In his farewell speech earlier this month, Imperial County Board Supervisor Gary Wyatt said that though many may think Imperial County is in the middle of nowhere, to him the county is actually in the middle of everywhere.
Geographically speaking, Wyatt’s comment does have some strength since Imperial County is the only county in California that borders another country and another state.
Many coming from Mexico have to pass through Imperial County if they are headed to Los Angeles and other areas of the north, while those coming from Arizona have to come through here to go to the coast and vice versa. Consequently the county, some would argue, is a watershed for travelers and hitchhikers. Some have been in the past seen pulling wooden crosses through the area, or biking or walking after miles of cross-country traveling. Many travelers and hitchhikers are seen on a regular basis walking around El Centro or asking for a ride near Interstate 8.
Around 1:15 p.m. Tuesday for instance, one man was seen walking east at a fast pace near Eighth Street and Aurora Drive. The man, probably in his 40s, was carrying a traveler’s backpack while wearing a beanie, camouflage pants and a similar-looking jacket.
“I’m busy. I can’t (give) business advice to people right now,” the man said without taking off his earphones. When asked where he was coming from or where he was going to, the man continued, “I’m going to meet someone here.” Pointing to the various brand names and logos on his clothing, he said, “I’m being sponsored by these companies,” and explained the companies prohibited him from speaking with the media.
It’s unclear whether the man, who seemed well-nourished and clean, was part of some unknown publicity stunt by a brand of clothing or hiking gear, or whether he was a transient with a mental illness. He continued to speak loudly for some distance, even after he was left alone.
But unlike the mysterious walking man on Aurora Drive, Ronald Luther was accessible and happy to answer questions.
The 56-year-old has a campsite under some bushes near Interstate 8, right across from the IHOP restaurant.
“I’ve been through California several times,” Luther said while sitting next to various cups of coffee and hand-rolled cigarettes. However, this is the first time he has visited the county, he said. Luther, a former welder with no wife or children and who survives on disability checks, said he’s on his way to “Georgia or Washington, D.C., whichever comes first.”
He’s originally from Georgia and came here from Los Angeles, looking for work, but that idea didn’t materialize. As far as when he expects to get to his destination, Luther responded, “When I get there,” and added that he plans to hitch a ride “soon, possibly.”
Meanwhile, John Schwandurman was pushing a shopping cart near Luther’s campsite. Schwandurman, 58, who is originally from Paxton, Ill., agreed that many travelers come through the county and noted many do so because of the warmer climate. Moreover, “(There’s) a lot of good people here. They give money and food and everything,” said Schwandurman, a homeless man who’s been living on the streets of El Centro for some 15 years.
“My girlfriend brought me down, she’s from Mexicali,” said Schwandurman and smiled when he explained he was happy here. He collects plastics, bottles, cans and has some food and clothes.
“I don’t pay rent, no bills,” he said. “I’m having a pretty good time.”
In a nearby gas station, El Centro resident Larry Roeseler was buying water bottles and placing them inside a cooler while his all-terrain vehicle sat on a trailer behind his truck. When asked about the county being in the middle of everywhere, he disagreed.
“It depends on how you look at it, I guess,” said Roeseler. “For me it’s not very centrally located. You are three hours from everywhere except Mexico.”
Across the street, El Centro resident Gary Stevens also said he couldn’t subscribe to the idea of the county being in the middle of everywhere.
Stevens, a transient who shares his time between Tucson and El Centro, left the county to live in cities like Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco in the mid 1970s but returned in 2010 because his 90-year-old mother still lives here.
“Sometimes you have to travel wide to get home,” Stevens said with a big smile while putting away his beer.
But even while he doesn’t believe the county is in the middle of everywhere, the 56-year-old agreed that the county has a large number of travelers coming through, and that’s because, “Well, we are on the way to someplace else.”
Staff Writer Alejandro Davila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or email@example.com
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