The Biography Of Scott Bidstrup

A wild ride in a different kind of rodeo

write to Scott




It's been an interesting life...

I was raised in a religion that stigmatizes me simply for being born who I was.

I was given a value set by conservative parents along with the mind to analyze and criticise those values, ultimately rejecting most of them.

The time and place in which I was born and raised saw the end of the last pioneering American culture as it was being replaced by a settled, technological culture, but which still embraced many of those pioneer values.

I witnessed the dying embers of the true frontier spirit in the last place in America where it still existed - pre-oil Alaska - and was there when the change occurred that finally put an end to the last American frontier, forever.

I was privileged to be a pioneer in a brand-new technology that changed American and world culture, forever.

I had the opportunity to live in and explore some of the last bits of wilderness left in America, with plenty of time to ponder deeply what the loss of wildness really means to the human spirit.

I have twice lived far away from the United States in exotic and unique cultures, and have had the opportunity to analyze and consider what meaning that culture and its values have for an American, while being far enough from American culture to understand what American culture means for the rest of the world.

I have learned firsthand what it is like to experience political persecution and to flee into exile. I know what it is like to barely survive an assassination attempt.

In all, I've had quite a time of it in the six-plus decades of my life. It hasn't been easy, and I can think of many things I might have done differently. But overall, the broad outlines of my life have been quite satisfying to me, and I don't think I'd change that much of it...

They still talk about the day I was born

That day was January 12, 1949 at Idaho Falls in the midst of by far the worst blizzard ever to strike eastern Idaho in its recorded history. It had been snowing almost continuously for weeks, and the occasional wind had created snowdrifts that had buried even telephone poles. When my mother realized her time had come, it took three hours to get just a mile and a half to the hospital.

In post-war Idaho, things were still a bit tough. My parents were living in the basement of the house they were building (which my mother still lived in until very recently), and my father was struggling to establish an electrical contracting business (to this day doing business as First Call Jewel, now run by my nephew).

In the midst of post-war shortages, struggling to start a businesss in a period of raging inflation and now a blizzard so severe it actually cut off whole districts for months with drifts that completely buried houses, my parents had their hands full even without me, but now they had a newborn to deal with, too, along with two older brothers and an older sister. I was forever to be the 'baby' of the family, and something of a burden that just didn't seem to end.

Not Much Fun Growing Up

Growing up in that house my father built on 9th street in Idaho Falls was not much fun for me. I had no one to play with; all the kids in the neighborhood were either a lot older or younger than I. It wasn't till I was in the second grade that someone close enough to my age that I could relate to him finally moved into the neighborhood. My parents had little time for me; mom was busy helping dad run the struggling business, and dad was working long hours keeping it going.

By the time I was four years old, I realized that there was something different about me. I didn't know what it was, but I knew I was different. By the time I was eight, I knew what at least part of it was, and knew the word for it. When, as an eight-year-old, I used the word "homo" in front of my mother, she was so taken aback by this (remember, this was 1957), that she still talked about the incident to the end of her days.

School proved to be difficult, as I found that since I didn't have playmates as a small child, I had few social skills. I was somehow different, too, and knew it. So these problems began to gnaw away at me. In addition, I had a learning/social skills disability, diagnosed in later life as Asperger's Syndrome (a diagnosis at the time would have been possible, but for some reason was never made). One of the symptoms of Asperger's is childhood depression, which only added to my social isolation and lack of interest in school and other activities.

By the time I was in fourth grade, my problems at school became so severe that my parents sought professional help. At the tender age of ten, I found myself on the psychologist's couch. Of course, I had a good idea of what at least some of the problem was, but couldn't say anything. And if I had, the psychologists of that day would have dealt with it in very unpleasant and damaging ways. I'm very fortunate that I kept my mouth shut. I had few friends, and didn't seem to fit in, no matter what I tried. I seemed to play well with others, but somehow they didn't much want to play with me. My interests and theirs were simply not the same and were not compatible. As is common with Asperger's patients, I was keenly interested in science, and I became obsessed with the little transistorized pocket radio I had received for Christmas, listening to it at school and in church, on my newspaper route, and at home - so much, that the cord dangling from my ear led many people to conclude I was wearing a hearing aid. It wasn't long before I could name every single AM radio station in the western United States, whose call sign began with "K." I could cite the frequency they occupied and could tell you whether they were daytime only or daytime-nightime. Radio became a fascination for me. I learned electronics and from plans in a library book, I built myself a rather primitive single-tube shortwave receiver, and began listening in to the world. That receiver opened a whole new world to me, and I began to understand more about the world outside the United States, taking an early interest in foreign affairs and politics. When I was given an ancient, junk shortwave receiver, I quickly repaired it with parts my father had saved from his electronic work in World War II, and started listening to the world, all night long, on a radio that didn't require constant retuning. All this came as quite a shock to my classmates, who viewed me, with some justification, as quite the geek. Science classes were supremely boring to me, because I already knew the material - in fact, usually knew it better than the teachers, who occasionally came to me for help.

What? You're Not Going to the Senior Prom?

Adolescence came as quite a relief to me. By this time I had finally developed some basic social skills, and had learned how to relate to kids my own age, at least to a degree. While my classmates regarded me as something of a nerd, I had enough friends at school that my loneliness was eased somewhat. I lost myself in my electronics experimentation. By the time I was sixteen, I was working for my father now, I had a little money and so I was able to acquire a modern, decent shortwave receiver, so I could spend my time listening to hams, shortwave stations, ships at sea, and the like - serious shortwave listening for the first time. What a joy and fascination it was! I took up playing the cello, and this became the foundation of a lifelong love of classical music, playing in the high-school orchestra, but electronics remained my first love. I built several radio broadcast transmitters, including one with a power of 250 watts, equal to a small-town radio station. It could be heard all over Idaho Falls. I even managed to build an FM stereo transmitter! I was something of a nerd and was regarded as such by most of my classmates. My friends were either other nerds like myself, or the other members of the school orchestra. My true loves were music and radio. I had little interest in anything else.

When I was 13, my father mentioned, in the course of one of those father-son chats, that the only thing he'd ever disown me for, was if he found out I was gay. It was said in a context that let me know he was quite serious. Inwardly, I almost panicked. What if he found out? Where would I go? What would I do? How would I survive? I redoubled my efforts to suppress any evidence that might betray my orientation. This was the first of three times he said this to me. Each time it was with seriousness. I knew that I was developing a bit of a gay "swish." I worked very hard at suppressing it and, with great effort and a lot of struggle, largely succeeded.

Since my interests and those of my classmates diverged, I wasn't overly concerned with not fitting in. My small group of friends in high-school didn't seem to mind or question the fact that I wasn't dating (some of them didn't either), and if they were gay, they didn't say so, and neither did I. So we just pretended it didn't matter.

Learning The Family Business Starting With A Broom

From the age of 16, I worked at my father's electrical shop and walked to work every day after school and on saturday mornings, riding home with him after closing time. I began with janitorial duties, gradually expanding my repertoire to include electrical transformer dissembly, apprenticing as an electrician, and working as a stock boy. I learned a lot there about work responsibility, work ethics and what is demanded of an employee. My parents gave me the responsibility of earning the money to buy my own clothes and with the money I had earned from work, soon bought my first car, a 1955 Buick Super I bought from my brother when he went to Vietnam. Maintaining that car and the trucks at work taught me a lot about cars and how they work, and gave me the confidence to work on my own vehicles. In addition, I had a small part time business of my own, doing audio tape recording for hire, mostly for local high-school rock and roll bands. It was never very successful, but it was fun and gave me some good experience. Unable to afford professional equipment, I built much of my own from scratch.

College! On My Own! At Last!

In 1967, at the age of 18, I graduated from Idaho Falls High School. I'll never forget coming home from commencement that night, sitting alone on the back porch and thinking to myself, "It's over. It doesn't matter if dad throws me out now, because I could make it on my own if I have to!" I also gave a good deal of thought that evening to what I wanted to do with my life. Sitting there on that doorstep, I made a conscious decision that evening, that first and foremost, I wanted to live an interesting, unusual life, and seek out different, unique experiences and ways of living. Since a wife, two-point-three children and a home and car and picket fence in the suburbs wasn't much of an option for me, I was going to make the most of the situation and use the opportunity to deliberately seek out an interesting and full life. That decison proved to be the best decision I ever made.

That fall, I attended college at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. My major was in speech (I intended to pursue a career in broadcasting), and while there, I joined the New Freedom Singers, an "up-with-people" singing and dancing group, that toured the local area and sang and danced for local Mormon ward functions, half-time shows, etc. The group, sponsored by Ricks College, proved to be modestly successful. I enjoyed being a part of this group; it offered a sense of belonging I had rarely felt.

But I was able to remain a member only for my first semester. During my second semester, I was offered and accepted a job as the engineer for Ricks Radio, the broadcasting arm of Ricks College. My job was to engineer three weekly radio programs the college was producing, as well as videotape sporting events, television programs, lectures, etc., that the college wished to use for educational purposes. It was my first job in broadcasting and I loved it. But it was distracting, and my grades did suffer a bit from the long hours I put in.

