... Understand, we’ve been driving for over five hours, a destination nowhere in sight, yet we know we’ve got to be fresh, and in the desert, for a full moon and lunar eclipse.
I say, “If we stay on this road, cut right onto I-40 then get off and head south, we’ll be at Joshua Tree National Park. That is supposed to be the best place in California for sky gazing. There’s a town near the park’s entrance called 29 Palms. That’s where we’re going.”
Van Stein shrugs, resigned to the road—certainly a few hours more of it.
From a couple miles away, 29 Palms looks unwelcoming. But once we arrive… it’s even worse.
No charm, no style, just another stretch of urban sprawl with strip malls and fast food shacks.
“Maybe we can find a Travelodge,” says Van Stein.
“Are you nuts? I’m not staying in a Travelodge. In fact, I’m not staying anywhere in this town.”
“But it was your idea!”
“And I admit, I was wrong. I can’t stay anywhere that doesn’t at least have a Starbucks.”
“I bet there’s a Starbucks here.”
“But you just said…”
“Look, if you can find a Starbucks here, I’ll reconsider.”
Not three blocks later, Van Stein points and cackles with delight. “I knew it!”
He zips into their parking lot.
“I’m still not staying here.”
“Desert Hot Springs. It’s only twenty minutes away and it’ll be better for your painting tonight.”
“Because there are no mountains east of this place. In Desert Hot Springs the moon will rise over the mountains.
“I don’t need mountains.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’m still not staying here.”
“Well I need coffee.”
Starbucks obliges and we set off again; I’m behind the wheel, almost five o’clock.
We slip through Morongo Valley, a left into Desert Hot Springs.
No charm, no style, just another stretch of urban sprawl, strip malls and fast food shacks.
“I’m not staying here,” I say.
“But look,” says Van Stein. “A nice hotel.” He points out the Acqua Soleil and Mineral Water Spa.
In truth, it doesn’t look too bad. But it’s in the middle of urban sprawl.
“The only place left is Palm Springs,” says Van Stein. “And I hate Palm Springs.”
“I don’t care for it, either,” I say. “And I was just there a few weeks ago with no desire to return. But it’s all we got left.”
“Lets just drive back to Santa Barbara.”
“Okay, if that’s what you want. But first let's have a beer at Melvyn’s.”
“Old Palm Springs.”
Van Stein navigates us down North Canyon Drive.
On the right I notice a tall structure, maybe six floors, pyramid style, facing east.
It’s a Hyatt, I discern, smack in the middle of everything.
We keep going to West Ramon, cut a right—Melvyn’s.
Compared to when I first visited Melvyn’s only three weeks earlier, the ambience this cocktail hour is as funereal as our mood. We share a Heineken.
|Melvyn's: a previous visit|
“I’ve got it figured. Trust me.”
We’ve been on the road since 8:30 this morning and thus far gotten Pahrumped, Vegased, Bouldered, and 29 Palmed.
All Van Stein wants at this point is to get sprung from Palm Springs, and now he’s supposed to trust me.
Our beer drained, I climb behind the wheel, steer the COW on a back street to the Hyatt I’d noted earlier, zip into its forecourt, saunter into the lobby and right up to reception. “We need two rooms,” I boldly announce, “and one of them’s gotta be on your top floor facing east. Okay?”
She clacks her keyboard. “Yes, I can do that.”
“And I need your super-duper Triple A extra-special price,” I say, in deference to Van Stein’s wallet.
“A hundred seventy-nine dollars,” she says,
“Ya see?” I say to Van Stein, rearing up behind me. “Ya gotta trust Luna, our Goddess.”
We can scarcely believe it. One moment, screwed, Van Stein believing he’ll have to spend hundreds of dollars and still not have a vantage point for painting the full moon getting eclipsed, next moment, a sixth floor view for under two hundred bucks.
It gets better: the junior suites have balconies.
Downstairs, twenty minutes later, Crystal the concierge sends us to 360 North for refreshment: a Hendrick’s martini, BBQ ribs, and tuna tartare in the open air, followed by a stroll to a joint called Cigars & Wine, which is precisely what we want, in that order.
Its proprietor, an Indian from Bombay, allows us to sample several wines until we decide on a hearty pinot noir. That resolved, he recommends a mild smoke from Costa Rica, snips and sizzles, and moments later we are lounging on the front patio, watching the moon commence its rise amid a swirl of gaiety this lovely cool desert evening.
“Could you have imagined this day would end up so well?” I ask.
“I thought you were blowing smoke," says Van Stein. "And now you really are.”
A few of the natives join us in conversation and I am giddy with nicotine and alcohol as the full moon continues its rise.
At half-ten, the first flicker of an eclipse shadows the moon’s edge. That’s our cue to scramble back to the Hyatt so Van Stein can paint from a perch on his balcony.
By midnight, the moon is almost completely shadowed into a shade of blood orange.
Across the street, a bar pulsates with raw energy and loud music. No matter to me.
I don’t even bother closing the sliding doors but quickly fall deeply asleep despite the heaving sound waves, and remain comatose until what feels like a split second later but is actually six hours, the moment a hot fiery sun breaks from behind distant mountains.
I shower, dress, text Van Stein I’m on my way to Starbucks, and when the elevator opens to the lobby, he’s standing there like a magician, smiling and satiated by his oil paint addiction.
My first novel about a road trip has been acquired by Skyhorse Publishing in New York City.
It will be published in Fall 2016.