“It isn’t the heat, it’s the stupidity. Keep busy and don’t drink too many cold drinks and heat will never bother you.”
—George “Mack” McCarthy, Victorville real estate promoter
People have been asking me, “Hey, Yasha, what the hell is going on Victorville?” Well, I want to say not a whole lot, but I’d be lying.
Gale force winds howl across trash studded desert day and night. Dogs bark in unison every time a firetruck drives by, which happens often. There are traffic jams on church days and packs of greasy Harley-Davidson outlaws patrolling the streets on Saturdays and Sundays, too. There are a lot of fat people; many of them 18-year-old girls with kids.
There’s also quite a bit of colorful crime. Yesterday, a No Country For Old Men-style firefight broke out right next to an elementary school, with one guy pulling out a shotgun and blasting away at another guy who was taking cover behind a pickup truck.
The local paper has a pretty confusing account of it:
“Deputy Osvaldo Pelayes learned one of the men pulled out a concealed shotgun and fired at one of the men, sheriff’s officials said.
The intended victim hid behind a truck parked in the backyard of the home in the 16000 block of Verde Street, Hunt said.
The shooter stepped into the home’s backyard and fired at the man again, striking the rear window of the truck, she said. The attacker then ran away.
The victim was struck in the head with a stick when he emerged from behind the truck, Hunt said.”
Hold on. What happened to the shotgun? What stick are they talking about? Did it strike him when it fell off a tree, loosened as it was by the buckshot? Or did his buddy strike him in the head for not standing up and fighting like a real man? Maybe some deranged housewife ran out with a broom and started pummeling the guy for getting her hubby’s truck sprayed with pellets?
The police blotter here has a Russian provincial quality to it. A lot of dumb criminals, cracked out parents and a general booze and drug-addled idiocy all around. All of it invariably followed by random penalties handed down by the courts and shoddy reporting from the local journos. Here’s a sample for the past few days: A man sentenced to 1 year in jail for failing to notice that his 3-year-old son was getting cooked alive in the car parked outside because daddy was crashing hard from a speed binger; a local pocket thief who worked at a grocery store may be looking at 175 years to life for stealing wallets and “coin purses from elderly customers” (ain’t the three-strikes-you’re out law grand?); and a woman run over by her husband’s pick-up while they were engaged in a high-speed pursuit by police. It’s savage hick slapstick, and it just goes on and on.
Other folks would be scared by all the violence, I guess. But I’ve been too busy doing scholarly research at the local library to notice. Digging through the newspaper archives, I’ve been on a mission to find out when and how the land speculation around here started. What I found out so far has been quite a shocker.
As it turns out, Victorville—and the entire Victor Valley area—has been steadily milked by sleazy land developers for the past 50 years. The speculation has come in waves, with the first going back to right after WWII. Sure, Los Angeles came into being as a huge land speculation project aimed at transferring huge amounts of wealth from the Midwest and East Coast to sunny California. The PR push was masterminded by a small clique of landowners like Harrison Gray Otis, who founded the Los Angeles Times and inspired the child-molesting land developer villain in Polanski’s Chinatown. The fact that Victorville was right along with it shows just how rampant land speculation was around these parts and how important a role it played in enriching America’s upper crust. Victorville may be useless today, but it was a million times more useless a half-century ago.
Here’s a clip from the Los Angeles Examiner from 1961.
“Victorville is seeing visions. In fact, all the desert from Salton Sea to Palmdale is seeing visions. It’s the one place even a GI can find a lot within his means. Homeseekers, industrialists, promoters of marvelous guest ranches, airports, race tracks and industries and thousands of persons who want to get away from the smog, monoxide and close neighbors are “prospecting” out here. Land you could by for $12 an acre less than two years ago is selling from $100 to $2000 an acre.”
God almighty! Back in early 60s, speculating land hucksters were able to wring a 10 to 200-fold return on their investment! These are the kinds of profits that KB Homes executives could only dream of, tall tales they’d tell their kids for bedtime stories. But back then they were as real as the land they were selling was shitty.
Victorville was a pristine wasteland wilderness. There was nothing here, and that meant it cost next to nothing. Slapping a few roads on the surface, stretching some pipes and electrical wires and promoting the hell out of “Dry & Healthy Desert Living” was bound to attract a few suckers. The population of the greater Los Angeles area, just up and over the mountains, had doubled from 1950 to 1960. You were guaranteed to find a few thousand morons out of a population of 5 million, and that’s all you’d need to get the inflation process started. That, and a seemingly unstoppable economic boom.
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