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True Stories by Steve Keely
Hobo Memoirs

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Bo swims the Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas, dream bag in hand. September 2005. (Photo by Tom 'Diesel' Dyson)


Art Tyde Visits Sand Valley

Last weekend with Arthur Tyde III in Sand Valley was noteworthy since he may buy a piece of the sandbox.

On Friday night, we bumped dirt tracks from Blythe, Ca. along the fringe of the Cocoa Mt. Gunnery Range, and pulled up to Phil Garlington’s Rancho Costa Nada shortly after sunset. That fired ex-editor of the Blythe rag would land on the Rancho, I commiserated a year ago when he first became chief, because, "Phil, there’s an indirect relationship in this redneck town between competence and longevity. You’ll not last a year at the paper." It was hastened to ten months as he nosed for leads in a jalopy with a bra strap holding shut the hood. This where a man’s ride defines his manhood. " Clean out your desk!" ordered the rag owner one day. " In a civilized place the chief is given notice," he retorted, but found the door nonetheless. He homesteaded Rancho Costa Nada two miles across the Valley from my place, and insulated the hollow dwelling walls with unsold past issues of the Palo Verde Times.

"Advance and state your names and purpose!" a deep voice commanded. "Art Tyde and Bo Keeley seeking a reason to celebrate," I said evenly into the dark. Thirty minutes earlier I'd warned Tyde that if indeed we found the remote shanty, we must drive up – not walk – and be ready. But Phil lowered his night vision goggles, pistol and raised a bottle of Port. "Join the campfire!"

Phil loves fireworks and even as we hunkered, a scant mile off, jets and copters flew in over the Gunnery Range. Whap, Whap went the copters. Burrrr… they gunned wooden tanks. The ground rocked with 1000-lb. bombs, and red tracers from firing jets lined the sky for miles. " My God!" yelled Tyde. " I’m moving here!"

Wine and word circled the campfire. Tyde fetched a hot dog and soda from the trailer, and boiled the dog in it over the fire. He savored it after just having dropped 70 lbs. in six months.

"I took the quantifier’s diet: 1200 calories per day, and the treadmill every night at 10:30pm at 13.5 degrees incline at 3.5mph for 55-minutes that burned 1500 calories."  He’s fit as a puppy tail. Garlington stared dreamily into the flames and asked, "Why are you here?" Tyde answered, "I work hard -- too hard -- and want a retreat. A place to fly to, step out of the plane, and I’m on the moon."

"We’re also here to celebrate," I cut in. “What’s the status of the Sand Valley movie?"

Following the bum’s rush from the Blythe newspaper, Garlington had authored Rancho Costa Nada,a brisk seller at Loompanics Publisher. Just a week ago, he tipped me that a Hollywood agent had bought the movie rights. "Slim chance or none," he groaned, "But think - Sand Valley on screen! I’ll hire you and TJ as consultants, rent everyone’s Star War vehicles, and Hollywood will use Tyde’s airstrip if he buys here." We tossed screenplay ideas around and liked best a utopia set within a dystopia: Misanthropes from assorted walks settle in Sand Valley, but in time they band against the outside threat of blanket incompetence. "Sand Gulch!" I burst. "This is my dream, a rendition of Galt’s Gulch in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged." They nodded into the fire.

As the embers died hours later, Tyde and I boarded his Ford pickup and rattled a track to my place, Scorpion’s Crotch. There sleep came easily as the stars circled above.

Early morn, we unhooked Tyde’s trailer and drove a mile south to TJ’s Freedom Village. He homesteaded it twenty years ago after three tours of Viet Nam and eight years for the Department of Justice at the drug wars in South America and Africa. Cats, dogs, chickens and VWs on blocks smother the 40-acre center like a bullseye.

"Fuck you!" TJ erupted, as I stepped from the foreign truck. "Easy," I cautioned. "Tyde is looking for property" . He recognized Art from a couple years ago when he’d piloted a Piper over my parcel and dropped leaflets instructing me pick him up in town. Now he gazed at Tyde. "Sure you want to live in this hell hole?" Art sighed, "Just to get away from work." "Have I got a property for you!"

