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True Stories by Steve Keely
Hobo Memoirs


A Day in the Desert

My day begins with a squint through the periscope at an ocean of sand and cactus above my burrow. I climb the wood stairs ten vertical feet to the surface into a wave of hot morning sunshine. Two giant Desert Iguanas rush up and leap on my bare feet to escape the burning sand. I just stand and chortle… It's another day in Sand Valley, California.

This morning, however, I climb in my hollowed out Ford and bump the track for thirty minutes to a County road and, for the first time in years, turn right instead of left. The route soon takes me to a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint where a patrolman asks, 'Where are you going?' 'To Mexico to visit the dentist,' I answer. 'Where are you coming from?' I point over his shoulder to the vast Valley abutting a Bombing Range and say, 'Twenty mile over there.' He guffaws and thumbs me by with, 'Miserable place, Senior. Have a good break.'

In thirty minutes I cross the border into Algodones, Mexico, switch gears into Spanish, and park on the main stem lined with a hundred doctor and dentist offices, optometrists and pharmacies. Gringo droves ply these shops for professional health care at rock bottom fees during the winter; however, today the offices are vacant save skeleton staffs praying for rare bargain hunters. I open the bright orange door of the Valdez Dental Group office and step into air-conditioning that nearly knocks me off my feet. A minute later I sink deep into the reclined cushion chair. My pulse drops to 45 per minute in the midst of a root canal. Then the filling, crown, checkup and clean. I walk out in a few hours with a white grin for just $300!

I got to thinking in that dentist chair about my dwindling bank account and the coming opportunities this Fall. I am a Sub-teacher in Blythe, Ca. that was a left turn out my property; notwithstanding, this morning I went right via the unfamiliar Brawly Ca. to reach Mexico. I'll investigate this new community, I urged myself.

The road back into Brawly courses a square-mile cattle feedlot where as many cows as citizens resemble zebras on the Serengeti standing under their shade slats. A local provides directions to the school district office where I drive inside a hurricane fence that also hems tractors and old school buses. I step into a freshly painted building and a fellow who looks like a gym teacher charges up and vigorously shakes my hand asking, 'How may I help you? I'm the assistant Superintendent.'

I explain that I'm a Sub-teacher looking for work. 'We need you. The pay is $95 a day plus $.40 per mile (roundtrip) driving.' I clarify that I live 50 miles off in Sand Valley. He blinks and replies, 'We want you.'

A comparison of Blythe to Brawly springs to my mind. Blythe lies in a rich County on an Interstate with a prison at the town limit. It stinks of authority and welfare, and I don't like it. Brawly lies in the poorest County on a country lane and every Fall the 17,000 citizens board buses for San Diego to watch their high school football team win the state championship. Though only 100 miles apart, the two towns are opposites. 'You got me!' I choose.

That's how quickly you can pivot in life with an open mind, education and analysis.

An hour of forms and fingerprints later, I sign on as a Sub-teacher. I also open a post office box and bank account, and drive out of town at sunset. I blow past the checkpoint where the guard waves me into Sand Valley. I thread the track and turn into the drive of my burrow. A tame packrat greets me like a wife, I stroke it, grab a book from a semi-van library and descend my burrow to read to sleep by DC light. Before fading on a waterbed there is a flash: It's going to be a great year!

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