There are several disadvantages to this life. The Rancho is 53 miles from the nearest traffic signal. It is reached only by traveling more than 17 miles of unpaved road, some of it as rough as washboard, and deep in sand.
Um... These are DISadvantages?
"It's basically wasteland," Garlington says. "Nothing will grow here." There are snakes, insects, summer heat, and winter winds so fierce they would blow over a boxcar.
The advantage is that one can live like a land baron for practically nothing, like a pioneer, like a homesteader out of the Old West. Nobody tells you what to do. Free as a bird; free as Huck Finn, drifting on his raft, except this is desert. All the good rivers have been taken.
It starts with cheap land: Garlington paid $325 for his patch of scorched, worthless earth at a tax-default land auction. He paid approximately $300 for building and equipping his desert shoebox, and $179 of that was for a U-haul to drag his stuff to his property. Things really got started because of that last firing. After having been canned from his umpteenth reporter job, Phil Garlington decided to abandon modern society. Not because there was anything particularly wrong with it, but because he had no cash and no income, and he needed a cheap place to crash. Moreover, he was tired of being fired for things like “bad attitude” and “insubordination,” and he was bored eking out a living as a third-rate journalist of the community daily circular variety.
The thought of living like a refugee was less horrifying to him than the thought of facing yet another drone-like occupation that served merely to feed his addiction to modernity. So he fled the daily grind into the sunburned arms of his desert homestead. Setting up camp in the burning waste of Smoke Tree, a settlement in Imperial County, California, may seem like a drastic method of gaining this freedom, but it worked for Garlington. He built a shoebox-shaped shack, or hogan, out of sandbags, tarps and “crapboard” (Garlington’s own invention made of scrap plywood he glues into architecturally valid 4-by-8 panels) along with anything he managed to scrounge together and haul into the mighty desert.
Garlington even has a second hobo residence. He has a small trailer closer to the town of Blythe, so that when he does need the occasional crap job, he doesn’t have to go the 40-plus miles back to Smoke Tree. He lives the same kind of refugee life in the trailer as in the desert. And he’s pretty content, though he admits that it’s hard to convince the ladies to come out to his deep desert Bedouin bachelor pad. Like most of the other desert folk, Garlington works crap jobs for a few months out of the year, socking away a few grand for necessities, etc. The rest of the time he either sits around the homestead reading novels and writing the occasional freelance piece, or he travels. He usually travels during the summer, thus avoiding the 120-degree misery of the summertime desert. Because he lives a Spartan existence without air conditioning, a refrigerator, a big entertainment system, or even a phone line, Garlington doesn’t have to worry about any of the occasional urban yahoos who vandalize the desert stealing things while he’s gone. There’s just nothing worth stealing. The question is, why would anyone want to live like this? Yeah, Garlington is a soul maverick, a lone wolf, an asocial geek. It makes sense that he’d do this.