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Dispatch / April 30, 2009

Chicks & Hicks -- Dry & Healthy Desert Livin' in Victorville

“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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25 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Charles Freedom  |  April 30th, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Good article, but the last paragraph is kinda out of left field. Either that, or I’m just too simpleminded to understand what you mean. Now that I think about it, yes, it’s probably just that.

  • 2. Chris Connolly  |  April 30th, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    This is all you have to show for your week of slumming it?

  • 3. bob breen  |  April 30th, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    is victorville a scene coming to a town near you? the housing bust seems to be spreading. i was in florida about 6 weeks ago and its being held together with string and duct tape. in st petes there are whole streets for sale. its even worse in the fort myers area. there are armies of homeless and the state can’t keep up with the food stamp applications. fixed income has turned into a curse for many who moved to the sunshine state to enjoy their final years away from the cold northern states.seems to be a lot of pain and misery being overlooked by the media. or whats left of the media.

  • 4. LottoZheroGravity  |  April 30th, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Interesting, thanks for the post.

  • 5. Ben  |  April 30th, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    “greed trumps sadism.”

    The most openly sadistic members of Congress are the ones who aren’t in it for the money. They take the rationalizations of their corrupt colleagues at face value, and continue the class war with an enhanced sense of self-righteousness.

  • 6. Anonymous  |  April 30th, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    The history lesson is dry so far, although I’m optimistic that you’re building to some good punch line with these articles, whether or not you know yet what that punch line is. Everything from “There’s also quiet a bit” [sic] through “just goes on and on” should probably be moved to the end of the article, so the commenters have a little more respect and gee-whiz awe at your journalistic abilities.

    Any good Erin Brockovich style industrial waste scandals in Victorville’s past? Are you drinking the tap water? Does the library have archives of federally mandated city water quality reports going back a few years? I’d go live in a desert wasteland myself, if I had a magic faucet that pumped endless clean water, but reality out there is usually a bit worse.

  • 7. Snarky  |  April 30th, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Met a Mexican lady today. She was crying. Her boyfriend left her, she wanted diapers for her baby and was asking for money near a bank. Everyone was telling her to fuck off. I was curious, whether she really wanted diapers, or not. It could have just been money. So I went to a local store, and bough diapers and handed them to her, as she was being led away with her kid in a stroller by bank security guards. I got annoyed, and informed the idiots that mishandlign a lady with a baby is a crime in the Liberal state of California. The guards then politely asked her to vacate the area.

    So I was now in trouble, she was hanging on my neck, crying, and I really didn’t want my shirt wet, plus what was I supposed to do with her? I only bought the diapers cause I was interested in the reaction (and $6 isn’t my hourly wage) and I yelled at the guards cause I was pissed. I didn’t do it out of compassion, but out of mere curiosity. And then it hit. No one really gives a shit about each other anymore.

    It’s just about money. It’s all about money. You have money you’re respected, whether you earned it or not, you’re broke and on the street and you’re hated. When did we become fucking robots? When did money started trumping compassion? Love? Are we that racist against Mexicans? Yeah there are too many, but taking it out on a woman with a kid isn’t exactly getting your point across.

    And don’t think the rich aren’t enslaved by money either. They are! Re-read Andrew Lahde’s letter, where he states that the rich give up families, leisure time, everything, they even marry for money, just to get nine figure wealth. When did this happen? When did humans enslave themselves to money? And what was the point of fighting the Civil War?

  • 8. aleke  |  May 1st, 2009 at 1:56 am

    Hahah Marx was right.

  • 9. Anon  |  May 1st, 2009 at 5:42 am

    @Snarky

    Those poor rich people, why do we always forget their pain?

