I want to thanks my hosts in Pasadena-Mike and Jen. They have a wonderful bungalow with two super cute dogs. Between Jen and Mike the bungalow boasts tons of cool collectibles: pinball machines, rally posters, atari, and a tiki mug collection.Jen has the finesse of a certified interior designer, pulling together all the elements to make their home dazzling, yet really cozy. It reflects their lifestyle-and scooters are a big part of that. Mike owns NOHO scooters and he’s busy building up quite an empire. I can tell the shop is a hub in the scene! Mike contacted me awhile back and offered up a space and bike maintenance. My initial assumption of him was wrong-I had pictured a 40+ conservative, tan, L.A. man. I was relieved that he had a wife and that they were so fun. He’s a brilliant guy with a lot of style and a big heart. He’s always fixing up old arcade games; both the house and shop have some. Mike also seems to help a lot of people out. His wife Jen is a perfect complement to him-more outgoing and a wonderful hostess.
All of my hosts have always been really considerate that I am a tourist and want to make sure I see the sights. Honestly-I’m pretty low maintenance. I’m not very star struck, nor am I am big consumer-both of which make L.A. thrive. I was really happy to just make the drive through Hollywood Hills and back down through the canyons-to see that classic sign. Rodeo Drive, Melrose, blah blah-whatever. I’m of the opinion that most of my friends deserve stars on that Hollywood Walk of Fame. Perhaps if I had a lot of money and time I would put on the tourist cap. Otherwise, there was some basic maintenance work to do on Audre. Then I spent Monday evening hanging out with Jen and Mike. My friend Lissa from Oberlin happened to be 2 blocks away from the shop, so she came by for a hug and postcard. The highlight of my trip was meeting Linda, the peace activist who wears something with Peace sign on it everyday, and has since George W. Bush was inaugurated. She gave me a terrifically gaudy pink peace sign necklace that I adore. I came to the realization in my conversation with her that the focus of this Peace mission is to obtain 1 billion definitions-a project I dedicate my life to….
I left for Palm Springs early Tuesday morning. Mike led me out of town and then I had about 70 miles of congested roads ahead. The drive was torture. The smog in Southern California is absolutely disgusting and I’m concerned for its inhabitants-especially growing children. The smog intensified as I got closer to San Bernardino. Audre also started stalling out when I would deaccelerate. The first time it happened, no worries, she started right back up. Then she began stalling out every other light. The beautiful part of the ride was just ahead, down Tim Mateo canyon, through orange groves and out to the desert. I was hesitant to push on though, as the next scooter shop was 500 miles away in Prescott, AZ-through lonely desert roads. Mike confirmed that it would be better to turn back at this point, than get too far away and backtrack anyhow. It took 5 minutes to start Audre after I got off the phone with him. I cautiously drove her back to Pasadena, arriving safely. I was a bit disgruntled and continually reminding myself to accept that traveling yields many suprrises. At least it was better to trek back 70 miles than be stranded in the desert. The traffic on the ride home was truly disgusting and I was disappointed there was no good scenery. I don’t think that emissions control is going to fix CA’s smog problem. People need to stop driving! Or buy scooters! It isn’t like anyone ever gets over 45 mph on strips like that-a scooter would be just fine! By the time I reached Pasadena my nose was bleeding from the smog and my breathing was labored.
The next morning we loaded Audre into the shop truck, which Mike had driven home the night before. I wager that he was thankful I had made it back to his house without incident. I heard that once he had to pick up a helpless girl who was stranded on the same route, but out further by the CA/AZ border. Apparently, she had been ill prepared for the trip, was recklessly riding a 49cc scooter and was halted by the intense wind. Mike’s a nice guy to rescue her from 300 miles away-he didn’t even know her.