Towards the end of my freshman year at Ricks, I heard about a job opportunity in Alaska at a salmon cannery from a boyfriend of my sister's. It really sounded fun, and very lucrative by college student standards, and it fit the agenda of how I wanted to live my life, so I decided to apply, not thinking I stood much of a chance. With my application, I included one of my business cards from my high-school audio recording business, and that did the trick. My application impressed the cannery office manager, and I was on my way to Alaska!

A Long Way From Anywhere, Especially Home

By the end of May, I found myself in Egegik, Alaska, 300 miles from a city of any kind, 75 miles from a paved road, and a very long way from home, not just physically, but culturally as well. My job was as the "gasman" which meant getting up at all hours of the night, taking a ride out to the fuel scow anchored in Egegik Bay, and fueling up the fishing boats, whenever a short-notice fishing period was announced by Alaska Fish and Game. During the day, between fish periods, I did bookkeeping in the office, and installed and maintained the boat radios.

While I was there that summer, there came the news that there had been an oil discovery on the North Slope, at a place called "Prudhoe Bay." The natives dismissed it. It will never change anything, they said. They had seen this sort of 'big deal' before, they said, and time after time, nothing ever came of it. I somehow sensed that this time, it would be different, very different. That it would change everything, as I told them - and indeed, it ultimately did. Alaska was never the same after that summer. The frontier days were over. The slogan, "The Last Frontier" quietly disappeared from the license plates, to be replaced by "North to the future."

The office manager at the Egegik cannery of Alaska Packers knew from my application that I understood a little bit about electronics, and since there was no radio operator there, and one was needed to assist with the marine radios in the fishing boats, I was elected, like it or not. I was given the privilege of doing radio work on my own time, after hours, for whatever I wished to charge, and I arbitrarily decided my rate was $35 per hour, a truly princely sum at the time. There was enough work that it added handsomely to my regular salary. Of course, I came home with lots of war stories, some of them so bizarre as to be barely believable - stories of a village of 180 people, which averaged, at the time, a murder every summer, a stabbing every week or two, and a bar fight every night. I had stories about how rival fishing boats managed to somehow sink out in the bay, all hands lost, under rather mysterious circumstances. Stories about other college kids who managed to wrangle a fishing license and a little skiff, and managed to come home from a summer's work with tens of thousands of dollars in their pockets. Stories about life on the tundra, mosquitos and blackflies so thick they could kill. Stories about a meanspirited office manager who embezzled the company store. And I came home with lots of cash. Enough that when my college roommates were eating hot dogs, I was eating steaks.

The company asked me to return in following years, and as it was the ideal way to finance my college education, I eagerly accepted in spite of the hardships of life in that village. The experience of living in that harsh environment proved to be an excellent preparation for the life events that were to come.

In the fall of 1968, I transferred to Brigham Young University, mostly because I didn't feel particularly challenged at Ricks. My major was communications, an arts degree with a concentration on broadcasting. The communications school was a large one, and competition for jobs at the university station, KBYU, was intense, so I never did succeed in getting a job there. I didn't need it anyway, as my summer job in Alaska provided all the cash I needed for school. Professionally, it would have been a good thing, but since there were lots of students there who already had professional broadcasting experience, I was hardly needed. While at BYU, I lived off-campus in apartments with five other men. During my senior year, a pair of them were a gay couple, though I didn't realize it at the time. They must have sensed that I was gay, and they gently cruised me, but at the time, I didn't understand what was happening. I wish now that I had been more open to them. My life might have been much different.

The last three summers in Egegik were much more fun than the first. The office manager, who had been my boss and a rather difficult man to work for, was fired because I was the only employee who had worked for him who came back for a second season, and his embezzlement had aroused suspicion. He was replaced with a much more reasonable boss, who was much more pleasant to work for. My second season was as the store clerk, with more reasonable hours, better pay and more time for radio work, for which I came much better equipped with some books and simple test gear, knowing I'd be doing it.

The last two summers I was the official, full-time radio operator. It was a job I truly loved. I still feel it was the best job I ever had. The work was interesting, the hours reasonable, I still had "moonlighting" privileges, and I got to play 'ham radio operator.' I'd always wanted a ham radio license, but had never had the determination to get up enough Morse code speed up to pass the test - very difficult due to my Asperger's - so I had never gotten my license. But operating on the Alaska Public Fixed frequencies didn't require more than a third-class commercial license, which I had gotten as part of my classwork through BYU, so I was set. My colleague at Naknek was a ham, and he was fun to chat with in the evenings when all the traffic was passed. In addition, a man in the village, Stan Chmiel, was a ham (KL7GSC) and used to invite me over for phone patches to home occasionally. We exchanged parts needed for projects we were each working on, and we talked about ham radio for hours, and I was hooked. When I returned home that last summer (1971), I started learning the code. Worked on it with determination - the time had come to finally get my ham radio license, and nothing was going to stop me. Every night for months on end, I practiced for twenty minutes, rain or shine, fresh or tired, and worked hard at it, determined to pass the test.

Dah Dit Dah Dit Dah Dah Di-Dah!

With the help of the Eagle Rock Radio Club, I finally passed my Novice exam, followed shortly afterward by my Conditional exam, and was issued the call sign WA7UZO in January of 1972. I'll never forget my first night on the air as a full-fledged conditional-class ham. I was tuning around the 20 meter band, and after only three or four conversations, I heard a very familiar call sign -- KL7GSC. I called him and he responded! My very first DX contact was my Elmer! The thrill was indescribable! I still have the framed QSL (confirmation) card from that conversation.

After graduating from Brigham Young University in the spring of 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, I returned to Egegik for my last season as a radio operator. I then went back to Idaho Falls to work for Benay Cable, channel 9.

Only 20 Years Ahead Of Its Time

Benay Cable was an interesting operation. It was clearly many years ahead of its time - too far ahead of its time to be practical, as it turned out. This was my first official job in broadcasting, my major in college, and, as it turned out, the only one I would ever have. I hired on as assistant camera operator at $2 an hour, and lasted six months on the job by which time I was the assistant studio engineer. Still at $2 an hour.

What Benay Cable did, basically, was to pretend to be a TV station. The owner of a local radio station in Idaho Falls, KTEE, wanted badly to get into television to compete with his arch-rival, but couldn't raise the cash to get a license and build a station. So he went to Idaho Falls Cablevision, the local cable TV operator, and leased a channel on the local cable, channel 9. Two cameras, a videotape recorder and a single rack full of equipment later, Benay Cable was on the air. What he was doing had never been done before, so he couldn't go out and simply buy programming from the syndicators, and he had to "roll his own." The program schedule consisted of about four hours in the evening, starting with "Party Line," a TV version of the radio station's enormously popular local radio talk show. They then did a very simple newscast, mostly a talking head reading news copy from the AP wire, and that was followed by pretaped basketball and football games from the local high schools and junior colleges.

Benay Cable could have made it with sufficient capitalization. The programs were surprisingly well sold and ratings were remarkably high, given the abysmally low production values. Nowadays, even low cost consumer-grade equipment could have provided much better images than was available then, and now, of course, syndicated programming is widely available to such operations. But in those days, none of this was possible, and eventually, after about six months of operation, it folded. I saw it coming and bailed out two weeks before it actually happened. It was a great idea, but Benay Cable was just too far ahead of its time.

A Crisis in Faith

About this time, I began to realize that I just couldn't reconcile Mormonism with what I knew to be true about science (particularly evolution) and about the facts of my own homosexuality. I knew that I did not choose homosexuality, and that it was nonsensical to believe that God had made me that way only to persecute me. Such a notion made out God to be a very irrational, capricious Being unconcerned with issues of fairness. I just couldn't accept such a concept. One evening, while watching a documentary on evolution, it finally dawned on me that it had come down to making a choice. These words of Shakespeare had always had deep meaning for me: "Above all else, to thine own self be true; and it must follow as the night the day, thou cans't be untrue to any man."

In weighing the evidence, in leaving out all the emotional appeals, applying only the laws of reason and logic to the problem, I had to face the facts. If I was to be true to myself, I had to accept that Mormonism, which claims infallibility, was clearly wrong on at least this issue; other problems existed with Mormon doctrine too, which I couldn't reconcile with the realities of modern science and history. So after much thought and a great deal of self-examination, I abandoned the faith of my heritage.

I began a long period of agnosticism. I could see no evidence before me that could justify a belief in a god.

Making Money In Radio

I decided that while studying for my FCC exams for the Advanced Class ham radio license, I would also study for my First Class commercial radio operator's license, and since I had to travel to Salt Lake to take the exams, held twice yearly on consecutive days, why not take both and get more bang for the buck? So I did.

In May, 1972, I drove the two hundred plus miles to Salt Lake City and took the exams for, and passed, my Advanced Class Amateur and First Class Commercial FCC radio licenses. While studying for them, my brothers had been having two way radio equipment installed at Jewel Electric, and the manager of the company doing the work was impressed with what I knew about radio. He offered me a job if I passed my exam.

