CALIFORNIA & UTAH 2022
Southern California | March- April
Drive South Palm Desert, California
Utah Canyons Tour | April
Jan 22, 2022
One boat at 8 am. We waited two hours for it. Many hopeful passengers were lined up behind us. Many did not get aboard. We load on and swim away tossing a brief spiritual condolence their way. Onward to Anacortes and all points mainland.
"Please wait for your receipt. Thank you for your business. We hope to see you again soon," said the disembodied voice of the Car Wash automaton cashier unit. Soon we are bathed in purple suds, viewing the soaking from the dry safety of our car bubble. This experience was made all the more pleasant after receiving such a warm and sincere welcome by the robot. A question: are most business robot voices female? Today it seems that way. Would a male robot thank me for my business and hope to see me again soon? Or would it say "Die monkey human scum!", and laser me through an eye socket? Methinks the latter. Perhaps sailing ships are 'she' for the same reason. A male ship would cuss, sleep in, and come home drunk every night smelling like stale beer and onions.
We move on from the car wash to the Farmhouse on Hwy 20 for some eggs and toast. We are greeted by the same server we have been seeing there for, idunno, years. She recognizes us too despite the fact that we only pull in there about 5 or 6 times annually. She remembers that CK wants OJ and I want coffee. This is slightly spooky. The food is the usual greasy diner grub; nourishing, filling, bland except for the pepper sauce I apply. She leaves the entire coffee carafe on the table but we can't stay to soak it up. We're due in Stanwood for a visit with my father.
My father is in his 90th year. We're seeing him in person today at his apartment in Brookdale, an assisted living facility. Today there's a discussion with his girlfriend Mary about computers and online brokerages. She has her own notion of how it works. She asks questions but will not accept answers. I surrender by advising her to do what makes her feel better. She is 88. Mary provides us with a light lunch in her apartment and we exchange small Christmas gifts.
We move south a bit and dine at Lombardi's in Everett with our pal Lowell from old college days. Lots of laughs. I order appetizers while CK goes for lasagna. I don't worry about going hungry because I know she can't eat all of her entree. I'll be the cleanup detail. After a good visit with good yuks and good wishes we book off to sleep at the Hampton in SeaTac.
The news announces the death of anti-vax Trumpanzee Meat Loaf of Covid. Social Media informs me of widespread grief on this news which boggles my brain.
Meat Loaf and Yoko Ono doing duets is my favorite fantasy sonic weaponry with real military application. Every time I hear one of his tunes I frantically fumble for the mute button while suppressing the urge to dig my eardrums out with a pocket knife. I don't understand the appeal of that guy. I'll just add it to the infinite list of other things I don't grok at all.
We wish the Aussie Open was on during the day so we could listen to matches over the internet radio. But that doesn't start until 4 pm. Instead we tune in to a NFL playoff game, Tampa Bay v L.A. Rams. We root for L.A. to beat Tom Brady, QB for the Florida team, because he's a dolt brained Trumpanzee. Rams win, so yay.
During a game break a local ad plays this over the Portland radio:
"Call Lou, he's like you. He's on meds too!"
Sometimes I wonder if we're crossing over into the twilight zone. I expect to whiz by Rod Serling on the roadside, smirking, with his thumb out.
We made our entrance to Mandy and Yaniv's home in Washougal; they moved last year from New Jersey. Mandy is CK's niece. They welcome us to their recently purchased home with a view, and a counter-full of munchies. They have a Dog, capital D. An 85 lb Pit Bull named Max. I thought he was going to eat us. It took about 30 minutes before I felt that there was a 60% chance that he wouldn't tear my face off and wear it as a jock strap. I'll include a photo of His Ferality as he commits crimes upon his favorite squeaky toy.
We wish Mandy and Yaniv a good life and promise to keep in touch then hustle down the road to book in to our sleep, a hotel near the Portland airport. The roar of jet take-off will become one with my dreams. Can't wait!
At 6 pm we are due at an Italian eatery to meet Anne & Thomas, ancient pals of CK's. They recently moved to Portland from New York. I'm not totally sure why but milder weather patterns may have been a factor.
Thomas is a classic New York City guy with the accent, attitude, sense of humor, culturally intensified sincerity, the works. He likes aphorisms especially the ones you've heard a thousand times. He also is a wine sponge and something of an expert on the subject, so very interesting in that department. Anne is his mate of many years. She is a person of strong opinions. Her personality is 'Free Spirit' but is kept grounded by fiercely fixed habits and personal rules. She is also funny and fun-loving, and appreciates sarcasm and irony. My fave. Also a wine sponge. Our meal was nice though nothing to rave about. The martini they brought me had too much vermouth. It was a fine evening and we left a nice tip.
Back at the hotel tennis was off the TV so we listened to internet radio coverage.
Tomorrow we visit 5 people. They will all want to feed us so we need to watch the intake. We sleep in Eugene tomorrow, Jan 24. We are taking our bloody time getting to the land of sun, pools, and tennis.
We escape the HoTl in Portland without touching their breakfast buffet because we're going to meet Dr. Howard Reingold <Naturopath> & Diane for coffee at Proud Mary Coffee Shop in a neighborhood somewhere. These are wonderful folks that CK knew in Bend. When they retired they went to live in Paris for about 6 years. We actually visited them there a few years ago. Curiously, they took some French lessons but didn’t dig too deeply into it. This is partially because English is so common in big cosmopolitan cities in Europe. The other is that they weren't interested. Gah. If I were living there I'd be intensively crashing the language lessons. But that's just me. They recently bought a place in Portland. They had experienced enough of France although they remain dedicated Francophiles. They share their new homeowner experiences, mostly having to do with the quality of the remodeling that was done prior to their purchase. A house flipper was responsible, so all the improvements tend to be barely functional and predictably superficial. They also complain that Covid has put a lid on their urban interests. They don't know much at all about Portland and very little about their neighbors. Curiouser and curiouser. Also, Dr Reingold recommends regular intake of concentrated seaweed supplements to ward off osteoporosis. This is the 3rd time we've heard this, the first two coming from separate sources. Perhaps the universe is attempting to communicate. We should attend.
We bid adieu and good luck with hugs. Next we hustle off to lunch with two more gregarious types, Joan & Pat Kelly at the Tabor Tavern in Portland. They tell us more about discovering their neighborhood in times of Covid. They tell us about a neighbor lady who was in possession of credentials as a Naturopath. But this was an error. She was actually a NaturoQuack and barmy as a box of raccoons. After the 4th or 5th tale of madness, grief, and comedic incompetence I gain additional appreciation for our island bolt hole. City living would make me mental, or more accurately, more mental than my current state. This quack was reported by other Drs and she was duly struck off the registry. Her house is sold and she is gone, all to the relief of the neighborhood, but still fills the conversation of those who encountered her. I suppose this is the meaning of infamy.
They tell us of certain places we must visit when we have more time in Portland. A bistro that offers 44 beers on tap. A couple other things I don't recall and an establishment that no longer exists:
The Church of Elvis, once located in the old quarter, 19th century Portland zone in a run down building. This was the source of some hilarity. The convo was perking along until I came to an epiphany: the official hymn in this Church had to be "You Ain't Nothin But A Hound God" I have a talent for killing off fun chats. This is a prime example.
Lunch and socializing with Pat & Joan ends with more hugs and good wishes. Now we're on down the road. Viviane, another of CK's long-time pals, is the next stop in Corvallis. We arrive at tea time so the hospitality is just that, biscuits and tea. Very nice! CK and Viviane love to chat about anything and everything. Viviane is a biologist and a fierce Liberal, capital L. She's not afraid to get into the political weeds and do battle against the bastards and nitwits. Her latest challenge centers around the growing community around her cottage at Cove Beach. It is perched just scarcely beyond the reach of high tide. The front yard seems to be the Pacific Ocean. At least that's how I remember it when we visited her there 10 years ago. Anyhoo, the problem comes with too many newcomers building cottages on the sloping marginal land above hers with such restriction on drain field construction that they must use holding tanks. These new owners are absent. They don't use their cottages. Instead they rent them short term Air BnB style. This causes trouble for the established owners. Fighting for reasonable regulations and orderly behavior is Viviane's current crusade. It's going to be a tough battle. She and her co-conspirators don't have a lot of leverage. The whole business seems unfortunate but typical of the problem of too many monkeys. We wish her luck.
Off we rumble toward our next sleep. This will be another Hampton Inn in Eugene. We're experiencing a persistent fog. The locals say they haven't seen sunshine for weeks. We can't see road signs but Google helps us turn when we need to. We book in and fire up the Australian Open on TV. Nadal beats Shopovalov, Barty beats Pegula, Berretini wins over Monfils, and Keys destroys a Czech woman with too many consonants in her name. This goes late into the evening but the coverage cuts off before the Monfils and Barty matches. Bastards. I have to turn in and check results in the morning.
CK doesn't sleep well. I seem to wake up reasonably rested which is notably unusual. I typically sleep like a soggy rat in a drain pipe and start the day dragging ass. Having had very little to eat after 4 pm yesterday could be a factor? Perhaps that's worth some further experimentation.
The 'breakfast' in these HoTls is spookily the same. Chafing dishes with rubbery eggs, something that looks suspiciously like sausage links, a few bread items, a toaster, and a cook-yer-own waffle setup. This works if a person simply needs to fuel the system. For kids the waffle gear is irresistible. This is pure alchemy for them. A 9 year old will engage totally with it, cook several and devour them in moments smothered in syrup leaving behind an unholy mess that requires a power washer. Spectacular. And, you know, I tried it once. You gotta, right? It actually wasn't terrible!
For me, today, coffee and a toasted muffin with butter & jam is all I need. I nick a couple of apples for the car as we check out.
Next stop is the local Toyota dealership. The Prius is due for its 80K service. Getting there from the HoTl is about 15 minutes of navigating multiple cloverleaf ramps. Google Lady is our friend here. We need her to arrive without being launched off in the wrong direction for miles on limited access roads. Years ago we would be trying to do this with paper maps. Yikes. Not sure how successful I'd be doing that now. From the off-the-wall department I realized that the voice of Google Lady is virtually identical to the voice of a character in that Borderlands computer game. I won't be surprised to find out that they hired that very person to do it.
This car service costs a ton of money but it has to be done. The worst is that we have to wait 2.5 hours. We really won't be able to make progress toward Sacramento until about 11 am. It will be 8.5 to 9 hours on road so we'll be burned out by the time we check in. Long day. However we can pick up the Australian Open radio broadcast at 3 pm if we are in cell tower range. That's good for stimulating the neurons. Those Aussie play-by-play peeps are very entertaining.
Oh yeah. I am learning to set the navigation to take us to the next rest stop 100-150 miles ahead. We need to pee a lot, it seems.
