how it all began and why, at this point, it’s difficult to get out of it.

“It was a year ago when I turned eighteen on October 13th. I went on Craigslist, and it’s like: ‘Cam girls wanted!’ And I’m like: ‘What a joke, ha-ha-ha!’ I’m like: ‘My name is Aly, I’m eighteen years old, fresh out of gate…’ just being cute and spontaneous. It was was really legit, and I was like, this is cool. And I started doing camgirling. It was really hard at first because I didn’t know how to be sexy on camera. I was like, oh shit, when the guys are like, show me your boobs baby, I’m like, that’s so weird. And after six months when they say show me your boobs I’m like: ‘No, fuck you, get tip me first, get money first.’

“Since I’m African American in the porn industry, there are a lot of Russians. A lot of the Russian females I’ve seen they have these nice long hair, really small bodies and that’s what the porn industry wants – really small body girls. White, Spanish, they have a lot of Turkish women, a lot of Swedish and Russian women in the porn industry. They do a lot of soft core, a lot of delicate scenes and then, you know, the darker ones, like Arabian women, Colombians and Black women they do hard core. So we do get put through the worst just because… if someone says hey, I want to choke you for this much money’ we’ll do it if it’s worth enough money.

“Age limit is basically like twenty five and it will be a good-looking twenty five. If you are thirty in adult industry you have to look like basically a child because the popular vote is small, teeny girls who are young. They have these older guys who over-dominate them, that’s what the public likes. So once you’re like twenty five-thirty they are like, either fix yourself and make sure you look hot or you can age and get out of it.

“Their standard is so high, it’s like going into the modeling. You have to be so small. If you want to make five thousand dollars you have to be certain image: very small white girl or very open to do crazy shit like fisting. A lot of girls have altering of their faces, surgery on their genitalia because there’s so much you’re doing to yourself all the time that your sex drive goes down and your vagina looks different after a while. It’s not as young or youthful looking as before. So, with the porn industry I would like to say, fuck it. I don’t like it at all.

“You get this really weird world of guys who… people just need people they could talk to. They pay me just to talk to them and in my head I’m saying, what’s wrong with you? Because people are really lonely and you never realize it until you’re put in that situation where people would literally spend hundred of dollars on you just to talk to you because they’re that lonely. But there are the people who pay me to degrade myself, like there are guys who are in ‘daddy-daughter’ thing, so they’d pretend, hey be my ten-year-old daughter. And there are guys, like people get call me ‘n’ word all the time. It’s a thing, like race play. It’s very taboo and they’re doing that because that’s what they are fantasizing about and after they’re done with me they’re like: ‘Oh, thank you so much, you know, I don’t really mean it, it’s just a fantasy.’ I’m like: ‘I understand how things work.’

“There are those assholes who are mean to you. I get called fat all the time and I get called ugly, but I’m like: ‘Whatever. Fuck you. I’m not your preference.’ I have to be pretty. I have to put makeup on, I have to have standard of myself because everybody is looking at me all the time. Sometimes I wish I would just go back to school, be behind the computer, and just do coding for the rest of my life because having all this attention is ruining a lot of relationship for me. Sometimes my boyfriend is not so accepting of that because the porn industry does make you do few things.

“The money is fast, so quitting is like: ‘Maybe I should quit.’ But living this lifestyle so comfortable – and that’s why the adult industry is so addicting. And there the bad sides, like it’s easy to get into drugs and it’s very dangerous too. That’s how I got – I’m going to get a little personal here – my first STD I got through doing porn and the end result of that is I got pelvic inflammatory disease and now I can’t have kids. Is it still worth it? I’m still doing this adult industry. I may not be doing in the scenes anymore but I’m still in it. After destroying my body why would I continue doing it? It’s just a money and if I don’t have money how am I suppose to live? Getting paid four hundred – five hundred dollars a day, if I’m lucky, is so much easier than standing at a Starbucks and being a barista.

“You think: ‘Oh, who wants to date someone who’s in porn industry?’ It makes you feel like a piece of meet that people have sex with and you don’t look at yourself as a human, you’re like: ‘Ugh…’ It does definitely make me go down into depression because it’s dangerous, it’s like  a drug. Porn can definitely make you feel worthless after a while.  To get my mind off of it I go play music, I go record or I go skateboarding. Little tiny things, like maybe walking my dog or maybe just walking down the train trucks and just talking to myself, like: ‘What are you doing? What do you want? Stop feeling so manic all the time.’

“So the industry is very cut-throat, very ruthless. I wanted to call out for one scene. I was really sick, throwing up, I’m like: ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ And they’re like: ‘Well, we gonna tell your boss and if you don’t want to get fired from you job maybe you should come in.’ I’m like: ‘Okay. I’m coming in.’

“You’d never think that those things going on next to a college or a news station. There’s a school right down the street from this cam girl studio. People don’t know anything until they hear and they’re like: ‘Oh my god, really?’ I’m like: ‘We’re not gonna come out naked and say hi to your children. It’s a business, like any other. We go, do our work and everybody leaves. There’s an audio engineer, we have this light guy. We have all those people and after we’re done we all pack up, get our checks respectfully and leave.