When I recieved my license certificate in the mail, I took it down to the two-way shop and showed the manager my license. He didn't have an opening in his shop, but there was one in his Salt Lake shop, in the portables and pagers room. I jumped at the chance. I went to Salt Lake, interviewed with the shop manager, and got the job. I was now a two-way radio tech! Sure beat dispatching in my dad's electrical business, a job I well and truly hated!

Before long, I had established an solid reputation around Salt Lake as a two-way radio technician, and was making a reasonable living at it. My circle of friends in Salt Lake consisted mostly of other ham radio operators I had met on the air. We enjoyed weekends and vacations together hiking and backpacking, mostly in Southern Utah in the canyon country.

After a while, though, I began to tire of Utah's snowy winters, and longed for a warmer, sunnier climate, so I quit my job and applied at Motorola's Two Way Radio Division.

California, the First Time

Not wishing to live in the snow, I had hoped to get a job in Hawaii, but none was available, so I had to settle for a job at the San Carlos Service Depot in San Carlos, California. This was my first experience at living for long periods outside of Mormondom, and what an eyeopener it was! For the first time, I could be as eccentric as I wished, be true to my ideals and no one thought the worse of me for it, or that it was even particularly strange! How refreshing! What a new world was opening up to me!

In the spring of 1977, on the return home from a visit to me in California, my father died. That event was the beginning of a series of spiritual experiences that caused me to consider the possible existence of at least an afterlife, if not a god. But my experience with Mormonism convinced me that I had best be careful in my spiritual journey; this meant investigating all the major world religions equally, and not being prejudiced by the fact that I was born into a Christian society. To be true to myself, I had to look at all the religions on equal terms. So I began a long spiritual journey that eventually ended in conversion to an amalgam of Buddhism, Vedanta and Zen.

My long spiritual journey that began with my rejection of Mormonism back in Idaho came to an end in a series of experiences that led me to embrace a sort of New Age Buddhism.

I plunged into the New Age community in the San Francisco Bay Area with a young man's enthusiasm, and became a practicing New Age Buddhist, active in many of the activites of the New Age Buddhist community in California.

Among the experiences that brought me to this point was a series of hypnotic regressions with a psychologist who specialized in past life therapy. Over the course of a year and a half, I had dozens of "regressions" into what appeared to me at the time to be at least 32 separate past-lives.

A Look at the Middle East

In May of 1979, I was offered a chance to travel, with my therapist and some of her friends, to the middle east on a cruise of the eastern Mediterranean. The itinerary included several stops in Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Israel. Since some of the stops were to be in places I believed I had lived in past lives, I jumped at the chance. It was my first international travel, and what an experience it was.

Eventually, in reflecting on my understandings of science and spirituality, I came to the conclusion that much, if not most, of the "New Age" movement was bunk, and had to be discarded, but there was a small core of philosophy of living, combined with an explanation of the nature of consciousness that still made sense in light of my personal experiences, and which was still consonant with science. I ended up rejecting nearly all of the New Age stuff I'd been playing with, but kept that which still was rational and made sense to me.

Young and Gay in Late 70's San Francisco

Even though this was 1979, and just ten years after Stonewall, and the gay community was only 20 miles up the road in San Francisco, I never went there. I was still so deep in the closet I refused to allow myself to sample gay life. I'm not gay, I reasoned. I just like guys. How little I understood! How I wish someone had taken me by the hand, and introduced me to my brothers and sisters!

As I look back on it now, I suppose it was probably a good thing. What was unknown at the time, was that a virus was spreading through the gay community, and it was fatal to nearly everyone infected. But no one had died yet and no one knew. Gay San Francisco at the time was one big party that never ended. The gay life in the Castro in those days was legendary for its debauchery and lack of restraint. And this is just what the spreading virus neeeded. Untold suffering lay ahead, and no one had a clue. No one.

I remember to this day, coming home from work one evening and watching on the television while cooking my dinner, a stunning news report talking about a new, mysterious "gay plague" sweeping through the gay community in the South of Castro. Its victims contracted a rare, almost unheard of cancer known as Kaposi's sarcoma. They seemed to sicken and die at an alarming rate. Several had died already. Many more were gravely ill. The newscaster explained that scientists hadn't a clue as to what was causing it, and public health officials and scientists were fervently searching for the cause of the disease.

As I watched that report, little did I realize that I was watching history. That report was the very first report, ever, in the popular press regarding the AIDS epidemic, threatening to become one of the worst pandemics the world had ever known.

But this didn't affect me. I'm not gay, I told myself. I just like guys, that's all. That "gay" stuff is for those "perverts" up there in the city...

Salt Lake The Second Time -- For a Change In Career And Direction In Life

In March of 1980, I received an offer that ultimately changed my life. I was offered the management of the portables and pagers shop at Skaggs Radio in Salt Lake City. Don Skaggs, who had been a customer of mine at Utah Communications, had established his own radio shop and wanted me to repair radios for him in his shop. I wasn't keen on moving back to Salt Lake and snow country, but the offer was so good, it was hard to refuse. I eventually accepted and moved back to Salt Lake in April of that year, buying a house in Kearns, on the west bench, with a commanding view of all of Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountains behind them. It was an incredible spot for my ham radio.

For the next two years, I managed that portable and pager department, seeing it grow from my one-man-band to three full-time techs in that time. But I had grown thoroughly tired of repairing radios. It had become long hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer frustration. I was ready for something else.

Early in 1982, Skaggs Telecommunications Service, the parent company of Skaggs Radio, began construction of a satellite earth station facility they were calling U.S. Satellite Corp. They got a contract to provide hourly 5-minute transmissions of local news for the Satellite News Channel (Group W Broadcasting's abortive attempt to compete with CNN). The administration of that contract meant that the new satellite uplink would have to be manned during the hours of operation.

I saw this as an opportunity to break out of two-way radio into something with more future, and decided to ask for this position. I approached my manager, and he put in a good word for me, with the result that in a few days, I found myself not just operating, but actually in charge of the operation of a satellite uplink. This was a brand new industry, and no one had any idea of how to do it - I had to invent all the procedures and accounting systems to make it all happen. It was quite a challenge, but somehow I pulled it off. My procedures and accounting systems were copied by several other of the new uplink stations. I loved the satellite business. It was brand new, and it was changing the world, and I was there at the center of it, right on the cutting edge.

In a matter of months, U.S. Satellite was contracted to provide uplinking facilities for ON-TV, a subscription-based cable movie channel similar to Home Box Office. ON-TV was to be the first fully scrambled cable channel to be delivered by satellite, and we had to have the new uplink up and running in a matter of two months, tripling the size of the facility. The service was turned up three weeks ahead of schedule and under budget - much to my huge relief.

For several years, I was the operations manager of U.S. Satellite, and during that time, was part of several industry firsts. Besides ON-TV being the first fully scrambled cable channel, U.S. Satellite was the test site for the FCC's tests of MMDS, or "wireless cable." U.S. Satellite was also the uplink for the first direct-to-home transmission service with home satellite dish owners as the intended audience. The service was the first technological ancestor of today's DirecTV and Dish Network. Several of U.S. Satellite's Direct-To-Home customers included some of the first satellite-delivered pornography channels - five of the seven on the satellites, at one point. Being a common-carrier facility, U.S. Satellite was legally obligated to take all legal comers - as was our principal competitor, Bonneville Satellite, owned at the time by the Mormon Church. When they were forced to take a porn service, just temporarily, the church officials hurredly decided to get out of the common-carrier business, selling out at a huge loss, much to my amusement - getting into the satellite business in the first place hadn't exactly proven to be an "inspired" move.

During my time with U.S. Satellite, a corporate affiliate, Centro Corp., at my urging, had decided to begin integrating satellite news uplink trucks. Since there were only two people in the company who understood satellite earth station engineering (the corporate engineering V.P. was the other), I was selected to work at Centro as the R.F. systems engineer.

From February, 1987, to May, 1988, I was responsible for the design of the satellite uplinks in eight trucks, including trucks for KTVX, the first to be constructed such that the uplink could be removed and used as a portable "flyaway," and a truck for NBC News. One of my innovations impressed NBC enough that they included it in their required designs for affiliates' trucks. I also designed a communications package for use with the GTE Skyswitch network that was the only one ever approved by them for use on their network which was not their design.

By May, 1988, economic conditions had caused a downturn in Centro's satellite news truck business, and soon layoffs were coming around. I was part of one of them. I was having my midlife "crisis" by now, and I had considered buying a van and moving in, and going 'on the road', but the layoff finally made up my mind. I went to work and by the end of the fall, it was done and I moved in and went on the road.

Thank You, Richard Oddo

My decision to go on the road was the result of my contact with a man I met while playing in the red-rock country of Southern Utah. Richard Oddo had shown me the possibility of living on the road, in a van, working only as needed and enjoying my time as my own. For eight years, Richard had been living in a van he had built, and simply camped on public lands under the 14-day law, and moved around with the weather. His emphasis on spiritual development and his unselfish attitude towards living made a deep impression on me. The thought of living simply was very appealing. I decided to follow in his footsteps.