We escape the clutches of Toyota mechanics at 11:30. Now we begin the push to our Snowbird bolt hole in SoCal. I kick on the Opera on Pandora, bluetoothing the car sound system. We hit some fog but it isn't bad. Lunch stop Roseburg. Pit stop hit & run. We're targeting a Subway sandwich shop. As we exit the car CK spots a sign on the door of a shop next to the Subway. It offers $5 cup of chowder. On the window another sign: " All I'm asking you to do is try our food just once." This place is called "The Table", so named by the owner in honor of the enormous, ancient snooker table taking up 40 square feet in the center of his shop. "Solid mahogany. Made in 1909", says the grizzled, bent sourdough behind the counter. As we order two cups of chowder I'm inspecting the chaotic tangle of hoary whiskers poking madly around the edge of his mask, guessing how many of them I'll be swallowing along with his soup. We praise his snooker table and wish him well. And it is quite a worthy chowder as it turns out. Thumbs up!
Next is a pit stop beyond Grant's Pass. Meanwhile we find ourselves winding through the Siskyous at high speed using 18 wheelers as slalom poles. We're determined to enjoy the trees and bumpy terrain knowing that featureless plain is coming up.
We pick up the Australian Open at 4 pm on their internet app. We spend a good number of miles listening to Danielle Collins wear down Elise Cornet. The same thing happens to Kanepi who melted in the Australian heat. Iga Swiatek outlasted her. Next: Barty v Keys and Collins v Swiatek. I'll be rooting for Keys but Barty is likely too tough. Collins will probably find a way to win her match. Very interesting. Meanwhile, Felix A2 almost beat Medvedev. Damn. Now there will only be drama on the men's side if it's Nadal v Medvedev in the final.
We have a functional sleep in Sacramento followed by that industrial HoTl breakfast whose virtue seems only to be onboarding unnecessary calories without contracting amoebic dysentery. We get right back into ticking off miles.
CK looked ahead, in the manner of trip planning, and found a tourist trap in Kettleman City, CA. Bravo Farm is how this joint bills itself. The settlement is a wide spot in I-5 butting up against what looks like almond groves. It features refueling options, fast food joints, and this oversized burger palace and souvenir shop with a Texas theme. CK orders pork rib barbecue. I go for garlic fries and a Pacifico knowing that she won't eat all of her order. I'll get to clean up the abandoned debris. While waiting for the food we case the place. Soon we realize that most of the marketing is aiming at children. There are 3 very old looking, improvised shooting gallery games. For $5 you get a few chances to hit moving and stationary targets with air guns. Some of the targets are smiling. Seems unwise, particularly in the hands of kids. Luckily nobody was buying into the fun.
Our food order comes up. CK's ribs can scarcely be seen under the goopy sauce. My potatoes are piled high, anointed with bits of Mexican cheese and garlic. I grab a fist full of napkins. They may be necessary. After one bite I understand that this will be a little like Puccini's La Boheme : I will need a mop. For the opera the mop is to soak up the weeping. In the case of these fries it's to manage the grease. I reach over for a taste of CK's ribs. Grease radiates from her plate like a halo over The Blessed Virgin. The flavor is that of overcooked pork drowning in brown sugar syrup. This is some of the worst road food ever. A shattering bore but simultaneously typical of what I imagine rural Americans think is hot stuff like Popeye's, Chick Fil A, and Chicken & Waffles. Glad we stopped if for nothing more than to experience a paragraph in the collapse of Western Civilization up close & personal.
Bakersfield pops up on the road signs. This marks the end of the Imperial Valley portion of the drive. Tejon Pass is next, a jumble of hills that serve as the entreact to Los Angeles. Traffic is becoming apocalyptic. We inch to within 30 miles of our sleep, a Doubletree in Claremont but Google informs us that we will need 1 hour to cover it. Not bad, actually. It could be 3 or 4. We count our blessings.
On Wednesday evening, January 26, we book into a DoubleTree in Claremont. We should sleep in total comfort. For dinner we find an outdoor barstool at Guss's Barbeque. CK wants soul food: pulled pork with mac & cheese. I have chili with a cucumber & jalapeño Margarita. Food is quite good but the drink is worthy of trying to copy. I will make this a project in April. Now, about this HoTl: For a pricey room there are odd things wrong with it. The towels are inexplicably small and the TV has no 'guide' on screen. We have to request a list of channels from the front desk. We are chiefly looking for Australian Open matches. Did I mention that the TV remote didn't work properly? It was a mess. Next morning we find that breakfast isn't the usual belly-up buffet. We need a special chit from the receptionist for $30 off in the restaurant. Goofy place but we survived long enough to check out next morning and move about 6 blocks to our next visit: Dawn & Pete, native Californians we met years ago at Yellow Point.
Dawn greets us and ushers us into their kitchen because this is the only room with heat, produced by the natural gas range. It turns out that three days earlier the L.A. area was assaulted by a wind storm. They had gusts up to 80 mph. There was damage. In Dawn & Pete's case it tore a transformer off of a pole and started a fire in the neighborhood. The fire consumed their car and the power surge fried the electrical panels in several homes including theirs. They had been without power for 72+ hours. They had to go out and buy a new car too. We got the whole gruesome story which described awkward and annoying problems. While commiserating with them I'm thinking that this actually gives us something interesting to talk about. I'm a terrible person, I know.
Our visit ends with more hugs and good lucks. We move out to Highway 10 that should carry us to Coachella. Not. Miles ahead there lies the smoking remains of a high speed rear-ending. We sit in creeping traffic for at least an hour. Yuk. By 1 pm we're checking in to our room at Shadow Mountain. CK wants to take the duvets to the laundromat for gnome removal and I gotta make a Costco run to lay in some basic plunder. When that's over I need to get a new pair of tennis shoes. After all this goofing around we seem to have enough time to slide into Le Paon (our go-to hangout in Palm Desert) for a bit of food and wine. So begins our snowbird experience here in SoCal. After being in the car for 6 days I feel like a randomly folded up chunk of extra stiff cardboard, a clumsy tepid mess that should really go to the recycling compactor. Of course I plan to go to tennis tomorrow and try to smack a ball with a funny looking stick.
Palm Desert, California
January 31, 2022
4 days ago we left Claremont but it feels like we've been here longer than that. Nothing of note has taken place other than our own laziness variously interrupted by swimming and tennis. Last night we were at Le Paon again. CK ordered Crepes Suzette for dessert, always showtime for that one. Autumn the bartender keeps us happy. Alondra is preggers with her second child. Rosa still dyes her black hair blonde. Eddie, the chef and owner, holds forth. Tonight we dined at Jillian's, a posh-Cali-casual joint with menu items that may as well have been created by Gordon Ramsay stoned on Xanax. Tomorrow we re-visit that Italian joint that fashions itself after an east coast mob hangout: Castelli's. It's a little spooky in there as all the servers are male, oddly obsequious and pushy at the same time, and they've been there for years. People sitting at the bar look like they were born there. If you didn't know you were in SoCal you'd say you were in NYC, Little Italy.
The Sunday dining experience was a Mexican joint calling itself Fresh Agave, about 6/10 of a mile from our pad. The main dining room was packed to the walls at 5:30 pm. It was loud and drunk in there, the very image of a super-spreader event. If they didn't have a patio out in the back alley we would not have stayed. But we did stay and had some nice taco salad. But the highlight was a jolly Mexican fellow with a guitar strapped to his chest wandering among the tables serenading the patrons. He stopped for us and I requested “Los Ojos Verdes” figuring that he would know it given his style. He did. We tipped him heavily and I nicked a recording. We will go back there. They had a chicken enchilada con mole that I simply must try.
Back to Castelli's. We walked 1.2 miles across this neighborhood because walking is a good thing to do. People around here don't usually walk far from their car, you know, they park in front of the supermarket or in the garage behind the mall and don't stray more than a few hundred feet from their chariot. 'Nobody walks in L.A.” could apply here too. There are likely to be several reasons for this having variously to do with laziness, bad habits, fashion, status, etc. But tonight we encountered one of the most disturbing reasons.
A woman stands under a parking lot lamp. The darkness of night is in full power so we only see her as a silhouette bathed in light, a ghostly shape that radiates sun baked loneliness, malnourished desperation. She guards a stolen shopping cart loaded with her belongings. She raves into the darkness, an undecipherable, violent gibberish. I turn my head to look at her shadow. She goes silent, staring as we pass. As we move out of hearing she shouts a profane lament for her dead pet. In her voice is anger, resentment, confusion, fear, pain. This is meant for the Universe. We are uninvited evesdroppers. Joan Baez materializes in my ear; “There but for fortune go you and I.” Somehow we continue on the Castelli's and take our seats in The Celebrity Room to be served wine and an expensive meal.
Tomorrow, Thursday, Feb 3, I'm due for more tennis at Shadow Mtn at 10 with a group of duffers calling themselves The Berrymen who I first met in December. They are somewhat more able than the Sandbaggers but I'm definitely in their league.
We dine in tonight, Wednesday, while I set up Olympic Curling on the TV. It streams through Peacock on my phone so I connect an HDMI cable and boom, we got CK's favorite sport on the telly.
Restaurant Le Paon is easy walking distance from our bolt hole. Floaty piano notes of familiar ancient tunes weave through the chaotic chatter of diners and drinkers. The servers are spiffed up in their ill-fitting tuxedos. We know all their names. An artist is doing the bartender side-hustle to support her child and her main interest, art. These are some of the reasons CK loves this joint. We end up here probably more often than we should. It might be a good thing to investigate other joints but that would probably require a car, most likely an Uber since we're consuming adult beverages, you know. If we need wheels to get there it wouldn't ever become a hangout, right? Le Paon is just the tits for CK. The piano guy tickles out 'Claire de Lune' and a beatific smile breaks out as she sips her Merlot. I love it. We're watching Olympics on the bar TV which is pretty much 24/7 on the USA channel. Curling is CK's favorite thing but it isn't on very often. Mostly what we've been seeing the past few days is goofy big air flips and spins made by snowboarders and skiiers. I prefer speed skating, downhill racing, slalom, as well as curling. I really like the biathlon, the combination of XC skiing and shooting. The TV coverage is superb. The camera work is crazy good and the experts let me know what's up, who is leading, who is challenging, and who F'd up. Then there's the figure skating and ice dancing. This has always been considered a sport. If this is so, why isn't ballet and jazz dance choreography in the Summer Olympics? So many questions, so few answers.
CK went out to try lawn bowling at the Senior Center this morning. I'm hoping that she is going to dig it but the jury is still out on that. She's afraid it may hurt her wrist because the bowls are heavy and weighted on one side. Hrmmm. Tennis finished by noon and I'm ready to jump in the pool and make a salad for lunch. I shall munch my greens in front of the Olympic speed skaters, sending them good wishes. We dine in tonight just like last night. Chicken in curried sauce over rice, CK's standard grub dish. Simple and good.
