By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Living in side-by-side modular homes, the two friends are the most visible eccentrics in a place where folks mind their own business and don't object when retirees who've never quite grown up buzz around in dune buggies, motorcycles, ATVs, ultralights and small airplanes. They particularly enjoy flying ultralights around the desert just 10 feet above the ground, "dirt-biking in the air," Kellems calls it. They've also mounted a replica .50-caliber machine gun on the back of a dune buggy, Rat Patrol-style. With exploding bursts of propane simulating gunfire, it looks -- and sounds -- exactly like the real thing.
This is Mad Max meets Beavis and Butt-head, with no shortage of disposable income. They've installed two airstrips, one decorated with a wrecked airplane they hauled here from the desert and placed at the end of one runway, positioned as if it just augered into the ground. At the entrance to their compound are two wing tanks from an Air Force jet, painted to resemble surface-to-air missiles and pointed menacingly at the sky. They've got two hangars to store all their stuff, "big toy bins," as they put it. Big bangs are another hobby. One cannon fashioned by Black fires bowling balls a half-mile or more. Another, powered by acetylene, shoots nothing but fire, but makes a mighty noise.
Kellems, who hasn't worked since 1972, made his fortune in his father's company, which manufactured cable anchors that are ubiquitous around the world -- still in use today, the anchors were used to build scores of suspension bridges, the Chrysler Building in New York and Hoover Dam in Nevada. Black is circumspect about his source of money. "I'm a gigolo," he offers, completely deadpan. "I used to be a male prostitute, but that didn't work out."
Kellems owns 200 acres here. When he bought his land, Kellems figured he'd be able to use it as a playground for perhaps 10 years before sprawl crowded him out. So far as he and Black are concerned, a landfill is better than hundreds of homeowners who wouldn't take kindly to bowling balls falling from the sky. "Four hundred houses and a nine-hole golf course, I can't fly over that -- you'd have people bitching and moaning," Kellems says.
Kellems scoffs at the lawsuits filed by his neighbors. "They're dumping on the blacks and all that -- what a bunch of BS," he says. "Death of a community. Give me a break. The community's not going to die." And if Mobile gets too crowded, Kellems says he'll simply find another place to spend his winters.
"I'm business oriented, and I like to see competition," he says. "Waste Management is getting rid of the competition. You don't do that, especially going through a third party. My dad taught me: You learn to live with your neighbor, or you move or you buy them out.
"You don't sue."
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