After a quiet night and a spectacular sunrise at the Amboy Crater, I returned to Roy’s Café in Amboy on Rte 66. The report that this was a ghost town was premature. There were healthy vital signs if not many people.
The 150-year-old town was established as a railroad station. Two years after Rte 66 opened in 1938 , the population of Amboy boomed to 65 and thrived until 1973, when I-40 passed her by.
Amboy has been privately owned since 1938. Buster Burris had owned it for many years when in 1989 he put it put for sale asking $2,500,000.00. Six years later he managed to sell. But the buyers defaulted and it was left to Buster’s widow to foreclose. In 2003 the town was put on eBay and had some bidders but the reserve price was not met. Soon after the failed auction, buyers approached Mrs. Burris and struck a deal—again involving seller financing—and the town was sold. The Burris’ jinx persisted and again the deal did not stay in place and the estate of Buster’s widow took back the town.
Albert Okura, one of the unsuccessful bidders from the eBay auction, was not going to let the town get away from him again. He stepped in and made a cash offer. And he owns Amboy today. Okura, owner of a chain of fast-food chicken restaurants in San Bernadino is something of a collector of real estate memorabilia–his corporate office is in the original McDonald’s. I have heard two different figures both of which are less than I paid for my 2-bedroom Alameda condo.
Okura’s intention was to restore the town. The local post office is open, although operating privately, and the landmark Roy’s Café and gas station is open 7 days a week, 12 hours a day.
Farrell looked up when I sat near him. He lifted his baseball cap and ran his hand back over his brush cut hair. “What can I do for ya?”
He is a 60-something man, no taller than I but he had the solid frame–an athlete. His Roy’s Café tee shirt and baseball cap may have been the duty uniform.
“I am curious about Amboy,” I said. “How may people live here?”
“Eight. No, wait. Seven. I haven’t seen one person for a while. He may have moved away.”
“But I see 20 or so houses around.”
“All vacant,” he said. “He jabbed a finger over my shoulder. “Two people live over in that building with the van next to it.” And with a series of quick jabs. “Someone in that trailer over there, and over there. And there and there. And me. Seven.”
“You seem like you might be the mayor.”
“I am just an employee. The town is privately owned by Albert Okura.”
“So what is Okura’s plan for the town?” I asked.
“He wants to restore it. I don’t know any more than that. It is his business and I don’t ask. I am just an employee.”
“Is the café very busy?”
“It’s been very slow. We usually have people coming all day long–couple of tour buses, a lot of motorcycles and RVs. Usually it is steady.”
“Why did you choose Amboy?”
“I wanted to get away from people. I like the quiet. I am not really a people person.”
“You are working in a roadside café and gas station. And you seem like a people person to me.”
“When I am here, I do what I gotta. When I am home, I have my privacy. If you come around, I’ll run you off. “
“What kind of work did you do before Amboy?”
“I was a bodyguard for a while. I taught long-range shooting and tactical shooting for the military. I wasn’t military. I was a government employee. But I did do two tours in Viet Nam.”
“What is tactical shooting?”
“When you have to go into a house full of people. “
“Are you the town’s law enforcement?”
“No I am just an employee of the café. I sell gas and snacks and tee shirts.”
“What kind of gun is that on your belt.”
“A Ruger 45.”
“Why do you wear it?”
“The law is an hour away. I wear it as a deterrent.”
“That is all there is to know about me,” he said. It was not said in an unfriendly way. Rather a simple fact.
With that he got up and walked outside to pump some gas.