  • 10. ben housouer  |  May 1st, 2009 at 6:07 am

    dear yasha….i’m enjoying these pieces immensely…i live on the other side of the pass but often work in the high desert…the whole place is interconnected…to get a feel i suggest you take the road to phelan and have a drink at the thunderbird and then drink your way to wrightwood, or as the locals call it whitewood….i recommend the raccoon saloon but on weekends the yodler is good to sit outside and people watch…this is where all the burned out hippie losers go to die as opposed to the actively using meth-heads in victorville…i suggest a sat. afternoon as, believe it or not, tourists come to gawk at the bikers who always show up…try it out and if you like it i can steer you to other places where you can interview the locals

  • 11. lizzardking  |  May 1st, 2009 at 7:10 am

    This was very funny reading, you are a good writer I am looking forward to your future installments.

  • 12. The Dark Avenger  |  May 1st, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Tearing down Victorville

  • 13. Jasen Comstock  |  May 1st, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Two other weird spots that i would recommend (though not sure if they still exist) would be a tourist trap “ghost town” called Calico, near Barstow. Where modern serfs can go see what old timey serfs did in the California desert 150 years ago.

    Another would be the deep creek hot springs somewhere between Hesperia and Apple Valley. It used to just be a spot out in the desert where high school kids used to go fuck and do drugs in pleasantly hot water, but the land’s owner turned it into some kind of nudist resort.

  • 14. napoleonkaramazov  |  May 1st, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Reminds me of the grapes of wrath by Steinbeck. If one book was ever an argument for socialism in America, then that would be it.

  • 15. Don  |  May 1st, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    “There are a lot of fat people; many of them 18-year-old girls with kids.”

    They say it’s better to have had (forget loved) and lost than to never have had at all.

    When I lived in the US I would see a girl or two a week I might want to fuck and only one or two a year that I actually needed to fuck.

    Now, while I walk through my SPB neighborhood in Ozerki I see a girl ever couple of minutes I want to fuck and at least 2-3 per day I need to fuck. When downtown on Nevski Prospect the numbers increase exponentially.

    Knowing you once lived here yourself I’d empathize with you if I had the capacity. Having had and lost it is I think much more painful than never having had it at all like the average citizens of Victorville.

    I don’t know how you do it.

  • 16. ben housouer  |  May 1st, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    dear yasha…having reviewed your story, which is facinating, i’m afraid you may be missing the point.while it is true that real estate hucksters have been working the high desert for years they really didn’t lure any suckers up there. that may be true of riverside, moreno valley, and the 10 freeway all the way to palm springs but not victorville. it is a state of mind just like all the high desert. in other words the suckers were already there, they just moved into bigger houses for a few years at someone elses expense. when it came time to go they just went. ordinarily they just switch mobile homes but if the banks are willing to upgrade the game to single family homes thats ok with the losers since they never pay the rent anyway.this game has been going on since charles manson hung out there.
    so no, this is not the street of broken dreams where people were lured up there and screwed by the banks, this is the high desert rats fucking the banks for a few years free rent.
    the high desert has always been and will always be the absolute fringe of american society. the people there actually don’t care if they are homeless…thats why they’re there…they are more or less left alone by the cops to cook meth or cut peoples heads off or whatever…sort of like american taliban in an american warizistan….this is not class warfare, it is civilized society vs barbarism…i love it

  • 17. Anonymous  |  May 2nd, 2009 at 4:03 am

    #7 Snarky, there is at least some compassion everywhere, although some places seem to have markedly more compassion and charity and tolerance (NYC, SF, Seattle, Canada, Costa Rica), and others markedly more fear and greed and bullying (LA, Vegas, Atlanta, Mexico, Russia).

    Remember how a lot of Americans were terrified that Communism after the Stalinist purges was a system where everyone, even the assassination-fearing dictator, was more miserable than they would be in a democracy and knew it, but each of them at each moment in time was better off trying to extend Communism and enslave more people than fight against it, so it sort of wound up growing like a tumor even though everyone knew how awful it was? Of course, arguably that’s a little truth and a lot of American paranoia, but it’s still a striking and scary concept that’s probably true in a lot of small groups at a lot of brief times, even if it wasn’t true for decades throughout all of global Communism.

