Monday, August 18, 2008

Here. Now.

At 10 in the morning, it was already hot in Phoenix. I can see palm trees outside my window in the lot of the car dealership across the street. Four hours west on Route 10 and I’ll be in Palm Springs.

But it sure feels to me like I’ve arrived.

In ways good and bad.

Phoenix strikes me as a hard-bitten and mean place. A get-out-of-my-way kind of place. It’s North Jersey with cactus.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is here in Phoenix, or rather right next door in Scottsdale. I think I’ll head there as soon as I have a shower.

Quite the drive yesterday. I started out in Tucumcari and headed west. Ever onward to the West. Is there any part of New Mexico that isn’t so strikingly beautiful? If there is, I haven’t seen it. The red rocks, the pale gray-green of the sage, and the dark green of the juniper and piñon are just incredible. And everywhere these incredible mesas. With a wee bit less self-control, I would have left my car at the side of the highway and hiked off to climb to the top of a mesa a hundred times. Mountains don’t have that effect on me, but mesas sure do. What’s there? What’s at the top? Who else has been there? Did they leave any sign for those who would come after them?

I had lunch in Albuquerque, which is a much bigger city than I remembered it to be. My preconceived notion was to settling in to local fare in the mission-y old town of Albuquerque, but instead I ate at a kind of mall that seemed to be part of an attempt to start developing “Uptown” Albuquerque. While I ate, I watched the U.S. Olympic Baseball Team take on Cuba. I was in an airport in 2000 waiting for a connecting flight and saw the same match-up. It was the best baseball game I’ve ever seen. On the U.S. team were a bunch of kids just starting out and guys--some of them in their forties--who had spent their whole lives in the minor leagues and never made it to the Big Leagues. They were taking on the best baseball players that Cuba had to offer, and the pitcher was consistently throwing 93 mile an hour sliders. But giving it all they had, the U.S. team managed to squeak out a win. I especially felt for those older guys on the U.S. team: it was their last shot at glory and they pulled it out.

The current team didn’t seem to be so lucky. In the tenth inning, the cubans had two men on base when I left to get back on the road. I sometimes run into problems watching baseball in public. The pressure and the emotion and the drama get to be too much for me. I sit there choking on sobs, a mass of tics and spasms. But if I hear that the U.S. team won, I’ll be really sorry I left before the proverbial overweight woman sang.
Heading west from Albuquerque brought more beautiful landscape, with the addition of beds of these black, volcanic rocks. A lot of them together and you get mal pais, badlands. It’s a strange lunar landscape that the anasazi--the ancient inhabitants of New Mexico--looked upon with fear and reverence.

And I crossed the Continental Divide. As if the other demarcations of this trip weren’t enough--leaving Pennsylvania, crossing the Mississippi--now all the rivers are flowing in the same direction I’m headed, to the Pacific coast.

I made it to Flagstaff for dinner. I guess I should have known that Flagstaff serves as the south entrance to the Grand Canyon. But I didn’t. When I want to see the Grand Canyon, I’ll take a drive up from Palm Springs and spend some time with it. I wonder what role the Grand Canyon plays for people who live here in the West? I wonder if it’s akin to the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty for new yorkers: a place where you take friends and family visiting from out of town if you go there at all. I went to the top of the Empire State Building with my church youth group when I was eleven or twelve, but not once during the fourteen years I lived in the City. Not that I want to knock it! From what I hear it’s pretty cool. But it’s hard to determine to go somewhere that theoretically you could go anytime you want.

Dinner in Flagstaff was to be had at this great mexican restaurant. I knew it was going to be good because I had trouble finding a place in the parking lot. And it was good.

But after dinner, I checked Google Maps on my Blackberry (Mr. Pibb’s plus Red Vines = Mad Delicious!) and decided that I would be spending the night in Phoenix. Oh that I could rethink that. Interstate 17 between Flagstaff and Phoenix is apparently very scenic and makes a great drive. But at night when there’s a rain, that twisty, turning decent is a wee bit harrowing for unfamiliar drivers such as myself. I was thrilled to see silhouetted against the night sky those cactus (Sonoran? Segurro?) that I’ve really only seen in cartoons. And the almost-full moon looked beautiful over the mountains. But mostly I-17 was pretty harrowing. My hands were cramped from gripping the steering wheel for dear live.

But I did get to Phoenix and I did manage to find a Motel 6 to spend the night. Albeit a pretty crappy Motel 6. And in the morning light, I got a very bad impression of Phoenix, “the New L.A.”.

But the one sight along the way I decided to interrupt my journey for was located next door to Phoenix in Scottsdale: I wanted to visit Taliesin West.

And I’m glad I did. Now I guess I could get all guide-booky and wax poetic about Frank Lloyd Wright’s western partner to Taliesin in Wisconsin, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that Wright did a really great job when he himself was the client. So many of his ideas just made so much sense. Even to the crowd of people around me whose homes didn’t look much like Taliesin West.

After archi-tourism, I found a Starbucks and a burrito, then hit the road (this time I-10, my final interstate highway) and headed west.

Next stop: Palm Springs, California.

West of Phoenix, the Arizona desert gets kind of bleak. The drive was only four hours, but seemed to take forever, so great was my anticipation.

