Monday, March 7, 2011


Penned-in accumulation along CA Highway 58, Mojave Desert, CA.
  Route 66 is the old current that flows through the high desert, gathering itself near a breezy outpost around Barstow, the train yards and the military base attracting drifters and vagabonds to this midway point in the California desert.  Route 66 carries its nostalgia well, the legendary blacktop ribbon connecting Los Angeles and Chicago winding through deserts, the Big Basin and the plains on the way to the Windy City.  Now the glory is captured in re-manufactured road signs tacked up on café walls, outside road stops and trucker’s overnight stations.  The Route is an empty highway now and the talk is of high speed rail between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and the controversy is hot.  For Angelenos traveling to Vegas, the highway is a last resort, only traveled if one can’t scrape up the cash for a plane ticket to Sin City.  There’s nothing like disembarking from a short Vegas flight at McCarren, out to the gates and the concours with their slot machines clanging and chiming all the way to the chaotic baggage claim and out to the taxi stands and limo drivers smoking and talking, waiting for a fare.  There is no greater buzz than an arrival in Vegas, an adrenaline shot of the highest order, especially at night, seeing the lights of the city as the plane hovers over the runway.  
    But to drive, is to take in the vast, overpowering Mojave Desert, and the drive is rewarding if you know what to look for.   

A junk emporium and sign shop in the Mojave Desert, CA.
      On the side roads, the by-ways, the desert unfolds in a leisurely pace, revealing hollows and hideaways, little known stops that are a kind of historical reflection of times past.  Route 66 skirts downtown Barstow, for instance, staying to the south and splitting out to parallel, more or less, Interstate 40 out to Needles and Kingman, Arizona.  Out of sight of the interstate and fast-tracking gamblers streaking for the border, the land is cheap.  And where land is cheap, it is treated in some cases as dumping ground for castoff appliances, vehicles, furniture, and corrals and pens that denote small flocks of sheep, a head of cattle or two or whatever the land can bear; pigs, goats, dogs, chickens, all kinds of animals that run on a stretch of land on an empty forgotten spread.  
    In the urbanized environment, laws and statutes, homeowners associations and sanitary restrictions prevent the housing of animals, garbage, junk, rusted vehicles, and citations are issued to maintain the pristine, crystalline qualities of the green environment we desire in these suburbs.  Taxes are to be collected, fees, impound charges if vehicles are towed, and on and on to propagate the civilization that we’ve entrusted to these sanitary bureaucratic litigators.  Every year or so we stick election signs in our yards and on our lawns and vote for the person or persons we think will most effectively keep our community clean, safe, spotless, and prevent neighbors from sullying the image of our fine towns.
An old house blends with surrounding color along CA Highway 58 near Barstow.
     The desert abandons all hope of these silly notions.  Out in the hot, fierce blast of the legendary Mojave, the bets are off, the restrictions are relaxed, the environment harsh enough, perhaps, to justify allowing people to keep large pens of accumulation.  Rather than spend valuable civic funds to haul trash and pile it on top of years and years of waste in a landfill or a dump site that’s just a bigger pile of the Golden year’s treasures, we’re allowed to look the other way, or look into each others yards for the historical analysis of velveteen versus Naugahyde, chrome coffee percolators and drip makers, top loading washers and dryers balanced against an equal parade of front loaders, and maybe a washboard, and clotheslines still stringing wash, giving it that fresh clean smell that only air-dried linens will give you. 
     Who hasn't glimpsed a dead school bus with a district name painted on its side in memory of once-proud school children shouting and riding to a game, a function, a road trip to learn of an historical event or location.  I feel the rattle and shake and down-shifts, the agonizing upward pull of a heavy-breathing school bus when I see them aging and broken in a yard.
United We Stand
      The big prizes of desert cast-off are out at the logistics airport in Adelanto, and a large scale dump site outside of Barstow.  The airport features cargo running in and out of a high desert runway with proximity to Edwards Air Force Base, so perhaps if cargo is needed for the next shuttle or rocket or drone, it can come in via the logistics airport, commercially, instead of submitting to the security demands of the Air Force.  I don’t know.  But a logistics airport in the desert, while down the hill Ontario hustles UPS and Fedex planes in and out all night, has me wondering if there’s an agenda specific to the logistics airstrip.


Timecheck said...

Yes, there is something about the desert that sanitizes, romanticizes the detritus of broken dreams.

Timecheck said...

"Detritus of broken dreams" Can't believe I said that. Almost as bad as "It was a dark and stormy night".

Kurt Taylor said...

Ralph, I like 'detritus of broken dreams', I wish I'd written that!