By November of 1988, I had finished the construction of the van, with the help of several friends (thanks, Rex!), and moved in and went on the road. My first camp was at Palm Canyon, near Quartzsite, Arizona. It was the first of many beautiful spots that became my home. Over the next few years, I camped in various locations in Arizona, California, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico. During this time, I supported myself by working for Lyman Bros., a company supplying communications to forest fire camps. When a wet summer hit, and I wasn't making enough money, I went to San Diego and worked as a temp for Raytheon Service Company, a two-way radio service shop owned by Raytheon.

"Hold On To Your Hat, Cowboy, 'Cause You Ain't Never Rode In A Rodeo Like This!"

While I was working for Raytheon, I concluded that I wasn't going to make enough working for them to survive for long. So I started looking for something else. After making a few phone calls, I uncovered an old friend from Centro who was now working for a company called Nitech. I gave him a call. He indicated that it was an American company whose entire business consisted of constructing television facilities in Nigeria for the various state governments in Nigeria. Sorry, but nothing was available at the moment, though he'd keep me in mind.

After working for Raytheon for several months, just as the job was running out, I got a call from my contact at Nitech. He said there was an opening, and asked if I was still interested. "I'd go in a heartbeat!" said I. In less than two months, the delay mostly to accomodate the series of vaccinations I needed, I had left the cold and isolation of winter in the Southern California desert, and found myself plunked down in the hot and humid savannas of central Nigeria.

For the next 18 months, I assisted with the construction of television transmitter facilities, did some refurbishing work, and did the design of a television satellite uplink facility proposed for the new presidential complex under construction at Abuja. I travelled all over Nigeria, and did work in 8 of the 30 states. In that time, I became well acquainted with the major cultures of the country, including the Ibo, Hausa, and Yoruba peoples, as well as a handful of the minor cultures. Since the company used modified ham radio rigs for communications, I enjoyed listening to the ham radio operators in Africa talking to each other. I went to a great deal of trouble to find out how to obtain a Nigerian license, but never did manage to do so before I left. Entertainment was mostly shortwave listening. There was little television worth watching, although pirated fourth and fifth generation copies of videocassettes of American movies were everywhere.

Living conditions were generally rather primitive. Outside of the few guest houses (of varying condition) operated by the company, I stayed in Nigerian hotels, most of which were quite seedy. Most of the work sites had few, if any guest facilities, and living out of a suitcase proved very challenging. My driver, Ibrahim Mohammed, was without a doubt, my lifeline. Without his incredible resourcefulness, life would have been much more difficult, if not impossible. And thanks, too, to Yahaya Iliya, a devout Muslim who sparred with me on long, interesting discussions of religious philosophy, and whose books on Islam were very enlightening to me, while I was working on the station at Bauchi. I've written a travelogue/essay about my experiences in Nigeria.

In October, 1992, I returned to the U.S., and moved back into the van. With the fresh infusion of cash, I went back on the road and didn't even consider work for the next two years. But it wasn't a need for cash that brought me back to the world of work.

Coming Out

One of the most influential moments of my life was a relatively small incident, but that had a profound impact on my life.

I was camped at Holtville Hot Springs, a camp set up by the Bureau of Land Management for snowbirds spending the winter there in their motorhomes. The hot springs, really an artesian well, is a haven for retirees seeking the warm mineral waters in which to soak their arthritic bones.

At night, however, the character changes, particularly away from the heavily occupied areas of the campground. What I didn't know was that the spring is a cruising ground for local gays. While there was a lot of nonsense at night (drinking, drugs, etc.), it was also a spot where local gay men could come to make contact with each other. Even during the day, in isolated areas near the spring, occasional cruising happens. One fine spring day, I got cruised.

I was seduced. And I was blown away emotionally! It was one of the most emotionally profound experiences of my life. For the next several nights, I barely slept, going over and over in my mind about what a wonderful experience it had been, and how I wish I had someone like him with me. I had known I was gay, of course, but had never been willing to admit to myself the full impact of what that meant. And having the experience of making love to a very handsome 24 year old hispanic, made me aware for the first time in my life of the full scope of what I had been denying myself.

Over the next few days, in thinking the incident over, I decided that if I was to fully enjoy my life, the only thing to do was to come out. I felt that the denial to the world of who I am was a cancer growing on my integrity, and was eating away at my character, not to mention forcing me to live a life of unnecessary self-denial. By coming out, I could purge myself of that cancer, and become more honest with myself and the world, and enjoy a more emotionally satisfying life, sharing it with someone I could love and relate to. I made the decision. I would no longer run and hide.

Over the next few weeks, I formulated a plan. When spring came, I would go to Las Vegas and attend the National Association of Broadcasters convention, spend some time on the exhibit floor networking with some of my old contacts, and see if I could get a job. Once settled, I would find a partner who shared my vision, and together, we would buy a house and do what I had often dreamed of - start a shelter for homeless gay youth.

Finding a Real Job and a Life

In April, 1994, I went to Las Vegas, and camped in the parking lot at Sam's Town (the owner allowed free, unlimited camping in the parking lot back then) to look for a job at the National Association of Broadcasters convention. In the course of talking with my friends and contacts there, I found out about an opening at the the ICG Wireless satellite uplink near Riverside, CA, and applied. I drove down for an interview, and I was accepted.

I worked as an RF operator at the satellite earth station (now owned by Vyvx, Inc.), and in January, 1996 was promoted to station engineer. I acquired a taste for gay rodeo, and became quite active in the Los Angeles Chapter of the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association.

During this period, I had the opportunity to attend night school at UCLA and worked for and achieved certification in satellite communications systems engineering. I received the certification in 1997 and was accepted into full membership in the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), and joined the IEEE Communications Society.

In time, I began to do more and more of the station's system design engineering, and on occasion, even that of other earth stations in the group as well, as well as assisting sales staff in proposal design. Eventually, even though I remained officially only a staff engineer, I became the default chief satellite earth station engineer for the station, and eventually the group, mainly in support of the group's marketing department, a situation that quickly brought me into conflict with some of the other people in the corporate bureaucracy, as a result of my quick rise to prominence. Something had to give. I was offered a full-time position as the marketing support engineer, but it would have required moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and working directly for a vice president who had a particularly difficult reputation as a boss. So on one of my many trips to Tulsa, I went to a gay bar and did some asking around about what it was like to be gay in Tulsa - and was uniformly warned not to make the move. Additionally, a old friend in the bureaucracy of the company, an engineer I had known since my days in Salt Lake, many years before either of us had gone to work at Vyvx, called me up to warn me that the job offer was a trap that was being set for me by my enemies in the company, and that I should not make the move. I had already decided by then not to do so. And when the station manager's position came open, I was passed over for it, which surprised everyone in the place. That also told me something.

So, after several years of working for this company, it had become clear that I needed to begin looking for other opportunities - my position at Vyvx was not tenable over the long term.

In October, 1999, I was offered a position as director of engineering at the largest microwave and satellite telecommunications firm (name withheld by request) in Phoenix, Arizona, with a mandate to organize an engineering department from scratch. The company was engaged in a rethinking of its marketing position, and needed a full-blown engineering department to make the required technical transitions they were planning. The pay was good, and it was an oppoortunity to do officially the sorts of things I had been doing unofficially at Vyvx. So I took the job. I bought a house on a horse property in the Happy Valley district at the far north end of Phoenix and moved there, adjusting slowly to the Phoenix heat, and settling into the local gay rodeo scene. My responsibilities frequently took me to the company's more than sixty beautiful mountaintop microwave communications sites in Arizona, New Mexico and southern California, and I enjoyed taking my digital camera along, recording some beautiful scenery for my wallpaper page. Weekends were spent in hiking trips around Arizona, photography, and the activities of the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association and the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix. Unfortunately, that job didn't work out, either - the company proved to be unstable, and changed owners abruptly three times in only nine months - and I soon found myself without a job as the result of the serious upheavals resulting from the last ownership change.

Back on the job market, I secured a job with Mericom Corporation, based out of southern California, but they agreed to allow me to remain in Phoenix and work out of my home when I was not on the road at a job site - I spent two months in Bend, Oregon in the dead of winter, planning microwave for a cellular network being built there, followed by a stint in Appleton, Wisconsin, also in the dead of winter. As the weather in Wisconsin began to warm and the job came to an end, I was put to work on a large cellular build in Arizona, my home turf - just in time for the summer. It was a great job, in spite of the heat (I encountered the hottest outdoor temperature I'd ever experienced - 125 degrees - in Casa Grande, AZ, while working on that project), but was not to last - the company found itself in serious financial difficulties in the telecoms melt-down of the time, and soon began to quickly shed huge numbers of employees - by the time I was laid off, the company was down to a third of its original size and was shrinking fast. It was the last full-time employment I was to have.

It was during this time that I discovered that I am a high-functioning autism-spectrum patient, with a disorder known as Asperger's Syndrome, and finally, at long last, had answers to some of the enormous social problems I had faced in my youth and through much of my life. I discovered that my obsession with radio is not at all uncommon among "Aspies," and that being able to name every AM radio station in the United States as I could when I was eight years old, was a classic (and surprisingly common) "savant talent" that is a primary symptom of the disorder. Unfortunately, I was also to discover that there is no treatment, only pallative psychological compensations, mostly through behavior adaptation, and most of which I had already discovered through trial and error on my own. It is surprising to me that the child psychologist I had visited as a child of ten had not diagnosed this - the syndrome was described in the literature fifteen years before I began to see him, and he should have been familiar with it. I also began to understand why I had been so unlucky in love - and why I was and remain single - it is rare that Aspies, gay or straight, ever marry successfully. Yet, I continued in hope that someday I could, and continued to engage in my gay-marriage rights activism.