In the back seat of my jeep was my 120-year-old christmas cactus, the gift of an elderly friend of my Aunt Helen when I was about then years old. (The cactus was then 90.) When I had a consultation with my mover, I asked him how best to pack a live plant for a six day road trip. He told me that I might have trouble bringing it into California. They had a lot of rules about what you could and couldn’t bring into the state.

“Yeah,” I said, “But it’s not like they have a checkpoint at the border, right?”

Guess what! California totally has a check point at the border. And the nice young man in the uniform grilled me about the provenance of my christmas cactus. When I assured him that it was a houseplant and that it was in potting soil, he waved me through the gate. I breathed a sigh of relief. What the hell would I have done if he had confiscated my christmas cactus? I’m not sure. But it would have been ugly. I probably would have cried some.

For just about the first time the whole trip, I was pressing my luck with the speed limit, going four or five miles-an-hour over. And finally finally finally, after driving for six days straight, there was the exit for Palm Springs.

As though in a trance, I headed west on Vista Chino. After getting lost because I mistook Sunrise for Indian Canyon, I found my way to the Chaps Inn.

I had arrived.

Not too long ago, I saw that great movie set in Southern California, The Graduate , starring Dustin Hoffman. I’ve always been struck by the ending, y’know, after Ben interrupts Elaine Robinson’s wedding by pounding on the door and she makes a break for it and he locks everyone up in the church by putting the big cross through the bars on the door and they jump on a bus. But then, while Simon & Garfunkle sing in the background, there camera just watches their faces. I always thought that ending was so perfect. All along, you’re rooting for Ben and Elaine, and then, the boy gets the girl.

End of movie.

Roll the credits.

But no.

The ending, Ben and Elaine on the bus, begs the question: what the hell are they going to do now? They had barely had a conversation up to that point. What was to become of the romanticism that drove the plot? Would they find a J.O.P. and get married? Would they just live together? Would Elaine go back to Stamford? Would Ben get a job? Where would they live? Would they have kids?

And so, the end of the movie isn’t the ending at all. It’s just the beginning.

And that’s how I felt sitting in my jeep outside of the Chaps Inn. This isn’t the end of the journey; it’s just the beginning.

What happens next?

Well, what happened next was I went inside. The place was crowded. Bunches of guys sitting around on the deck chairs. It turned out that The 15, a leather club in SF, was having their annual sojourn in the desert that weekend. And omigosh! There was Peter F.! Peter is a man I first met at Inferno, although we didn’t quite meet then and there because as by reputation he was a man I revered, I fled from him. But over time, he and I developed a nice acquaintance with one another. It was wonderful to find him here waiting for me.

I stayed up talking for a bit, and then unloaded my jeep. Not just my overnight bag for a change. All of it. For the first time since Monday, I’d be staying in the same place more than one night. I would be here at the Chaps Inn for a while. Until I found an apartment, the place where I will live for the next two years here in Palm Springs.

The next morning, when I got up, everyone was already up and about. A few of the guys were locals, but most had come down from San Francisco. I told them all about moving to Palm Springs. It turns out that Peter spends the winters here. About eleven o’clock, I announced that I was hungry, so I was going to go take a shower and head out and find something to eat. I went into my room, crowded as it is with my worldly goods, sat down on the bed, laid back on the bed, and woke up five hours later.

At points, I would sort of wake up, and chide myself: what the hell? you had a good night’s sleep! you don’t need a nap! get the hell up and go get something to eat!

This happened three or four times, until I answered myself: this isn’t a nap. this is about you shutting down. this is a stress reaction. you take all the time you need.

When I finally woke up and got out of bed, I considered what had just happened, trying to discern what brought that on.

And I have a pretty good idea.

There I was, playing in the pool. Swimming underwater, turning summersaults, a casual lap here and there, looking up in the palm trees, letting myself drift into dreamy aquatic reverie. “It’s so beautiful here,” I thought, “Imagine: it’s a place people come for vacation, and I’m going to be living here.”

Uh oh.

Is that a good idea ever? I mean, you go to Disney and have a great time, but it probably wouldn’t be good for your soul to live the rest of your life in the Enchanted Kingdom, right?

Those misgivings faded, but they didn’t quite leave me.

I mean, I don’t think it’s totally off base. And moving to Palm Springs isn’t everybody’s idea of a great thing to do. Nothing much happens here. I don’t think there’s a Type A personality within a hundred mile radius. It’s not without it’s flaws and blemishes.

But I think after the past seven months five years seven years fourteen years or so, this could be the place where for two years anyway, I can take The Big Time Out.

I’d like to find a therapist. Or maybe a pastoral counselor.

I’ve got some stuff to work out.

What’s with these lingering resentments I still bear towards my Ex? Why does he loom so large? And that Dark Night Of The Soul I’ve been through job-wise? And man, do I still have some grieving to do about my father’s death. And losing Faithful Companion. And my sister, way back in 1999.

Maybe that five hour nap wasn’t about misgivings I had picking up and moving to Palm Springs. Maybe, now that the decks are cleared, now that I’m here in the desert, the place for reflection and self-evaluation, all my birds have suddenly come home to roost.

Best I get to know them while I can.

1 comment:

'bastian said...

Welcome home, SIR. The tales of your trip were worth reading, but it is great that you are finally in your new city!