I'm in the jacuzzi next to the big pool. I put my shirt and towel on a chair and step out of my flips. I'm settling in the hot water with a jet working my right kidney. Now some guy strolls over toward the jacuzzi, all rico, cool, and suave, stops at the chair holding my gear, slips on my flip flops and starts walking away in them. This guy doesn't look stoned but is acting like it. “Excuse me, sir,” a bit over loud because my BT headphones were rockin' some John Lee Hooker, “Are you sure those flips are yours?” He gives me a 5 second double take. After what seems like 5 minutes he realizes his error. “Sorry! My sandals are on the other side.” “That was a little weird,” I blurt. Stoned, I tell you. Higher than Will Shatner on a rocket powered space dick. Hilarious, though.
I'll try to report some more of these 'hot-tub socializings'. Some of them are bizarre. Some are fun. Some only make me wonder how we've survived as a species for 500,000 years. It's a hot water zoo and I'm very pleased to report there's enough chlorine in it to poison 75% of North Korea. Today, after tennis, I'm in the tub before noon because these guys only played an hour and then split. Bah. We played two sets. After warmups it was clear who the strong player was. It was me. That is not to say that I'm such great stuff. It is to say that these fellas need to practice some more. Two of them had a serve I needed to deal with but after taking a few of them I was teeing off. My side won the first set 6-1. Then we swapped partners and I intentionally grabbed the older gent, the weakest shot in there. We got down 0-2 but I started to hunt the floaters coming back to my partner since they were now targeting him to get points. I may be old but I can get that stuff. I began to poach-volley with no apologies. They began to try to lob us but I was reading that too and got back to frustrate them on several occasions, sending a rainbow the other direction that they couldn't deal with. When my partner was at net I was working on serving to draw weak returns that he could volley. And it worked. He was at least skillful enough to swat the cookies and that won us a lot of points. On several points they challenged us by crowding the net but my backhand took the racquet out of their hands so they stopped doing that. The next six games were ours and my service games were all at love. We won the set 6-2. Then Larry and Smitty said they were tired and had to go. Grrrr. I gave up 2+ hours with the Sandbaggers at PDR to play this match. They asked me if I wanted to play tomorrow. They are nice guys and all, nothing against them on that but I'm not going to play for 1 hour and bag it. Besides, I'm playing with the Berryman's at 10. Anyhow, back to my jacuzzi experience this morning. I'm listening to an old Clapton & Winwood live recording from 30+ years ago on my bluetooth headphones connected to my cell. The music cuts off as the phone rings. I can pick it up with the headset by pressing a button near my ear. It turns out to be a Jehovah's Witness Proselytizer from Lopez Island. Her name is Debra. I'm not superstitious so our convo is short. I was the only person in the jacuzzi so I could have spent some time messing with her. But why bother? Goodbye, Debra.
CK spent today at the Senior Center playing Pinochle and taking a lesson in Lawn Bowling. It was mid-80's out there today and she got a dose of it. When she arrived back at the studio it was directly into the swim suit and out to the big pool for a plunge.
Tonight CK wants to dine out at Le Paon. She feels that she's earned it after being baked for hours on the grass at the Lawn Bowling session. She says Prawns St. Tropez is on her culinary radar. I may slurp another Hendricks Martini, dry and up with olives. We are the first to arrive, precisely at 5:30, the hour that seniors usually make their appearance. CK called ahead to make sure they knew we were coming. Antoine always tells her that she doesn't need to call, to just show up and he will find a table for us. CK calls anyway, just because. We get our drinks in good order. Alondra shows up at our table, beaming a giant smile under her mask. She's the preggers one. Last time we were here she let us know that there was going to a gender-reveal party for her immediate family. I told her that I felt the answer would be daughter. I turned out to be correct. Hey I had a 55% chance of being right! Go with the odds, eh? CK closed the meal with a souffle. I was content sipping the end of a Merlot. A half mile walk home using a flashlight to mark our presence for the local motorists. A jacked up golf cart whizzes by at 30 mph with 4 on board. Two in the seats and two sitting in back facing backwards, no seat belts, of course. Looks unwise to me. Altogether a fine day in the desert.
I'm up before the crows to get my coffee, do some writing, murder some comical digi-bandits on the mining planet of Pandora, peek at the Olympics, do my stretching and core exercises, and cook up a bagel egg sammy. I'm going to the dead-ball ball machine at PDR to practice footwork, flip shots, and mid-court volleys. I'd have to buy new balls for that thing myself, it seems. Don't want to. 150 balls would cost $200 and once in the machine everyone else would wear them out in a week. Dead balls, yaha!
Mid-day and time for a dip in the pool, a giant salad, and a nap. This is Thursday. I love being retired.
We dine in. I have a late meal of curry & rice since I was out goofing off at tennis. CK spends her evening planning for guests this summer. Our friends from Germany, the Hettmer-Tillman fam, will be coming to the US for visits with their US relatives plus about 10 days with us. We will scoop them up in Seattle July 23. Helene (8 y.o.), Wille (6 y.o.), and Joshua & Katherina. My plan for the kids is to get them a quality intro to tennis. I'll be begging Kyle to be on the island some of those dates. If he can't then I'll ask Lynn if she can do some kiddie koaching. It will be fun. Those kids are super-cute and hella bright. Helene's English is becoming functional but Wille only groks a few phrases so far. Their mom is an English teacher so these two will be fluent polyglots by the time they are 12 or so.
CK and I decide to do some bathing in the pool before dining on our grilled cheese and Costco tomato soup meal. We avoid the big pool zone due to the Saturday night parties in progress over there. Instead we go to one of the smaller pool/jacuzzi installations about a block away. There we encounter Liam, an Irish lad of about 67 or so. I've played tennis with him on a few occasions. He's part of the Berryman group. He has a home in Vancouver BC but he's scarcely there, he says. He owns a home on Hornby Island and another inside the Shadow Mtn Resort. I don't think he's shared what business he was in. He isn't terribly loquacious. But his neighbor, a fellow named Burt, is. Burt looks to be something near 90 in age. We see him in bathing trunks and he is a vision of decrepitude. He shuffles as he walks. Sagging, dusty skin hangs on his frail bones in grim determination. He toddles dangerously into the hot jacuzzi water with us. He wants to talk. He used to be in the advertising business in New York. But this was some time after his experience as an oil rig worker in Venezuela. Apparently the best memory he has of that was playing a practical joke on his bunkmate with a bucket full of tarantulas. His last day in the advertising business was in New York City on September 11, 2001. He was in the elevator going to the 78th floor of the south tower when the first plane hit the north tower. He felt the building shake. On the strength of that he punched the button to send the elevator down. He was out and walking away from the buildings when the second plane hit. He later learned that he was one of the last to escape. He described other horrors but I'm sure you can imagine what they were. I had to help him out of the jacuzzi. I don't think he had the physical power to do it solo.
See what I mean about meeting people in these hot tubs?
This is Sunday and I scheduled Siggy, the pro, for an hour. We work on forehand and serves. Then we play some points, which is kind of an audition. I didn't do very well all told, but had a few good rallies. At any rate, this hour gets me warm for the next phase of the day which is: Matt conducting a 3 hour tennis clinic at Palm Desert Resort. We are 5 students, 2 guys and 3 ladies. Matt starts by asking us what we want to work on but before anyone has a chance to answer he launches into volley drills. This is what we do for all but the last 30 minutes. During a break he decides to tell a story about a stay in Las Vegas with one of his buddies. They had gone to a cheezy kink club that featured rather psychotic midgets. His pal decides to seduce two of them for a lark. This apparently didn't require a lot of effort. He got them to the hotel where both he and Matt were staying, also not a big trick. Both little people spent most of the night with Matt's friend in his room. About 3 am Matt's phone rings. It's his pal. He says that something is wrong in his room, that there is a bad smell. Matt reminds him that he's just spent several hours with two very kinked out midgets and hangs up. About 30 minutes later his pal rings Matt's phone again and is very urgent this time describing an extremely ugly smell. “Something's really wrong here,” he says. “Well, call hotel security or housekeeping down at the front desk. I'm not going to figure it out!” So Matt's friend reports it to the front desk. They send up some people to investigate. What they found was tre disturbing. Someone had cut a cavity out of the underside of the mattress big enough to hide the body of a hooker. She had been decomposing there for days. Matt's friend had been banging two midgets on top of a rotting corpse. “True story,” says Schizoid Matt, “And now let's do more volleys, shall we?”
It was a warm day, about 85F and we worked on drills from 10:30 to 1:00. After every basket of balls he'd command us to pick them up and refill him. During this time he would disappear off court. He'd come back smelling like a pack of stale tobacco. He's a goofy dude and I'll guess there's only one of him in the Multiverse. I hope so. Despite the tale of murder and midgets in Las Vegas I managed to focus on tennis long enough to get a few good licks in. I'm starting to understand my forehand a bit better. Volleys? Meh. I have good days and bad days. Bottom line is that I don't really command the technique like I should. And Matt sends me wicked ugly feeds with no apology. Much work remains to be done.
Back home at the studio, CK is busy making plans for the Hettmer-Tillman visit this summer. I go directly to the pool for a dip which will feel superb after 3 hours on a hot court. This is Super Bowl Sunday and we are going to watch. I'm quick to hit the mute button when they begin the jingoist behavior of bleating out the official music of national loyalty. I'm here to watch commercials and watch to see if the underdogs can win. I laugh at a few commercials but the most remarkable part of the game is halftime. I don't know if you watched any of this but it was a gala of hip-hop and rap with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Eminem, and Mary J Blighe. I absolutely did not understand a word of it. And these guys, if they didn't have one hand holding a mic up to their faces, both hands would be on their crotches. What does that even mean? Whatever pop culture exists out there it is safe from being appropriated by me. As far as I'm concerned, all of it is from Planet 9. The Rams win and the $10 I put in the pool two days ago remains forever 3 points from paying off. Drat.
Our evening meal is pre-cooked Lamb Shank obtained from Costco with rice and frozen veg medley on the side. Easy and satisfying. CK wants to go to Le Paon on Tuesday.
This is Monday and guess what? I'm off to hit tennis balls again. I'm not tired of it yet. The dead ball ball machine at Palm Desert Resort once had the personality of a stair master: predictable, brutal, pitiless, deadly. Now it has fallen into mechanical despair, carelessly flinging bald tennis balls, airless spheres of flat sadness and gloom. The spirit of Marvin, the manically depressed robot of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, has taken possession 0f it. It is suicidal. We once hoped to replace the balls with Matt's used ones when he cycled into new. But there is no hope there, either, because the balls in his basket are as dead as these. I mean to say, these are beginning to feel like Kiddy Balls. Today Matt wasn't here. His buddy Clive from La Quinta Resort filled in. There was only two of us for the clinic so we just did a few volley drills and then rallied. But 5 minutes into the session he shoved the basket to the side and opened two cans of new balls. I opened a can of mine and Debra, the other player, opened a can too. We did the session with 12 new balls and didn't mind scooping them up more often. It's just ridiculous. Clive says he cycles out his basket once per week. Gah.