“After a year I’m already tired of it but the money is so consistent and so fast, like you don’t want to stop. I do feel like a loser sometimes because I see my friends and they’re going to Yale, and they’re going to all these cool universities and I’m like: ‘What? Am I stupid?’ At the end of the day, having all these clients is fun and all but it’s like you can’t do it forever. It’s going to destroy who you are.

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Loopstache, The Freeharmonic Orchestra, The Disco Boys

recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

Ep.4 Two Complete Strangers Dealing With Similar Issues

You’ve heard about DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That’s the program that gave protected status to half a million young immigrants who came here illegally as children. My passenger Miguel is one of them.

“You belong to two worlds. When I am out and about I feel I have to be extra American than anybody else just to fit in and then when I’m at home if I say  an English word my mom would flip out on me, like: ‘Oh, can I have some tortillas? No, it’s tortillas.’

He was seven when he was brought to the States. Later his sister was born here which makes her a citizen. Now, I also met Yudidt. Yudidt, as well as her twin sister, are American citizens: “I turned eighteen this year, February fourth. Me and my twin were so happy, we were like: “We gonna be able to vote and we’ll be able to buy a shotgun maybe, if we have money. We gonna be able to buy goldfish.” Yet she has a brother who’s not. He was brought from Mexico when he was a toddler.

Miguel and Yudidt don’t know each other.  They’ve never met and I’ve driven them at different times. But their lives have many similar parallels, or so I thought. The mic goes to Miguel first.


“I was bout six or seven years old when we first arrived in the United States. I remember my mom telling me, pack your bags, we’re leaving. So I just grabbed my little backpack, my toys that I had, few cloths that my mom packed for me and we just got on a bus. I remember it was raining that day and I remember my mom saying: ‘The soldiers are gonna get on the bus. Don’t say anything, let me do all the talking.’ Looking back it was immigration getting on the bus, looking at everybody, everybody just looking straight and then giving them the paperwork. That just happened and we just crossed the border and we came to the United States. Are we ever going back, or? My mom was just: ‘No we’re not going back. We’re not going back.’ We’ve never went back since.

“The decision was pretty much were I grew up you were limited on options. Either I continued to be a farmer, also the secondary option was me becoming a drug lord which is a big no-no. So my mom was pretty much: ‘I don’t want this for you. I want you to do better, you can do better, and we will do better.

“When I was I’d say in my sophomore or freshman the possibility of me getting a Dream Act came up, which is I would pretty much get a social security, I’d be allowed to work, and I’d be allowed to go further my education. Pretty much I was almost a resident without being a resident. I do have to pay a full tuition because the government does not help me out at all. It’s really hard for me to get scholarships. I work and I study, which is already a handful but I’m also trying to do this internship.

“At this moment I have no idea where I stand at a citizenship process. I want to say I am close to it but every time I say it it takes like two more years and nothing happens. I see my sister, she has so many opportunities. Way more than I have right now even with the Dream Act. I came here legally, I have no father, I have just my mother, I am working, I am studying. So I have a lot of things on me and I’m still able to make it work. So the way I see it, I tell my sister, I tell my little cousins: ‘If I can do it you guys have no choice, you guys have no excuses. You can always better yourself, no matter what situation you’re in. Which is what my mom always tells me. She’d be like: ‘Did you get any sleep last night?’ I’d be like: ‘Two-three hours’ and she’d be like: ‘It will be worth it one day, don’t worry.”


“My name is Yudidt Sanchez. My mom and dad immigrated from Mexico to the U.S. when my brother was around three years old. Then five years later my mom had me and my sister Abbie and then five years later my mom had my little sister, so there’s four of us. My dad is from Otomi people. My mom is also indigenous from Mazahua people. I know a little bit of Otomi, some words…

“Growing up I remember my brother, my brother I never saw him doing homework or anything, like he didn’t really care about education. Both of my parents didn’t finish elementary school so my dad, when he was trying to go to Mexico City to work, to be a construction worker he couldn’t because he didn’t know how to read. So you had to actually go back to his village and go to an adult school. I think that really impacts me because I am so blessed to know how to read and write and blessed to be in a community college. When there were going on news, rumors, you know, DACA, and this card. My parents were like: ‘Come-come-come! Let’s hear the news about this.’

“I remember when my dad was like: ‘This is a huge moment. All I’ve wanted is for your brother to get an education like you guys, without having to pay the out of state tuition, which is a lot. It’s fine that I don’t have legal status myself.’ I remember it coming in the mail and I remember my brother opening it and we’re all excited and it wasn’t scary that much.

“Now my brother is doing classes through Mesa Community College. It’s online because he wants to be a web designer. He loves it, he’s always showing me his projects and he’s getting all A’s too. Now that I’m older I realize that my brother didn’t care about the school because he told me: I didn’t have the opportunity, so why would I care?

“I was in early college program and I saw my brother walking into the class. I told my dad: ‘Dad, guess what? I saw my brother at MCC!’ He was like: ‘I’d drive pass that school, I’d look at all those community colleges and would be like, oh my gosh, my kids re gonna be there one day. They gonna see each other.’ My dad started crying, he was like: ‘I dreamed of you guys seeing each other at school and saying ‘hi’ to each other because I’d never picture that to happen.”

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Loopstache and Dure Mere

recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.