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Nov-05-2020 14:12printcomments

Tim King: The Dude That I Knew

In pursuit of truth and justice, Tim would see a fork in his journey and take the lesser traveled path.

Tim King, Roger Butow
Photographer Tim King interviews Roger Butow at the defunct ElToro MCAS, 2010.
Photo by Bonnie King,

(LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.) - “It’s very far away, takes about a day to get there... if you travel by dragonfly.” Jimi Hendrix (“Spanish Castle Magic”)

The dragonfly in Jimi’s tune, which I once had the pleasure of seeing Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson play together, was the nickname of his band’s van.

Growing up in Seattle, they had to forage all of the way up into Canada for gigs, and Spanish Castle was the name of a club. Took about a half of a day to get there because the van kept breaking down. Jimi eventually broke the JH Experience up, only to create what he called his “Band of Gypsies.”

What do these seemingly tangential or irrelevant things have to do with Tim? Tim seemed perpetually restless, was a flitting gypsy dragonfly himself, not in some other previous life but in this one.

And even when his physical means of transportation wasn’t quite what he wanted, that didn’t stop him from pursuing some new cause, see a fork in his journey and take the lesser traveled path. He trusted and listened to his guts, his instincts.

Maybe Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” is a song more can relate to, at least for those who knew him:
“On the road again
Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turning our way....”

The world did turn Tim’s way often, he led by example, led the charges, on point like we Marines do, his photojournalism a waged form of asymmetrical warfare.

He was typical in one sense: Marines don’t run FROM trouble or mischief, we run TOWARDS it. To assist and defend. A multitude of causes, truth be known and spoken, interviewing and bonding with those who championed said, and he wasn’t afraid to fight in the metaphorical as well as physical trenches.

Then too, Tim and I being So Cal boyz (we were born only a few miles apart), he 17 years my junior, urban LA Joe Walsh (from Wichita KS no less) did capture some of what I felt Tim in his restlessness sensed and exhibited:

“I was born here in the city...
With my back against the wall
Nothing grows and life ain't very pretty...
No one's there to catch you when you fall
Somewhere out on that horizon...
Far away from the neon sky
I know there must be somethin' better...
And I can't stay another night...”

The Tim that I knew seemed to be moving even when standing still. When sitting with him, either at my place, over a meal, or in the King’s living room some 8 years ago: He fidgeted, seemed focused on that proverbial horizon, expectant, eager and always fun.

I’m no slouch or slo-mo dude myself, been called hyper and too intense since a kid. Maybe it was all of that LA Harbor pollution before USEPA, Tim was after all only a few miles inland, so the stressors of an increasingly urbanized region coupled with rampant air pollution== Two wild and crazy guys? Or was it the proverbial humming white noise emanating from our always congested pavement?

Like he KNEW that there were injustices that called to him like the Sirens of Ulysses, juicy tales and scandals that needed telling, some hypocrites in need of outing, a one man “band on the run” because he was a photojournalist with itchy feet, not just some stay at home scrivener like me.

Tim “got me,” he got that I was bent, that my transgressive, “gonzo” writing style during the denouement of my enviro-activist, in your face, take no prisoners confrontations with our County’s public agency bureaucracy were of importance.

Oh, and those bastards that totally screwed up the rehab of MCAS Hell Toro, kept its ugly dark secrets and DOD betrayal. Tim and I were merciless, and along with Bob and John, I intentionally and ironically dubbed the 4 of us TET (TEAM EL TORO). We “lost” that battle, this TET would feature, have characters who prevailed, who were clear winners.

I was hardcore then, more like an EARTH FIRST! player, a “Monkey Wrench Gang” kinda guy. I now call myself an “actionist” to correct those who seem hell-bent on niching, on stereotyping ecological protection advocate leaders like myself as pissy, whiny activists.

I didn’t have to utter a word for Tim to comprehend my plight. He understood struggling against great odds, the fiscal, physical and psychological price it takes.

We shared a love of kids shows, reminisced about one in particular. Which led to a realization that though serving in different eras, we knew the tongue in cheek variation of Semper Fi: Semper Gumby (Always Be Flexible In Your Tactics)

Those who know the true history of the Lunar New Year, TET Offensive? They know that we, the USMC, were the ones that rolled Charlie all of the way back to the DMZ. Like Korea, where Truman resisted McArthur in his quest to run the Red Chinese back to where they came from, our politicians felt that going into North Vietnam was breaching a hard and fast rule of war, but what rule?

