“It never rains in southern California,
But girl don’t they warn ya, it blows. It really blows”
It’s only about 50 miles from the boulevards of broken dreams in Bombay Beach on the desecrated Salton Sea to the country clubs and gated communities of the Coachella Valley, where North America’s well-aged wealthy congregate to play out act three of their privileged lives on manicured golf courses, irresponsibly lush and green under the desert sun in the midst of a prolonged and much-publicized drought.
Approaching the valley from the south through its industrial edge, past ramshackle double-wides and squat bungalows fighting losing battles against the drifting desert detritus, eases the transition from poverty to the riches of the walled cities strung out along Highway 111 all the way to the valley’s north end.
Indio. Indian Wells. Palm Desert. Rancho Mirage. Cathedral City. Palm Springs.
The toney towns blend into each other, connected by a series of desert-coloured strip malls offering up all the good life has to offer, from the big box bargains of Walmart and Costco to high end consignment boutiques, pricey retail chains and Mercedes dealerships. Clearly, the good burghers of the valley bought into George W.’s advice in late 2008 when America teetered on the precipice of financial collapse.
As you may recall, the Great Decider displayed the kind of leadership in crisis that would mark his presidency by staging a photo op in a big box store at which he famously advised the jittery populace to keep America strong by “Going shopping.”
All that shopping builds the appetite and the Coachella Valley is flush with opportunities to do lunch. At first glance it seems unlikely that the shopped-out parade of matrons and old swells in Mercedes and Range Rovers could eat enough to make all the restaurants profitable. It seems the establishments on Palm Canyon Drive in the heart of downtown Palm Springs, six or seven per block, could by themselves satiate all the Valley’s permanent seniors in two sittings.
Clearly, restaurateurs rely heavily on the cut-above snow geezers who disdain the proletariat RV parks of Arizona for the pricier concrete pads in Palm Springs. Like the gated communities that surround them, the valley’s most expensive RV parks revel in their exclusivity, limiting their clientele to motor coaches, and even then only those of a certain late model vintage.
Manitoba farmers, rich with the American dollars they collect for crops grown in Canadian currency, have no desire to mix with the riff raff who pull dilapidated trailers or wheeze their way south in 20-year-old converted school buses. The motor-coach-only sites, with their outdoor kitchens complete with wet bar, fridge, stove, granite counters, dishwasher, barbecue, double sinks, covered seating area, overhead heat lamps, propane camp fires and view of the man-made lake, exude the values of the discerning camper.
Once inside the secured gates, the owners of half-million dollar coaches can feel comfortable leaving their toads (RV-speak for towed cars) unattended next to customized four-seater golf carts in front of expansive outdoor entertaining areas and schlep to the pool in their flip flops to wile away the days drinking cocktails and reading trashy novels in their cushioned loungers, comfortable that their upper crust status will not be blemished by rubes in noisy pick-up trucks pulling sub-par fifth wheels or trailers. When they tire of the poolside repartee (how much can you say about the price of canola), they get behind the wheels of pricey toads and cruise past the country clubs in search of diversion, inevitably shopping or a suitable place to eat.
As if to ensure the mirage of wealth and fame continues outside the gates, city fathers named main thoroughfares after presidents and movie stars. A mundane trip to Walmart might involve driving along Bob Hope Drive and then turning on to streets named after Dinah Shore or Gerald Ford before motoring down Frank Sinatra Drive, past pink-walled estates and the wrought-iron gates of country clubs called Sunnyland and Desert Palms Oasis.
Approaching from the north, drivers arriving for the weekend from Los Angeles pass the Cabazon Outlet Mall, a string of name brand stores stretching five or six football fields along the I-10. Codgers and the infirm can traverse its length aboard shuttles that carry them from sale to breathtaking sale beneath cloudless skies. For unknown reasons, it’s the only place in the valley one sees large congregations of ethnic people, as if all the Asians from miles around are drawn together in a cultural search for that perfect deal. Those with any money left can gamble it away at Morongo Casino, a multi-storied monolith that towers above the desert scrub at the Mall’s southern end, luring gamblers for miles in every direction.
Like the rest of southern California, Palm Springs is all about blue sky and winter sun. The temperature during our February stay hovered in the 80s. What the brochures fail to mention is the wind. The first clues that something might be amiss in paradise (weather-wise, that is), are the wind farms on both sides of the freeway. Towering machines dot the horizon, gleaming white against a dull backdrop of desert and mountains like a flock of giant three-pronged flamingos feeding on the breeze.
The wind blows hard in the high desert north of Palm Springs. Like giant waves building momentum, gusts can be heard gaining power in the far-off scrub-land before they sweep through the snow geezer parks, bending palm trees, overturning lawn chairs and rocking rickety trailers and formidable motor coaches with a furious God-given equanimity that rattles the dentures of the oldsters huddled inside, at least one of whom is writing the lyrics of a country song.
If the trailer’s rockin’, don’t bother knockin’ on the manager’s door. Turn up the tube and keep on gawkin’, no use in squawkin’. No refunds. He’s heard it all before.
Area entrepreneurs’ penchant for unimaginative but evocative names can cause confusion in the mouldering brains of elderly RVers who can be heard querying their spouses in Walmart parking lots.
“What’s the name of our park again Marsha?”
“I think it was Two Palms Hot Pools outside Desert Hot Springs.”
“You sure it wasn’t Two Hot Springs in Palm Desert?”
“Coulda’ been Twin Palms Hot Pools in Palm Springs.”
“Sounds familiar but I can’t be sure.”
“Maybe it was Desert Oasis Palms Pools near Two Palms Desert Hot Springs Resort.”
“That seems close. You sure it was Two Palms not Two Hot Springs?”
“I told you to write it down, Fred. You never listen. How many times have we been lost on this trip?”
Yada, yada, yada.
Net up a trip through America’s heart of darkness.