Adventures In Free Speech

After the elections of 2000, in which the minority presidential candidate managed to win the election through some very questionable circumstances in Florida, I decided that I should become a bit more active and assertive politically on my web site, and detail what I knew what would be the shenanigans of the new administration. I began by writing up a series of predictions for the new administration on my web site - and it was an instant hit. I was requested by a gay-lesbian magazine in Canada to write a print edition, and did so - it was published in their next edition. And when I took the editorial down from my web site, I began to receive occasional requests for the file. I realized that there was a hunger out there for more information about what the Bush administration was planning, and what it was up to. This led to my creation of the "Dick and Dubya Scandal Chart," which detailed all of the scandals, illegal operations, improper influence, conflicts of interest and other evidences of corruption in the Bush II administration. Within weeks of its publication, I started noticing a few peculiar things beginning to happen.

First, I received a death threat. It came in on my web page response form, but I have the script set up to record the internet IP address of the computer that sends me a response from that page - and when I checked to find out who the sending internet address was registered to, the IP address proved to be assigned to the government of the State of Minnesota and terminated in an office building in Minneapolis. I received several more death threats over time, sometimes directly to my inbox, rather than via my web form, and since these were interstate communications involving a government, I forwarded the email on to the Phoenix office of the FBI, along with all the headers. But I never heard back from them, and the threats didn't stop. But I didn't think anything more about it, since I get a lot of email from way out there where the buses don't run. It wasn't until much later that it dawned on me that coming from a government network meant it was the first incident in what was to become an ominous pattern.


"You do not become a ‘dissident’ just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career, you are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society...

The dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and does not gather votes. He does not attempt to charm the public. He offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin—and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost."
-- Vaclav Havel


It was not long after the death threat that I got a series of three job offers out of the blue from two different headhunters in London. As I was unemployed, they were very tempting - work abroad as a telecomms engineer, and for really big money, doing exactly what I enjoy doing the most. There was only one problem - all three offers were for work in countries where travel or work by Americans was strictly forbidden at the time. One was in Iran and the other two were in Libya. I told the two recruiters that if they and their client firms would work with me to arrange a State Department license for me to travel to those countries, I would be delighted to accept them. Never heard back. As I look back on it, I now realize that these offers were nothing more than traps being set up for a certain unwary dissident.

Not long after, I noticed that whenever I went away for a few days, I would occasionally come home to find a few things had been moved around in my still-locked house - where I knew I had not left them. And there were occasional trucks parked out on the street, never in front of my house, but usually within two or three doors of my place. I didn't think too much about this, until one of these trucks, a pickup with a topper on the back, ostensibly owned by a roofing contractor, proved to be not what it appeared. I noticed that it was parked in front of a fire hydrant (for three days continuously) - and yet the police drove by on at least three occasions that I saw, and never stopped to ticket it. So I went out for a closer look and what I discovered really piqued my interest. The truck had Colorado plates - a big no-no in Arizona, especially for a commercial vehicle. And I noticed that the ladder on the roof did not have any asphalt on it at all and yet the painted signs on the topper advertised asphalt membrane roofing work. When I looked in through the windshield, I got quite a surprise - this pickup truck, with a simple, cheap shell on the back, had a walk-through built from the cab into the bed. When I tried to look in, immediately, in seconds, a man climbed out from the back through the walk-through, got behind the wheel, started it up and drove it away. I never saw it or any of the other trucks again.

This wasn't the end of the strange goings on, not by any means. I went to Las Vegas for three days to visit a friend, and as usual, had shut down all my electronics, including my computer. When I got back, I fired up my almost brand-new (three weeks old) computer for an overdue email session, and to my horror, it would not boot. There was an operating system error, indicating that I didn't have permission to load certain files. This was odd, because I had set up the operating system just a few weeks earlier as the administrator, and had permission for everything. After several days of effort, I managed to come up with a workaround, and get the system to boot and be able to work with it, even if it was not working right. Then one night, I was watching Tech TV's "CyberCrime" program, and they had a special on the FBI's new virus-like spyware program, called Magic Lantern. They had a computer that they claimed was infected with it, with a defective installation - and the real shock was that the symptoms were identical to what I was experiencing with my own computer! This is when it all became clear - the truck in front of the house was an "LP truck" (listening post truck) designed to monitor a bug placed in my home in previous illegal breakins. And the computer problems were the result of a bungled Magic Lantern installation.

After hearing that Sophos, an anti-virus software firm in Britain, had announced that it would include a definition of Magic Lantern in their virus definition files, I contacted them and offered to conribute my Magic Lantern-infected hard disk to the cause. At first they were very interested in my offer of the hard disk. But then, all of a sudden and right out of the blue, they began denying that there even was such a thing as Magic Lantern! Interesting how they suddenly had come to that conclusion, in spite of the fact that its existence had been acknowledged by the FBI itself, on its own web site!

Furthermore, for some time, my email had begun to arrive days, occasionally even weeks after it had been sent - something that simply shouldn't be happening, given how the internet's email protocol is structured and how my domain email was set up. This was especially true of mail to and from certain correspondents - all activists, and only email with political content. The delays almost never happened with email of a non-political character, or at most, were only an hour or two. And political email I sent was delayed by many hours or days, and occasionally failed to arrive at all, even though I never got a bounce message. The only possible explanation for these selective delays, given my server's configuration, was interception.

I also noticed something strange about my snail-mail, too. Some of the flaps on the back of certain envelopes had the appearance of having been opened and resealed. When I started watching for this, I noticed it was a pattern - only envelopes dealing with my financial affairs and first-class mail to my friends was apparently being opened. And it was arriving late, too, often several days later than it ordinarily should have.

Early Retirement In Exile

By now, I knew that I was being monitored, and it was clear where the harassment was coming from. I began to weigh my options. One was to move back into the van, which was still parked in my driveway, and go back out on the road, hiding out in the forest where I couldn't be easily observed. But that would leave me vulnerable if I were ever followed. Another was to flee into classic exile and put myself under the protection of another government.

I will never forget the day I made the final decision to flee into exile. It came on a hot July day in Phoenix, a typical sunny, summer day, hotter than the gates of hell. I had made a run to Algodones, B.C., Mexico, on the other side of the border from Andrade, California. I went there to buy my prescription drugs, which at the time, were a tenth the price of the United States - well worth the full morning the trip required. And the law at the time allowed a person to carry a three month supply back across the border. Whole streets in Algodones are lined with pharmacies, selling meds to the gringos. And having lived in the fake drug capital of the world, Nigeria, I knew how to spot fakes. Being unemployed at the time, money was important, so I made the trip.

The trip to Andrade was uneventful, as was the excursion across the border, the purchase of my meds, and the walk back across the border to the parking lot where my car was parked on the U.S. side. At the crossing station coming back in, I noticed that the border agent did a double-take when he scanned my drivers' license (Arizona residents in those days could cross back into the U.S. just by presenting a valid Arizona driver's license). And he asked me the usual question about my citizenship, listening for my accent in his response more than the meaning of what I said. He looked in my bag, and waved me through, no problem.

I got back into my little Ford Escort hatchback and headed out on Interstate 8, back towards Phoenix through the blazing, brutally sunny 122º heat. All was well until I arrived at the brand new, swanky concrete block Border Patrol inspection station, built to replace a trailer that had been there for years, on the east approach to Telegraph Pass, in the mountains a few miles east of Yuma. As expected, I was diverted over for inspection.

It seemed like I waited there forever, before the Border Patrol agent finally appeared. He walked out into the blazing desert sun, slowly, looking me over carefully, clad in his dark olive, long sleeved wool shirt and pants, shaved head with no hat in that brutal sun, and his mirrored sunglasses. He wasn't even breaking a sweat. I rolled down my window and he asked for my driver's license, which I handed him. He inspected it for the longest time, front and back, and asked where I had come from and where I was going, listening indifferently to my responses. He then very slowly and with a swagger, walked around my car, peering in each window in turn (even though the entire interior of the car could be easily seen from any one of them) tapping each headlight and taillight a couple of times with his nightstick as he slowly passed, hard enough to be sure I could hear it. When he got back to the driver's window, he once again inspected my driver's license very carefully and slowly, looking at me, then looking at it, then back at me. After the longest time, he slowly handed it back to me, and without a hint of a smile, he said, in a very intimidating tone of voice, "Have a nice trip, Mr. Bidstrup." He slowly walked over to the traffic cone in front of my car, still not a bead of sweat anywhere on his shaved head, he pulled the traffic cone out of the way, and I drove off into the sultry Arizona heat. The rest of the trip home was uneventful. But, on the way, in pondering how he had behaved, it was clear to me that he knew who I was and had been waiting for me to offer up a little bit of a psychological massage.