"Get in, George," TJ gestured into the Ford. They call me George because someone else in the Valley is named Bo. "Mind if I smoke?" he asked Tyde. "Just open the window," Art said. But I stood my ground.

"The last time we rode," I stared at TJ, "was after I counseled you to sit in an enclosed space and chain smoke an hour, then quit cigarettes forever. You picked a cold night with the windows up and we rolled for an hour. 'George,' you told me. 'Have you ever done me a favor?' Has anyone in this Valley ever done me a favor?You didn’t stop talking or smoking. Every time you said " favor," I farted – 40 times. I’m not going through that again."

"George…" TJ snatched my lapel. I grabbed his wrist quicker than he could think and he twisted out faster still. "…Visit more often."

They pulled off in the Ford, and I fled into the chickens with his wife Laura. " Careful," she forewarned. " Sidewinder got my cat yesterday."

The Ford returned a bit later with Tyde beaming over the wheel. "It’s forty fine, flat acres. With a well with purported sweet water," he gushed. "Sweetest in the Valley," asserted TJ. "He’ll grade me a runway," Art continued. "Perfect!"

At 10pm sharp that night, we revisited the queer Eden called Freedom Village. Arthur Tyde III was about to ride onto the bombing range to salvage 1000-lb.bomb fins.

In the early 1970s, many Valley " pioneers" financed their new digs from the Range. The Quick family in the hills above my place even lived under a giant parachute until their permanent quarters were banged up. Few still scrap the Range where TJ is King having thirty years ago been the Marine MP there. Now he, Tyde and I squatted close to an ancient transformer converted to a stove in the chicken shit at Freedom Village.

"You can get six months in jail if we’re caught," TJ warned. Moths hit the oven. "There are three rules: Stay in the vehicle unless I say get out. Don’t pick up anything. Got it?" Tyde replied, "Understood." Somewhere a coyote howled.

"The third rule is," he said softly, "Don’t panic. You’re my extra set of eyes. If you see lights anywhere, I want to know. Last night I stumbled into the Border Patrol chasing poor wetbacks – six cars to the left of me an’ three to the right of me – but don’t worry cuz nothin’ on wheels catches my Bug. Military helicopters with a blinking red taillight are a different matter." Art just said, "Don’t panic."

Laura came out to check the Bomb Fin Craft in the oven. These beautifully twisted metal sculptures begin with aluminum fins and cores from 91mm mortars carted from the Range. They’re placed atop Ironwood in the oven. "Burns hot enough to disappear a body," she claimed. The mortar melts through the Ironwood that acts as a mold. In the morning, twisted figurines are harvested from the ashes. She breaks them into pleasing (4 – 12’’) sizes, and paints them. " They’ll be hits in Silicone Valley," avows Tyde scooping an armful.

As we waited round the oven for the last aircraft to clear the Range, I whispered to Art to eschew drug talk. TJ lit a ciggie and we warmed our hands at the oven. " I think cigarettes are marijuana without the tax stamp," started Tyde. "Consider how much money the government could make by legalizing and regulating it." The fire crackled. " Buddy," TJ shot back, "You may be right." Art added, "I don’t smoke either myself."

"Why does the fire smell bad?" I stood in the transducer smoke, then vomited. "Funny thing about Ironwood," pumped TJ. " It breaks an axe or a saw, so we gather down-wood that every coyote, rabbit and mammal pisses on." I left them to stupidly walk for fresh air to my place and fell asleep. "You’ll feel better in the morning," my neighbor called.

It was 11:00pm Sunday in a remote desert basin under a star-studded sky when the last jets and copters departed the Range. Speclister Art Tyde and the veteran climbed in a Star Wars vehicle, wheeled slowly up a wash, and entered the bombing range.

"It was a moonscape!" Tyde awoke me the next morning. " Huge bomb fins stuck out the ground among wooden tank targets. A field of hundreds – maybe thousands – of green plastic dummies on posts like a mass crucifixion. We picked up scrap fins and helicopter shells and then talked around the oven until 3am."

