Thursday, February 22, 2007

Desert Times

Joshua Tree, California: Town motto: Where being dead just doesn't seem so bad.

Ah. The desert. The brown. The gray. The cactus prickers that are drawn to your denim like metal shards to a super magnet. That's where we "vacationed" this past week.

We went because Mike's grandmother has an aneurysm. When it was diagnosed, the doctor said she could go in two months or two years. That was at least 2 years ago. So, obviously, we were overdue.

We decided to go to Joshua Tree in February, because after about March 1, it's hard to see anything through the wavy heat that rises off the dusty dirt.

And it seemed like a good move, to leave in February. Because despite there having been nary an inch of snow all year, the weather had become downright hypothermic.

We left last Wednesday. But not before hearing about the ice storm that was coming. And I'm not talking about the a re-release of that Kevin Kline action flick, either.

See, it wouldn't be a Salfino family vacation if it didn't involve weather that could be defined as "crappy." One year, we decided to go down the shore for a week. New Jersey was locked in drought conditions for two months before we left. We hit the beach and the skies opened up two hours later. For five days. The day after we got home, the clouds parted and angels sang.

That pattern's been repeated many a time.

So when we left for California last Wednesday, it was in the middle of Ice Storm 2007. Meteorologists nationwide were giddy with delight. Only, we got to Newark airport on time. And our plane was scheduled to leave on time. And we all boarded on time. And then -- the pilot announced that we needed to wait a bit for our co-pilot to reach us from the airport hotel. WHICH WAS AT LAGUARDIA. Since we hadn't left the gate, Divided Airlines was kind enough to let us de-board to make alternate arrangements. Mike was out there trying to get us somewhere besides New Jersey, when I marched out to ask him if he'd heard about how late we'd be taking off.

Mike: Yeah, I heard about the co-pilot being at the wrong airport.

Me (loudly): More like he was drunk with a bunch of prostitutes!

Mike (strangely calmly): Go back on the plane and check on the kids.

Me: The kids are fine!

Mike: You need to go back on the plane.

Which is where I went and got a Bloody Mary at 9:45 in the morning.

We flew to Chicago. And then Los Angeles. And then got on a commuter plane (which is lots of fun if you want to re-enact the scene from "The Aviator" where Leo DiCaprio's test flight ends in a residential neighborhood).

After we got our vehicle rental, which was about midnight our time, we headed to the High Desert.

Joshua Tree, California: Town Motto: Please don't leave! Please -- for the love of God -- STAY!!

See, there's not much to do in Joshua Tree. It's a place where pensive Angelenos go to get in touch with themselves in those quiet moments when the pills wear off. If you don't rock climb, you'll find yourself considering what it's like to scale the face of a 60-foot boulder. And if you're drinking, and it's a good chance you are because there ain't much else to do, rappelling down a split rock the size of the Woolworth Building almost doesn't seem crazy.

Joshua Tree, California: Town motto: We're petitioning Crayola to make "Dusty Dirt" a real color.

So, I went for a jog, as much for exercise as for a form of entertainment. Because after you've looked at the dusty landscape for a couple of days, and pondered why U2 named an album after desolation that's home to a 30% poverty rate, you look for something to do.

Running on the dusty dirt trails that double as roads was actually better on the bones than the $50 million track our town installed around our high school football field. And the weather was cool and dry.

But my jog took a turn for the weird when I realized Ted Kaczinski II might be living in the shed-like structure that boasted an outhouse in the rear. That's when my jog turned into a full-fledged run. Because after I passed Ted's house, I found myself going past a scattering of "homes" whose owners may possibly have already sent out save-the-date cards for their impending demolition. That's when it occurred to me that if everything here in Jersey suddenly went bust, I could start a Desert Cardio Vacation business for the burned out entertainment set. Nothing like real fear to get the heart rate up.

Oh, the desert and I: we're one with each other.

Catherine Schetting Salfino