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Turf and Surf

Shields Date Farm in Indio

Old time stools at Shields

This was originally going to be called Desert, Part II but now Santa Monica is in the story too. I like Turf and Surf better anyway.

There are many things I love about the friend I was to spend the day with, one being that when I picked her up for our circuitous drive back to LA, she had a solid food plan and little else. So it was off to Shields Date Farm, which I can't say I expected to be across from a strip mall, but hey, it's Southern California.

Her date shake was sweet and thick, the items on offer dates, date cookies, date crystals, date butter, date sugar and grapefruits. Because I didn't want to make you unnecessarily jealous in the last post, I didn't mention the abundance of citrus trees at Adult Camp. Every day we'd pick grapefruit and oranges and have ourselves a nice big glass of fresh squeezed something or other, and one of the ladies made Palomas in the evening So, after having an unending supply every day, seeing shriveled up grapefruits at tourist prices seemed the equivalent of partially burned coal for sale in a Newcastle gift shop.

Entering Joshua Tree National Park from the south, to start in the Sonoran Desert and drive north to the Mojave, we stopped to pay our fare. The kind man delicately asked if any of us were 62 or over, leading to my first senior citizen bargain, when I scored a $20 pass that allows entry to any national park for one year! I could have gone for an $80 lifetime membership, but knew the likelihood of me holding on to one card for a lifetime was less than nil. I'll admit, it was a shock that he targeted me for what I am, an almost senior, as I'm not quite ready to identify myself that way. Fortunately, the hangtag didn't fit on the rearview mirror, but that emblazoned word SENIOR was still painfully easy for anyone with young eyes to see. I anticipate many battles being waged between bargain brain and pride brain.

Sonoran desert with an Ocotillo in the background. Will you just look at those colors?

We drove, we stopped. We began a biblical sort of walk straight into the desert with no water and no food, but after a minute and a half, turned back at my urging. We had just learned that rattlesnakes hide in bushes and strike unsuspecting creatures, so that every hole in the sand we saw, and there were many, looked like a rattlesnake apartment building. Once my imagination gets going, there's really no turning things around.

One summer when working at Tanglewood when I lived on Friar Tuck Drive in Sherwood Forest, a dark and slithery place, someone gave me snake avoidance training. Apparently snakes can't hear, but they react to ground vibrations, so I'd stomp hard from my car, across the lawn and up the wooden stairs to our house on stilts, only to find mouse shit in the silverware drawer, but that's for some reason not as worrying to me. This prior combat training made it possible for us to take a walk in the Cactus Garden, which was crowded enough that other people were doing the stomping for me.

In the garden, there were various helpful things for visitors - defined paths through the cacti, a sign explaining that everything in nature has a purpose except chollas, which are incredibly painful if you get stuck by one, and a little metal box on the ground that was covered with stickers and had a wire attached to it with a pair of pliers.

As we watched instagram moments being staged, we heard a woman's blood curdling wail that didn't end. Well of course I thought snake. But as we drew closer, we saw a 20-something girl with two separate balls of these prickers stuck to her hand. She was inconsolable, though her friends tried hard. We mentioned the pliers and when we left, saw her availing herself of them, no less uncomfortable.

We had ideas in our heads of what 49 Palms Oasis would look like, certainly not this

Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert

We left the park and were peckish, so decided to try our luck at La Copine, hoping to score walk-in seats. Though located in the desolate community of Yucca Flats, scattered with mobile homes, adult video stores and a Dollar General, one needs to make reservations months in advance to lunch here. Sure enough, there in this arid landscape was a room full of perfectly groomed casual LA people eating many varieties of cute vegetables. No room for us, unfortunately.

Yucca Flats, California

I was hungry enough to eat my own hand, or some super hot Doritos from the 7-11, but was saved when my food buddy calmed me down enough to guid us across the road, to a honky tonk sort of place where we sat outside, chatted and watched the world go by, enjoying a fine pizza and salad.

Lunch place

LA traffic is real. The trauma is too fresh to relive just now.

We were separating in LA, she going to Beverly Hills, me to Santa Monica, both staying with Korean friends, so arranged to meet for dinner at Soowon Galbi in Korea Town the next night. Things started to go awry when we realized we hadn't changed the one clock we were relying on for a time to leave. Rushing to this gritty and colorful neighborhood, my friend had trouble parking her shiny fancy car, making me happy for my nondescript VW Golf that few would want. We made an interesting, new friend at dinner and enjoyed japchae and black cod in some kind of kimchiish sauce. Upon leaving, we hit a deep pothole and immediately had a flat tire. Still in a crappy neighborhood, we pulled into the Rite Aid/Burger King parking lot to think about our future. After multiple back and forth calls with the emergency service people, we divined that some cars, including hers, have tires that can be driven on when flat, so after sitting around for ages in the car, got home without incident.

In the hood

Deb and I a long time ago, having a very happy hour at the Huntley

Killer sunset at the Huntley

Deb and I have been friends for a long time, and have quite a history together. There's the time we went on a road trip when we didn't phone in one night and our families were convinced we had been arrested in Alabama for possession of weed (not the case, we never got caught), that crazy week in Cozumel, some memorable nights on Newbury Street, a New Years Eve at the Chuck Wagon in Wayne, Maine and lots of laughs in the Penthouse Bar at the Huntley in Santa Monica. So while we're both old and boring and don't really drink anymore, we went back and had a happy hour or two before coming home exhausted from being out two nights in a row!

Not going to lie, kind of outraged that this will go on without me

Do you ever just feel like you are absolutely 100% at the right place at the right time? This coffee shop, I could stay there all day and just can't wait to sit there every morning to watch the show. It might be because the room is mostly white, which makes everyone more colorful, but by later in my stay in Santa Monica, I'd actually given up on bringing my notebook to write, which never happens. A little backstory on the vibe there. The cashiers and baristas each wear their uber coolness, including the perhaps 75+ year old Central American man who makes the prettiest coffees, and I did at first get a somewhat frosty reception while seeing they chatted up others. That on my last day there, I got "I'm sorry, I don't recall your name" was a big win, prompting me to contemplate changing my return ticket to Boston.

I scored a prime seat, sitting next to a man I'd seen before who was somewhat untidy looking, perhaps in his 80's, with lots of folded pieces of paper on his table that he diligently wrote on, in pencil. While he didn't ask me if I'd found Jesus, he did ask me if I liked this coffee shop and said it had the spirit of Jesus in it. Now, it's an interesting place, this coffee shop, but more because it's somewhere people who live in $10M houses in carefully chosen tattered clothes or skateboard sneakers or trucker hats go for their coffee runs, not because their hands are calloused from carrying too many buckets of water to folks who need it (not that the two are mutually exclusive). On my neighbor went, making references to the Bible with everything he or I mentioned, though interestingly, not when I told him I was from Boston, which left him speechless. I get it.

So, yeah, back in the Baystate, but the sun's shining, I've talked to my girl, am chatting with a friend soon, have paddle lined up for later today and I'm off to join Saturday. Have a nice weekend, all.


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