He’s a free spirit; a wanderer who makes each temporary cabin into a home. These days he lives in a small, ramshackle community in the Santa Cruz mountains, an hour and a half south of San Francisco. I haven’t visited, but the set-up seems to suit his bush values. He draws a paycheck in the software world, but his cabin isn’t plugged into its grid. He’s rigged a series of 12-volt batteries to power the laptop and lights, and bought a propane-powered fridge on Craigslist. Craigslist also provided a stock tank that he outfitted as a hot tub, fit for boiling any missionaries who come to call.
Sal, the ranch owner, is a 78-year-old retired woodwork teacher from Long Island, spry as a goat and happy with his Canadian apprentice. He’s managed to hold the McMansions at bay on a hundred acres of prime land above Los Gatos, one of the richest towns in Silicon Valley. On it he’s built six or eight cabins to take in refugees from the robot culture down the hill.
It’s not a commune, but they are neighborly enough to help each other out on endless construction projects. Sal has been rebuilding his house for fifteen years. Tim ripped his bathroom apart and found a wall of dry rot and a rats’ nest. One of the Jameses is trying to build a pottery studio in the barn below his loft, but the junk keeps piling up. Jim is busy stripping a half-acre of poison oak and cultivating lavender bushes in their place. Another James welds mysteriously.
On Saturday the rag-tag ranch construction crew was working so hard that Sal decided to treat them to lunch at the nudist camp next-door. Six of them piled into the back of his pick-up truck, like day laborers in the Home Depot parking lot. I can’t quite picture their outing: seven mismatched men from a six-decade age range, in workboots and Carharrts, eating burgers in a restaurant full of naked patrons and staff. They didn’t have to strip; it’s accepted that construction workers need clothing for protection. “Well, you wouldn’t want to get your parts caught in a vise,” Tim says.
In fact, the naturist approach to textiles seems entirely pragmatic. They wear socks with their tennis shoes. They are as faithful to their towels as Arthur Dent. In the pool, one man wore water-wings. As Tim and his neighbors finished their burgers, the chef came out to say hello, butt-naked but for a large see-through apron. (This image, on the other hand, I find disturbingly vivid.)
Tim is working out a deal to trade technical support for early-morning swims. I tell him that a destination naturist resort makes me think of old Germans on the Riviera. Yep, he says–he used to live in Frankfurt–but there aren’t a lot of gyms up in the hills. I ask if he likes living next door to the nekkid folks. He shrugs.
“Picture the Kmart,” he replies, “except everyone’s naked.”