The magic had gone out of Steven Steele's life. Feeling the strain as the City of Hesperia's public works director, he weighed over 200 and had developed a nagging gastrointestinal discomfort.


"I was going through 20 Tums a day."


But Steele kept going through the workday grind until fate finally stepped in. Heading Hesperia's public works department from 1993-2000, his employment situation suddenly changed when new upper management reconfigure several positions, including Steele's.


A severance package gave the longtime High Desert resident an opportunity to reassess his life. Although some people were surprised, Steele's soul-searching revealed his fate lay in a deck of cards, literally. He decided to pursue his love: magic.


When Steele was 7, he saw a magician on TV and thought, "That's got to be a lot of fun." Seeing his delight, his mother took him to the library to check out his first book on magic.


"She taught me to shuffle cards. I learned my first card handing from my mother. She was a Pinochle player."


Steele's magician skills developed and when he was 13 he performed his first paid show - at the family church.


"I got $5 doing card tricks."


One day, a cement contractor who was at the Steele family home working on a cement job picked up Steele's cards.


"He did things I never, ever saw anybody do with a deck of cards."


Cards, in groups of 10 or 20, simply vanished before the youngster's eyes.


"How did you do that?" he asked the man. The man, who Steele remembers as being an older gentleman, said he was an assistant to Harry Houdini, the legendary magician. The next time the cement contractor came to the house he brought along the seminal book, "Greater Magic." He also offered priceless advice.


"Learn your slight of hand," the man said. "Don't worry about the big stuff."


In the late 1960s, the Steele family settled in Barstow, not far from Goldstone Space Communications Station where Steele's father worked. After high school, Steele was positioned to following his father's footsteps, enrolling as a physics major at UC Riverside. But college -- at least at that time in Steele's life -- wasn't for him, so he left school and worked in the movie industry in special effects. But after he got married, "I decided I needed a real job."


He started working in the then autonomous Hesperia Water District in 1979. After climbing up through engineering department, he eventually left to become general manager of several water agencies in the San Bernardino area. He returned to work in Hesperia in the early 1990s.


After leaving the public works position, Steele went back to college to obtain his long-delayed college degree. But he completed the degree so he could have more credibility not as an engineer or manager, but as a magician who specializes in corporate magic presentations.


"It helps with my credibility."


But making a living in magic isn't easy. It takes perseverance.


"I always wanted to make magic successful here in the High Desert, but it's very difficult. Just over the hill I can make four times as much."


Recently a new opportunity surfaced when Steele was getting a cup of coffee at Blastoff Coffee Shop on Main Street. Luckily, he ran into fellow Hesperia Chamber member Mark Lawson. The next day, Blastoff owner Renée Konstantine asked Lawson if he knew of a magician who could perform at her coffeehouse.


"Well," Lawson said, "You had one in here yesterday."


So Konstantine contacted Steele and arranged a four-week engagement beginning Saturday, March 29.


"I'm basically doing it to keep boned up and help bring in business," he said.


But Steele is impressed with the intimacy of the Blastoff performance room.


"This is really a great setting. It's an intimate setting. The magic is going to happen right in front of their eyes. The closer you see a magician the more magical it is."


Steele will perform card and rope tricks and perform some mind-reading.


"We'll run the gamut. And I'll change the show every week in case someone wants to come back again with a friend."


Perhaps some patrons will even see their futures in Steele's cards, which there is no shortage of.


"I buy them from Costco by the case," Steele said.