Well, I had given some thought from time to time, of taking an early retirement and moving to Panama or Costa Rica, so I decided to take a trip to see if retirement in exile in either was actually feasible. I had run the numbers, and the finances looked doable, if just barely. I have a good Costa Rican friend who, sympathetic to my plight, offered to host me at his mountain retreat during an exploratory visit, so I took him up on his offer, and scheduled the trip.

During the middle two weeks of April, 2003, I was in Costa Rica, enjoying my friend's warm hospitality (thanks, Diego!), and visiting most of the major parts of the country and meeting some of his friends. Costa Rica proved to be everything I had hoped for and more - far more livable than Nigeria, and with less poverty and more access to the amenities of life, yet with a pleasantly low cost of living. Utilities and infrastructure are more modern and reliable than I had expected or was used to from Nigeria. And the government and people were friendly and accomodating. So I decided it was a go - this was a place I could easily see myself living in.

It was a pleasant trip, which I enjoyed, and was uneventful. Diego's hospitality, in spite of his being a busy architect, was superb. I returned as planned, and had an interesting experience at the airport on checking through Costa Rican immigration and preparing to board the plane - it was a long line, and the immigration agent was swiping the passports, stamping them and handing them back as quickly as he could, almost mechanically. But when he got to me, he took my passport and swiped it, and then did a double-take, looking at the computer for the longest time. Finally, he stamped my passport and handed it back to me, and I got on the plane for the return trip to LAX, which went without incident.

All went well checking back into the United States, where the immigration inspection and customs inspection was automated. No problem with either. Then I got to where I met my first official human, at the Agriculture inspection. The line in front of me was moving pretty fast, a passport swipe, and the usual questions about any food or agricultural products, and then being waved through. Then he got to me.

After he swiped my passport, he asked me where I had come from. Then he asked me what was the purpose of my trip. Had I conducted any business. Who with. What were their names. Were there any business meetings. What was discussed in those meetings. On and on it went like that, for a full 20 minutes. The people in line behind me were clearly getting rather impatient with the whole process. Finally, he asked me the only two questions of the entire interview that had anything at all to do with agriculture: had I visited a dairy farm. No, I said. Had visited a farm? Yes. What shoes had I been wearing? The ones I had on. He looked at the soles. Then told me I was free to go. The rest of the journey, back to my home in Phoenix was uneventful.

I had, by now, firmly concluded that exile was my only realistic option, and immediately put my house up for sale. I began preparing for the move, and finally, on the ninth of August, 2003, came the big day. The house and car sold, the goods packed up and shipped, I got on a plane. As I write this, I now realize that as the connecting flight from Houston to San José cleared the Texas coast, I didn't even look back for my last view of the United States. I no longer loved the land of my birth; it had rejected me and had made it quite clear I was no longer welcome. So I looked forward to my new life down south in the tropics, where I had always dreamed I would one day live. The next day, I began my new life in Central America.

You Can Run, But You Can't Hide

My first residence was for two months at a bed and breakfast on a quinta (a small farm) in the little village of Los Angeles Sur, near San Ramon. I continued to suffer harassment, even in Costa Rica; my laptop was infected with a Magic Lantern installation while staying there. I now know that I had been very cleverly diverted into a "honeypot" operation, run by the CIA to attract dissidents fleeing into exile, so they could be observed and their plans learned. Sometime later, I discovered that the owner of that B&B was a CIA agent, a Cuban exile and member of the Cuban American National Foundation, an extremist CIA front organization of Miami Cubans, sent there to run that honeypot, and when I was gone one day, by prearrangement, he had someone come in and install the Magic Lantern software on my laptop while I was gone.

I also noticed that I was not receiving much of any mail through my Miami forwarding address. Anything related to taxes was never delivered at all, and only a small dribble of other mail ever arrived at the forwarder's Costa Rica office, often months late. Most of of my mail was never received at all. The only tax form I ever received during my first two years was hand addressed and sent directly to my Costa Rican post office box, and I had to call the States to get the numbers I needed for my taxes. Yet the other users of that forwarder told me that they had never had a problem. All their mail had arrived just fine. On two occasions, while traveling in San Jose, the capital, I was followed, and on one occasion, my car had been very cleverly sabotaged (though I caught the problem and was able to resolve it before it caused serious damage).

The owner of the B&B where I was staying was developing a new series of lots nearby and offered to sell me one at a significant discount, as I would be the first buyer in the new development. I liked it a lot, and it was perfect for my ham radio. While waiting to get my financial affairs in order and preparing to build, I moved into a rental house on a hilltop next to the development, where I could easily supervise the construction of my new home. As I settled in, I was in for quite a surprise. The weather at the end of the rainy season, at this relatively low elevation, proved to be very cold and constantly windy, drizzly and foggy, to the point that it was downright miserable in the morning, especially in mid-winter. One of my ham radio friends, a Tico, even told me that the area had a reputation across Costa Rica as "La Penitencia," the place where God sends sinners to do penance. Then there were the houseflies. Whenever it wasn't cold, windy and nasty, the flies came out in swarms, buzzing around the house and being a constant nuisance. I concluded that the constant housefly problem was due to the presence of a chicken farm on the other side of the hill, in spite of the prevailing wind blowing the other way. I almost never smelled it, but the wind didn't stop the flies, which were everywhere. In addition to all that, the developer's partner built a house on a lot directly below the hilltop lot I was interested in, and his roof ended up obstructing a major part of my otherwise million-dollar front-window view. So, given my concerns about the weather and the fact that the lot I wanted was ruined for its view, I decided not to buy the lot, and look elsewhere. Good thing I did. That's not all that was wrong with it. It was eventually filled with dissidents like myself - and that's why it was developed so close to the B&B - so the residents could be watched. The nearby chicken farm that had been the source of the flies has, in the years since, been more than quadrupled in size. The flies must be truly awful by now. And just two years later, the access road was lost in a landslide, and for more than a year, the only access was via a very rough 4WD jeep trail, impassible in wet weather.

One of my ham radio friends, who lived in the little town of Arenal on the north shore of the lake by that name, suggested that I might wish to come up and have a look around. Of course, the fact that he was also selling real estate on the side, meant that he knew the area and that I could probably find a property to my liking, though he certainly had an interest in making sure it was sold to me. Along with another ham friend, also from Phoenix, and who was also looking, I went up to Arenal to look around for a couple of days. I was delighted to find a beautiful property which was quite affordable, and was perfect for my needs, other than the fact that it was not a particularly good location for ham radio. But the property was about two acres, mostly already landscaped, and with a large fish pond. The lot was almost exactly the same size as the lot I had been looking at in Los Angeles Sur, and the lot, including the house, was going for little more than the cost of the lot alone in Los Angeles Sur. It also had all services already installed, and a truly beautiful flower garden with lots of mature landscaping - I didn't have to wait for any of that. I decided to buy the house and move in - it was the best deal I had seen in the country so far, and was an almost perfect match for my needs and desires.

The result is that I lived in Nuevo Arenal, happily retired and spending my time gardening in a gardener's paradise and web publishing when the weather is bad. Yes, it rains a lot there, but that's mostly at night and seldom past ten in the morning. The weather is only occasionally nasty and cold and when it is, it is seldom so for very long; most of the time it is cloudy, but warm and pleasant. The locals have accepted me as one of their own, and the place was very agreeable to me in many ways. Overall, I was pleased with my choice, even though it was quite far from most services. No houseflies at all, little fog, no constant drizzly, foggy wind, and lots of gringo as well as Tico friends. And it is an exquisitely beautiful place. The drive from the Arenal volcano to the town of Arenal has to be one of the most beautiful drives in all of Costa Rica - the highway tunneling through the rainforest in many places, interrupted by gorgeous views of the lake and the volcano. At last, I had found a little bit of paradise. And so far, with only occasional harassment from the Boys Up North. I couldn't have been happier.

Your Tax Dollars At Work

For two years, I lived in Nuevo Arenal without major incident. Sure, incidences of minor surveillance occurred, mostly to let me know I was still being watched, including a hardware bug planted in my laptop. But nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing that led me to believe I might be the object of serious attention by Foggy Bottom.

That all changed on the night of Good Friday, April 14, 2006. While enroute to Nicaragua, and staying overnight in Liberia, I suffered a "heart attack" under some rather suspicious circumstances, and it left me wondering if I had narrowly survived an assassination attempt.

No, I don't have a smoking gun. The boys from Foggy Bottom are good enough that they rarely leave any smoking guns laying around - but the circumstantial evidence is damning as you will see.

I was on a journey. I had gotten as far as Liberia, in Guanacaste Province, about 70 km. from the Nicaragua border. My intended destination was Granada, Nicaragua, to conduct some business there and visit with friends, while taking the opportunity to renew my Costa Rica tourist visa. But it was not to be.

I arrived in Liberia on the afternoon of Thursday, the 13th, and took a room at my usual hotel. Being a holiday weekend, the biggest holiday weekend of the year, the hotel could not give me the room I asked for, but put me in room 11 instead. When I checked the air conditioner, I discovered it was inoperative, so asked for a change of room and was given room 14, the second door down (no room 13).