My property abuts the Range on the western Valley near the tri-junction of California, Arizona and Mexico. I settled here six years ago as a hermit tryout. The construction has been ongoing. We climbed a spiral staircase to a deck on the semi-trailer (converted inside to an office with waterbed loft) to inspect a new homemade solar panel tracker. Tyde peered along a rope attached to the panels’ frame and down the semi side to a bucket of sand leaking out a penny-nail hole. The sand falls and the frame tilts on a curtain rod axle to track the sun. " Does it work?" he asked. " As soon as I figure how to shorten the day to four hours."

Other innovations since his last visit included exoskeletons to keep trailers from blowing apart in high winds, an underground pantry to cool food and liquids, rain roof catches, sheds built on the Golden Rectangle, and the underground burrow has one face screened for light and ventilation. "This is high-quality low-tech engineering," he declared. I held high a WWII brass shell goblet with six ounces of Gator-Ade.

Shortly, we entered the Ford and rambled round the 100-square mile Valley. I wanted to display real estate options. We jiggled by a parcel once owned by an ancient Mexican who shot the thumb off a sheriff who tried to remove his 1500 used tires. Then past the Little residence where Grandpa recently stopped a military convoy with a shotgun. The Marines shelled his house in retaliation and he won a court settlement for the roof. Then by Cherokee’s Junk Ranch spilling with desert treasures from which I once picked $800 worth of tin and wood and paid with rolled coins. We bumped by Alba the Dog Lady’s long dog house street plus two trailers turned over to cats. One hot day she went to town as I house sat and euthanized a sick kitten with a shovel head. Alba on return clutched the dead, bleeding kitten to her breast and fired me. Onward to Jake’s whose trailer mate Gabby -- a huge man with half his face and head shaved -- shot Jake in the privates for playing bad radio music. Further on, the Shofeld spread with an orchard and well has been for sale for ten years since old man Shofeld died by own alkaline water and the ashes at his request were spread over the Jojoba bush plantation, his dream oil replacement in the '70s energy crisis.

"The time to buy is ripe," I urged Tyde. "Last summer’s heat killed 30% of the Valley population - down to seven." Art only had eyes for TJ’s plot.

"This is it!" he jumped out the pickup onto a cactus flat. An 8’’ well pipe announced the 950’ well in a corner of the staked parcel. " I’ll build in three stages: First, a well building to protect the water. Second, scrape a 10’-deep trench for an RV drive-through garage. Third," he pointed to a hard pan strip, " TJ will grade an airstrip."

I first met Art Tyde in 1985 at a hobo sociology class at a Michigan college. He sat quietly in the back week after week behind thick glasses absorbing every detail. At graduation, he showed at my office and asked, "Teach me how to hop a freight cross-country with pocket change." His pockets were shallow still on return, so he got married for wedding cash for gas to his first paying job inside a Texas cubicle. Somehow, I knew he’d make it out.

He started as a prodigy tinker. At ten, he built a robot maid from a vacuum cleaner motor, bike basket and ice pick with a light sensor that chased his mother around the basement with the pick jabbing at her high heels. At eleven, a homemade 3’-diameter artificial lightning ball rolled into father’s office and blew out the windows. At thirteen, he brewed Pooh Juice in retort to the neighborhood bully, a dreadful concoction wired to the backyard power line that fermented ten days and exploded killing the neighbor pets, evacuating and yellow-taping the block.

This is the man who brought you Linux-Care and Sputnik.

"I’m working my ass off at two six-figure jobs, but something’s missing…a remote office. I can work both jobs 'virtually' anywhere. I want to do it in a place no one can find, yet I stay in constant touch with the San Fran office. The key to the virtual operation is the Splash trailer we unhooked. This," he spread his arms over the tract, "may be the spot to park it." The trailer resembles any 18’ National Road Splash on the highway because Tyde wired and remolded it while taking pains to keep the original appearance. However, it may be the highest tech trailer on the planet.

"I wake up in the morning and it’s like home and office, except I step outside into Sand Valley. If I buy this property, everyone gets free water, phone and hi-speed wireless Internet service. "The sun sinks pink in the west. "I’m here because I planned it that way, and because it’s a better workplace."

Everyone in Sand Valley has a proven inability to adjust to society. "I can make it here," says Art Tyde. " If I need a break, I’ll catch an updraft."

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