Tucked behind Alisal High School in Salinas, at the end of an unmarked alley, Bud Boyster saunters out of his neat, white-paneled house wearing a thick flannel shirt, jeans and boots. His hair is slicked back and his face is weathered like an old baseball glove. A waist-high chain link fence surrounds his little yard and a wooden plaque hanging from the rain gutter introduces Bud and his wife Betty, conveying a simple hospitality leftover from the ’50s.
Originally from a small town outside Fort Smith, Ark., Boyster is one of the few remaining Arkies still living in East Salinas. It’s no stretch to say the area has changed a little since Boyster first bought his house in 1956 for $8,250, when it was an unincorporated farmworker community known as Alisal. His neighbors were fieldhands from Oklahoma and Texas.
“They called it ‘Little Okie,’” he says in a slight southern drawl. “There was no neighborhood. These apartments wasn’t there. Those apartments behind us wasn’t there.”
Boyster’s pad was the last of three single-story homes at the end of a rutted-out road off Burke Street. (Besides some gravel, that hasn’t changed much.) Horses grazed in a pasture visible from his front yard. Pointing northeast toward Fremont Peak, he says there was only one farmhouse standing amid a sea of row crops.
“You could drive out here on Del Monte, look both ways and you wouldn’t see a car parked on it,” he says.
Now Boyster lives in the city’s most densely populated part of town. Latinos have replaced Okies as the source of cheap farm labor, and new housing and shopping developments have sprouted.
“I knew just about everybody on Burke Street, he says. “Now I don’t hardly know nobody on it.”
He rails against the “stupidvisors” who developed the city: “Right now this town of Salinas is so overpopulated. There is not enough work for a third of the people.”
THREE HOUND DOGS, LADY BUG, MAXY AND QUEENY, CALL THE JUNKYARD HOME.
Boyster’s first job in Salinas was loading lettuce into trucks and train cars at the Grower’s Vacuum plant. “I made as much money back then loading lettuce as I did when I retired,” he says. “If you worked hard, you made more.”
He then bought half of a north Salinas auto wrecker before becoming a millwright, where he changed out machinery at manufacturing, processing and automobile plants. “I couldn’t even have pronounced the word one day, and the next day I was one,” Boyster says, recalling his start at the Firestone tire plant.
Later, he started welding. “He can fix about anything that is broken down, and build things from scratch,” his son, Rick Boyster, says. Rick recalls building dune buggies with his dad – one washed-out green VW buggy with a bus rear end sits in Bud’s driveway. “You can go any place with it,” Bud says.
Rick, who owns Aromas Trucking, inherited his father’s passion for fixing things. He rebuilds classic cars.
After decades of turning wrenches, Bud’s backyard is a refuge of rusted iron and welding tools. When asked if he collects anything he particular, he jokes: “All my life I collected everything.”
Three hound dogs, Lady Bug, Maxy and Queeny, call the junkyard home. Out front Bud feeds a gang of stray cats each evening.
For more than a dozen years, he was a neighborhood watch block captain. He rode his old Murray bicycle with a blue milk crate basket strapped on the beach cruiser-style handlebars up and down Burke Street, reporting cars illegally parked to the police.
“They used to come tow them, then they slacked off on that and just gave them a ticket,” he says. “Then they got to where they wouldn’t give them a ticket, so I quit being a block captain.”
Santiago Lopez, who lives on Burke Street, says his first interaction with Bud was a little contentious because Boyster confronted him for parking on the wrong side of the street: “I said, ‘Look, I’m your neighbor. We have to work together.’”
Lopez has grown to like Bud, though. “He’s very concerned with citizens not following rules. He’s very meticulous about that. He’s very nice, very funny, humble, down to earth.”
Even though gang violence has gotten out of control and gunfire has struck close to Bud’s home – a 15-year-old student was killed at the end of Burke Street last January – the Arkansan still likes where he’s at: “It’s not any worse here than anywhere else in town.”
Throughout all the changes he’s seen, Bud’s cozy plot remains insulated from the traffic and parked cars he fumes against. Plus, he’ll take Salinas’ mild weather over the humidity of his native state any day.