Clemenceau said something about war being too important to be left to the generals---he had it ass-backwards, war is TOO important to be left to civilians with agendas.

In case readers are unaware of it, 99% of our commanding officers I met weren’t the aptly named, blood thirsty “Colonel Kilgore’s” played by Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now.

I never met men who enjoyed “lighting up women and children” with napalm or other incendiary devices (white phosphorus et al), defenseless peasants stuck, stranded in tribal, internecine warfare. The Hmong people come to mind. Read their history, it’s akin to the Kurds fate.

Those of us who studied and followed the appropriate sections of Sun-Tzu and/or Von Clausewitz knew then and know now (from VC commanders themselves) that had we continued up to and including the taking of Hanoi, the war would have been over in 1968.

Hard for many that I share this quote with is its origin and context: LBJ said it, not some wussy snowflake. He’s the SOB President that wrapped himself in and waved, used our flag as a good-bye hanky when we left American soil:
“War is always the same. It is young men dying in the fullness of their promise. It is trying to kill a man that you do not even know well enough to hate. Therefore, to know war is to know that there is still madness in the world.”

No, I haven’t lost the thread here, I haven’t digressed. The Tim that I knew was better because he didn’t write or cover remotely: Whatever cause or purpose, he embedded, totally immersed himself.

He had a greater grasp as a function of his core values, his valor by going to the front lines, and his personal commitment to get your story and mine out. That he had a loving, nurturing, patient and brilliant partner, Bonnie, was (I believe) critical in his successes.

A true Renaissance man, a gypsy traveler covering other gypsies (many of us irregular, rogue mavericks blazing our own trails) in their endeavors----or pursuing his own, providing a chronicle of tea leaf hints and breadcrumbs as we watched him from afar.

This next brief story happened about 7-8 years ago. I’m guessing not unusually atypical, might not hit some as being appropriate at this time, but I’m celebrating his life not his death. So I, like Director John Ford’s line from the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, invoke the metaphor “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

By phone, Tim and I both agreed that it was a ripe time due to my high profile. We should make a different kind of documentary.

A no holds barred, unexpurgated film about the severe, adverse downstream ecological impacts and long-term resulting impairments from MCAS Hell Toro’s contamination, the double whammy inflicted upon formerly pristine wetlands habitat: The discharge receiving zone of Upper Newport Bay from both inland surface and groundwater.

I would be tour guide, both in front of the camera plus be its narrator. I subsidized Tim’s trip, set him up at my itsy cottage here in South Laguna. Yes, over the next few days, bumping into each other was an hourly occurrence. Oh, and his chimney like cigarette smoking habits? Legendary, right folks? Always a cloud of smoke hovering around him and his constant companion, his laptop. (This changed, with time, as he gave up that habit a few years ago.)

Meals and what not all paid for out of my personal funds, can’t remember how I scratched up the dough. I’ve been the deep pocket for my NGO, CLEAN WATER NOW, since its inception in 1998, I believe that strongly in my passion. Now looking back, I only remember that it, like a lot of my life, seemed a good idea at the time, within the “Be Here Now” moment that those of us who are zealots chronically experience.

The day he arrived, after picking him up at the airport, I showed Tim some still photos, some archived tapes, MSM archives, etc. He loved my original concept, one which I dubbed THE TOXIC SOUP TOUR back in the early 2000s.

I arranged mob caravans, issued press releases, badgered MSM, and I personally led anyone interested into our watersheds, show them repugnant urban run-off, how it was killing our native, indigenous biota. Look up “urban runoff,” you can read yourself from your desk just how thoroughly, how alarmingly laden with cancer causing pollutants our watercourses are.

Most residents are either oblivious or apathetic, yet many of their children play in the pools that were and unfortunately still are collecting in the low spots, the dips. Oh, and at creek or river mouths, the points of eventual discharge? Might as well swim in your toilet bowl, it’s not laden with carcinogenic, teratogenic and/or mutagenic concoctions.

Tim and I laughed at the title (TST), we both remembered what we called “polio ponds” from our youth, and yes, thick and slimy, like pea soup, containing gross amounts of toxins, pathogenic bacteria and water-borne parasites. I called my TST the “Seeing & Smelling Is Believing Tour.”

So band of gypsies that we were (2 in our tribe soon to become 3), Tim and I set out on his second day here to film the San Diego Creek Watershed. Its drainage area conveys the surface runoff from the area around the former MCAS.

