‘GUILTY’

November 8, 2011

Multimedia journalist Justin O’Brien reports from outside the Los Angeles Criminal Court House on the Doctor Conrad Murray guilty verdict. Dr Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of pop star Michael Jackson in 2009.

Reported, filmed, written and edited by Justin O’Brien.

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‘A FEW EXTRA BUCKS’

August 9, 2010

When I first arrived in Los Angeles in December 1993 – almost 17 years ago, it wasn’t unusual to see a homeless person pushing a shopping cart half full of drink cans and plastic

'SORTING THE STREET GOLD'

'Sorting The Street Gold'

bottles, on their way to recycle their loot for cash.

With this knowledge – I was recently intrigued by the number of regular Angelino’s who were using the recycling facilities, once the domain of the homeless.

In June, drove to my local Rite Aid drug store to purchase five litres of coolant for my Jeep (yes, you can purchase almost anything in an American drug store), when I was distracted by the large number of people at the rear of the parking lot.

These people weren’t there to shop at the drug store – but to use the recycling centre, operating out of an old shipping container.

“It’s better than putting it in the ocean” says Maria, a woman in her twenty’s who along with boyfriend Felix and her brother Michael have spent the past month collecting and storing their used plastic bottles and cans. “.. thousands and thousands of bottles end up in the ocean every year” she continues.

But, Michael and Felix’s motivations for recycling are more honest. “Why do I recycle?” asks Felix as he answers his own question, “Cause it’s good for the environment and at the end of the month when money is low, use the extra money.” Michael then pipes in – “… it just helps make extra cash every month.”

'Loaded Up With Recyclables'

'Loaded Up With Recyclables'

During the hour I am filming at the Vine Street, Hollywood recycling facility more than fifty people pull up in cars – men and women, families and unload their recyclable trash.

“It’s 50 percent homeless and 50 percent are people who the economy sucks for them right now. So they’re doing this on the side” claims Bakri, the owner of the Vine Street centre and two additional facilities several blocks away.

With money tight, either because of the ten percent and climbing unemployment rate due to the downturn in the US economy or fall-out from the sub-prime mortgage crisis, people now realise the recycling facility is a way to supplement their income with a few tax free dollars.

Homeless men like Dan and Julian, who I met don’t worry about these people with roofs over their head muscling in on their trade. “You know when I was born in my baby crib, I dreamed that I was going to push a cart and jump in dumpsters” says Dan in a threatening frustrated manner. “We’ll recycle anything that isn’t tired down.”

Julian is friendlier when questioned about his days. Pushing a cart He and Dan work as a team – ‘We got to walk a lot of mother fuck’en miles to get a little bit of money’ says Julian.

'Sorted' - 'Cash For Cans'

'Sorted' - 'Cash For Cans'

The Rite Aid parking lot and its daily transaction of pounds to dollars, says a lot about the current state of the American economy. Gone are the days when the homeless had a monopoly on LA’s street recycling business.

NOTE: The imperial system of measurement is used in the above article. The metric conversion is: one kilo of glass = US$0.24, one kilo of aluminium = US$3.31 and one kilo of plastic = US$2.05


‘MEMORIAL DAY’

May 24, 2009

(VIDEO STORY ABOUT MEMORIAL DAY AT THE LOS ANGELES NATIONAL CEMETERY)

The best way to describe Memorial Day to an Australian – is to say it’s the American version of ANZAC Day without the pub crawl! A time to remember those who have fallen in battle, survived to come home and anyone who has served.

An American Flag

An American Flag

An American tradition on Memorial Day, is to place an American flag at the grave site of past soldiers, sailors and airmen. No small task considering the numbers. At the Military cemetery in Los Angeles an army of volunteers is enlisted to answer the call – usually Scouts, Cubs and Girl Guides.  

From a foreigners point of view – it’s a very powerful and moving sight .. thousands of kids, American flags in hand – following tradition and struggling to push a 50 centimeter long flag into the soil. 