I don't know what CK is planning for a meal tonight. I hope it's good because I'm starving. Bagel/egg sammy for breakfast and a salad for lunch. I stopped by a Mexican market on the way home and nicked a frozen confection labeled 'Mango con Crema'. O my gawd, it was brilliant. Soooo goooood. Now I'm sad that we don't have a Mexican market on the Island. We're dining in tonight because it would be foolish to go to a restaurant on Valentine's Day. Way too crowded everywhere.
Noah Purifoy. This fellow was an African American who lived in Watts during the riots. He was a college educated artist as well. Once upon a time he grabbed a chunk of desert near Yucca Valley and set up a sculpture garden of various pieces of wreckage and junk. It is about an hour to get there from Palm Desert. The road takes us through the burg of Morongo, kind of gritty wide spot in the road that seems to be losing an arm-wrestling contest with the surrounding desert.
Soon we arrive in the town of Yucca Valley. This is much more upscale, further developed with businesses and fancy homes. Standing on a busy corner an Old Coot shouts at the traffic. He magic-markered a large sheet of cardboard with an anti-war message. There are fabulous rock formations and cactus plants that look like some intergalactic invasion of Pod People with spikes on their arms. We have to go out beyond the town to get to the sculptures. This puts us in Dumbklukistan. Conservative Fox News Propaganda has seized the minds of people living here. I see a Fuck Biden Flag … and other US flags abandoned on poles hanging by a thread or tattered to flaccid passivity. Bumper stickers advertising hate. This is Trumpanzee-ville.
On the side of a very dusty road we spot a fruit seller and stopped to plunder him. Had to speak Spanish because he couldn't speak English. Got a bag of oranges. 30 for $10.
Onward to the sculpture junk yard. I've seen things like this before but not in a desert setting. It is very quiet here. There are no traffic noises, jet aircraft, lawn mowers, or any of that. This is the first thing we notice. Next thing: the constructions here are being left to deteriorate. The desert will eventually swallow it up or they will fall apart. Some of them are being braced by wires staked into the ground. We have to watch carefully as we walk between these pieces as the wires threaten to trip us. There are also Cholla cactus dotting the grounds here. Don't touch that. Ever.
Had one of the oranges this morning. Luscious flesh, juicy, colorful, everything perfect except they have no flavor, no sugar. Weird. It's like a Diet-Orange. I might expect this from fruit that had gone past its sell date but this looks like primo stuff in every way. I've never experienced this kind of orange.
Tennis today is a ball machine at 9 am. I need to warm up my bones before the 10 am sets with Berryman Group. Focus on footwork, preparation, and get momentum to the contact point. I need to attack the ball more regardless of where it is in the hit zone. Sometimes I feel like I'm not 'getting it' and especially so when I feel like I'm jerking the racquet through the ball instead of doing a smooth, accelerating loop. Extensive warmups help me get into the groove, so to speak.
March 1 !
Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, etc. I wish such flagrant debaucheries were sarcastic, satirical responses to inane superstitious ritual but for The Faithful I think it's something else. Lent must be the Catholic Church's weight-loss program. They need one after all that Feasting in the Name of Jesus back in December.
I take a break from tennis. Me and the golf sticks find ourselves at the local range. What is it with me? More sticks and balls and attempting to hit targets. Is that what it's all about? HA! I didn't hit them that poorly, either. Even so, had I taken my game to a course the score would have been unworthy.
From there I quested out to find a haircut. The last time I did this I tried a joint called Nick's Barbershop & Lounge. It was a bit on the edge of toxic masculinity in there. Those guys looked like all they needed was a sincere invitation to join a gang but lacking that they would grudgingly cut your hair and offer you a free shot of whisky too. One and done with that. So today I'm taking a chance on a joint calling itself Lucky Boys Salon. I called ahead for an appointment but nopers. Drop in only, no appointments taken. This turned out to be ok. The chairs were full but I was on deck, having to wait only 10 minutes. As I waited I had time to check out the hairdressers on offer. A rather piratical looking fellow with Frank Zappa-ish facial hair was working a lady's head. He was likely to be the owner. I didn't catch his name. In the other chair an 80-ish gent was being shorn by a puzzling person in black tights wearing a pink wig and enormous fake lashes. After 60 seconds of study I concluded that this was a trans person. It was also clear that he/she had made the physical transition quite gracefully. Her name is Cody. She is now my official hairdresser in Palm Desert. I don't meet many trans people so, naturally, I am fascinated somewhat. All of her clothing and make-up is female but her voice didn't make the transition. It remains quite male in tone and depth. Because of my inexperience this creates cognitive dissonance in my silly brain. It's just something I recognize, a curious reaction that exposes my own assumption of 'norms'. I like her. She gave me a terrific haircut, very meticulous and expertly done. I'll go there again in April before we leave on our extra long road trip home. We're going to go by way of the Utah parks to tick off some more bucket list items.
Dinner is with Derek and Leonora again. Drinks at their place then we drive to La Quinta for reservation at Lavender, a very posh California style thing with a dressed-up & casual vibe. All the servers and wine stewards wear livery and lavender ties. We dine in the courtyard, open air, populated by trees each trunk and limb decorated by LED lights. It was very sparkly. Food is top notch, service excellent. I start with butternut ravioli in a tapas serving. Entree is seared Ahi over risotto. CK and I drain a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Conversation brisk. The Peakman's are social gadflies and do love chatter. I'm afraid we are all a little buzzed on the ride home. I was driving. If the local fuzz had stopped me I probably would have gone to jail. I gotta watch that stuff. This is why we almost always walk to dine.
Tennis for two hours with Berryman's. My tennis doesn't seem to warm up to speed until I've been playing or warming up for an hour or so. Even then I don't feel that it is very effective.
We go out to a matinee of “Death on the Nile”, another Kenneth Branagh project. Lots of expository makes the plot move slow and there is an indulgence in character development, a requirement due to lots of players. Add a picture post card treatment of early 20thcentury landscapes and city scenes. Much of the film is kind of a time-machine journey to a mythical version of the 1930's. This provides a certain level of fascination. The cruise boat they use on the Nile is an amazing piece. I cannot tell if it is real or not. It may be the combination of a model and a set, and probably is. But they did such a good job. Amazing. Branagh directed as well as starred in this. I think he is not much averse to melodramatic performances because some of his cast members touch that extremity from time to time. Letitia Wright (Shuri in “Black Panther”) is in this. I dunno why but this lady is frickin' awesome in anything she does.
CK made 6:15 reservations at a Japanese joint called Musashi. We arrive at 6:14 and are immediately shooed out. The lady says they are 'behind' schedule. I think that they intentionally overbook. A quick look at their space sinks our hopes a bit. It is overcrowded. Too many tables very close together, all packed tight. The air is stale and humid with human breath and you know how sensitive we've become to that sort of thing. We wait outside for 15 minutes. A couple of parties depart but the dining room boss-lady does not summon us back. Considering that we were shooed and the room looks like a super-spreader event, we bail. At dinner hour in Palm Desert in March with no reservation, we are looking for two empty bar stools, the only thing that nobody takes reservations for. We find that at a Thai restaurant on the main drag. We have a lovely evening and it is tons cheaper than Le Paon, our evening destination on Friday. Le Paon is expensive but they have tinkly piano and friendly staff.
March Forth!! One of the best days on the calendar. This morning threatens rain, which may not be a problem if the front passes through early. I will simply have to squeegee the courts at PDR again. Today is Sandbaggers if the rain moves on with small effect.
As it turns out I have to sweep the puddles off the courts with a broom. The squeegee is nowhere to be seen. I arrive early and get two courts cleared. PDR's focus on Pickleball is very apparent at times like this. The staff doesn't blow the detritus off the courts, squeegee water, provide a squeegee to use, or put usable balls in the ball machine. It's like, “All y'all tennis types can eat jackrabbit poop! We're playing Pickleball!” I probably won't be returning to this club next November.
Today we do a road trip to Phoenix to visit Cal Matthews, an old pal of CK's. It is an 8 hour round trip drive with a social lunch in the middle. No exercise except for my usual crunches and stretches in the pre-dawn hours. I must avoid the junk food and burgers.
We stop in La Quinta to pick up Kathie, an old colleague. She's an old ally of Cal's too. I squeeze into the back seat of the Prius so CK and her can chat. Kathie is a person never at loss for words. It is 4 hours of chatter to Phoenix but I'm not hearing most of it from my rear position. We break after two hours for gas and a Starbuck's in Blythe, CA. In the coffee shop I tried to order a chai tea. “Sorry, we're out.” Ok, a honey lemon tea please.” “Sorry, we're out of that too.” Next I asked for a Matcha thinking that they couldn't possibly have that. “Ok, coming right up!” Outside in the parking lot a steady, dry breeze blows tumbleweeds among the parked cars. Grackles hop along the pavement looking for stray crumbs of scone and banana bread, sometimes successfully. I strap myself back into the back of the Prius bolstered by pillows on my lower back and neck. My Matcha tea tastes intensely green and empty except for the massive caffeine load. I'm getting hungry and it's at least 3 hours to lunch. Drive on.
The air is clear so we can see the rock formations on the horizon. They must be fresh, geologically speaking, because they look like sharp saw teeth against the sky. Erosion hasn't had enough time to round them down. This is the Sonoran Desert now and Saguaro cacti are a common thing.
We arrive at Cal's place in Surprise, AZ and because it's AZ our timepieces pop backwards 1 hour. The lawmakers here do not cotton to no kind of Daylight Savings Time no way, no how. Cal and his new wife (Lili died of cancer a few years ago) have a cottage that was once supplementary to a motor home. The motor home was sold years ago so they just have the cottage now. It is quite small but functional. The local scene is that of an RV park packed with rigs and cottages like this one all crammed way too close together for my taste. For a time there are 5 of us in the cottage and it's a little close. The conversation soon moves toward lunch. We agree to follow Cal to a joint he has in mind, Amelia's. Amelia's is a large-ish cafeteria style restaurant on a golf course. It is 1/3 occupied. I order an Asian chicken salad. “We're out,” drones the lady server. How can you be out of chicken and lettuce, I'm asking myself. “Do you have a BLT?” “Yes” Nice, thinks I. It only took one extra go to hit a winner but takes 40 minutes to get food. At least the beer arrived reasonably. I drink a full quart of stout before the sandwich finds my table. Not sure if I'm hungry any more. I never want to be here when this joint is full. I'd be on-my-lips drunk and significantly more aged by the time my order arrives.
The four of them chat about old times and new pains while I hang out at the end of the table. I can't really hear them since the room is an acoustic nightmare. Only 1/3 full and the white-noise-voice-over is deafening. I keep my mouth shut unless asked to open it.
Lunch comes and goes. We get some group pix. 4+ hours to get back to Palm Desert. I don't have an interesting description for that. We used route 60 for a good part of it. Several little speed trap burgs we passed through featured saloons with signs out proclaiming themselves “Biker Friendly”. CK wants to stop for a chocolate milk shake. WTF, says I. Keep driving. Don't stop. The road is studded with cracks and holes. Little Prius doesn't like that. Tim doesn't either as it makes dozing off impossible. The drive seemed long than it really was.
