Palm Springs

One of the greatest horrors of aging is watching your friends sicken, maybe worse than watching yourself sicken.

My friend Bob had been in remission after surgery for colon cancer last winter and had moved to Palm Springs for his retirement. Alas, his doctors have found a recurrence, but he’s still feeling good, so i’ve come down to Palm Springs to pay him a visit while we can have some Quality Time.

As usual, getting here provided some Moments. Like blasting down I-5 and passing this huge truck and noticing in the mirror that the radiator was painted like a gigantic, gaping mouth with great fangs. Gave him a thumbs up out my window and he tooted me back. Highway humor, there’s not enough of it.

Well, i do provide plenty of my own entertainment, like by somehow forgetting to check Mapquest before the trip and realizing as i neared the obligatory stop at the Kettleman City In-N-Out Burger that i couldn’t remember the damn highway i had to take east once i got into the Los Angeles area. Luckily, when i got the paper map out, the route was obvious: I-5 to 210 to 57 to I-10 to 111.

It was also rather longer than i’d remembered, a full 500 miles (800 km) although it’s almost all at freeway speeds and goes faster, especially since when you’re on feature-limited I-5 the boredom factor is so high that almost everybody is going well over the speed limit, so you can cruise along between 75 and 80 (120-130 km/hr) with plenty of decoys out there to attract the attention of the highway patrol, of whom there are lots.

In other ways, though, road trips don’t go as fast as they used to. Sure, my Prius can go well over 500 miles on a full tank of gas, but my bladder, alas, is good for only a couple hundred miles anymore.

The southern part of the San Joaquin Valley is pretty much desert now, with intermittent patches of bright green irrigated farmland. Painful to remind ourselves that much of this desert was once the largest lake west of the Rockies (Tulare Lake) plus a gigantic marsh teeming with wildlife. That was before we changed the ecology by harvesting the wildlife and repurposing the water, delivering it south to irrigate the desert.

In the superbly written, gorgeously photographed Farewell, Promised Land by Robert Dawson and Gray Brechin, Brechin paraphrases an account of the death throes of the lake in the 1880’s as described in 1954 by an ancient settler named Bill Barnes, who had been a youth when the lake was murdered. The rivers feeding the lake were diverted and “starved of inflow, the lake shrank. Millions of fish died on the mud, making a terrible stench, Barnes recalled, but the otters feasted for weeks. Then they too starved, and never returned. Raccoons moved in for their turn on the carcasses of the dead otters until nothing was left, and Barnes later watched thousands of them stagger about, emaciated, on the dry lake bed. The birds went elsewhere to starve. Then, there was silence. ‘The country was never the same afterwards,’ he observed laconically.”

One of these trips here, i’m going to make an early start so i can waste some time on one of the scenic routes that cut through the Tehachapis even though there is plenty of beauty crossing them on I-5 and in at least parts of the route east through greater LA. I love the approach to Palm Springs through Banning Pass, the stark mountains on either side, their lower slopes and the valley floor adorned with thousands of wind turbines turning oh, so gracefully as they generate electricity to aircondition the desert. Well, some of it, at least.

In any case, there’s a good deal of beauty here, especially in some of the newer condo developments. Here’s a shot of Bob’s place from the pool in his complex. A crisp contrast between the barren background mountains and the juicy landscaping down below.

condo

There was one major breakthrough on the trip down. I mentioned it’s 500 miles. For the first time in memory, at least on this continent, I drove 500 miles without a single chocolate milkshake, normally my sustenance of choice when on the road.

Well, i made up for it at brunch yesterday. Bob took me to the Manhattan Deli, where i fressed upon the hot pastrami and chopped chicken liver combo sandwich, generous portions of each with potato salad on the side.

But then Bob keeps the house so damn hot that i took my shirt off while i was wrestling with assembly of this multi-adjustable office chair he’d bought. Unfortunately i caught a disgusting glimpse of myself in a reflective surface and thus began the diet last night. I stir fried us a supper of a couple of ancho chiles, a few stalks of fresh green garlic, and some baby artichokes that i’d smuggled down from San Francisco. Skinned and boned and broke up a couple of baked chicken breasts outta his refrigerator, and threw those in. Tasty. And no damn extra calories, either.

Still fat this morning, though, so the diet may have to be continued.

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