One of the 58 thousand flags placed around the LA National Cemetery

One of the 58 thousand flags placed around the LA National Cemetery

I asked a mother dressed as a Scout Leader why are American’s so patriotic? She replied .. ‘American’s come from everywhere, we believe in what this country stands for  – today is about respect, honor and freedom. Australian’s have fought for freedom .. you are just like us’. I agreed. Although, patriotism seems easier for American’s .. the colour combination of ‘red, white and blue’ lends itself to self promotion – unlike Australia’s ‘green and gold’ and that ‘Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi’ chant which makes me wish I was Canadian!

Back to Memorial Day .. the Mum summed the morning up best in five words that followed our conversation – (referring to her son, hand on his shoulder) ‘.. his father is in Iraq’. You may not agree with the decision .. but you support the troops. 

America is at War – Waring at a level not seen since Vietnam.

Walking around the LA Cemetery and looking at the headstones, one name soon blends into another. Many of the men buried there lived long lives – into their 70’s and 80’s .. they fought for their Country .. and they came home. But, what jumps out

21 years old

21 years old

is the unmistakable difference between a new headstone and an old one. The faded weathered lettering .. compared to the black stenciled look. 

Private First Class Jin Su Ong stood out. Ong an American, born in 1987 was just 21 when he died in Iraq this year. It made me think .. in 1987 I was in College living life and at 21, I was traveling the world. What would you have missed out on if your life had ended at 21? No disrespect to the other veterans .. but Ong lived in my time. 

For all the symbolism of today, most of the Scouts who playfully raced to plant the flags at each headstone are too young to understand the meaning of Memorial Day – that’s a good thing. PFC Jin Su Ong was forced to grow up too early.

(BELOW ARE ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN AT THE LOS ANGELES NATIONAL CEMETERY – JUSTIN O’BRIEN, 5/23/09)

 

'The Scouts'

'The Scouts'

 

'Flags On Guard'

'Flags On Guard'


‘WILDFIRE’

May 14, 2009

(An eyewitness account of the Santa Barbara Wildfire as strong winds threatened to blow the blaze into the City.)

Santa Barbara is best known as a weekend escape from the smog and traffic of Los Angeles. Two hours up Highway One .. SB – ‘White, Quite and Wealthy’ .. I’d never ventured far from the tourist strip until a Wildfire threatened to engulf the City this week.

Employed by CBS News to film, edit and transmit footage for Correspondents Manuel Gallegus and Hari Sreenivasan – it was a ticket to the frontline of the Wildfire.  

'Give me your left shoulder forward!'

'Give me your left shoulder forward!'

Unlike Bushfires (Australian’s call Wildfires, Bushfires) I’d covered in Australia – most notable by their constant hot strong winds, the Santa Barbara fire was different. It rested during the day and came alive with the afternoon breeze, Santa Barbara locals call ‘Sundowners’. In Hawaii it would the name of a cocktail.    

The odd thing about covering fires in the USA is the unlimited access given to the ‘media’. While police road blocks prevented residents from checking on their homes – a flash of a your media credentials in Santa Barbara and you were free to travel anywhere in the fire zone.

In Australia – a Police road block is a road block and no amount of ‘fast’ talking will get you through. Thank God for the First Amendment – Freedom Of The Press.

But it’s a Freedom you don’t abuse. Covering a Malibu Wildfire years ago – a Police Officer waved me through a road block saying: ‘You now have the right to go and get yourself killed!’ And he was right.

It’s not until you drive the winding backstreets, roads, terraces and drives in the foothills of Santa Barbara that you comprehend the City’s wealth. Old money, new money .. does it really matter, it’s still money. 

(A tour through the burnt out remains of two Santa Barbara homes.)

No matter how many Bushfires, Wildfires or House fires I’ve seen – it still amazes me what survives and what melts. I’ve seen letter boxes untouched while to house is reduced to a concrete slab.