Due to gradient differential, the groundwater from under the site and adjoining acreage eventually “daylights,” i.e., emerges and joins the extant surface flow.

Joining us for the bulk of the sojourn was my enviro-brother from another mother, Bob Caustin of DEFEND THE BAY. Google him or use S-N internal search engine.

There you can meet my friend Bob, another man who, out of his own time and dime, made a tremendous difference by forcing litigation-demanding rehabilitation. Filing in both OC Superior Court and US Federal Court against the City of Irvine, Irvine Ranch Water District, The Irvine Co., the County of Orange, Cal EPA et al. Bob sued them into submission.

Two subsequent things are not only funny, but stand out: First, Tim asked me to find him some “bomb No Cal skunk weed,” aka very powerful pot. Anyone not living under a rock for the past 50 years knows that Laguna has long been a nexus, a gateway spot for anything and everything drug related.

I’m NOT going to apologize for living here, not regret being me or for the life that I’ve led. I didn’t invite LSD headcase Timothy Leary here nor can be held responsible for the hippie history my city of 48 years of residency has included. Tim King knew, so it was what it was. Ironically, I had to hunt some down as I was no longer in “the flow,” the distribution food chain.

Translation for non-natives: I no longer indulged in cannabis much except at parties, usually holiday festivities featuring stoners borderline ex-communicated, banished to the garage, or if more transparent, sequestered in the kitchen, blowing the nuisance smoke out of windows. Some just stand around, getting secondary buzzes or what we call “contact highs,” get really zorched, solely due to proximity.

We’re eclectic, cosmopolitan and worldly here, we’re not judgmental, we accept what many areas of America and the world do not. I call it a “laissez-faire lifestyle,” not in a business sense but more like “Live & Let Live.”

Now that the stage has been set? Tim smoked the entire ¼ oz. of Humbolt by himself. I didn’t touch it, he was in full “wake and bake” (dawn to dusk) mode from the minute he arrived and it never slowed him down.

I can only testify to my reality, I met him and my life, my personal horizon was expanded.

As for all of that digital film? Back up north for several weeks, Tim never did finish editing the hours and hours of footage into a format, a cohesive packet. So unlike the killer Humbolt weed, I have no idea where all of it went or is today.

Lost? Expunged by Tim to make room for another project? Found by the King family and tossed? Who knows? Ask an impossible question and you get an impossible answer.

Today, with our mutual loss of Tim’s presence, his essence here but his corporeal flesh no longer holding him down, to me this situation has an air of the seminal Japanese flick by Kurosawa RASHOMON.

For its time, a truly avant garde exploration, a cinema verite classic about the subjectivity of perception.

Or for those who know the Jainist monk’s tale of the 3 blindfolded men and an elephant? Each monk, with only part of the elephant in his hand, is asked to describe what he’s holding.

Each basically guesses, not only incorrectly but each comes to a decidedly different conclusion. So in a sense, we all knew “a” Tim, but perhaps only Bonnie and the sons truly met and knew the real, the actual Tim, the whole cloth of the man?

To me, and I can only testify to my reality, I met him and my life, my personal horizon was expanded. I’m better off for having known him, albeit only in all too brief bursts. A cliche but regardless still true: He left a lot of us better off for having met or known him, even if only tangentially, obliquely.

This column is dedicated to those times we spent together; when Tim laser focused upon our common purpose issues; truth to power; open to working collaboratively; the issues burning to be thrust into daylight, the layers and nuances peeled back; the general public more educated and made aware; a new and yes, more righteous truth revealed.

With my new Chief’s green light (thanks Bonnie!), it’s with the deepest, humblest gratitude that I return to the S-N clan after a multi-year hiatus. I can and will promise browsers that I’ll try to do Tim, the King Family and the S-N band of gypsies proud.

Roger E. Bütow is a South Orange County CA based enviro-journalist, living the past 48 years in Laguna Beach. As he drew down his general contracting business of over several decade’s duration in the early 2000s, he began his transition into that of a construction consultant and regulatory advisory role.

Roger leases a small footprint cottage in lower Victoria Beach, and for the past 2+ years has shared the road with a wild cat who adopted him, Kutie, aka Killer. This cat is a stoned cold hunter due to being feral for several years, so don’t let that charming exterior demeanor fool you.

Roger’s CV/Résumé can be found @


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