Sunday I take Caerwyn's 3 hour clinic at Shadow Mtn. Last time I took part in this was 3 years ago. This time it seemed far less strenuous than I remember. Maybe I'm just a bit more fit or they toned down the action to account for seniors. Idunno. After the clinic I dunk in the pool and take a senior citizen nap. I do that a lot, btw.
Monday I hit golf balls and lazed around. Ran some errands. Tried to get my sunglasses repaired. Went to 4 shops and they all said they couldn't do it. I'll have to do it myself when I get back to Lopez. Grrrrr.
Later in the afternoon we went to the Tennis Garden at Indian Wells. The Challenge Matches were in the second day with free admission. We took in Catherine McNally v Kirsten Flipkins. McNally won it. That got her a main draw in the BNP. She would have to play that first round match the next day vs Riske. After that we found a seat in the Mexican Restaurant at the top of Stadium 2 and had some Margs and a snack. Below, on the court, Osaka was having a workout with her coaches, clearly tuning up her forehand which she punishes like a red headed, left handed step-child. We have tickets for the 7:30 charity event, a 10 point tiebreak mini-tournament featuring star WTA players: Halep, Osaka, Jabeur, Sakkari, Anisimova, and Sabalenka. Anisimova took the prize of $150,000 and donated it to Ukranian defense.
This is a lazy morning followed by a full dance card. At 12:30 I have tennis with the Berryman's. That takes me to 2:30. I take a quick dunk in the pool and immediately get ready to go to the BNP tournament in Indian Wells with CK. We have grounds passes today, Friday, and again Monday. We can get into every court except Stadium 1. That's no loss, really. We'll pick a match to see in the afternoon, try to get some food in a Stadium 2 restaurant, then watch another match in the evening. That will be 4+ hours of tennis fan inactivity, sloth, and conspicuous consumption. Friday we'll do it again. Yes, I'd like to watch a Nadal match in person too. But we experienced Stadium 1 three years ago. We bought the most reasonably priced ticket and found ourselves on the third deck. From there the players look like wind-blown grains of rice and the tennis match is only a rumor. It just isn't worth it unless you are compelled to be able to tell yourself and your friends “I was there when...”. A Stadium 1 ticket on Level 1 is in a price range that only Oprah Winfrey, hedge fund managers, and A-List Hollywoodistas could absorb without pain. For the rest of us these matches are best enjoyed on TV, sadly. The other issue is that one must buy a ticket for a specific day well in advance. On the day of purchase there is no way to know who will be playing the match. If you want to follow a specific player you must buy all the dates. De ninguna manera, as I overheard a shopper in Costco exclaim the other day as his wife loaded a third bag of high calorie potato chips into the cart. No way. Demasiado aciete, no es bueno.
I lobby for taking an Uber. CK really doesn't feel comfy with it. She wants to drive, park in the enormous parking lot for $25, get jostled by the crowd trying to get through the bottle-neck entrance at the south gate, wait in the bottle-neck for people fumbling with their vaccine apps and electronic tickets on their phones, wait again for the scanners and bag checkers, blah, blah, blah. Alternatively, we could take an Uber and it drops us at the north gate which never has a crowd going in or out. The cost is a little more than parking but I don't care. Going home we don't have to dodge people, moving cars, and blinding headlights in a dark, dusty parking area or wait in long conga lines of cars trying to get back to the road. I finally convince her to do it but I'm a bit amazed that I have to lobby so hard. We used Uber to the tennis tournament in March 2019 and it went swimmingly. She doesn't remember the experience like I do, I guess.
I call an Uber driver to take us from Shadow Mountain to Indian Wells. The driver, named Dong, arrives on time. He dials in Indian Wells Tennis Garden on his Google Map. It doesn't point him toward the north gate, gate 10. He drives boldly into another gate labeled for season pass and club members only. The guard tosses us out. Now I jump in and start directing him to the right spot. His English is not so good. We are his first fare to the Tennis Garden, lucky us. We get there ok with a little bit of confused tension, some of it due to language difficulties. Now he knows where the Ride-Share Zone is. Next time Dong won't be so wrong.
I think we have passed a certain milestone in the evolution of entertainment venues in US society: without a cell phone you cannot get into this tournament. As I mentioned earlier, you need a vaccination app and electronic tickets. They did not print paper tickets. Not only does one need a cell phone, it has to be a 'smart' phone with access to internet data. Here is the beginning of a case describing the public service nature of internet, access, and communication devices. Society will only be more stratified if internet access becomes a requirement, like this, yet remains restricted to a privileged portion of the populace. Some of the movie theaters around here are doing this, too. I have a sneaky feeling that this is going to become standard procedure in years to come.
We went to the tournament March 10, 11, and Monday March 14. We watched a couple of singles matches but decided we preferred watching doubles. The pro singles matches are almost always base-line wars. They bang the ball from the base-line looking for an angle, test their opponent's fitness, or a moment when someone has a hitch in their timing. It's rather dull compared to the doubles where 4 players are moving all over the place hunting volleys at the net. I made a 12 minute video just to offer a flavor of the scene.
On March 9 we went to the Challenger matches which were free. We saw Cate McNally win against Kirsten Flipkins. Afterward we decided to check out the Fresh Agave Restaurant at the top of Stadium 2. We got a window seat that looked down on the court where Osaka was having a practice session. She was working on her forehand, apparently. So we enjoyed some beer and Mexican food while watching her work out. Next day, March 10, the tournament began. After the Uber ride and all, we watched a match and tried to do the Fresh Agave restaurant one more time. I asked for a window seat again since I saw that some were empty. “The seats are $100 each including food and drinks.” Ok. If I wanted to eat and drink myself into a catatonic stupor, I might do that. But I don't want to. We took a seat on the second level veranda outside and got some really good pizza. I wish I could make mine like they do. It was from an outfit calling itself Pizzavino. I managed to find out what kind of flour they use for their crust. It's something from Italy called Doppio Zero and I can get it from Amazon. I'm gonna try it. And I have a plan to cook it on my fire pit to get higher temps than the oven. I just have to manage it before the fire ban goes on.
So far my highlight from the Tournament is Monfils defeating Medvedev. I only saw it on TV but that's fine. Sitting in hot sun watching tennis isn't really that much fun, actually. We were more comfy after the sun went down. Sadly, Monfils was defeated by Alcaraz two days later.
Derek and Leonora are still here. We told them about the watered down Margarita's at our fave watering hole, Armando's. They resolved to meet us there and we'd all order one to confirm or reject our assessment. We gathered in the bar at 5:30, the party hour of the Old Folks. Service was curiously slow, slower than Pre-Covid days. Drinks came and yep, D. & L. agreed that the Margs at Armando's have been sabotaged. Once upon a time, 2019 I think, a normal person could only drink one of them. It had 4 shots of mezcal and only a dab of mix. To drink two of them was to risk damage to critical brain cells. But the Margs they served today wouldn't physic a woodpecker. Very little mezcal and lots of yucky syrup. Now we need to go on a mission to find our new fave Marg Bar. Armando's has failed us at last. Tragedy. Next Wednesday we'll meet up at Casuela's. I see that they have a cucumber infused Marg with chili powder. I gotta try it.
Tonight was another run to Le Paon. CK wanted to be on the veranda in the 84 degree silky air under the full moon. It is St Paddy's Day but that is not a thing at this establishment. The rind on the lime in my drink is green enough. Nadal defeats Kyrgios without a tiebreak after three sets. Next Nadal goes against the last male Spaniard in the works, Alcaraz. Could be a knife fight on Saturday. On the lady's side it looks like Badosa again. It's her tournament to lose now that she's into the semi's. Halep lurks and Swiatek threatens. Sakkari is the dark horse in this race. I think if Badosa wins it will be the first back to back women's champ since Navratilova 31 years ago.
Today Taylor Fritz goes against Rafa Nadal for the Indian Wells men's title. Iga Swiatek goes against Maria Sakkari for the ladies. I'll support Fritz on the men's side mostly because I think it's time for the guard to change. Not that it will soon, I mean to say that Nadal will most likely win the French Open again and someday Jock-Itch will get back in the mix. Joker likely be playing Wimbledon but he should be rustier than that truck in the pasture on Mud Bay Rd. I don't have a strong feeling about the ladies match but the tip goes to Sakkari just because I admire her athletic look and apparent ferocity.
Tennis for me is a sketchy tour through Senior Citizen Land where agility and athleticism offer a sparkling glow in the distance, tempting me to come closer before resuming their retreat. There are good points/days and bad ones for sure. But I'm still getting little epiphanies, things I was told in a lesson or clinic that are making the connection between neuron and ganglion. Some of them have spent years making the trip. Learning... yeah that's what I think I mean. I think. Yesterday I got called out to court 8 to fill in for someone who didn't show up. I didn't get any warm-up so it was about 90 minutes before I felt like I had the range on anything. 30 minutes after that, these out-of-shape old men wanted to quit and go bullshit at the cafe. I stayed to hit serves for 20 minutes then joined them. One of them was interesting, Ted, a fellow with dual Mexican-American citizenship. A good natured person but does nothing but pura basura (trash talk) on the court. He was my partner. We have fun chatting Spanish together and he teaches me the Mexican way to say things. He swats soap bubble groundies, no serve, no net play, can't cover the lob but this is quite typical in Senior Citizen Land. The guys on the other side were better in those departments, but only just. We lost two sets. Later in the cafe I learn that Ted owns considerable property in Tijuana much of which he leases to maquiladoras (foreign owned corporate factories) like Sony, Philips, Amex, Hitachi, Honeywell, and dozens more. He looks like a short order cook in a Taqueria but this guy has got bucks. His wife is Laura who was once a CIA spy in the US embassy in Peru. They could be stuck in to much ritzier clubs than Shadow Mtn. Perhaps they are, I don't know. It just seems that this isn't the kind of club that multi-millionaires look for.
Hot Tub Report:
It's about 12:30 pm and I'm looking to boil my bones after a 3 hour DTA clinic. One guy is in the 100 degree jacuzzi. He looks about 28 or so with a brooding, axe-murderer vibe about him. I have my bluetooth headset on. I'm listening to Keith Jarret amuse me with piano trio jazz thinking that the axe-murderer won't speak to me. He does. I pull off the headset and engage. He wants to know if I've been to the tennis tourney. I tell him about our 3 there days in about 30 seconds. His next comment is to complain about how he can't get in because they require vaccination docs at the gate. “I can't tell you how annoying that is,” he drones as he projects even more axe-murderer in my direction. He wants me to agree with his poor decision making. Instead I move away from him to the far side of the jacuzzi. I thank him silently for advertising his lack of judgment and sociability. I re-install the bluetooth headset around my ears. I figure this sequence of gestures is communication enough even for this dim witted crayon. It is. We have no further speech. I'm camped under my bucket hat with the blue mirrored sunglasses and a poker face. I just don't need another useless discussion with a damfool.
