On the road, part 3

When I quit my job several months ago, I did not have a Master Plan. All I knew was that I had to go on a road trip. I decided that rather than photograph my adventures, I would draw them, the thought being that drawing would force me to be more “present.” I’m posting those drawings and thoughts from the trip in installments. The first post is here, the second is here. This is the third.

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When I left Palm Springs for San Diego, I drove a southerly route, towards the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea is a man-made accident. Query whether man can make accidents? A man-instigated accident? Before the Hoover Dam, in the early 20th Century, the California Development Company attempted to reroute the Colorado River to irrigate a chunk of land in Southern California. It worked for a time. The canal was dubbed the Imperial Canal. But within a few years, the project failed and in 1905 a major flood breached dikes that the Company had built, dumping water into what was basically a dry lake bed. The water has no natural outflows and over time it’s become saltier and saltier. So basically, it’s not useful for agriculture and fish don’t thrive in it.

Driving through Salton City is bleak, bleak, bleak, and gorgeous in a tragic sort of way. (Hello! I’m from greater Detroit. Tragic beauty is my jam.) The town was founded in the 1950s as a seaside resort town, which I presume explains why the street names have hopeful seaside names like “Dolphin Drive” and “Sea Gull Avenue.” Problem is these streets lead past big dusty empty plots of land towards mobile homes and ramshackle adobe structures. My visit was quick and sobering after Palm Springs.

West of Salton City I drove up into Anza-Borrego State Park, but not before coming across an abandoned cabin in the middle of a salt flat. Inside these names were inscribed, just so, next to a gaping hole in a concrete wall. The names seemed like the premise for an awesome 80s ensemble movie about teenagers coming of age while riding ATVs across a bleached-out landscape.


Crossing Anza-Borrego was extraordinary. I went from a lunar landscape to lush desert landscapes, all in a zippy Mini Cooper. I stopped in Borrego Springs where I bought an unattractive straw hat and a date shake. That is, a milk shake flavored with dates. Now, I like a milkshake just as much as the next person — nay, much, much more — but I learned that dates do not a good milkshake make. You can’t blend a date. It just turns into chewy smaller bits of date that are emulsified with the ice cream. Unlike bananas or strawberries, say, which lend themselves to being puréed, a date just adds weird texture. Verdict? Blech.

On the other side of the Anza-Borrego desert, Route 78 spat me out into an alpine-like wonderland: the Volcan Mountain Preserve. Basically gorgeous pine trees and lush green fields and grazing cows and fruit pies for sale in a town called Julian. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such dramatically different landscapes in such short order. The drive from Salton City probably took 2 or 3 hours and I felt like I’d gone from Return of the Jedi to The Sound of Music, with maybe Raising Arizona in the middle.



After a few days in Rome it’s easy to see how Romans can appear totally blasé about the city’s countless monuments, basilica, and fountains. These vestiges of past empires are simply so numerous that they crowd every street and piazza. One can’t run out for a quick coffee without stumbling past a 1st century ruin. NBD. And given how massive and massively breath-taking each vestige is, it’s also easy to see how one might miss the tiny details that lend the city it’s layered charm. The floor of the Vatican museum is made of tiny beautifully placed mosaic stones. The simplest bits were the most beautiful.

Outside Santa Maria in Trastevere, the walls are plastered with headstones, almost haphazardly.

On the road, part 2

Morongo Valley

On my way to Palm Springs from Joshua Tree, I drove down into the Morongo Valley. I stopped to eat ribs at Willie Boys Saloon and Dance Hall. There was a mechanical bull but it was resting (it was only 5:00 PM or so). At the bar, an older man was trying to convince a woman to hire his band for an upcoming local festival. She put him off gently, “I’ll have to discuss it with my committee.”  He pleaded, “I play harmonica and guitar.”  “Yes, I’ll tell my committee.” A woman who was roughly 85 years old came in wearing a blond wig that looked as though it had been stepped on, more than once.  She ordered a cosmopolitan, crossed her legs and pursed her lips.


In the Coachella Valley, I saw a dozen military tanks roll up the highway going north. Soldiers in desert fatigues, with helmets and goggles, sat on top of the tanks as though searching for roadside bombs. They had guns too. At sunset, the wind turbines took my breath away — an entire ocean of them stretching from the San Gorgonio Pass (“the second windiest place in the country”) south and west towards the Salton Sea.

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Palm Springs, the guidebook said, is a place for retired persons and gay men, and gay retired persons. I loved it. I want to die there, a shriveled tan little woman with immaculate shag carpets and a big dog. The Design Sponge Palms Springs Guide was very helpful (though some shops mentioned have closed since the guide was first posted in 2009), as was the Palm Springs Modern: Mid-Century Architecture Tour App — well worth the $4.99.

Palm Springs

In one shop in Palm Springs, I found this “primitive” sculpture nestled in between Danish mid-century modern furniture pieces. It had big teeth and was chiseled out of a single massive piece of wood.

Let’s all go to Rome

“I don’t like Rome, I said. It is hot and full of fleas. You don’t like Rome? Yes, I love Rome. Rome is the mother of nations. I will never forget Romulus suckling the Tiber. What? Nothing. Let’s all go to Rome.”

— excerpted from A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway


I’m off tonight for Italy! Wish me buon viaggio.