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'Troca' territory

March 16, 2013|By Camilo Jose Vergara
(Camilo Jose Vergara / For…)

I can't keep myself from following trocas. They're slow-motion lessons in logistics and enterprise. They ease around corners. They brake for bumps. I see them parked at gas stations or on the streets east of South Central, in Compton, in East L.A., objects worthy of inspection and admiration. What did the driver find this time? How did he build his load? How does he keep it from falling?

The trocas move out before dawn. The drivers comb the alleys of Santa Monica, West Los Angeles, Venice Beach and the rest of L.A.'s affluent neighborhoods, ahead of the sanitation trucks. Some collectors are eclectic, scavenging anything they can sell. Others specialize in metal, electronics, mattresses, or cans and bottles bought from those who gather them on foot, then delivered to recyclers that pay the best.

What is lifted from Santa Monica, West L.A. and Venice may land in Calexico, Baja, or downtown. The going rate for a load of mattresses? About $150.

Collecting is a steady job, a family business, with wives, children or siblings who help load and unload the trucks. One driver told me he'd been at it for more than a decade. Another said that, as a scavenger, he made more than twice what he would working for McDonald's, and he was his own boss. They pick the city clean. (They are disappointed that their contributions aren't recognized by the authorities.)

Maybe one day the collector kids — wide-eyed, heads barely visible above the dashboard — will turn their memories into fresh visions of L.A: A troca guide to sunrises, party neighborhoods, homeless encounters, the most-used movie locations, the biggest rats, troca-LAPD diplomacy, framed by freeway overpasses, telephone poles to infinity, downtown alleyways.

Camilo Jose Vergara is a photographer and New York resident who spends part of every year in Los Angeles. Camilojosevergara.com

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