Yesterday, after tennis with Ted, I decided that I didn't get enough exercise. The watch told me I got only 860 calories out of that low-energy encounter so I grabbed the golf clubs for a run out to the driving range. I was totally rusty at that, of course, because I've been 99% tennis for weeks. Whatever. Back at the studio I'm ready to grab a sugar-free, icy lemonade and go boil in the jacuzzi for 10 minutes before dunking in the big pool. This is Saturday afternoon and the pool is busier than usual. The jacuzzi is occupied by 3 people but there's comfortable room for me. As I wade in, a middle-aged lady is holding forth in brag-mode about her 4 children, all of whom she has sponsored through ritzy colleges. She points across the pool toward a prancing group of extremely scantily clad 20-something women explaining that this is her daughter's bachelorette party. I must be old because my first thought isn't about how sexy they are but about how much shaving they must have to do. Ha! Next, everyone around the hot tub reports on their children's progress. It's like a ritual or something. I'm silently sipping my lemonade, evesdropping on all of it until someone asks me about my kids. Ha! Zero is the answer, of course, so I re-direct the inquiry to ask how many grandparents are in the hot water today. That gets everyone else off on a new topic. Mission accomplished and I can go on admiring the 7 perfect privileged asses bopping to the pop music across the way from behind my one-way glasses.
Dinner is chicken curry over rice prepped by my sweetie. Time for zzzzzz but I wake up at 2:15 am. My sleep schedule is a total mass of chaotic mush but I'm not motivated to do much about it. I sleep when I'm sleepy and get up when I'm not. Where the sun is seems irrelevant. Now it's 3:20 am and I hear military jets howling in the sky. Eeeep. At 9 am I have another 3 hour clinic with Caerwyn, Siggy, Roy, and a new guy, Todd, who was once a radio play-by-play announcer for small-market sports. Hockey was his fave thing. He's one of those blustery, over-enthusiastic types who are compelling for about half an hour before the reverse reaction kicks in. A little of him goes a long way. He isn't permanently on the staff, just here for the clinics. Today is the last day for these, then the resort goes back to normal until the week we leave. Then the 40+ Wilson National Championships kick in. Kind of glad we won't be here for that. For an entire week the resort is overbooked, courts full of tournament, no room for us old people in the morning. The tournament lasts two weeks but by the second week more than half the players have been knocked out which opens up the courts. Still, it's a lot of argy-bargy. The pool area gets jammed and the garbage dumpster in the alley fills up too fast. Not optimal.
We won't have another restaurant experience until tomorrow when it's Le Paon again. Silky evening air on the veranda, tinkling of familiar old tunes from the piano guy, and a stiff Martini crafted by our pal Autumn. Nice. There's only about 3 menu items I'll order there, but what the Hell? CK loves it. Tuesday we have a rez at Shogun, because I want Japanese. You may recall our last attempt to obtain Japanese cuisine failed due to mismanagement and overcrowding at Musashi. About the only thing CK will order at a restaurant like this is Teriaki Chicken and rice so I don't insist that we do Japanese very often. She doesn't like Chinese, either. Ratz. Thai food is as close as she gets to Chinese. Wednesday we're doing the Margarita Research Thing with Derek & Leonora at Casuela's. Looking forward to that.
Tennis has been re-structured this morning. I was supposed to take the 3 hour clinic but Kevin, the scheduler, calls me at 7:30 am to tell me that he overbooked it and needs one person to drop out. He also offers me a match with Ted again at 8 am. I agree to bow out of the clinic. He owes me one now. The match with Ted's group is more comedy than tennis. It is so low energy that I'm getting warmed up just about the moment they want to quit, about 1.5 hours. But Ted's primo (cousin) is playing with us so there's a lot of trash talk and nonsense. It was kinda fun despite there being more double faults than rally points, I think. I'm supposed to set up another game with Ted for April 3 when he gets back from San Diego. Can't do that this far ahead of time, though.
Sunday afternoon and CK is out to play her very complex version of Pinochle with people she knows from the Senior Center. I'm back from the pool in time to watch Swiatek dispatch Sakkari. Too bad but Maria had nothing to beat Swiatek with. No thrills in that one. On the men's side Fritz has a weak ankle if we trust the reports. Rafa has a gimpy foot as well.
AAAAANNDDD.... it's Fritz! Rafa blew some cripples. But Fritz was able to get through a lot of Rafa's spinny setup sequences and keep points in play that other players couldn't. Turns out Rafa had a stress fracture in a rib, too. I sense a changing of the guard. Jock Itch, Rafa, Fed... none of them will be there for Miami. Korda, Fritz, Opelka, Tiafoe, Paul, Medvedev, all these guys are gonna be familiar names. Ash Barty is retiring. Way to go out on top, eh?
Tuesday we were out to Casuela's with Derek and Leonora to test their Margaritas. We were supposed to do this Wednesday, but D&L needed to reschedule it. We stayed for Mex food too. Our mistake was arriving at the Senior Citizen Dining hour, like 5:45. The place was packed. No they don't take reservations. You have to just show up and wait. We didn't have to because D & L arrived early, not like them at all, and snagged a table. We waited 15 minutes to get an order in for drinks and another 10 minutes to get them. I asked the waiter if it was always this busy on a Tuesday. He said every day is like this at minimum, usually far busier. After an hour we noticed that there were tables opening up, so we duly noted that the best time to get in here on a week day is about 6:45. These are the sort of things that our pickled minds are attending to here in the sub-urbanized desert. The food wasn't bad. I ordered a fish dish I quite liked. The Margs were average but still better than that cheapskate Armando. Next week we need to investigate a bar down the road: Cactus Jack's. According to Autumn we may find an improved Marg there. Autumn (Le Paon bartender) makes Margs, of course, but they aren't the specialty of the house so to speak. They are necessarily ordinary unless you order a second shot but still... At Casuela's the servers were over-tasked and racing madly. There is a party of some kind (birthday, anniversary, whatever) on the patio. A 4 piece country band sporting dirty cowboy hats except for a cheap plastic mesh baseball hat on the fiddler thump their playlist at the edge of the outer courtyard with highway 111 appropriately providing a blurry backdrop of speeding machinery. Our table is inside, so the country warbling is blessedly muted. Above us is a large print of a Frida Kahlo self portrait. The general chatter in the room is deafening. We can't really have much conversation until the place begins to thin out. I wouldn't know what to expect here at peak hours on a weekend but I don't think I'm going to find out. I just cannot wait an hour just to be seated. Casuela's is a good Mex restaurant but it's not that good.
The Japanese restaurant got rescheduled. Shogun will have to wait. Grrrr.
Tomorrow is another round of Senior Citizen Tennis with Berrymans. Yesterday I played better so let's see if it sticks for second day.
Tennis: It's a nice day again. My watch says I burned 2200+ calories in 3 hours. I earned a dunk in the pool and some sinful nomming at meal time. That is all.
CK has us set up to go see 'Uncharted' at a fancy cinema. I can sense she's not that interested so we switch to 'Drive My Car'. This turns out to be three hours of semi-tragic Japanese soap opera dotted with curated bits of Chekhov. The main character is a serious actor, an expert on 'Uncle Vanya'. There are a lot of rehearsal scenes. Let's see, there is sex, death, murder, betrayal, abuse, poetic justice, and limited quantities of redemption taking us on a tour through the 5 stages of grief. Oh yeah. Chekhov! Right! Lots of psychological suffering and symbolic gestures in this one. To its credit I thought it had some interesting story telling sequences and a fascinating insight into the nature of live theater. If I were to recommend this flick to you it would be for that reason. 99% subtitled. It will probably get some flavor of Oscar.
I ignore the movie popcorn because our plan is to get a PizzaVino pie after the movie. I want to feast on pizza after burning a load of calories and eating salad for lunch. CK phones the joint and is swiftly informed that they don't do take-out after 4 pm and we need a reservation for their restaurant. We don't have a rez and can't get one, either. So we grab some tortillas at the market and eat our fridge stiffened leftovers from Casuela's while watching Sabalenka lose to Begu in Miami. Immediately after the match we switch to the Women's World Championship Curling live from Prince George B.C. CK's mind melts when she tries to figure out the strategy in these world class curling tilts. I can't help. I feel that I've only been able to absorb 10% of it. I try to guess at what they'll do but I'm rarely correct. Meanwhile, I'm nearly out of Tapatio sauce but I have plenty of Harp Lager. So, today everything is fine. We're being flexible in dealing with our first world problems.
CK is off this morning for Lawn Bowling followed by cards (a complex form of Pinochle peculiar to this Senior Center). I'll lurk around the tennis pro shop to see if Kevin has a foursome that lacks a player. Otherwise I'll just hit serves and burn a few cals. Maybe I'll check Youtube for solo tennis practice ideas. Yeah. I'll do that.
Today will be 90 something in the afternoon, so the pool will radiate extra magnetism. It's a Friday so there will likely be a modicum of mayhem. The pool bar will be open for business. I've only ordered a couple of beer from them and they weren't very cold. Their cocktails look like syrupy nightmares. I make my own drink in a re-purposed Jamba Juice 20 oz plastic cup. Plenty room for ice and sugar-free lemonade. I'll tune out the mayhem with my bluetooth headpiece and scratchy old blues tunes.
Meanwhile we are noticing that things are perking up back home on Lopez Island, at least in the area of dining entertainment. Bucky's is now the Blue Heron, taken up by the Poutine people. The Haven is opening again. From the looks of things they are trying to upgrade their game. Victor and Jennifer have fired up the taco truck again. And there's a new food truck featuring pizza located next to Paper/Scissors! Omigod. So if we don't want to cook we'll have choices between Vita's, Haven, Blue Heron, Ursa Minor, and three food trucks. The Islander doesn't count. I only go there for drinks and chips on the deck, if ever. Their bar smells like something died in there 30 years ago, you know, a vacuous memory of an odor attached to a curse stuck under a floorboard? Can't put my finger on it somehow. The Galley is still under construction. My sources tell me that the big hangup has to do with county permits. Wow. Whoever is behind this project has deep pockets or empty ones. Dying of curiosity to see what they do with it.
No tennis matches today but Roy Cosio had an opening in his teaching schedule at noon, the result of uncoordinated coordinating in the pro shop. I offer to take the hour and get a hitting session in.
What's next? Hit the jacuzzi with an icy lemonade followed by a plunge into the giant swimming pool. All refreshed from a dip I hit the couch in front of the Miami Open (Gauff gets a beat-down from Swiatek) with an ice bag on my shoulder (got carried away by too much serve practice). I just felt a little tightness in there, nothing big. The ice puts a stop to any potential inflammation, I find. Horizontal positioning in front of the TV induces nappage. All systems go. I love being retired and utterly useless.