Everyone in the shop huddled around her and the diagnostics began. We felt like the compression was fine-and my valves were recently adjusted. The spark also seemed fine and the problem didn’t have classic electric symptoms. Process of elimination left fuel/air; maybe not getting enough air. The petcock and spark plug were changed and the carburetor cleaned. While the mechanic drove her around, I met Gabe. He was interested in purchasing a scooter and was shopping around; the Green Series Italia caught his eye. I spent awhile talking to him-he says I should work for Genuine selling scooters. Riding this scooter for such a distance gives me some strong selling points, fer sure. The SHAD case on my scooter is my “non-corporate giant” bulletin board. Gabe noticed that I have his company’s sticker, Lululemon, pretty funny. It was enjoyable talking to him and other scooterists that came through the shop. Anyhow, it was mid afternoon and I had many miles to travel. I saddled back up the bike and headed for Palm Springs, Take 2.
I drove like I was on a racetrack, having absolutely no patience for the traffic and poisonous air. California is the only state where I’ve seen motorcycles driving in between cars; pretty unsafe since people tend to put their cars into drive and their brains into neutral. All it would take to get crushed is a cell phone driving fool to swerve the slightest bit and bump into a cyclist. On this particular day though, I gave it a gander and was elated by the amount of traffic I put behind me. Not like I recommend risky driving like this, but I also don’t recommend exposure to such thick smog. The nasty stretch was quickly out of the way and I was laughing about how much time I saved.
Mike had helped me plan my route out of L.A. and there was a tricky part where I jumped on the highway, then went down a small dirt hill off the on ramp, down to a service road. The service road itself was in horrible condition, huge chunks of asphalt were missing, but it ran parallel to the highway. I turned around to see another scooterist coming up behind me. This was pretty random, in the middle of the desert, on a road that I thought was my secret.
The sun was setting behind me, so I stopped to watch and bid goodbye to the West Coast. Turning, I noticed a round luminous sliver poking up from behind a hill. In awe, I watched the full Harvest moon rise into the sky. Never in my life have I experienced this conjunction, a setting sun and rising moon. The wind was really starting to whip up, something Mike had warned me about. There were windmills everywhere, to harness electric power, so I figured the wind gusts could probably be a lot worse than they were.
Despite the exhaustion of hard riding and physical irritation from heavy smog-I felt very serene. The desert landscape provided new scenery. It was enchanting- the full moon outlined sparse shrubs dotting the landscape and the hills in the distance. Huge palms were jutting up to meet the many stars that were out. I looked forward to daylight driving the next 350 miles or so through more desert terrain. Traffic picked up as I pulled into the glamorous Hollywood annex of Palm Springs. My host in Atlanta was Tiffany, someone I met years ago at Amma G’s ashram in San Ramone. Her grandmother lives near Palm Springs and it worked out brilliantly that Tiffany just happened to be visiting her. I called Tiffany to let her know I was nearby and she gave me directions to their gated community. We were excited to have a re-convergence, from East to West. Tiffany was really looking forward to showing me the little known bizarre attractions in the area. She told me she had gone shopping for some healthy food and would greet me with some Holy Water. I asked to skip the Holy Water and greet me with a beer instead. And she did. I got the Holy Water on the way out!
After eating a huge delicious salad we walked around the neighborhood. Tiffany kept moving me away from shrubs and warning me to stay in the middle of the road and walkways. It turns out that Palm Springs is home to many creepy crawly things-namely black widow spiders, brown recluses, rats, bats, snakes and lizards. I counted 5 black widow webs in her courtyard and I was worried about the Yorkie terrier they had inside. The poisonous creatures gave a whole new meaning to Tiffany’s comment, that, “Palm Springs, it’s where people go to die.” Of course, she meant its mainly a retirement demographic, nonetheless my jumpiness was heightened by the amount of times she jerked me away from the shrubs. Her house was incredibly nice, there were signs of affluence every where. I was unsuspecting- from the outside, all the homes were simple rancher style. The resort seemed empty, there were no signs of life, until the next day, when all I saw where Mexican workers. All the cars were garaged and the design of the homes offered no glimpses inside. It felt very spooky and very private.
