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3:28 am
Sun May 25, 2014

Bring Out Your Junk: A Day In The Life Of A Scrapper

Originally published on Sun May 25, 2014 9:51 am

The first thing you notice about Andy Ramirez is his 1988 Toyota truck.

The bed is pretty small, but Ramirez has built it up with wooden sidings supported by metal bars welded to the hood. Almost every day, he will try and fill it up with scrap metal from the streets of L.A.

"Little by little my truck is full," Ramirez says. "Sometimes it's one thing, sometimes it's a lot."

Ramirez is a scrapper; one of the scores of people who collect discarded pieces of metal off the streets and recycle them for cash. In the U.S., scrap metal is a $90-billion-a-year industry, and about half that comes from people like Ramirez.

On a recent day, his first find is an air conditioner sitting on the curb. He says it's worth about $10 in scrap. Between the air conditioner, some sheet metal and a washing machine, at the end of the day it's a good haul.

When Ramirez first arrived in Los Angeles from Mexico City, he was working as an upholsterer at an RV factory. It wasn't a great job.

"No pay overtime. The lunchtime, too, is sometimes 15 minutes. Sometimes 20," he says. Instead, Ramirez bought a truck and started collecting scrap metal.

Ramirez says he makes around $100 a day. The job takes him down the same streets and alleys over and over again, and he has gotten to know the residents. It's not like Ramirez is the repo man; people like him. They look out for him.

"The kids tell me, 'Hey Andy, take my bicycle for your son,' " he says. "Sometimes I have a lot of stuff in my house. A lot."

Ramirez has built a life for his family of eight, but he says it can be hard for his kids to have a scrapper for a dad. Like when he drops them off at school in his truck.

"They say, 'Hey, don't leave me at front of school, leave me at corner!' " he says. "I say no ... this is my job.' "

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In big cities, if you leave an old appliance out on the curb or in an alley, there's a pretty good chance it'll be gone by the next day. But who picked it up? Miles Bryan, in Los Angeles, went to find out.

MILES BRYAN, BYLINE: The first thing you notice about Andy Ramirez is his truck.

ANDY RAMIREZ: '88 Toyota pickup. Four cylinders.

BRYAN: The bed is pretty small, but Ramirez has built it up with wooden siding supported by metal bars welded to the hood. Today, like almost every day, he will try and fill it up with scrap metal.

RAMIREZ: Yeah. Little by little, my truck is full. Sometimes one thing, sometimes a lot.

BRYAN: Ramirez is a scrapper. He's one of the scores of people that collected discarded pieces of metal off the streets of Los Angeles and recycle them for cash.

In the U.S., scrap metal is a $90 billion-a-year industry, and about half that comes from people like Ramirez. The first find of the day is an air conditioner sitting on the curb.

RAMIREZ: Over the time, it's more better do a lot of noise because the neighbors keep watching. And the guy say, oh, it's the guy. He's picking up the metal.

BRYAN: How much is this worth - this AC unit?

RAMIREZ: That one, I think so - $10.

BRYAN: When he first arrived in LA from Mexico City, Ramirez was working as an upholsterer at an RV factory. It wasn't that great of a job.

RAMIREZ: No pay overtime, the lunchtime, too, is something 15 minute, sometimes 20. I tell my wife, hey, I go buy my truck because it's giving more money, really. Yeah. And I start.

BRYAN: Ramirez says he makes around $100 a day. The job takes him down the same streets and alleys over and over again. And he's gotten to know their residents. It's not like Ramirez is the repo man. People like him. The lookout for him.

RAMIREZ: Yeah. The kids tell me, hey, Andy, take my bicycle for your son. Really? Yes. OK. Sometimes have a lot of stuff in my house - a lot. My wife - oh, again.

BRYAN: Ramirez has built a life for his family of eight, but he says it can be hard for his kids to have a scrapper for a dad. Like when he drops them off at school in his truck.

RAMIREZ: They say hey, hey, hey. Don't leave me in the front of the school. Leave me in the corner. No, no, no, son. This is my job.

BRYAN: Air-conditioner, sheet-metal, looked at a washing machine - at the end of the day, it was a good hall. For NPR News, I'm Miles Bryan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.