    A social system of heartless greed can be similarly corrosive and grow in the same way, even though again, most everyone knows they would be better off in a more charitable system. Like the (admittedly CIA assisted) Solidarity movement in Poland, or the 1890s Populists who started projects like Hull House or the Wobblies, you really have to work hard to effect any change on these large systems.

  • 18. Lord of War  |  May 3rd, 2009 at 12:43 am

    Nice post, Yasha.

  • 19. rick  |  May 3rd, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    @ don & Yasha

    Might be interesting (if painful and detrimental for your career) to include ahem certain observations and id-outbursts a certain Mr. A. has been on the DL about recently, but would certainly entertain certain readers.

    In all seriousness, you wouldn’t have to get too “offensive.” There’s a valid anthropological element there. After I moved back to Chicago from NY I literally couldn’t leave my house, I was so unmotivated, the lack of beautiful women destroyed my ability to navigate the world. It destroys the ability of friend groups to intermingle and have fun. Beautiful women give life to the social world, they solidify broad social networks and even prowling packs of males. One of the most disgusting elements of hanging with hippie guys was the sheer inability to admit “WE ARE OUT LOOKING FOR PUSSY.” A community of ugly women is a community of broken social bonds.

  • 20. Matt  |  May 5th, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Wait until the next wave of foreclosures hits in the next 18 months and then we will be likely seeing torched vacant homes.

  • 21. Bob  |  May 5th, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Was in Victorville this weekend by coincidence. Essentially a cluster of houses and strip malls beside I-15. At least it was better than Barstow, but not by much.

  • 22. RT Carpenter  |  May 5th, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    The loss of the Roy Rogers museum was the beginning of the end for Victorville. Your fossil from 1961 reminded me of a book I bought around that time. It had all the selling points for the unlimited future of Palmdale, California. I wished then I could invest in Palmdale. Of course, I had no money then.

  • 23. john  |  May 7th, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    As a young Navy fighter pilot stationed at NAS Miramar in San Diego in the early 1970s, I witnessed – and almost became a victim – of an Apple Valley land scam.

    A local San Diego company recruited junior naval officers, active or recently separated, to sell real estate in Apple Valley to their colleagues.

    Any prospect who showed an iota of interest was hauled up with other prospective dupes to view the area, and select a prospective desert “lot”. Of course then the real HARD SELL began. And if you didn’t buy that day, the sales people hounded you for weeks.

    Although the land was nearly worthless, the salesmen made a large commission on each sale. Moreover, a buyer who bought a lot often could sell it six months later to another, greater fool at a nice profit. The land appreciation was so great and so frequent that even the salesmen starting buying lots to flip, in addition receiving their large commissions.

    It became so rampant that the Navy put out a decree that prohibited and Apple Valley land solicitation on their naval bases. But young naval officers with tales of large and nearly immediate returns on flipped land to their friends fueled a speculative fever like wildfire.

    Naturally, it eventually all came crashing down. The principals skipped out to Mexico, wealthy. Most others ended up owning worthless land with a high mortgage. And these were highly educated, talented, and professional men. Although one of my squadron mates and roommate off base was one of the salesmen, along with two other close friends selling, I thankfully never bought – even after a rough and tumble hard sell (it almost came to blows) with two of the principles late one night.

    It all was a valuable lesson than has saved me from stupid investments for the subsequent 40 years.

  • 24. Jon  |  July 30th, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    As a writer, it must be fun to be so negative and boring… Stay in Moscow. We are all better off.

  • 25. victorville  |  July 11th, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    i actually live in victorville. i found your post insulting. and you forgot to say that victorville is a mexican attraction, i see at least 3 fruit stands a day. im so sick of all these fucking people. a few choice people need to go buy some guns. :) lol


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