After the plane had landed in Ontario and I had stumbled out of the jetway, a little bleary and buzzed from a couple of bloody m’s, I stopped in front of a pane of floor to ceiling windows that ran along the far wall of the airport terminal. There framed by a freeway and a limitless blue sky were some of the tallest mountains I had seen in a while.
Their jagged peaks covered in snow, the mountains stretched straight into the sky like a wall. I had heard the desert would be beautiful, the mountains impressive, but I’ll admit a NorCal bias in that I just can never, ever, believe that Southern California is pretty. We hadn’t even made it to the desert yet and I had been stopped short by my first sight of the San Jacinto Mountains.
Soon afterward, we were cruising Highway 10 headed east. Our rental reservation had been for a subcompact but instead we lucked into a free upgrade for a black and chrome Chrysler 300. The surging engine, sleek hood and sun reflecting off the chrome as we barreled through the desert at 85 mph made for a more appropriate entrance into Palm Springs than putt-putting into town in a Yaris like a pair of schmucks.
The hotel was gorgeous. We snagged a room at the Rancho Las Palmas resort in Rancho Mirage. So, technically we weren’t in Palm Springs but it’s all the same really. Our room had a balcony that had an expansive view of the resort, a pond and the mountains far in the distance piercing the blue sky. We also overlooked the fifth fairway on the main course. The first afternoon in our room I put on my shorts and sandals and kicked my feet up with a glass of Jamesons on the rocks to watch groups of old duffers navigate a par 3 with a tight fairway and impressive water hazard. I wasn’t that shocked to see some blatant cheating.
Christine was there to relax. I had promised that I too would relax. We would spend a day lounging by the adults’ pool with frosty beverages and simple thoughts in our heads like: “Do I have room for an order of nachos? Can I get nachos poolside?” Well of course you can get nachos by the pool, but I can’t ever relax like that on vacation.
When I’m in a new town I just have to do something. Sitting by the pool can make me feel a little antsy. What did I do? Find the best wine bar, perhaps a legendary cocktail lounge where Sinantra and Deano used to haunt? No, I went to the Palm Springs Air Museum to see the largest collection of fully operational WWII combat aircraft. To this history buff and nerd, the museum may have been the best part of the trip. I was able to stroll beneath the wings of the planes that had won the war in the Pacific and Europe. I may have missed out on lounging, but I’ll never forget being able to stare down the sight of a .50 cal machine gun in the waist of a B-17 Flying Fortress. Yes, I got to walk through one of those great lumbering four engine bombers.
For New Year’s we hung out at the hotel. The place had three bars and each was rocking and the hotel staff had set up another bar and a dance floor in the lobby. It was interesting to hang out and mix out with the rich LA folks, the country club locals and a few yahoos like ourselves from out of town. The Palm Springs area is a network of walled-in, planned communities with security gates in the front that seem more appropriate for the Green Zone in Baghdad. I haven’t seen too many seniors cruising in Bentley’s to get their scrips at CVS. On the outlying edges of the cities are the sprawling, dense neighborhoods of track homes with air conditioners on the windows and bars on the doors. The homes of the gardeners and the guys who bring up the room service.
But enough of the social commentary. The area has spectacular scenery. From the mountains juxtaposed with the golf courses in the cities to the desert. On New Year’s Day, Christine and I drove out to Joshua Tree National Park. The stillness and stark beauty of the park, which is accentuated with bizarre cacti and stone formations was an appropriate close for our trip. After an oasis of wealth and excess, it was refreshing to walk through a desert bereft of distraction.