The story below is a preview from our Jan. / Feb. 2016 issue. For the full story Subscribe today, view our FREE interactive digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
The reputation that the long-time newspaper columnist built for himself here in Roanoke continues to serve him well as an actual lifestyle.
He’s still the Mike Ives you remember. A lot older (he’s 74) and more wizened, stringy, funny, full of stories and energy and questions. The adventure hasn’t slowed and he loves talking about his life, a life that’s “not that hard for a lazy, sluggish piece of shit.”
Mostly, he lives in a trailer park that has a marina in Bradenton, Fla. That’s when he’s not off on his 17-foot sailboat, heading south for the winter. At one point, he lived on a boat for 14 years, but then he moved into the trailer because of the marina. His boat lives there.
Ives remains one of the most memorable journalists ever to ply his trade in the Roanoke Valley. He was fired as lead columnist by The Roanoke Times & World News in 1979—becoming a member of a fairly exclusive club—because he sold ads for a book he produced. The paper’s execs said that was competing with his employer. The Roanoker’s story on the firing—passionately written by Publisher Richard Wells and appearing in the March/April 1979 edition—presented a detailed, hard-hitting play-by-play of not only the unraveling of the paper’s attempt stand with “personnel matter,” as official cause for as long as possible, but also the long list of contributory causes to the paper’s end of tolerance for “a 37-year-old hippie . . . who broke every rule he could—dress code, hair, drinking, deadlines . . .”
“They were just looking for a reason to get rid of my ass,” Ives says, because he wasn’t helping the paper’s image with his freeform lifestyle. It was a lifestyle that led former journalist and running buddy Chris Gladden to dub him Wild Lyle DeWilde.
Ives hit the road after leaving the paper, where his column was eagerly anticipated several times a week. His writing was crisp, literate, telling and always funny—even when it wasn’t. “I went on the road to play pool for a living,” he says. “For 10 years, I lived in a van and it was what I did. I thought I’d write a book about it, but I got hooked on the lifestyle and just kept going.
“I made a pretty good living at it because I didn’t have a big ego. If a [pool] player looked tough, I’d go to the next guy. A lot of pros feel like they have to beat everybody. That’s why they’re poor all the time.”
Ultimately, he wound up in Bradenton “because my folks were sick” and he landed there to take care of them (and because it was on the water). “It was a godsend. I got to looking at sail boats, bought one and just kept going.”
He has kept journals for years, though he hasn’t written for publication since The Times. “They’re piled to the ceiling, but they’re not polished; just what happens day to day. Frankly, I haven’t organized them because writing is hard work and I don’t do hard work.”
He lives “on a little Social Security ($960 a month),” and his medical bills are taken care of by the VA (he’s a Vietnam vet, which most people don’t know). “I live like a millionaire,” he says. “I’m tight as a drum, so I don’t have any expenses. I’ll buy a few clothes at a thrift store every once in a while, but I don’t spend money and I don’t owe anybody. Most people can’t live like this, because they gotta buy shit.”
His remaining goals? “I’d like to live a year or two longer. This trip [he was embarking on one at the moment] is brutal and I’m exhausted. ‘Course I left with a hangover.”
Ives’ two daughters live in Richmond (Chris, the optician) and Salem (Karen, with her mom) and he talks on the phone with them occasionally. Does Ives miss Roanoke? “I miss the mountains,” he says, “but I like being on the water. It’s always fun to go back. I have friends there.”