Good Los Angeles stories start in the high desert.

Airplane Nose

The Mojave desert is a mess. I love it, not in an ironic-slumming decay-hugger way, just love it. Chaparral crackles when there’s no other sound. Weird stuff grows out of nowhere and sits there daring you to find context. Ancient Mexican cowboys sell fruit to displaced urban black teenagers. The light is fierce and perfect and constant. Things break down and people just board them up and move on with their lives. All my life I’ve seen the desert as more functional, better adjusted, more of an organic whole than the city and the suburbs.

I want to say “don’t change,” Mojave, but I know you will, and I know you’ll always surprise me.

Chaparral and tears

Shakedown cruise

Desert Road #5

Costa Mesa -> Riverside -> Indio -> Salton City -> Anza Borrego -> Julian -> Escondido -> Riverside -> Costa Mesa.

Temperatures up to 112 F, climb up a mountain at 90F, lots of twisty roads, 367 miles, 35 MPG.

Yeah, I think I’ll keep the Fiesta.

late nights and freeway flying always makes me sing

I got an In-N-Out double-double last night and ate it in my car. I had the seat kicked back and the sunroof open, and I was looking straight at the full moon. Mars is still very close, so I could see the Red Planet with an unaided eye right there too.

It doesn’t take much to send me into an astronomical trance. I think about the fact that I’m looking at another planet, and how far away and huge it has to be, just looking up at the moon. When it’s full and looks oversized on a clear night, the moon is just hypnotizing. Mars even more so, since I can look directly at and see an impossibly remote place that maybe, just maybe people might visit someday. I was pleasantly dragged back into sophomoric “oh wow the universe” mode that way and spent a while there.

Years ago I noticed that living in suburban Southern California has a particular depressive effect. When you’re surrounded entirely by man-made things — signs, stores, roads, parks, airplanes, houses, gas stations — the world starts to feel like an extension of the people around you and their attitudes. And here, the man-made world around us is new and cheap and tawdry and already falling apart. It’s a mess of convenience stores sprinkled over beige bedroom communities, strip malls, sterile little parks, drive throughs. The scenery does not inspire. Eventually I get bad theology in my head: the world was built by money-grubbing assholes who didn’t care about their work, and it’s falling apart.

The cure for this is nature. I am a city boy at heart. I don’t much enjoy camping, small-town rural life terrifies me, and I feel naked without a used bookstore and some good coffee down the street. But I like to visit nature. Even an hour staring out into the Pacific Ocean is a decent recharge. But really I need a day in the desert here every few months. When you’re out past 29 Palms with nothing between you and some craggy mountains 30 miles away, and it’s perfectly silent except for creatures you can’t see, there’s no 7-11 to get you down. For me it’s a reminder that the world has its own vastness, its own power, its own logic and function, and that my little world of stoplights and shoe discounters and empty greasy parking lots is small and not representative.

Slumped back in my car seat staring at the moon and Mars last night, I thought “Yeah. It’s time to go there.” Not Mars or the moon (which would be cool also), but the desert. It would be good to shed a layer of suburban grime and doom again.

Then I sat up to get going and fries fell down my pants.