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Play Next: New podcast explores why a man went unidentified for more than 15 years

Good morning, I’m Paige Hymson, a podcast producer here at The Times. How did an unconscious man remain unidentified for more than 15 years? In a brand-new podcast brought to you by L.A. Times Studios, investigative reporter Joanne Faryon set out to answer that question. Her two-year journey is filled with twists and turns as she tracks down the truth in her new podcast. You can listen to Episodes 1 and 2 right now and subscribe wherever you listen. Episode 3 will be available Aug. 1.

Q & A

I spoke with reporter and host Joanne Faryon about the origins of this podcast.

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How did you discover the story?

In 2014, I was working for a San Diego news site on an investigative series about people kept alive on life support in California nursing homes: more than 4,000 in the state. At the end of my reporting, the nursing home director told me about a man, a John Doe, who was in a vegetative state and had been kept alive at the nursing home for 15 years. They didn’t know his real name, but they called him 66 Garage. No one was certain why, but they believed it had something to do with the place where his van was towed after he crashed in the California desert. They also believed he was an undocumented immigrant trying to cross the border when his accident happened. The nursing home let me report on 66 Garage, with the hope it might help identify him.

Why did you decide to make this a podcast?

I don’t know that I have a simple answer to that question. I have a long background in radio and investigative reporting, so it was a good fit. But I also think podcasts give journalists a chance to tell these complex stories, with all their nuance and twists and turns, in a more compelling and complete way than traditional journalism. We get to speak directly to the audience. In this case, I had a personal connection, one that I begin to reveal in Episode 1, and a podcast felt like a natural way to include that in my storytelling.

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What can we look forward to hearing about?

At first, you might think this is a story about trying to learn a man’s name, but that’s only the beginning. What is far more complicated is trying to figure out whether 66 Garage is conscious. Is he aware? Can he understand language: Is he sad? Lonely? The podcast hits on three themes: immigration, consciousness and human connection. There’s also a miracle that happens, one that brings a lot of surprise and light into the story.

The sign above Garage’s bed in the nursing home reveals blank spaces leaving many identifying questions about him unanswered.
The sign above Garage’s bed in the nursing home reveals blank spaces leaving many identifying questions about him unanswered.
(Joanne Faryon)

What made the story resonate with you?

As you’ll begin to hear in Episode 1, I have a personal connection to the story that has to do with my mother. I had spent nearly a year reporting on people on life support, and there was something that made me not want to give up this story. I actually quit my job to go on this podcast journey. I also became a little obsessed with the idea that 66 Garage was lying in a bed all this time alone and disconnected from the world and the people he loved. I could think of nothing sadder.

Garage’s hospital bracelet reads: “GARAGE, SIXTYSIX,” the naming convention used to identify the unconscious man.
Garage’s hospital bracelet reads: “GARAGE, SIXTYSIX,” the naming convention used to identify the unconscious man.
(Joanne Faryon)

What else can you tell us about your investigation? What surprised you most?

What I learned is that the moment this man crossed the border, he lost his humanity. It speaks to a bureaucratic disregard in both the immigration and healthcare systems. The people who care for Garage in the nursing home are compassionate, it’s the system that treats him as less than human. But, despite the grim topic, I promise there are moments that will make you laugh and fill you with hope. All along the way, once people learn about Garage’s story, they want to help solve the mystery. I was most surprised and inspired by what I learned about resilience and our ability to find joy in the most unexpected places.

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Picks of the week

Each week, different Times staff members will share their personal podcast recommendations with you. Here’s what Mike Heflin, an audio engineer at L.A. Times Studios, is listening to now.

The School of Greatness,” Lewis Howes: This motivational, inspirational self-help podcast takes you to school. Howes really gets his guests to open up. He takes deep dives into the minds of the greats and what practices they took to get where they are. I was looking for something to listen to on my morning commute to work. This is a great find! A positive yet educational way to start my day. There are over 800 episodes, so there’s a lot to catch up on.

Pensado’s Place,” Pensado’s Place: Already having been a huge fan of “Pensado’s Place” on YouTube for the past couple of years, I naturally enjoy the audio version of the series. It’s hosted by the one and only Grammy Award-winning mixer/engineer Dave Pensado and co-host Herb Twarick, a veteran manager and producer. This podcast is a one-stop shop if you’re looking to sharpen your skills, learn new techniques or gain insight into what gear and plug-ins the pros are using to get that award-winning sound. As an audiophile, you couldn’t ask for more from this informative podcast from the legends of audio.

Hoops on Fox Podcast,” Fox Sports: As an avid NBA fan, I wanted to find a podcast that would give me all things NBA. I recently discovered this podcast, and with all the free agency this summer, it’s like the season never ended. Chris Broussard is the host of the “Hoops on Fox Podcast” and has an extensive background from working in the NBA. Plus, his guests help keep you up to date with all the latest.

Coming Up:

Next time on “Room 20:” There’s a major breakthrough in possibly identifying the unconscious man, but will he recognize his name? Episode 3 is available Aug. 1 and episode 4 is available Aug. 6.

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