The next morning, I was eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant when I noticed that once again, as has happened so often at this hotel, I was being surveilled. I am used to that - the CIA likes to let me know from time to time that I am an object of surveillance, usually by either watching me or occasionally even interviewing me with The List Of Questions. It happens about every second or third trip to Nicaragua, a run I used to make frequently. They generally make no real effort to hide it, and I think they do it mostly to intimidate me.

But this time was different. The surveillance was a lot more carefully discreet, but much more pervasive. And after I had eaten about two thirds of my meal, the main person watching me who had spent this entire time nursing a single cup of coffee, got up and left, just as soon as I had polished off the last of my gallo pinto.

Later in the day, I was reading a book on the patio in front of the row of rooms, and noticed that the man who had been watching me at breakfast was packing his things out of his room - room 12, the room between the one I was originally in and the room I had been placed in (14) after refusing room 11. What really had me suspicious was what he was packing out of the room. Besides lots of suitcases, there were handfuls of red "Biohazard" garbage bags, each with something rather heavy, irregular shapes and heavy and lumpy in it, each bag with contents a rather different shape. He made three trips out to the car carrying handfuls of these bags each time, straining a bit under the weight. What was in them? I don't know. I suspect that maybe I don't want to know, and if what I have since heard about this man is true, it was truly sinister indeed. And as soon as this fellow was moved out of the room, someone else, equally gringo, equally non-touristy, moved into it, sans maid cleaning.

The morning's surveillance and the same rather odd person checking out of the room next door, combined with someone else moving in without the room being cleaned in between, had me suspicious that perhaps I ought to check and see if the common wall between my room and this possible CIA Central had been compromised. So I began a very careful and thorough check of the wall, looking for any tiny holes that might indicate a surveillance operation directed against my room. And sure enough, I found one.

It was quickly plugged with some toothpaste mixed with some crumbled tile grout that I ground up with my foot. And within about ten minutes, I noticed some faint pounding on the wall. They were putting another hole through the wall! This had me really baffled. Why were they so intent on watching me sitting in my room alone, watching television and reading a book? Why did they not want me to notice them at breakfast? Made no sense. It wasn't like I was entertaining Osama bin Laden in my hotel room or anything like that. So what was the big deal? Hey, if they really wanted to know what I was watching on TV, they'd have been welcome to drop by and watch TV with me - I don't have anything to hide. I have had lots of knowing conversations with the spooks since I have been living here (for the most part, they're not as professional as you've been told, and when you know what to look for, they're usually pretty obvious), and sometimes they can be quite entertaining. Well, later on in that evening, I found out a possible reason why they were so intent on watching me watch TV.

That evening, around seven, I began to notice chest pains. No sharp, biting pains, just an increasingly intense dull ache all over my chest, front and rear, centered in the middle of my chest. It did not let up, but slowly, over the course of a half-hour, got worse and worse, until I was breaking out in a cold sweat. I could feel myself getting weaker, breaking out into a cold sweat, and so I decided to use the last of my strength to make it to the front desk for some help. It took me ten minutes, taking a step or two, then resting, then another step or two.

I told the front desk clerk to call an ambulance, which she did immediately. When the paramedics arrived, in about five minutes, they looked me over rather quickly and determined that I was likely having a heart attack, and they bundled me into the back of their ambulance, and it was off to the local public hospital for tests to see what was going on.

When I arrived, I found a hospital in bedlam - being Easter weekend, literally half of the country's population was in Guanacaste province at Costa Rica's famous beaches, which happened to be in this hospital's territory. That meant that facilities were hugely overstretched, patients were being treated on guernies in the hall, and the staff was struggling to cope (even after being augmented by drafting the private clinic staffs). But they were coping remarkably well - patient needs were being attended to promptly, and the quality of care seemed to be quite adequate and generally unaffected by the situation. The operations at the emergency room were in a quiet moment when I arrived, so I was immediately wheeled into an exam room. I was strapped up to an EKG machine to measure my heart's electrical activity, and it appeared to be relatively normal. A blood sample was taken and sent to the lab to see if any coronary cell death was occurring (turned out it was). My blood pressure was a bit lower than normal, and the pulse rate a bit slow, too. But otherwise things appeared to be not terribly out of whack. So the decision was made to put me into the observation ward and keep an eye on me overnight. I was given some pain medications and asparin megadoses, and put to bed, hooked up to a coronary observation monitor, pleth monitor and automatic blood pressure measuring device. Before long, I was asleep, although my sleep was interrupted rather frequently by a loud air compressor located just outside the open jalousie window. When it ran, the noise was so great I could not hear the nurses talking to each other. I am astounded that such a piece of equipment was installed so close to patient sleeping facilities, with no sound deadening at all that I could perceive.

In the morning, the doctor came by and indicated that there was some cell death occuring, but it did not appear to be serious, so they were going to take another test and see if the cell death had ceased. If so, they would release me, even though I was still having minor chest pains, but nothing all that serious. At 11 AM, they came and took the blood sample. I had noticed a slight increase in the level of pain. About 1 PM, they informed me that the rate of cell death had increased, not decreased, so they were going to keep me in the hospital for a few more days and keep a close eye on me.

By nightfall, the pain had increased to the point where I was finding it difficult to sleep. I asked for some pain medication, and the nurse on duty gave me a nitroglycerine tablet. It took the edge off the pain, but wasn't adequate for sleep, and as soon as it was dissolved, the pain was back. I kept asking for more, and the nurse got suspicious that something was going on, so he summoned the cardiologist who hooked me up to an EKG strip recorder. Sure enough, my EKG had changed. So the decision was made to administer some strong anti-coagulants to halt the process. At this point, as the doctor was running the strip, my pleth began to drop alarmingly fast, and I was fading in and out of consciousness. It was explained to me later that my heart was beating normally, but the pressure was dropping because my blood was beginning to congeal right there in my veins. Rather than wait for me to sign the consent forms for this very dangerous drug, it was administered immediately as I began to lose consciousness for the final time. The doctor and I both knew that it was the anti-coagulant immediately or I was toast for sure. Had the cardiologist not been there at that moment, and the anti-coagulant been right at hand, I would have been 86.

After about an hour, I woke up, feeling remarkably better. The pain in my chest was almost entirely gone, and I felt remarkably awake and clear-headed. The doctor was still there, and explained what had transpired. I had never lost pulse, but it had gotten very weak - dropped into the 30's briefly, and by blood pressure had gotten as low as 59/39. If I had not been on oxygen at the time, I would have bought the farm.

By morning, all my vitals were normal, though my EKG was noticeably altered (and still is). But I felt in rare form - bright, alert, and ready to go, and the fact that I had very nearly died the night before almost seemed like a remote experience. My asthma was noticeably worse (probably from all the chemicals in the air, I suspect), but otherwise I felt fine. Of course, I had given up all hope of getting out of the hospital anytime soon.

By the time I was processed out five days after the second attack, the staff was quite well aware of my situation as a political dissident, and made sure that I had the documents I needed to deal with immigration, as my visa would be long since expired before I was fit to travel out of the country. They were solicitous to the point of falling all over themselves to help me out in that regard, making sure the right documents were generated and got to me. I thank them all - they're heroes to me.

I got a good grilling by the cardiologist, who had all seen my chart and were all trying to pin down what would have precipitated the clotting cascade. Had I eaten any strange foods? No. Do I have any allergies? Other than a handful of nasal allergies and penicillin, no. And later cardiologists, five in all, who looked at my chart, kept coming back to ask the same questions. Allergies. Do I have any allergies? They were downright persistent in grilling me about that - every single cardiologist that came on the floor asked that same questions, detailed questions about what I had been eating the days before.

Some time back, I remember coming across an item during my research for my blog, that the CIA has developed a new assassination tool for inducing heart attacks. The new compound, which they bragged had already been used quite successfully twice in Latin America, was a compound that very closely mimics an allergic reaction, causing a delayed clotting cascade and therefore inducing a heart attack, and is very difficult to detect, even in sophisticated forensic testing, disappearing from the blood almost immediately after death. I didn't use the item in my blog because I didn't consider it sufficiently significant at that time. Now I sure do, and I regret having not blogged it, as considerable efforts at Google have not turned it up again. It is like that item has disappeared off the face of the earth.

So was it an attempt on my life? For a while, I wasn't sure, and tended to doubt it. Until a chance discussion with a gringo friend of mine filled in the blanks.

It was not long after I had returned to Arenal that I was discussing this event on the phone with a friend of mine, a member of the political underground here. He asked me to describe "biohazard Bob" - the guy who had surveilled me at breakfast and who had moved out of the hotel room next door to me, carrying bag after bag of "biohazard" material. Well, I proceeded to describe him, and hadn't got much out, when my friend interrupted me, and continued with the description. He gave me the rest of the description, in some detail, and when I confirmed them, he said to me, "Do you know who this guy was? He is "A---", the most notorious CIA contract assassin in Costa Rica" and explained that he has been responsible for at least 15 assassinations that the underground knows about. The man had once been the CIA station chief here and stayed on after that assignment. He retired and ran a chain of bordellos, including the largest and most notorious in the country. My friend then asked if this man's son had been with him, and explained that his son works with him on many of his hits. He proceeded to describe this man's son - and sure enough, he had been there too, although he did not appear to have been involved in my survellance. It was then that I began to realize that this had indeed been a CIA hit attempt - and was likely to be repeated. Since then, I have found out about others who have had problems. In thinking it over, I have concluded that the "heart attack" method was chosen to avoid the arousal of suspicion - hey, an overweight, fifty-plus guy dies of a heart attack, no one questions it. No police investigation. No family or friends trying to prove inconvenient facts. All looks very natural. And even if it were questioned, a murder would be almost impossible to prove.

