The Crusoe Club
In the first couple of years that I lived on Catalina Island after moving here in 1995, I found myself from time to time in the not unenviable position of having too little money to even buy a boat ticket off the Island.
My predicament never lasted for long, of course. Sooner or later, a paycheck or some other form of revenue would materialize and the cash account I kept at the Bank of Levi Strauss would right itself once again like a capsized sloop.
In the meantime, stranded on the Island for a few days or even weeks, I would often use these times to venture into the hills or laze on the rocks at Pebbly Beach, staring yonder at a mainland that was temporarily out of pecuniary reach.
I came to refer to this predicament as “joining the Crusoe Club” and in the reverse of Daniel Defoe’s indefatigable castaway, it was I that was often saved by Friday, if that was the day I got my pay.
During these times I would often ask myself “What’s the longest anyone has ever gone without leaving the Island? Even for a day-trip to Long Beach?”
Had anyone ever gone a few years? Decades? A lifetime? As wild as that sounds, such extreme isolationism is not unheard of. In Hong Kong’s port enclave of Aberdeen, for example, it is said there are people who spend their entire lives aboard their sampans and junks, never once stepping ashore. Then there are the descendants of the Incas on Peru’s Lake Titicaca that live their entire lives on the artificial reed islands they build for themselves, never once leaving them for the “safety” of shore.
Back in the late ‘90s when I served aboard the hospital ship M/V Anastasis in West Africa, I was told that in the nearby slums of Plakodji in Cotonou, Benin, there were people who spent their entire lives without ever leaving their ten-block neighborhood.
There had to be some rules to this contest, of course. No doubt there were thousands of Native American Chumash and Tongva over the centuries who were born, lived and died entirely on the Island. Also, simply boating or swimming off the Island’s shores didn’t count as “leaving” the Island. (And lack of money to buy a boat ticket did NOT have to be the reason for the prolonged stay).
The first candidate for the Crusoe Club I thought of was our own Malcolm Jones. A native of Wales, Malcolm enjoyed smashing success within the music industry in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He was the bass player for the band Blues Image whose massive hit “Ride, Captain, Ride” remains one of the most iconic, evocative songs of the ‘70s.
Malcolm moved to the Island in 1984, mostly to get away from the fast-paced life of the big city and the music industry. “I’d had enough of it,” he said. “I’d say ‘oh no, I have to go on the road again. I have to pack my bag again.’”
Staying put on the Island got easier with time, he said. “You wean yourself away from (the mainland),” he said. “You feel the tempo going down like the tide going out.”
After his move to the Island, Malcolm didn’t leave again until 1998, making the length of his uninterrupted stay 14 years. He has only been off the Island two other times since then.
As impressive as Malcolm’s 14-year stint is, however, fellow Welshman Leo Tindell supposedly spent 23 years on the Island without leaving before moving back to Wales several years ago. He then moved back again to Catalina briefly but left for the last time within a year or two. But the person who apparently holds the modern-day record for never once leaving the Island is a name that kept popping up over and over again in my research: Linda Garvey.
Linda Garvey first moved to the Island in 1981 and, according to multiple sources, she never left the Island again. She passed away only last March, making her uninterrupted stay on Catalina 31 years.
Linda was perhaps best known locally for her video programs, which appeared regularly on Catalina Cable Company’s local access channels. She lived a relatively secluded life in her final years, especially after the death of her husband in the late 1990s. But former Avalon mayor and owner of Catalina Cable Company Ralph Morrow was friends with her until the end. “She and her husband moved here in 1981,” said Ralph. “And she never, ever, ever left the Island. “She truly felt that if she ever left Avalon she would die.”
Morrow pointed out that since she is buried at Avalon Cemetery, technically she is still here. He said that after her death, the L.A. County Coroner wanted to transport her to the mainland. “But we made the decision to keep her here.”
So, unless I hear otherwise, it appears that Linda Garvey, with a straight 31 uninterrupted years on the Island, holds the title of Queen of the Crusoe Club.