“There’s a couple hard-core groups, maybe 30 people in a group, 50 max in either group. So we have a maximum of a hundred people in this entire town that keeps everything in turmoil. They’ll try and get somebody in city hall, and in the process of getting them in, they’ll tell you any kind of lies you’ll listen to or believe.”
I stop and listen to the surf for a moment. I don’t know of another town anywhere along the beach in Southern California where you can walk in with 500 bucks and start from scratch. It’s frontier days, you are what you say you are until proven otherwise.
“When I first came here the building on the corner [of Sea Coast and Palm] used to be a restaurant, owned by a fella named Pete Collins. He was elected to the city council. There were some people on the city council that orchestrated a recall on him. So he was recalled. A couple years later the people that orchestrated that recall, they were recalled. There’s been recall after recall. Every couple years, come along a brand new face that’s going to do wonderful things for the city, eliminate all this arguing and fighting. And that person is elected and the next thing you know, they’re worse than the ones that they replaced. They’ll lie; there’s so many lies constantly.
“I try and stay out of it. The town itself is great. My best month out of the year to my worst month, say July and then January, there’s less then ten percent difference in my cash register tape. People in other places...” I hear a sweet chuckle “...think we are the sewer of the world. That’s okay by me. Once they come here and find out what it’s like, they like it. I’m glad they stay out, glad they have that negative attitude.”
I step through the barred door of a one-story duplex, one block north of Palm Avenue, home of T&S Tax Service. A woman calls out, “Your two o’clock is here.” Inside a cluttered office, a great, large man sits behind an overflowing desk speaking into a speaker phone. The man speaks in a fast, clipped, ironic tenor’s voice. Every syllable is crisply, clearly enunciated.
“I know what you’re talking about.”
Male voice whines from the phone’s speaker, “I’m not against it. You know one thing, Jim, religion has no place in politics, I don’t give a shit what they say. They have no fucking business in politics whatsoever.”
“Oh, I know.”
“The book teaches you that way.”
“I agree with you, but look, Gus, I’ve got an appointment just come in.”
“Okay, so are we going to survive this thing, Jim?”
“Oh yeah, I wouldn’t worry about that. It’s part of the torture you go through investing. The sharpest investor on Wall Street don’t make money three years in a row. But the long haul, you just buy, you hold, you ride it out, and you’ll make 10, 12, 15 percent over a period of time.”
“I just don’t want to lose my ass completely on the thing, you know?”
“No, no, hell no, they’re all bonds. They’re going to come back and pay what their face value is.”
“I got a pretty good set-up what I got set up, ain’t I?”
“Yes, yeah, you got no worry in the world. It’s gonna go down, it’s gonna go up. When it’s down you’re getting a higher yield. I wouldn’t panic over it.”
“Okay there, boss, you’re the warrior. I got to listen to whatever you say.”
“Well, if we both end up down in Haiti shoveling shit, what’s the difference? Good place to go to work.” The phone slams down.
This is James Scheck, 300-plus pounds, round face, thick round glasses, quick eyes, a quicker mind, speaks with barker’s enthusiasm in a high, almost falsetto voice. I ask what he does.
“I manage real estate and do taxes. I don’t do a whole lot of corporate or any of the big stuff, hell, to keep up to date, you’ve got to have a research staff. We manage about 50 units; if it’s a four-plex that counts for four units. A single-family house is one unit.”
I ask Scheck to tell me some things he likes about Imperial Beach.
“I liked Imperial Beach when I first saw it. I loved it. I was here in the late ’50s and then moved permanently in the early ’60s, ’61. I got right into the real estate. I looked at where to live for military. I was military then, stationed at North Island. I couldn’t afford Coronado. We didn’t have a bridge then; we had ferry boats. So here was Imperial Beach. Imperial Beach had military. And I couldn’t see any reason to move military out of San Diego, especially Navy.
“Back then, business was booming. Potential was unbelievable. You had all that estuary down there, a boat marina coming in just tomorrow, for sure. You had the channel, agreed, coming through Mexico going all the way to the ocean. Just a straight shot and all that sewage would go all the way out into the ocean. I looked at the Tijuana Valley, the greatest place in the world to put in oil refineries. Let those tankers come up out of Vera Cruz, unload their oil here, refine it, truck it back into Mexico. The place had everything. Then the environmentalists came and everything went to shit. From the ’60s on. They just kept picking at it. That’s when they were anti-Vietnam, and burning the country, and burning the flag, and running to Canada, and all this crap.
“In 1961 a two-bedroom house was right about $9000, $10,000. Three bedrooms, $11,950, something like that. Then it just gradually started creeping up. I was looking at rental property, I knew I wasn’t going to get into buying apartments or houses that rent for real big numbers. Stuff you could buy here then, the rent would carry the properties. You could buy a house and rent it at a market price that the Navy could afford.