Tonight we have a dinner date at Shogun. Three years ago I found a lovely Japanese bistro on El Paseo. It was quiet, cheap, with really excellent food. The next year it had closed and we went searching for a new joint. We found Musashi. It wasn't as good but not terrible. Then Covid shut everything down and changed the way people did things. A couple weeks ago we tried Mushashi again and it was a fail. Too crowded and disorganized. They wouldn't even seat us for our reservation. So, I search the web for a likely substitute and I landed on Shogun. It looked to me like a version of Benihana which I experienced in Seattle decades ago. Diners are seated around a grill table while the cook puts on a show complete with juggling knives, flying food, and gratuitous culinary arson. I was only half correct.
The front door looks like fancy, upscale Palm Desert stuff but that's as deep as it gets. Inside the door we get their sound track: Eagles, America, other pop stuff from 70's and 80's. And it is too loud. Next thing we notice is that there are families here with kids. And the kids are clearly expecting to be entertained. The hostess asks us to sit on the bench near the door and wait for our table. CK sits but lands in a puddle of sticky 7-Up like substance. Great start. After she does a short cleanup in the restroom we are shown to our grill-side table seats where we have a further chance to look around. Cooks are performing at other tables, spinning food, knives, flippers and forks through the air, and cracking jokes. Kids are shrieking, having fun. Somebody cranks up the music to twice the volume. We're beginning to grok the scene. This is a Japanese style Chuck-E-Cheese! “One and done,” we're thinking. Across from us on the other side of the grill table is a family unit: father, mother, aunt (I presume), and two kids. The boy eyes us suspiciously then avoids eye contact. The girl inspects us with gestures that display curiosity. The adults don't engage. We are out of ear-shot anyhow. The roaring of the muzak and room chatter makes conversation from 5 ft of distance quite impractical. This is a family joint and we are out of our pond. CK is smart and orders a glass of wine. I'm not. I get a watery vodka and ginger beer. Eventually the cook rolls up with his tray of food and starts the show. The two kids are quietly fascinated. The cook 'reads the room' so to speak and tones down his act. He stir-fries everything up, loads the plates, and he's out of there. The food isn't bad. Veggies are fresh. Shrimp and steak cooked just right. But this just isn't going to make the list. The quest for a suitable Japanese Restaurant continues. Next!
Our social calendar this evening takes us to a joint recommended by Autumn. We told her about our disappointment with Armando's Margarita which has launched us on a bar crawling expedition in search of a good one. She directed us to Cactus Jack's to sample theirs so that's where we are headed tonight. We are to meet Derek and Leonora there just for drinks. Google finds it for us, about 2 miles from our studio. We park about a block away. We pass a dive bar with its door open. A stale, humid breeze of beer and human sweat oozes out. A greasy customer emerges shouting into his cell phone. As we side-step this guy we briefly fear that this is our destination. Then we spot Cactus Jack's entrance on the next block. Encouraged, we find the proper door. Here we are slammed with a different dive-bar vibe. Instead of drunken gloom and sticky floors we have a bar full of senior citizens shouting conversation at each other in a well-lit room. It is totally deafening. If there is some kind of muzak we can't hear it. There is no room at the bar but we find a table near the back wall with 4 seats. Perfect for our little party. Derek & Leonora arrive as planned. They are shocked by the decibels of chatter as we shout our greetings to each other. The server is very good and takes our order quickly. The Margs come in pint glasses that we would expect to be filled with Guinness in an Irish pub. The lime flavor seems unnecessarily artificial but there's an adequacy of tequila. It may be an acceptable Marg but there must be better ones out there. The ambiance (ambulance in CK's lexicon) here is negative: conversation devolves into a shouting competition. There was an interesting encounter. As I was crossing over to the bar a lady seated at a table in the center of the room stopped me and asked me if I was from Ohio. “No, Lopez Island.” “Your wife looks so familiar. I know her from someplace.” “What is your profession?” “I was a professor at Ohio State.” “Aha! Christine is an AACRO consultant and often gives presentations and speeches at conferences and seminars. You probably attended some of them.” And that was it. Now she recalled exactly where she met her. I complemented her on her excellent memory. CK and she got together for a short chat and had a good laugh. Small world!
After swallowing our drinks and pronouncing our judgment upon them we make our way back to D&L's bungalow at The Sandpiper. They entertain us with nibbles, drinks, and a lasagna prepped by our favorite Italian Deli over on San Pablo Ave. The conversation is about movies and plans for the desert this November. There is a bit of commentary about Yellow Point for the New Year Party and how most of the people we're all friendly with from that event are too old to make an appearance, sick, dead, or no longer interested. Being there last December and January was quite different with all the Covid protocols as well as the absences of friends. It felt like a fade-out in lots of ways but that's how it goes. Change is the constant.
Desert Dining: Plan B Development:
March is the High Season in Coachella. The Snowbirds are here in considerable numbers. Also when the BNP Open and Fashion Week are in full stride people come in from L.A., Las Vegas, Arizona, and further. Put that together with the spike in permanent residents over the past two Covid years and that spells competition for amenities. When CK wants a prime time restaurant experience in March a reservation is pretty much required. We've also learned that a reservation doesn't guarantee that we'll be seated in a timely manner. We were turned away at Mushashi despite having one. Two nights ago at Eddie V's (best Sea Bass in the zone) we were seated for our Senior Citizen Hour meal at 5:45. As we were leaving at 7:30 the entrance was a chaotic mass of hungry, grousing clients many of whom had been waiting 20 minutes or more for their reservation. We're taking notes here, trying to learn a bit of something along the way: many of the bars attached to these restaurants have seats available, particularly about 7 pm. This is when most reservations peak and those who have been soaking up cocktails before dinner move on to their dining table. Reserving seats in the bar is never a thing, so no rez no problem if we're willing to hang out in the bar. And we are. We already know we can get a meal at Thai Smile's bar, at Armando's, and at Le Paon. We just need a couple more to round out our stable of Plan B options. Not any old joint will do because we don't want deafening chatter or annoying pop music. For instance, Casuela's and Fresh Agave won't do because of mad noise and clatter. Guillermo's is out because lousy meals. Castelli's is out because it's always packed from 5 to 9. Cactus Jack's is a dive bar for old people, loud and crowded. Kitchen 86 and Larkspur Grill are out because of sub-optimal live music (you know, with drummers and stupid play lists. I swear there are only about 6 good percussionists on Earth at any given time). But we're running out of calendar as we're due to head north 6 days from now. Much of this research will have to wait until November. Patience, grasshoppah!
Tonight we are back at Castelli's. CK always orders a plate of spaghetti with bolognese. I'll probably ask for the same sauce over gnocchi. We both only eat half of it and take the rest home for another dinner next night. Yikes. We're getting to be so predictable. We still won't order veal even though every restaurant seems to have a full page of it. Castelli's Report: It's pretty much back to normal action there although the table setup on the sidewalk out front is still in place, abandoned. Everything is happening inside now. Not even the servers are wearing masks. The incoherent piano player is back, same guy we encountered there 6 years ago, insists on mumbling song lyrics when he doesn't remember them and he never remembers them. He's dressed like a 70's disco hustler: loud shirt unbuttoned halfway to show off some kind of shiny bauble on a gilded neck chain. The owner is still there lurking like a mob lieutenant with an over-tailored jacket, black shirt, black tie. I don't think celebrities visit his joint any more. They used to in the 90's. The dining room is papered with photos of them. Servers are all male and have a short, cheerless demeanor. Is there such a thing as being aggressively obsequious? The food is fine. My gnocchi is pretty good and CK has her noodles. Leftovers for Sunday make us happy.
We've been to Le Paon a couple more times, CK's fave hangout. I get a martini or a Zelensky Mule (not Moscow). Food is so familiar that I don't need a menu. CK requested an off-menu dessert: Cherries Jubilee. Antoine prepared it in the bar after strategically positioning the pyrotechnics to avoid the automatic sprinklers. What a mess that could be, eh? We may go back again the night before we leave town. I'll have to order the duck with orange sauce which wasn't available this night.
One more movie: I was curious about Robert Pattinson as Batman so we went. It's a 3 hour flick. I watched the whole thing without grokking that he was Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter Goblet of Fire. I'm glad I didn't know it. Lots of violence but they mostly left out the gore. The dialogue was mostly done as a tense, brooding whisper except for Cat Woman and some obnoxious bad guys. And it's always pouring rain in Gotham City. The topic was political corruption and crap government in general mixed in with the general tendency of a certain percentage of humanity to succumb to poverty, despair, and brutality. It raised a pinky toward sending a positive message at the end. Nice try. I wanted to see Mobius (another vampire flick) but CK really kinda didn't.
Day after tomorrow we set sail in Ickle Prius for Utah, the beginning of a week-long odyssey that should end, if all goes well, back on The Rock. Perhaps an enforced break from tennis-all-the-time will restore my judgment and timing. Who am I kidding? I can dream, can't I?
HA! I have always suspected it but I can now confirm. The way to lift an Aussie's spirit is to buy them a beer. Caerwyn has been busier than a one legged paper hanger running this Wilson National Tournament. By the end of each day he looks like he could happily crush his laptop with a solid forehand. He's doing a fabulous job but the management of people, court schedules, delays, complaints, data, etc. has him up a pole. I brought him a Negra Modelo while he was hunched over his computer. His face lit up like a Xmas tree. It was soooo worth it.
Tonight we have pork ribs from the deli, dining in. Tomorrow a last hurrah at Le Paon. Then we're off to St George Utah, our sleep on Thursday, April 7.
And we had a nice round of see-ya-laters at Le Paon. CK had Prawn St Tropez again and I just had a little plate of linguine while basking in the silky 80 degree air on their veranda. The nightcap was a Grasshopper. Our Iranian host, Antoine, gave us an earful of his opinion of the Russians. He is not a fan. We promised to be back in November. We'll see who is still there.
Utah Canyons Tour
April 7, 2022
We begin in Palm Desert. Last minute packing and toting out of garbage, tidying up the flat; this is how we spend 4 hours between 5 am and 9 am. We get on the road by 9:25 or so heading roughly toward Las Vegas and eventually to St George, Utah.
Our route is taking us through the guts of the Mojave Desert. There are jackrabbit homes, ghosted shack-like structures with boarded windows often adorned with graffiti radiating broken dreams. More complex structures that look like domiciles can be seen scattered far and wide across the grit and scrub creosote bush & mesquite. Some appear to be occupied. There must be water somewhere but I can't spot it. There are odd human artifacts. We pass a 'sculpture' set on the edge of the two lane road. It is easily 30 feet tall. It is a seated human form, apparently nude, adorned with an enormous phallus located in a position that evokes the terms 'awkward' and 'inappropriate'. There was something else protruding out its backside that was unidentifiable. We were speeding past it at about 60 mph so we only get a 3 second gaze at this thing. As we overtake it, we spot a fellow using a hydraulic lift to presumably do some more work (can I say misdirected creativity?) on it. Didn't have a chance for a photo. That's just as well. I probably don't want to look at that thing again.
