It’s November and I drove back to Midland again because at 97 years old Mel is still 100% clear that I’m coming to see him every fall…and because it makes me feel good to do so.
This year I drove there if not the shortest route, pretty much so, stopping for a couple of days in Palm Springs to visit friends going and returning. And, oh don’t get me started on this slough of wastefulness. Well, do get me started, as I’ve plenty to say.
They seem utterly oblivious to the fragility of their existence. So what if the daytime temperatures are normally well over a hundred most of the year. They have air conditioning. Oh, yes they do. That hum in the air here is the air conditioning units. A quick glance into the shed housing the one for my friend’s condo explains why his electricity bill is hundreds of dollars a month: the engine and motor in my car are smaller.
And then there’s their attitude toward water. Being from west Texas, a land where, because it would not normally grow, the grass lawn was considered both mandatory and precious, I formed the habit as a child of not walking on the grass unnecessarily. I knew how fragile a lawn actually is in a desert, and that it needed constant watering and care to survive.
The houses and office buildings in Palm Springs are almost invariably bordered by gorgeous lawns with excellent flower beds, shrubbery and trees. But mostly it’s the broad, immaculate lawns.
I’m out in the early morning crystal desert air taking photos and find myself in a moral quandary. To take the pic I want, I’m going to have to take a few careful steps out onto one of these perfect lawns. I consider briefly taking my shoes off and then realize, for God’s sake, it’s not like I’m gonna be running around out there with cleats on.
And besides, I’m doing this for Art.
So gently, I step off the sidewalk, and immediately am struck with a wave of horror, something unspeakably awful. Remember, this is a desert we’re in. The water that makes these lawns possible comes from an aquifer that otherwise intelligent residents have told me contains an infinite supply of water because it is recharged by rains falling on the mountains surrounding the natural bowl in which the city sits. The concept that those aquifers took many millennia to charge is unthinkable to them.
That’s ridiculous, but it’s not horrifying. The horror came when I stepped on the lawn, and it squished.
Now that, folks, is obscene. Here’s a typical morning scene in Palm Springs, the lush lawn of the luxury condo complex soaked and the excess water running across the sidewalk to the gutter, where it evaporates as it flows down the street:
As I drove east toward Texas I saw many things just achingly beautiful, and I envy the 19th-century emigrants their opportunities to see the landscape at their leisure from their Conestoga wagons on dirt trails rather than at 75 MPH in my Prius on interstate highways where it’s illegal to stop on the shoulder except for emergencies. Then again, in two days sitting in a well-cushioned seat I reached the continental divide without experiencing thirst, typhoid, or Indian arrows, so maybe it’s a wash.
Taking this more southern route to Midland gave me an opportunity to drive across western Texas from El Paso on “blue highways” rather than the interstate. And you can’t get too much bluer than the part of this route where, having had a spectacular view of Quadalupe Peak, you approach the New Mexico border after 130 miles on US 62. Turn right onto TX 652 to Orla, hook south for a few miles on US 285 before turning onto TX 302 to Kermit where, at the 230-mile mark you encounter the first gas station since you left the outskirts of El Paso. That’s 370 km. for the folks in Enschede.
Poor Orla has fallen on hard times. You think I exaggerate? There are four standing buildings in Orla, and this is not the most derelict:
Midland? Well, Midland is now apparently in full bloom again, and what is particularly encouraging is seeing so much infill in both commercial and residential areas. Not that there’s still any shortage of vacant lots, but at least there are fewer of them. Somehow, though, I doubt that this is the result of some kind of enlightenment of the population since the clear majority of vehicles here seem to be gigantic pickups and “full-size” SUVs, a phrase rather like describing AIDS as a full-size epidemic.
Midland was still the old Midland in culinary matters also. I was pleased to discover that, the locals still not being big sissies about their arteries, there were two drive-ins on Big Springs Street that had excellent fried chicken livers. Those’ll stick to your ribs.
I also got the joy of being the weird outsider, probably a Communist and perhaps even French, when I said I didn’t need a plastic shopping bag to carry my Midland College tee shirt from the campus bookstore to the car. Figured I shouldn’t tell ’em it was a Prius since I didn’t see another one of them Jap rice grinders in the whole town.
The other memorable moment was realizing that this big tree out in the middle of the plaza in front of the student union was actually a mesquite bush that had been given all the water it could drink for thirty years. Good grief. I’d never seen one much taller than me!
Note the gardener with the leaf blower over on the left side to get an idea of the size of this thing:
The visit with Mel was wonderful, mainly because he lets me feel useful. On the way back, I took the interstate, ten miles farther but with legal speed limits up to 80 MPH (130 kmph). The general deterioration of the towns, especially the smaller ones, was saddening.
I pulled off the interstate to take the old highway through Van Horn so I could get a hamburger at the Dairy Queen®. Oh, I know where my good hamburgers are in Texas, and if there’s not a Whataburger® around, a Dairy Queen is usually approaching the same standard.
The Dairy Queen is still there, but alas, the rest of the town is fading fast, like this former drive-in, whatever it was:
I was a few miles east of Benson, AZ as the sun was going down, and as I crested a ridge where there was a rest area I saw the photo op of the year. Knowing that the opportunity would last only a couple of minutes, I roared into the rest area, skidded to a stop, leaped out of the car and started snapping shots. Alas, my haste brought its usual reward, and all the shots were blurred except this one:
The next day, I drove on to Palm Springs via the Salton Sea, which was pretty much what you’d expect from a natural disaster allowed to fester for a century. Still, I got a pic I kinda like:
Palm Springs definitely has its own mystique. A lot of wealth and determination to hang onto every last bit of it. The new UPS deliveryman calls ahead:
Best part of the trip was, as always, getting home. And going to the farmers’ market the next day and discovering that feijoa season had begun. They make great chutney: