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Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

Homeless Couple Drive Home the Point of an Ad

January 18, 2003|Doug Leigh | Doug Leigh is an assistant professor of education at Pepperdine University's Graduate School of Education and Psychology.

This month, I had the opportunity to help in the production of a 30-second public service announcement produced by Women in Film for the Women's Care Cottage.

Virtually all the equipment was donated for the shoot, and everyone volunteered their time.

My own role in the commercial was minimal: moving sandbags, laying cable and hauling gear from the trucks to the location.

But as small as my contribution was, I was to learn that it was for an important cause.

The commercial tells of a young, single mom working two jobs -- in the day as a checkout clerk at a supermarket and at night as a waitress in a diner.

The next scene is a close-up of mom cuddling her daughter in bed.

"I love you, Mommy," the girl says. "I love you too," the mom answers.

As the camera pulls out from the close-up, we realize mom isn't tucking her daughter into bed, but rather they're settling in for the night in the back of a dated and overloaded Volvo station wagon parked on the street.

In the background, inside a warm, Norman Rockwell-style middle-class home, a family finishes its evening meal at the dinner table.

A voice-over tells us that more than half of the homeless in Los Angeles are women and children.

The shoot began at 5:30 a.m. and wrapped at 10 p.m. By the time all the equipment was packed away in the trucks, it was after 11.

On the ride home, I came across a car stalled in an intersection.

Like the car in the commercial, it was a station wagon. Like the car in the commercial, it was jampacked with boxes and personal belongings -- and even had things strapped to the roof.

But unlike the car in the commercial, it wasn't a comfortable Volvo, but rather a nondescript American model.

With its rusted blue California plates and two broken windows covered with taped translucent plastic of the sort used on homes under construction, it looked as if it should have been scrapped years ago.

As the female driver tried to get the car started, the passenger pushed the stalled vehicle out of the intersection.

He was 30ish, with a scruffy beard, and he looked as though he hadn't bathed in days.

I got out of my car and offered to help push theirs to the side of the road, but he modestly declined.

He explained that there was a problem with the starter and that they probably shouldn't be driving it anyway.

Eventually, the woman got the car started and they drove away.

They didn't stop at the next stoplight. Instead, they turned off into a parking lot -- I presume to keep the car rolling and avoid another stall.

This couple, apparently, were among the county's homeless.

I don't know quite how to describe the feeling of coming across a real-life version of what we were just filming. Of life imitating art, film theorists might say. But I do know that it raised my awareness of the hardships faced by the poor and how they so often go unnoticed in our lives.

And how fortunate we are to be on the other side of the camera.

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