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The Exterminatrix

Photo by Jack Gould

Josie Trevino is one of the very few women in pest control. A war map of Los Angeles decorates the reception area of her company, Desert Bug Stormers. There are red, white and blue pins tacked at points from Riverside to Corona to the San Fernando Valley, radiating outward in a loose nebula with Desert Bug Stormers, in San Pedro, at the center. Each pin is a house or an apartment being fumigated for termites.

Termites are their own classification, requiring a separate state license. They are the only insect officially negotiated in the real estate process, which places them on a higher karmic stratum than, say, roaches. Home buyers cannot close escrow until they get a report certifying that a house is termite-free. And yet, out of 20 houses around San Pedro, maybe one doesn’t have termites. Termites are money. The first year, Desert Bug Stormers made a quarter of a million dollars, she says. The second year, they made half a million. The third, some $970,000.

At the San Pedro Desert Bug headquarters, Josie commands five trucks, with four men per truck. She has “inspectors” to do the termite reconnaissance, scope out the enemy’s characteristics (wood or subterranean termites) and the size of the infestation. The “applicators” nuke the bugs with Vikane gas. The “fumigators” and tent guys put up the circus-tent tarps. There are, according to her estimate, 2,460 termite companies around Southern California. Sometimes she bumps into a competitor, but they ignore each other, like passing armies maneuvering at night. “If another termite company came and built an office next to me, that would not represent no competition to me. NO,” she said sternly, as if reprimanding a naughty child. “I think about termites all the time. When I get to a friend’s house for dinner, I start inspecting. You feel it. You’re looking in corners while you’re knocking on doors looking for evidence.”

Eight other companies have grown out of hers. It is a termite dynasty ruled by queens — sisters, sisters-in-law, daughters, mothers. In the future, Josie’s daughter, who is in the 11th grade, will inherit a legion of Desert Bugs. “I told her, give me four or five years, I can have a Desert Bug chain, like Orkin. And you can manage it.” She will be a one-woman, million-termite CEO. Once, Josie knocked down a tunnel of subterranean termites in an apartment basement, and thousands of termites flew out. They swarmed in a cloud above her head, rushed blindly into her hair. She did not scream.


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