'The Burnt-Out Remains Of Two Houses'

'The Burnt-Out Remains Of Two Houses'

 

'Cooked'

'Cooked'

 

 

But, one thing that’s forever constant is the brave determination of fire fighters to save property – houses, cars, boats, sheds .. whatever. Filming from a house threatened by the Wildfire on Day Two – a Fire Captain told me: ‘We’re going to stand here and fight it .. we’re not going to let it get this house.’ They were unforgettable words in the face of frightening uncertainty. We left as the sky turned black or  as we say ‘from day to night’. The house survived albeit a little smoky, but unscratched.      

Here unlies a Wildfire secret not spoken about. The decision on what house will be protected and what house will not. Officially, houses cleared of vegetation are easier to defend than ones surrounded by trees and grass – and professional fire fighters make that judgement. 

Personal involvement, friendship, influence and association also play a part. At one house surrounded by trees and grass in the SB foothills, the owner admitted the firemen were there because they were his friends. Fair or unfair .. if you’re going to risk your life fighting a fire, you’d prefer to do it for a friend. 

When I told this story to a mate whose house is in a known LA City fires zone, he said .. ‘Thanks, I’d better go and make friends with some fire fighters.’ 


‘BUYER BEWARE’

April 30, 2009
THE JEEP

THE JEEP

When I first heard the term ‘Caveat Emptor’ (Buyer Beware) in a business class – I thought ‘cool’ Latin, but having just purchased a second hand Jeep I understand its meaning, in plan English.

         Okay – the 1992 Jeep 4×4 Sport was a bargain. Advertised on ‘Craigslist’ saying it required a new alternator – after a test-drive the Jeep’s owner Daniel Holzman accepted my 12 hundred dollar offer. I returned late the next afternoon, paid his Dad (John) the cash and off I drove into the darkness.

         I got two miles up the road when without warning the radio died, all the lights in the dashboard went out and the engine started to ‘skip’-‘chug’ and ‘stumble’ (It ran great during a test drive the day before).

         Aware I wasn’t going to get far – I started to drive North, hoping to make it to the safer streets of Santa Monica where I could crash park my wounded vehicle. My journey ended 30 blocks later outside an industrial complex at the corner of Olympic and 20th Street.

What's in a name?

What’s in a name?

Immediately I called Daniel’s father John to explain what had happened. He said quote: ‘Oh .. no .. I can’t believe that. My son wouldn’t sell you a dud – let me speak to him. I don’t want you out of pocket on this .. I want to make this right!’

         In the darkness, I arranged a tow truck then telephoned Daniel Holzman who is working as a chef in New York. ‘Oh ..’ he said .. ‘my Dad did say the lights looked a little dim when you drove off!’ Daniel offered to take the car back – but I liked the car. Then came the statement of truth (Daniel) ‘I thought you would have at least made it home!’ We came to a verbal agreement to reimburse me for the

The Dints Show Character!

The Dints Show Character!

towing and taxi fare home.

         Carlo’s the tow truck driver arrived an hour later and we dropped the Jeep off at Pep Boys workshop. The repairs came to $500.

The next day I left a message on Daniel’s cell phone, telling him I was now on the road and gave a breakdown of the costs for towing and a taxi. He never called me back. So I telephoned John, his Dad. ‘Oh … I’m not taking money out of my pocket’, he said. ‘It’s an issue between you and Daniel’.

Feeling I had been ‘Somali Pirated’ after recounting down the phone line his commitments made two days before, I slipped into LA mode – ‘something along the lines of how was he going to sleep tonight with a crooked back!’

I didn’t pursue the issue after that. I could use the cash, but any funds reimbursed would have had been tainted – sometimes it’s best just to walk away.

But for what’s worth, I did learn a practical lesson no lecturer could ever teach – Buyer Beware or ‘Caveat Emptor’ for those who speak Latin.