We intersect Route 66 for a brief few miles. We find ourselves at Roy's Motel and Cafe, a kind of an oasis of civilization that peaked in 1959. Once upon a time you could gas up, get a beer and a sandwich, shower, pee, and take a rest before rolling back out onto the Mojave roads. There's even a crude air strip. Now it offers some sani-cans and a bit of shade for bikers. No business is being done here but it seems to be maintained at a minimal level. Something of a mystery about that. From there the landscape gets more desolate. We cross at least two dusty basins that look just as if they had once been holding water in some ancient past. The hills are all barren rock looking like those photos from Mars. We pass a salt mining operation. They are scraping it up off the ground. Makes sense.
Further on, squarely in the middle of now-here, we find a place called Kelso. There is a rather stylish art-deco-ish train station standing all by itself. It was constructed in 1924 to serve a route between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. There was also a Kaiser mining operation nearby which was part of the deal. In the 1940's 2,000 people lived in this dust mote. The station is now a visitor's center. We couldn't go in, though. Closed for maintenance.
The Mojave is desolate but nothing like South Central Idaho. This desert looks like it could have some level of life attached to it. But not that zone in Idaho. That was the deadest spot I've seen in the US. But here in the Mojave we find a giant Yucca forest. Fantastic plants. Eventually we cross the Nevada line. Instantly we are presented with a settlement styled after Vegas, with roller coasters, gambling, theme parks, party areas, splash and giggle. One hotel/casino is calling itself Whiskey Pete's as if we should feel automatically welcomed by the wheezing, ranting hospitality of an alcoholic desert rat. Some structures are patterned after Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland. This is a strange combination of images that appear to be luring adults with taboo behavior and tempting children with fantasy and thrills. I think Vegas does this too. I look to see if anyone is riding the roller coaster. Nope. Keep driving. Not even stopping for gas. We'll do that in Las Vegas.
We get our gas in Vegas after navigating some Los Angeles style freeway nightmare. Then we get back on Highway 15 that takes us straight through the center of town. It's a 15 mph crawl to get through. Plenty of time to admire the oddly shaped hotels, some with 50 story ads covering the an entire side. Billboards advertise a 'men's club'. “Now 100% nude!”, it says. This is Sin City, after all. My thoughts go out to the girls who find themselves working there and the self talk they may be using for motivation to go to the office each day. Yikes.
Briefly Google welcomes us to Arizona. Briefly for about 45 minutes. Then She (Griselda) welcomes us to Utah. We pass through a stack of rocks as the road follows the Virgin River. In reality it is the Virgin Trickle. Small it may be but this is the first natural ground water we've seen since January. The landscape turns toward the spectacular. We're starting to see the red cliffs of the Mojave. We feel that this is a preview to what we'll see tomorrow in Zion and Bryce. We spend several miles just gawking at the natural rockscapes.
We arrive at St George. We're hungry. After checking in to the hotel we pick out a likely restaurant and just go. They are packed. We pick another restaurant but same story. We repeat this 4 more times before we give up and go to Albertson's to grab some deli counter food. The checkout lady informs us that this is Spring Break. “The kids come down here from Salt Lake. That's why there's so much traffic and all the restaurants are full.” Ok, we're thinking, but why the Hell would they want to come here? We don't have the answer to that one. Time for sleep and a reset for tomorrow we tour!
We wake in St George Utah in our 'Tru' by Hilton tiny hotel room next to the freeway where we could listen to traffic all night. I get about 5.5 hours of sleep. CK does far better with at least 7. Breakfast is what 21st century hotel breakfasts are these days. Bagel with no character, rubberized eggs of unknown provenance, coffee whose chief virtue was being tepid, and a slice of something that was impersonating bacon. It was translucent and shimmering with grease. I inspected the bowl of bananas with some hope in my heart but they had all just been unloaded from the boat, about the same color as a shamrock on St Paddy's Day. The most edible item was an apple. I don't know why I didn't eat one. I must have been distracted by the magical pancake machine. The instructions said “wave your hand here”, the inference being that the bot-gizmo would spring to life, squirt batter on its griddle, flip it at the proper moment, and deliver it to your amazed mouth in a few short moments. I was hoping someone else would do this but nope. I should have waved my hand at it just to watch it do its thing. Of course I did not.
Our goal is to visit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park and make it to the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park in one day. That's a lot of bucket list punching. We think we can do it. Gas up the Prius, fire up The Google, make a dinner rez in Capitol Reef because we don't want to duplicate the Great St George Dining Debacle, and we're off. Road Trip!!
It's about two hours drive to Zion. We climb imperceptibly through sparse landscapes. It isn't so profoundly desolate like the Mojave. We see short trees, a bit more life. Even the mesquite and creosote bushes are green. It is April, after all, a great time to see this country. By the end of May this will all look like a piece of toast with no butter.
As we approach the entrance to Zion we are seeing some seriously rugged country, all of it heavily tinted in rust-red rock. We learn that any gray, green, or red colored rock is that way because of its iron content. The entrance to Zion is 4,000 ft. Little Prius is feeling it and we can too. Near the park entrances there are various hotels, food options, B&B's, tourist attractions aimed at kids, souvenir offerings, etc. We pass a sign offering 'Organic Firewood'. Somebody has an earthy sense of humor. It is dryer here than Palm Desert. The sun looks different. The light is stronger. Glad I wore sun screen. And poor CK is suffering. Some foreign pollen is flying about and she can't stop sneezing. She has to take a Benydril to halt her flowing nose. The guard at Zion's entrance lets us through with the appropriate payment and off we go to photograph the scene. And it's worth the drive. We drive from the south entrance to the east exit. It isn't very far but we stop frequently to gawk, say wow, and take photos a lot. The road takes us through the center of the canyon, pretty much. A section of it is off-limits to us because it is reserved for tour buses only. If we want to see that section we have to come back and sign on to one of them. In our own car we only have one way to travel but it's plenty interesting.
We feel surrounded by monstrous stone monoliths and eons of time going back to the formation of the planet and the primitive millenia when it rained iron from the sky. We pass through a mile long tunnel. It was drilled through the sandstone in 1932 by Depression work gangs. It is engineered close enough to the cliff face for windows to be cut through to allow periodic pools of sunlight into the tunnel. I think they did it to provide passive ventilation. Of course there are lots of photos. Descriptions of what we are seeing would never do. Geologically, it is mostly layered sandstone from various epochs. It has it's origin as ocean bottom 570 million years ago. As the earth's plates squeezed in from the west and east the bottom was raised until the water drained, then it was raised even more. It is still rising. So now we have ancient layers of the planet laid bare for inspection after being exposed to wind erosion and flowing water.
When we arrive at Bryce Canyon we are at 8,000 ft and the terrain is a bit different. The rock is far redder and there are lots of Hoodoos. These are tower-like structures of eroded sandstone that can resemble fairy-tale castles or Gothic cathedrals. CK reminds me that they look a lot like Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. You know, I think that's true. Bryce is a tour along the brim of a canyon featuring this red Hoodoo rock. The road proceeds for 18 miles, dead ends, and then we go back to the entrance to go out. The end of the road is at 9,100 ft elevation. I swear from the viewpoint I can see the curvature of the Earth.
Done with Bryce we have another two hour drive to get to Capitol Reef, our next sleep. Lots of two-lane road driving, sometimes at 70 mph. Not the most comfortable driving. I don't much like driving long distance anyway. Its too much like work but it is easier to do when moving through scenic country like this. The views change dramatically every 30 minutes or so.
At Capitol Reef we find our hotel. It has a cowboy theme but it is serviceable. The bedside lamps feature deer antlers. We have a reservation at the Rim Rock Restaurant. We needed it, too. I tried their Turkey with Mole Sauce. The sauce was interesting, I thought, but they failed the turkey. It was brutally dry. There was a creamy tomato soup that wasn't bad. Their Martini was half Vermouth. Blah. CK had a rather perfectly grilled filet. She thought it wasn't cooked enough but I convinced her it was fine. I wonder how I did that.
We phone ahead to 3 different restaurants in Moab hoping for another reservation. Nope. All walk up only. We figure we'll have to wait in someone's bar before a table is ready or just order food in the bar. We'll have to play it by ear. Moab could be another step toward the Twilight Zone. We'll see.
Tomorrow we are out to cruise Canyonlands Park, Capitol Reef, and Monument Valley. Moab is our sleep Saturday night.
We start in Capitol Reef, a small outpost composed of a couple of motels, a handful of eateries, a Mormon church, and a gas station. It serves as the entrance to another National Park dedicated to more fantastical red bluffs and canyons. We don't have time to investigate it. Our target is Monument Valley and then Moab. Our route takes us across Glen Canyon at its narrowest point, just north of Lake Powell. This impoundment is formed by the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado. We never see the lake but we do cross the Colorado River at one point. The scenery is a continuing variation of what we've been seeing: large red sandstone chunks of the Earth's crust shoved aloft and exposed for viewing. These rocks have no vegetation. We see all the gritty bits and pieces. In Glen Canyon we drive between the rocky bluffs much like we did in Zion. CK wants to stop every half mile for a new photo. There's a hamlet tucked in the canyon named Fruita which features ancient orchards from 150 years ago. At a roadside stop we are presented with petroglyphs on the cliff wall created by the Fremont People some 700 to 1400 years ago. Cool! Its a 2.5 hour drive to Monument Valley so that means lots of photos and pit stops.
At one point the road takes us through a forest of Bristle Cone Pines, a much greener scene than our recent environs. The view ahead looks a bit odd since we can see nothing but pines and sky. Its not the usual scene of plains flanked by towers of stone. Soon we find out why. The road sign announces 3 miles of dirt road ahead and warns us to slow down off of our 60 mph cruising speed. Sure enough the pavement ends and instantly begins to descend. In a minute we find ourselves at the top edge of a 2,000 foot bluff looking down at the plain below. While driving we often looked up at these bluffs wondering what the view from up there would be like. Here is where we find out. Of course there are pix but they fall way short of the experience. The dirt road is a series of switchbacks down the face of the bluff. We stop for a pic of the new perspective after every turn. We can see the beginning of Monument Valley in the distance and the road we'll be driving is directly below. This is awesome. Just this descent was worth the trip.
At the bottom we rejoin the pavement and continue toward Monument Valley. After driving over the edge of a giant bluff it all seems anti-climactic. There are stone towers seemingly sprouting out of the plain. These scenes are familiar in the sense that we've seen them in movies and ads. We seem to be coming to the most commercial part of it when a considerable dust storm becomes visible some 5 miles away. It appears to be focused on the place we're supposed to go. We arrive at a traffic circle in the center of the dirty, desert-bitten commercial zone and are greeted with a large sign adorned with peeling paint: “Welcome to Monument Valley” and it invites us forward. The dust is blowing over the car, beginning to build drifts in the road. Not feeling confident about going on a sightseeing quest in a blinding cloud of flying grit we decide to call it and begin the drive north to Moab.