I stayed in Brawley the night that I left L.A., at a charming place run by an Indian gentleman: The Desert Inn. Only $40, immaculately clean, and with a mattress and pillows fit for a king. But besides all that, the guy stood with me a bit in the lobby —a tiny, fluorescent-lit, square room with a counter and desk; some maps and brochures—and listened to me speak about my trip, and then he told me about the road trips he’s taken his family on, and about his employer—the owner of the establishment. This man has been trying to sell the joint for years, decades even. I haven’t the slightest idea where he lives (I don’t think Mr. P knows either), though I don’t suppose it’s in town, or anywhere near it for that matter. Presumably he only works when his employee is away on vacation. Mr. P gets one month of vacation per year worked. He works around the clock, seven days a week. If he works two years without a break he gets two months off, and so on. At first glance the deal sounds alright, until one considers that with a regular two days off a week over the course of a year he would have acquired more time off that way than through his current deal. On the other hand, the job is obviously not terribly demanding, he gets to spend plenty of time with his family, and has the opportunity to leave for an entire month to do with that time as he will (in his case take the family on road trips around the country—they traveled over 11,000 miles last year on one excursion!—thus earning his children an excellent education beyond that of their general schooling). Clearly he feels any positives outweigh the negatives, and so it is an opportunity not to be passed up.
During the course of our conversation he made some recommendations, unnecessarily, of things to do in the area, places to visit, etc. He seemed to have no sense of direction though, pointing me towards a town north, from where I came, when I said I was going east, and then telling me the dunes I planned to visit were out of my way despite that they flanked both sides of the highway I would take out of town. Besides all that nonsense, it was a joy chatting and getting a feel for the town and this man’s life. The whole room smelled of Indian cooking, and at one point his son, of perhaps eight or nine years, came out from the door beyond and hung sheepishly on his father’s arm, alternating looking at the ground and up at his father.
When I left Los Angeles I had every intention in the world to visit Joshua Tree, though mainly just to run, but the gloomy, overcast weather put a damper on any enthusiasm I might have had the night before (always when I am most enthusiastic about running). It also didn’t help at all that I spent almost two hours at Go Get ‘Em Tiger when I had only planned to grab an espresso and maybe a snack to go. And yet, despite regularly disappointing myself by lingering over small joys in potential neglect of other planned events, and also in regards to my constantly fluctuating enthusiasm for running, much good always seems to come my way. No decision ever seems to matter.
So, having bypassed Joshua tree, I stopped near the Salton Sea at a medjool date farm instead (this is a region that produces a huge number of these sweets), adjacent to a fascinating, mountainous pile of boulders a city block long, a number of which were covered in graffiti, resulting in some pleasing photographs. Tucked in amongst these boulders, at one end of this ant hill, was a memorial to someone, complete with rows of candles and a statue of the Virgin Mary draped in rosaries, her head split in half and the piece of rebar poking up through her neck like the figure of a spinal column. I was only about an hour or so north of Brawley at this point, and the sun was dropping below the mountains to the west lighting up the sky in that direction like a fire cracker; and eastward the still, mirror-like surface of the Salton Sea—a sliver of silvery-blue glass lodged in a landscape of golden sand—clouds slowly scudding across the sky. One disappointment always seems to beget a joy. Why even bother to be disappointed at all? Knowing this you would think I would feel accordingly, and yet….