We were walking and talking, catching up on events since Atlanta. The conversation switched gears suddenly, when Tiffany commented that, “I seem to take Peace pretty seriously.” She indicated that to engage people in Peace, I need to make it fun. I asked if she reads along with the blog and she said No. I was pretty irritated that she was criticizing my approach to this trip without knowing anything about it. She then mentioned that I should read Abbey Hoffman, because she considers him a genius. While it was pretty neat that he helped orchestrate an exorcism of the Pentagon, and a 120,000 people showed up-I’m not sure that had any lasting results. Anyhow, I tried to explain what my goal is to her. You might not be able measure the direct outcome of two people getting to know one another and discussing Peace. But something is accomplished when we open ourselves up to the idea of Peace and carry it away with us from that meeting. We begin to build it in our everyday lives, which affects the way we treat ourselves and others. Peace is a dangerous idea, and that is worthy of investigation. The Buddhist monk, Thich Nat Han was just allowed recently allowed back into Vietnam, after thirty years of exile. He is a well known teacher of mindfulness, compassion, love, and Peace. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Why would he be considered a threat?
Peace is a dangerous idea. But what is more dangerous is that it has become passe. Tiffany also informed me of this and said that it just doesn’t matter to people as much as it does to me. Now, we had warned one another before meeting that we might be cranky-but I wasn’t expecting her attitude to be quite so negative or demeaning. She joked around that if I wanted this project to have any attention I should host an event called “Strippers for Peace,” or something that would really appeal to my generation’s attention span. None of this was coming off as very funny to me. I realized that Peace might be passe to my generation because we don’t really know War or Peace. Peace is an idea that known through the lens of other generations and probably rejected because there is no personal investment in it. Peace has been taken from our personal lives and placed into a framework that the media and politicians own.
I dealt with her onslaught of criticism for awhile and challenged myself to stay open minded and even tempered. I wasn’t that successful. In fact, I was pretty disappointed that a friend was saying these things to me and she commented that I needed to hear it all, that most of my friends just sugar coat their support for this project. The drama went on into the night.
We headed out to Palm Springs to have a drink and wound up in a bar after hours. Some other bartenders came by and the conversation was one that drunken people have-aggressive, opinionated and sloppy. I was laying low, seething a bit from the earlier conversation and also really exhausted from the ride. I was still blowing blood out my nose and wheezing. I shouldn’t have been out on the town. A guy noticed my shirt, which says “Stop Killing People,” and he yells, “Do you really believe that?” Great. After telling him yes, I do believe that we should stop bombing people to death, it was on. I listened to a tirade of comments, the main one that sticks out in my head was, “when people die, that’s just more water and electricity for us.” I mentioned that it might be better to conserve resources like water, electricity and people.
Of course I asked how they define Peace. Tiffany seemed embarrassed by this whole scenario and gave me a hard time, saying my questions were pointless. I told her if I’m going to listen to a barrage of insults, I might as well interject a few positive questions of my own- nothing gained, nothing lost. The night ended with the four of us on a corner and everyone criticizing my attempts to discuss Peace. Sure, there were numerous ways the dialog could have gone, but I didn’t see anything wrong with having a debate. Tiffany mentioned that I was pretty “aggressive,” to be on a Peace tour. I had commented that people like that guy are boring-which she said was judgemental. ANd I said, “No, um, apathy is pretty boring.” I can make all kinds of Peace in this world and still call people out. Where is there room for accountability in Peace? I think first it starts with an open heart and mind…which allows for us to ask the hard questions and demand justice.
My chops were feeling pretty busted and I couldn’t tell if my eyes had been opened or jaded. There was obviously something to learn from it and in all my travels to date I had not yet experienced this much negativity.
