Monday, October 13, 2014

Down and Out in Santa Clarita

Or: How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part Three

The problem with much of Southern California is that almost everyone in Southern California believes that Southern California is the best place to live in the entire world.

I grew up in California, so I suppose you can call me a California partisan. California public schools do a great job of indoctrinating each student into the belief that there is no place in the world quite as great. I can still remember most of the words to the songs in my fourth grade pageant, the gist of which were that 1) America was the best country in the world, and 2) California was the best part of America because California was the westernmost point in the continental United State.
There will always be a little bit of the west /
There will always be a little bit of the west /
There will always be a little bit of the west /
To be won /
To be won.
(Looking online, I see that they are still making students perform How the West Was Really Won, despite the fact that it is - in hindsight - quite offensive in every conceivable way short of having fourth graders playact a lynching on stage. But I see it is mainly performed in religious schools, which is hilarious. America is indeed the land supreme.)

California is a wonderful place, but not all parts of California are equally wonderful. There are large swathes of the state that should be cordoned off from human habitation, and the area immediately surrounding Palm Springs is one of these areas.

My aunt and uncle live in Palm Desert. They live in a very nice gated community, with a swimming pool and multiple guest suites offered for our convenience. If you look at a map you will notice that Palm Desert is roughly 150 miles from Santa Clarita. So why were we in Palm Desert? Because we couldn't afford to stay indefinitely at a hotel in Santa Clarita, and Palm Desert was close family with a bed we could borrow. (We did ultimately end up spending a lot of time in hotel rooms as well, do not worry.)

My aunt and uncle own an air conditioning business. As you can imagine, they do pretty well in the middle of the desert. It's a great line to be in. The way the desert works is that you spend all day in air conditioned houses and businesses, and then jump into air conditioned cars to get to other air conditioned houses and businesses as quickly as possible. If you go out, you don't walk. Not only will you dehydrate yourself in very short order (there's no humidity in the desert, and the moisture is sucked right out of your body), but nobody on the roads knows how to deal with pedestrians, so there's a very good chance they'll hit you with their Lexuses. If you walk in a crosswalk they don't really know how to yield. It makes sense: who in their right mind would be walking around in the middle of the day in Palm Desert? Even the homeless people know to be indoors.

With that said, I can't imagine why anyone would ever choose to live there. The mountains are pretty but there are mountains in lots of places. There are casinos, but then again, there are casinos in lots of places as well. Pretty much every luxury or convenience you could ever hope to find can be found in the desert, has been transplanted there . . . the only thing for which you will search in vain is a reason why anyone ever settled there in the first place.

(Maybe it was really nice 100 years ago? Somehow I doubt it.)

Spending time in Palm Desert with my family was quite nice. Relaxing. My aunt's pool is salt water, and if you've never swam in a salt water pool, it will make you swear off chlorine forever. But even then we would have to get up early in the morning to drive the two-and-a-smidge hours across the desert, through San Bernardino county, and into the San Fernando valley, to climb back up the mountains north of the city and reach Santa Clarita. I got used to the drive. It's not a bad drive, mostly a straight shot with only a couple turns. The only time traffic is bad is if you drive back eastwards around rush hour, at which point there's always traffic between Pasadena and Rancho Cucamonga. But traffic or no, it is a long drive, especially to be done back and forth in one day.

Maybe it was just because Palm Desert was a way station, not really our destination but more like an intermittent vacation (in between days and weeks spent in Santa Clarita), but the whole thing never felt quite real. There's no nature in Palm Desert. There are hermetically sealed micro-climate habitats bunched along at regular intervals, and lethal heat between those intervals. If the water supply was cut off or disrupted there would be riots within two days. As soon as the bottled water was all sold, people would realize quite abruptly that they are not supposed to be living there, and that the only thing separating people (many of whom are retirees) from the lethal heat is an edifice of man-made climate control, be it in the form of air conditioning or aqueducts. Without these great feats of civil engineering, humanity would scatter and burn. It's very clean but also bare of anything but manmade structures.

On the morning of her first day of classes at the art school, we woke early in Palm Desert and were on the road with no small alacrity. Right as we left the front door of my aunt's house, we felt raindrops. We looked up and saw the sky was uncharacteristically cloudy. In the time it took us to walk across the front driveway and climb into my car, the few raindrops had turned into many raindrops. By the time we reached the main road which would lead us to the freeway the raindrops had turned into a flood.

We were trapped in traffic. The water rose quite quickly - at first only an inch, then two inches, and in short order every car was submerged up to its axles. The few SUVs who had tried to race ahead of the floodwaters were soon mired as well. We sat in traffic in the flood for an hour as the waters raged around the car. A few vehicles sat in the middle of the road with their blinkers on, stranded. We trudged along at roughly 10 feet a minute.

Finally the rain stopped. A few minutes after the rain stopped the water disappeared. I don't mean to say that it started to drain, I mean that it was gone with as much speed as it had appeared. One moment the roads were flooded, and in just a few more the roads were clear. The shoulders were covered in trash, and more than a few vehicles had run aground or spun out of control on the side of the road. We sat in traffic for an hour, listened to Wowee Zowee all the way through, and I almost fell asleep at the wheel. In my defense, I had not had any caffeine all morning, we were in mostly stopped traffic, and with good reason I had left the house believing that our next stop would be a place that sold caffeinated beverages.

We hit the freeway just a little over an hour after we left my aunt's house, having traversed a mile in that time. The roads were clear, if covered in a fine layer of silt. We had caffeine. She made it to her first day of classes in plenty of time. But was it an omen?

Next: Drinking in LA

1 comment :

rrrivethead said...

Seems like you might have some pretty smart parents who moved you away from all that unpleasantness before you could even be aware of it. ...just sayin'