So all in all, it was back to life as normal in Arenal, but all this has left me just paranoid enough that continued casting an occasional glance over my shoulder. And my suspicions were well founded - I soon discovered a bug in the laptop computer I had been using, but, regrettably, the computer was stolen in a burglary before I could remove it and photograph it for evidence.

The next spring, I had to make a trip to Nicaragua. The plans were as usual, to take an international bus to Granada, Nicaragua's second largest city. All went well until I arrived at the Nicaraguan border at Peñas Blancas. I was waiting in the immigration line on the Costa Rican side, waiting to get stamped out of Costa Rica, when I noticed that the man four places in front of me was carrying a diplomatic U.S. passport, with its burgundy cover. Having learned that CIA agents (in those days) usually carried diplomatic passports, and knowing that genuine diplomats fly in airplanes, rather than taking all day to ride on an international bus, I thought this was a situation worth watching closely. The man made it to the head of the line, and was jabbering away in Spanish with the immigration clerk, as if he knew the guy. Imagine my shock when this man mentioned four gringo surnames - and my last name was one of them! Realizing what was up, I panicked, but there was no escape - no way out of the line without confronting a cop, and even if there was, there was no place to go. My visa expired the next day, and there was no way to escape having to leave the country or face a possible immigration detention. If I stayed, I would be in trouble with immigration for sure. So, thinking quickly, I concluded that my best option was to go through the line, hope for the best and try to get stamped out and get back on the bus. When I got to the head of the line, my heart sank when the immigration clerk read my title page and his eyes widened and his jaw dropped - he looked at me, looked at my passport, looked at me, looked at my passport - and then went through my passport, page by page, checking each of the several dozen stamps, and finally, stamped me out and handed me back my passport. He did the honorable thing - and proved more loyal to his own country's sovereignty than the bidding of an intelligence agent from El Norte. The rest of that trip and all subsequent trips to renew my visa all went without incident - though I got quite used to double takes when the immigration agents would swipe my passport through their card readers.

In August of 2007, I sold my house in Arenal, and moved to a rented home near San Ramón de Alajuela. I very much enjoyed this rental, with its dramatic view of the Pacific ocean and the entire Gulf of Nicoya. While I was living there, my landlord, another ham, told me that there was goint to be another ham radio exam at his contesting location near the San Jose airport, and suggested it would be a good opportunity for me to obtain my Amateur Extra, the highest level of ham radio license. So, on short notice, and without studying, I took the exam and passed it with flying colors. Now, the objective would be to dump my old callsign (WA7UZO) and replace it with a shorter call sign, which would be much easier for other stations to copy during bad conditions.

But while living at this remote farmhouse, it wasn't long before I began to notice that when I would return home, occasionally things would not be where I had left them - back to the same old routine. And on one occasion, the intruder even left mud tracked through the house. They were either getting sloppy or they were sending me a message. I suspect the latter.

The message was loud and clear - on one occasion, I had a rather frantic phone call from an acquaintance in San Ramón, who, knowing my circumstances, thought it peculiar that two burly young men, whom she had never seen before, in a car she did not recognize (she is a life-long resident of San Ramón), stopped at her shop to inquire about me, not long after I had been there, and being suspicious, she brushed them off. I asked her not to tell them anything should they return, but get their details if possible, for further followup. They never came back.

In October, 2008, I purchased a house in Tobosi de El Guarco, a suburb of the city of Cartago. Perfect, world-class location for ham radio - the site I have always dreamed of - a mountainside location in the tropics - and it is just minutes from shopping and a hospital in downtown Cartago. So, once I was settled in, I put up some antennas and got on the air. I also applied for, and received, my dream call sign - W7RI. Short and sweet, and when appended with the Tico prefix, it became TI3/W7RI, short enough that at least there was some hope that it could be heard and understood in poor conditions.

But knowing what was going to happen, I figured I had best glance over my shoulder from time to time, and indeed, it is a good thing I did. It didn't take them long.

If, At First, You Don't Succeed...

On the morning of Sunday, January 6, 2009, less than two weeks before the Bush administration was due to leave office, I got out a tea bag of my favorite Stash Earl Grey tea, some I had brought down with me from the States, and brewed up a pot to sip on, while enjoying my morning chats with friends on the ham radio. Well, I took one sip of the tea, and realized that something was wrong with it - very wrong indeed. Figuring that I simply had a spoiled tea bag, I poured out the tea. Figured I simply had some tea bags going bad. In the dampness of the rainy season, that would hardly be a surprise, in spite of the fact that the bag was packed in a sealed foil pouch, though I had not encountered any such spoiled tea bags before. By mid morning, I was feeling a bit of angina pain, similar to that week in the hospital in Liberia, but since I occasionally have angina since that incident, I didn't think much of anything about it. But by noon, I was beginning to wonder - the symptoms were exactly as I had during my previous poisoning, and were getting serious, so I was just a bit paranoid about it and called a friend to alert him to keep an eye on me. In the afternoon, I brewed another pot of tea, this time from a different brand, which I had purchased locally only weeks before. Same result - same slightly strange taste, same slightly weird greenish tint. I threw it out as soon as I tasted it. By now, the angina was getting intense enough to be a concern, so I realized something was probably up, and I decided to watch it closely and if it got any worse, make my way to the hospital. It didn't, but it didn't diminish significantly, either, for two days.

But there were two other symptoms quite unlike the usual heart attack symptoms, both of which I had experienced during the first poisoning incident. First, my metabolizm had speeded way up - found myself taking off my shirt and wandering around the house shirtless in the 68 degree temperatures - very unlike me. At rest, I normally am uncomfortable in anything cooler than 75. And another thing - I noticed that my urine reeked strongly of a strange, tuna-fish-like odor, and would foam profusely during urination. Both of these were symptoms I had experienced during the first poisoning. Now, I realized that something was up, and thought over carefully if I had eaten anything that could account for it. Nothing came to mind - everything I had eaten for the past two days had been the usual stuff I eat frequently. The only thing I could think of was the tea. But I figured that if that was it, I hadn't gotten much poison in me, so I decided to wait to see if the symptoms got any worse before heading to the hospital. By evening, they had diminished somewhat, so I went to bed as normal. The next morning would tell the tale.

By morning, my symptoms had diminished a bit, but I was still not feeling the need to dress as warmly as I usually do in that house. I didn't worry too much about it until the angina symptoms began to increase during the day, until they were as bad as they had been the previous day. I put my friend on notice to be ready to have an ambulance evacuate me to the hospital. This was the same pattern as the first poisoning incident - mornings, feeling great, pain worsening through the day, until they were serious in the evening. The second day was the real crisis during the first poisoning incident, so I figured that if I were going to have a crisis, this evening would be it. I was very suspicious by now, so I dug through the trash and found the first tea bag sachet. I looked it over very carefully for evidence of tampering, and sure enough, there it was - a syringe had been used to carefully separate the front and back foils just enough to accomodate a needle, and then the needle had been used to inject the poison into the interior between the separated foils, with the front and back foils remaining apparently intact - so no apparent holes. I have kept the sachet as evidence and hope to soon have a picture for this page.

By evening, the symptoms began to diminish, my metabolism slowed down, and my urine began to smell somewhat more like normal. And the angina was diminishing. By morning, I was essentially back to normal - almost no angina, urine smelling normal, and dressing up like Grizzly Adams as usual in the morning highlands chill. Apparently, I didn't get a lethal dose of the poison this time, having spat out the bad tasting tea. I figure that the moisture in the poison solution was enough to cause the tea itself to go moldy, radically altering the flavor and alerting me to a problem.

Needless to say, out goes the tea, one of my treasured possessions, into the trash. No more of this kind of risk. And so now, I am hunting around Costa Rica looking for a source for Stash Earl Grey and Chai Spice tea. Still looking, so far no luck.

In recent years, things have settled down. My house was bugged once (for about three months - I knew it was there because it was interfering with my ham radio) and this computer has Magic Lantern on it once again, and my house still gets searched regularly. The Friday before President Obama came to Costa Rica in the summer of 2013, I had gone to physical therapy (sciatica), and when I returned to my house three hours later, nothing was amiss, and the house was still locked up tight when I returned. But the kitchen furniture had been rearranged - they'd been there to send me a message not to do anything stupid while Uncle Barry was in town.

So other than that sort of thing, I'm back to ordinary living in political exile, casting a glance now and again over my shoulder to make sure they're not gaining on me. Funny how it is that when folks hear about political refugees, they don't think about Americans, living in the third world, to escape the government of the "Land of the Free." But we most assuredly exist. And I meet a fellow exile every once in a while. We always have lots of war stories to swap.


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