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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber


Updated: Sep 9, 2022

We are fortunate to have had such magnificent neighbors for the 30+ years since we built our home, I thought I’d share some of the unbelievable things I have seen or heard over the years.

No one comes close to Floyd, who lived next door for over 20 years. While you might think these are tall stories, when you come to know someone as well as we have during that period of time, you understand that there is more than just a grain of truth in his tales.

Floyd worked with Barnum and Bailey back in the 40’s, the heyday of the travelling circus. If you are familiar with Orange County, Ca., you know it got its name from the lush Orange Groves that stretched all over what is today a thriving metropolis. When Barnum and Bailey’s ship would dock just south of there, someone needed to escort the elephants up the coast and across the inland area to Burbank where the circus set up its tents. Floyd was the guy who did that.

Picture if you can a man leading half a dozen Indian elephants (only Indian elephants can be domesticated – you can easily tell the difference between them and their African brothers by their much smaller ears) trailed by a menagerie of clowns, strong men, and every other circus performer on a nearly 50 mile hike through a sparsely populated southern California, resting as need be along the way, creating a living spectacle for anyone in the vicinity.

Floyd’s roustabout status took a darker turn later on in his career. There was a time in our history when there were steamy rumors of clandestine activities between the CIA and a Central American country. We as a nation were trying to stop the spread of Communism in that area and our government was trying to fund the good guys. It was the Contras against the Sandinistas in the late 70’s. There were reports of the CIA purchasing South American cocaine and trading it for weapons that were then funneled to the Contras.

While numerous accusations were leveled against us for doing what was considered nefarious, no proof every surfaced. That is, unless you lived next door to Floyd. Floyd told me matter-of-factly that his job was to shovel the loose cocaine off the floor of the Lear jets used to transport it up from Bolivia and Columbia. Floyd said the remnants were about three inches deep on the floor of the plane, and he took great care to remove it as quickly as possible so the planes could refuel and return for another load.

When Floyd passed, we pretty much looked in on his wife Esther as often as we could to make sure she was ok. She was a character in her own right, and became the official Cat Lady of Trinidad Drive, a title Phyllis inherited when her son convinced her to move to Idaho with him. They were wonderful folks, and I spent many afternoons sitting outside with them, listening to their adventures.

Across the street was the elder statesman of our block, a 95-year-old gent who I would accompany on his afternoon walks up and down the block. George fought in World War II. He was the last of the best of the best in this country, a generation of hard scrabble individuals who grew up as we were fighting our way out of the Great Depression. He was a gentle soul, in spite of all of the hardship he endured. Being near him was enough to put a smile on the saddest day. The one thing you learn really fast in life is that you never ever complain about your aches and pains around someone older than you.

I had been enduring a ton of surgeries around the time I started to hang out with George, but I kept my mouth shut, out of respect… If he could hobble up and down the block in over 100 degrees during the heat of the afternoon, I could also. His passing affected all of us. It is one of those candles that can never be relit because of the times lived by the people who survived and prospered, in spite of the odds against them. If you have never known people from that generation, you have missed something truly remarkable – and have lived a lesser life. It wasn’t until I had known the family for a year or two that I learned that one of my earliest photos here in the desert was done of the restaurant they own on Indio Blvd.

I took this on one of my first explorations of the Indio area after we made the move from Rancho Mirage in the late 80’s. I still go down there on Sunday to feed the stray cats that hang around looking for treats from the customers.

When was the last time you had an 89 cent hamburger?

I enjoy most physical labor. I can fix washing machines, cars, and electrical appliances. I have a machine shop in my garage and make my own tools for specialty photography. I built the cabinets in my darkroom, as well as the storage area in my garage. I can do almost anything.

Frank, my next-door neighbor, can do absolutely everything. Tear up your pool deck and pour decorative concrete? No problem. Rent a backhoe to dig up your front yard to replace a septic tank? Saw him do it twice. Repair / Install HVAC units in an attic when the outside temperature is 120 degrees? Piece of cake.

In addition to this, I’ve seen him do finish carpentry as good or better than several professionals I have known here in the desert. He will work a midnight shift driving heavy machinery, hop out of his pickup truck before the wheels stop rolling and begin to mow the lawn. On top of this he is raising four of the most intelligent and wonderful children on the planet.

If you ever make it down to Coronado, Ca., you will have to travel over the Coronado Island bridge. His wife helped build that. She was the chief architect. And, she is an athlete. I’ve seen her jogging over 3 ½ miles while pushing a baby stroller with two children in it. I get most of my exercise by watching her family in action.

Larry, his neighbor, a house down to the east, is hands down the best auto mechanic I have ever known, and the nicest, most likeable guy on the planet. I do not exaggerate. I met him while he was working on one of our cars, and then found out he was a neighbor. I know a lot about cars. Been working on them for over 50 years. My knowledge is the equivalent of a ham sandwich compared to Larry’s Filet Mignon. It’s all about details when you are fixing a car.

Larry supplies them to me by the boatload. He’s my age and looks like he’s got at least another 73 years to go before he’ll get tired and have to slow down a bit.

Last but not least are Matt and Emily across the street. Neither of their children have a grandfather, so I have been appointed official custodian of that title. Smart, inquisitive, and adorable. The kids, and the dogs. Matt is in his early 40’s and is running super marathons. I have to stay away from him while he’s training because the energy vortex he produces has toppled some of the smaller trees in the neighborhood in his wake as he ran or biked past.

Emily is a joy. A keen wit and sharp sense of humor – and as good a third-grade teacher as any child can expect to find. How someone with two young children has spare time is anyone’s guess, but in hers, she rides horseback. I’ve been told the horses at the stable are throwing her a surprise party next week.

Yeah, horses do that…

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