We continued to bicker on the way home. I made a decision to leave the next day, which would create yet another argument-case in point for leaving. I woke up after a poor rest and met her grandmother. She was the nicest person I met in Palm Springs. We chatted while she took the time to make me breakfast. I felt really comfortable around her and it was pleasant to start the day off with her. I told her I was going to leave that day instead of taking the trip to the Salton Sea. Salton Sea is apparently similar to Mad Max Thunderdome. Slab City, at the Southern end of the Salton Sea, used to be a military base. It was demilitarized and has since been inhabited by nomads. There is no running water or electricity, but a village of people now live there. There is a strange culture down there, that consists of artists, druggies, hippies, musicians, tweekers-all living off the grid. Also, there are cave dwellers in the Chocolate Mountains who come down at night to raid people. It’s hard to believe this place exists in America-I had never heard of it. I was also willing to never see it-if it meant 3 hours in a car with Tiffany, bickering like we had the night before. After trying to soothe ruffled feathers, to no avail, and dealing with even more personal attacks-I left for Joshua Tree.
I was so happy to get out of there. It was an exhausting trial. I was bummed that my friend and I acted like stubborn children. I held myself accountable for my own actions and defensiveness and then I just let it go. Joshua Tree wasn’t very far away and it was perfect day for riding. The blue sky stretched out without any clouds and the heat was around 85. Fortunately the wind was pretty tame as well. The curvy climb at the beginning of 29 Palms Hwy was rugged-steep and windy. I found the Joshua Tree Inn and talked with the innkeeper, Kim, for a while. She offered a generous discount, thankfully, so I unloaded the bags into my cute room. Kim considerately offered me her National Park Card so entry into the Joshua Tree was free!
I have waited years to visit the Joshua Trees. They only grow in two places, California and Jerusalem. The trees have such a distinct appearance, that fits perfectly into the desert landscape. The desert was a welcome place for meditation, a place to of solitude and peace. I just barely drove into the park, dusk came quickly. I was now much further East than I had been for thousands of miles. This realization led to simultaneous feelings of joy, sadness and accomplishment. The fifth, and longest part of the Peace sign had just been finished and I was beginning the journey back home, back East. I sat in the desert for a bit, checking out all of the different trees and marveling at their resilience. Joshua Trees only grow an inch a year. I compared this slow growth to the pace of change in our world and once again contemplated, “how do we measure peace, the worth of man, and progress,”-and are these things merely subjective.
Then I went to a strip club. Just kidding.
By the time I left the park it was dark, which showcased the moon and stars. I had not seen this many stars in years. I could hear coyotes in the distance. The setting was very raw and beautiful. The local cafe had a lot of characters. I picked up a free postcard, left one of mine and offered one to the server. She goes, “oh, scootergirl, someone is looking for you.” Which I could only assume to be Tiffany. I went back to the hotel and did some writing while enjoying the courtyard. The night was slightly warm, with refreshing intermittent breezes. I really felt at home in this little hotel and I hung out with the two cats, Sky and Moon. I was on the look out for a particular ghost as well. The JT hotel is where Gram Parsons overdosed and some say his spirit lives there. I never once had a spotting of his ghost, but Tiffany did come around the corner and startle me.
Since it’s already been a long post, I’ll spare all the details. We spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the hotel courtyard, watching the moon and the cats and making jokes. We circumvented the earlier drama-it came up once but there seemed to be no resolution. We both thought we had valid points and no apologies were made. We simply strove to put it behind us and enjoy the Peace of the desert. That was my desert rose, forgiveness happening inside conflict, friendship triumphing over different beliefs. She took me for a ride on some crazy winding roads, with her dark punk music playing, looking for a little bar called Pappy and Harriets. Apparently, you MUST go to this bar if you are in the Joshua Tree. It’s in Pioneer Town, an old Hollywood Annex, where all the Westerns used to be filmed. It was closed, however, by the time we arrived. It was a late night spent cracking jokes and then I left early for Prescott, AZ, a 277 mile haul through more desert.