“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.” 
– Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

My backstory begins with a personal admission. 

Before my Father succumbed to Cancer, he told me, his caretaker: “You were a mistake… Unplanned. You were conceived somewhere near Needles (California). Old Route 66.” 

Yet rather than succumb to a slow burn of ontological soul-searching, my Father’s heartshare brought clarity. That essential truth went a long way toward explaining my lifelong connection to the lean landscapes of the Interior West. 

In a different framing, I could add a romantic overlay to dedicating four decades–peak earning years–to writing about the Mojave and Great Basin deserts. The epic breakdowns; in a beater BMW or atop a fixie mountain bike. The carcinoma and melanomas, carved from forehead to neck, too numerous to count.

Above all, though, it truly was about the wisdom lent by Coelho: to follow one’s heart. “Nothing can substitute experience.” 

Playing it forward, I wasn’t just a love child of Italian 20-somethings running away from The Bronx. My pin pointed to The Golden Road; 1962. The year Nelson Riddle dropped the sweeping instrumental known as the Route 66 Theme.

After graduating Beverly Hills High School, I matriculated between LA Valley College and Chautauqua. Not the iconic arts institute, but the beach around Lifeguard Tower 18.

Realizing I wasn’t cut out to be a beach bum, I found employment in the mailroom of Larry Flynt Publications. Write it off to destiny or Divine Providence, Althea Flynt–Larry’s wife–saw a short op-ed piece I’d written for the Los Angeles Times. 

Orchestrating my Lana Turner-at-Schwab’s Moment, Althea promoted me to Hustler Magazine fiction editor. Two years later, I would eulogize the same fiery 33-year old rock and roller whose gesture set my career in language arts into motion. 

Of course, the pay was lousy. But the interactions were crazy rich; engaging the likes of screenwriter/satirical novelist Terry Southern (CandyDr. StrangeloveEasy Rider) and Charles Bukowski, LA’s “poet-laureate of lowlifes”. 

Informed by the aforementioned literary virtuosos, I set my first erotic short story in Death Valley. A whole-body embrace of the extreme landscape, my pervy travelogue was selected for a collection of LA-writers. Fittingly, Bukowski wrote the foreword. 

Just as Althea had given me my break, Larry Flynt would indulge my interest in paranormal and unexplained phenomena. In the early 1990s, the Hustler publisher would distribute my quarterly magazine, called Far-Out! 

Something of a cult hit, Far-Out! brought a rock ‘n roll sensibility, if not fresh optics to all things weird: Yeti to UFOs to Heavens Gate. During this period, a number of my features would live a second life, developed for television by Henry Winkler’s production company.

Pursuing stories I felt passionate about, I found my voice in experiential, or immersive writing. My first taste of critical recognition came in the form of Canada’s Northern Lights journalism award. 

The themes spanned cycling the Himalayas to chasing wild horse capture crews across Nevada’s basin and range country. From finding new sightlines onto the secret Area-51/Groom Lake Air Force-CIA installation; to shadowing Bootsy, a young Irish Republican bomber and his Loyalist assassin rival, Mad Dog across Belfast’s sectarian divide. 

My bylines appeared in BikeBlack & White, FHM, ElevationFlex, the Irish TimesMen’s FitnessMother JonesMountain Bike, American and Australian PenthousePlayboy’s Japanese and Italian editions, ShapeSpinSWAT, the San Diego Reader and the San Francisco Examiner

Today, I self define as a desert writer. Years of immersive fieldwork, deconstructing an outlaw survivalist subculture, going deep into an extreme, cross-border black economy–staked to a USMC bombing and gunnery range–built out my creative portfolio. 

Where welfare and warfare states violently collided, my coverage unfolded with five print exposes, including a Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine cover story. Two documentary feature films–“Scrapper”, winner of 11-awards, and “of bombs and men” which aired extensively on the television network Russia Today–added layers to my storylines. 

Some of the same threads evolved into spoken word narratives, if not a unique landscape interpretation. Alongside the Salton Sea, I presented to a cultural geography masters class from SDSU (San Diego State University). Behind them, a group of accomplished desert authors and publishers. 

Inasmuch, like love, creative fulfillment is a many splendored thing. 

It was a higher calling, a subconscious need to give back that took me to a hardship post: an isolated Nevada wildlife refuge–Ash Meadows–northeast of Death Valley. 

The educational program I shaped and helped implement imparted some 600 visiting schoolchildren–bused from Nye, Esmeralda and Clark County–with an awareness of the crucial role hidden water plays in sustaining arid ecosystems. 

Returning to the here and now, my current project arrives at yet an another void: one of memory and forgetting. Walking back a series of unsolved murders in the Morongo Basin, I’m compelled as much to bring investigative revelations to the fore as some closure to the respective victims’ families. 

Closing with Coelho, it is nothing less than my “Obligation.”

Michael DiGregorio

Volunteer Work

*Grant writer/legislative outreach, National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV)
*Op-ed contributor, Sierra Club/Southern Sierran, Desert Conservation issues, landmark legislation
*Urban arborist/advocate, Tree People/Los Angeles
*Trail remediation crew, US Park Service, Death Valley National Park
*On-scene Observer, US Park Service, Death Valley, Barker Ranch-Manson Family forensics investigation/excavation