Thank you so much! I've got the example "door open/door close" dummy sensor sketch succesfully talking to my HASS.IO.
I'm literally going to type this sentence so that people might find this later in a forum search if they are looking like I was for an answer: direct to USB, wired USB, hass.io arduino mega, serial gateway no radio, local sensor no radio serial gateway usb.
Sorry for that but i was tearing my hair out looking for this simple solution and could not find it.
The trick is to comment out the RF radios (all of them). It wasn't clear to me that blanking out all the radios meant it would still do serial. The part to config on the HASS seemed clear to me (/dev/ttyACM0) but since I couldn't get the gateway part to work I had no idea if that was even right.
Again, thanks so much.