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Life in a Town with a Population of Four

Amboy, California (screenshot from Other America)

The town of Amboy, California, was a popular stop on Route 66 during the American roadway’s heyday. When the Interstate Highway System put in speedier infrastructure to move cars across the country, Amboy was suddenly off the map. Now just four people live in the ghost town.

Filmmaker James Coulson visited Amboy as part of his Other America series, a 12-part short video exploration of the United States. Rather than zoom in on the derelict remains of the town, or focus on its sensational sale on eBay for $4,000, Coulson interviews a man named Fred who runs the Roy’s cafe and filling station, as well as the post office a few days a week. The other residents in Amboy, Fred says, are the postmaster, the town sheriff, and ”the guy that runs the salt plant but I can’t remember his name.” He explains the allure of living in a forgotten rural place: ”Out here you can go fly in a hang glider, go dirt biking, go ATVing, go shoot something, and not worry about it, you’re not stuck in a cubicle.” 

Four videos from the Other America series are online, with new installments released biweekly (you can see future destinations plotted on the front page map). They include interviews with the Lakota living on Rosebud Reservation alongside Mount Rushmore, people in Manchester, Georgia, where the absence of the former textile industry has left the storefronts empty, and a man from Mexico who moved to El Paso, Texas, and turned a gas station into a blacksmith shop. Coulson, born in the UK, was so drawn to the people he met and the places he explored that he became an American citizen partway through the journey. Below you can watch the video on Amboy, and find the continuation of Other America on Coulson’s site. It’s an engaging example of small budget filmmaking showing the personality of places on the margins. 

View more films from the Other America series online.