The Pirate

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Johnny O calls his one-story San Pedro home the "boy's house."
He lives there with his two sons, John Ostoich Jr. and Joey Ostoich.
Photo by Lu Olkowski

Early morning sunlight streams through the blinds as John Ostoich pours his first bourbon of the day. Johnny O, as he’s known, has spent most of his 68 years working on the San Pedro waterfront. His skin is leathery and creased after decades of working on the docks, but he still has a twinkle in his eye. “The ocean is my mistress,” he says. “She is beautiful and dangerous.”

For decades Johnny O worked as a linesman, literally using rope to secure the ships to the docks. It’s one of the oldest and most dangerous jobs at the port. Depending on the size of the ship, the rope can be over a foot in diameter and take up to three men to handle. “This will take your legs off,” Johnny O says about a one such rope called the anaconda.

“I’ve seen a crew member get his head chopped off laying on the top of a deck of a ship,” says Johnny O.

Johnny O has seen a lot of change at the San Pedro waterfront and has had to adapt. Before working as a linesman, he was a commercial fisherman. When that industry moved overseas, he became a master mechanic in the longshore union. Finally, he settled in at the Lines Bureau as a dispatcher, a so-called “antique” in charge of the linesmen who report for work on the docks day and night. He says it’s an easy job reserved for men too old to be hauling lines. But antique? He prefers to think of himself as a pirate.

Reporting by Lu Olkowski. Produced by Lu Olkowski and Brendan Baker. Sound Design and mix by Brendan Baker. Edited by Sean Cole and Samara Freemark.

Johnny O: The Pirate’s Story was produced for CARGOLAND, a series produced in 2014 by KCRW It took you behind the gates of the LA and Long Beach ports. You can see more photos of Johnny O, and listen to all of the stories from CARGOLAND, at

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"Kids never did anything wrong coming into this world, bottom line," says Johnny O of his children.
Photo by Lu Olkowski

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"When I die they're gonna throw my ashes out there off the stern of the boat going full speed upwind. So the ashes all come back on everybody that's watching. Crazy huh? I'm going overboard full speed ahead upwind."
Photo by Lu Olkowski

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Bob Carlson


Bob Carlson, Lu Olkowski