Saturday, April 12, 2008

Trippus Interruptus

I'd packed in a fury at 10pm, filling a duffle bag with what seemed absurdly warm clothes and a cooler with anything in the fridge that might reasonably be a component part of a sandwich. I woke early Friday morning, stuffing bag and cooler into the back of my trusty Prius, next to the ancient Coleman lantern and camp stove, the tent and the bag, and headed to the Pep Boys on Hollywood Blvd to get new windshield wiper blades. It was a beautiful tank-top-and-shorts kind of day. I wanted to ensure streak-free scenery.

I was determined to head out. My last day of work was a week behind me, and growing more remote. My hard palette was itching, my sinuses dully ached, I watched movies and ate soup like I was serving detention on my sofa the early part of the week. The weather had warmed after a few chill days, and was perfect for camping. I was edgy, itchy, anxious. I decided it was allergies.

My route ultimately was leading me northeast, to the Badlands in South Dakota. I chose east first. I'd always wanted to visit Sedona, the spiritual epicenter of the southwest, and home to some truly amazing rocks. Either way, I had some desert to drive through, so I took 10. I love that the highway that dumps me out onto the Pacific in Santa Monica, I can also take all the way to Florida. That I've driven bits of it from Texas to Louisiana.

I was excited, even though my energy was low. This was not my workaday city any longer, this unlikely skyline to the north of my freeway - everything took on a gleam of newness. AM traffic did not irk me. I had precisely nowhere I had to be.

Soon I came to the Whitewater rest area just this side of Palm Springs. The windmills peppered the hillsides, bright white stalks against the desert sky. I could not imagine how tall they are. Snow capped the mountains. I pulled off and ate my lunch under a rustling eucalyptus, and lay on the bench feeling the heat of the day. It was that kind of hot where you cannot distinguish between outside and inside your body. Where you feel you're made of the same stuff as the slow, thick air. My head felt dense.

The bottled tea and sparkling water in the cooler would not last long. I poured another drink with ice from the cooler, and walked past the diesel rigs to my car.

I saw a sign for the Salton Sea. Very close to Coachella, the sea is actually getting so salty that the wildlife that call it home are starting to die off. Neat. South was not really where I was going. But that's the point! I turned.

Salton Sea is cradled in a basin between low, dusty mountain ranges, including the wonderfully named Chocolate Mountains. In the middle of a very dry desert on a very hot day, the lake almost seems a mirage, deep blue and lightly choppy against the brown crumpled hills. Dilapidated resorts line the water's edge. Broken concrete's piled beside an old playground: metal slide, empty swings. The day is quiet, and the sound of thick waves hushing against the shore is lovely. I scuttle around and take a few pictures. I have no desire whatsoever to be out exploring. The low altitude, the heat, whatever. I feel like crap.

I drove south through the basin to find a place to stay. I read Calipatria and Brawley on the map. The latter was clearly bigger, but I loved the sound of the former. Farmland road gave onto a very small town. The grocery store, the gas station, were in plain buildings with no signs. I passed an inn, and decided to stop and ask someone where to stay in town. "That's it," the woman at the gas station told me, "most of the stuff is in Brawley."

Fine. It was 4pm. I checked into my room, lay on the bed, fell asleep. I woke in the early evening. Children were playing with various toy weapons beneath the bougainvillea. I ate my soup on the terrace. It was, perhaps, not allergies. Relax, it's fine, you're on vacation. Dammit!

So I spent a lovely night in Calipatria. I imagine there were stars out over the flat lands, but I did not find out. I watched enough TV to realize that I am desperately in need of cosmetic surgery, could use a new skin care regime, am overweight, and clueless about how to dress myself. I drove home the next day through the same hot basin, deflated about my cold, my postponed road trip, my outfit. And, of course, I hit traffic on the 10 just outside downtown, creeping through the corridor of the 101 to my exit in the heart of Hollywood.

I brought the cooler inside, and popped a movie in. Welcome home. When are we leaving?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Close to Home

On take 2 of the trip, I caravaned with a friend out toward Death Valley. Enough with the heavy-handed symbolism, yet still fitting to be at the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at this juncture in my life. We took the 210 to the 15. The 210 through Upland, with rack after rack of synonymous, monotonous developments, then a lovely rush of hillside and green and amazing sky. I had no idea it could be so beautiful on the 210.

Wildflowers flanked the cut of the hillside to the east. To the west something burned, smoke rising light in the wind.

I stopped in Upland the first go around as well, to visit the Madonna of the Trail (historical marker number #1028). She presides over the bridle path on Euclid Avenue in Upland. O, History! Less than 200 years ago, people salted by another ocean meandered out this way. This is a monument to the white womenfolk who came first. I am not sure how I feel about that. My family came later, my feminine forbears on the Queen Mary in 1955, my paternal link rooted down in Amish Country in PA.

We Angelenos are still living in a pioneer town of sorts, it's just one that's forgotten what shoes it's wearing.

The hills just northeast of my home in Hollywood are full of story. Derelict railroads and dead mines, the whisper of cure of the arid climate, orange-scented ghosts. As long as I've lived here, I still don't know the half of it.

This was the terminus. This continent seems like brutality until you reach the coast. The rawness of the plains states, shelterless. We passed a grassland hemmed in by a barbed wire ranch fence. Rags and scraps and plastic bags blown by the wind were caught on the wire, draped like a weeping willow.

The awesome uplift of the Rockies, range after range I would later drive through in a constant gasp. The threat of 20 feet of snow, blocks of granite.

I would keep moving, too.