Life in the Real Desert: A Day of Rest

Schwinn 700C - my bike

After a busy Saturday spent learning that no one in town really wants to buy anything despite what their signs say and watching the screener of Awaken at Burger King it was decided, by me, to rest on the seventh day of life in the real desert. Although to be quite honest, contrary to what my Facebook post says, I was tired from riding my new bike over 14 miles each and every day for six straight days. The final deciding factor was looking down and seeing bruises on my legs.

While not too concerning, they are the result of taking one of my heart medications, it bothered me enough that I felt Sunday would be best spent writing my review for Awaken, starring Natalie Burn, and possibly writing an article or two as well as posting on my blog.

As with most “best made plans” about the only real thing accomplished was sleeping in and writing the review. Forgetting that the Internet is agonizingly slow out here in the middle of the desert, my plans were waylaid fairly easily. On the plus side, a little RV cleaning was done with the idea that a clean home is a happy home.

This was also a chance to catch up on my Asian cinema DVD collection and watch some old favorites. The Pang Bros’ Recycle, Takeshi Miike’s One Missed Call, and the Korean knock off of Kim Ji-Woon’s Tale of Two Sisters; Epitaph. All of these are films that I can watch over and over. After a triple serving of Asian horror, it was time to watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Downey, Kilmer and Monaghan directed by the more than capable Shane Black.

It was interesting to learn that as Quartzsite nears the end of its season, that no one on the main drag wanted to buy a wireless Apple keyboard or magic mouse (hardly used). Of course having to explain to the store owner (“We Buy, Sell, Trade”) what a magic mouse was could have had something to do with it. Although the shop did have laptop carry cases for sale…

The other strike out was a place that buys old coins, gold, antiques etc. Granted, my trip was just to see what sort of offer might be given for an old 1926 silver dollar and a silver 50 cent piece. Turns out, according the the chap who runs the shop, that 1926 was not a “spectacular” year for silver dollars. This meant that the price for the coin was $16. Interesting, but not enough to persuade me to sell this old bit of change.

The guy was not too bothered that I did not want to part with the coin, “After all,” he said, “16 bucks won’t buy a meal at McDonalds these days.” I did not want to argue, but I could have eaten several $1 cheeseburgers over the course of a number of meals. Still, one man’s cheap burger is another man’s super size quarter pounder with cheese.

Apart from checking on whether personal retail really was a possibility in Quartzsite, it was odd to see the town so deserted. In an odd way, the place feels more comfortable, if not safer. The old snowbirds who flock to this town all suffer from diminished driving skills. The fact that they have driven to another area is, overall, a good thing.

Although to be fair, it isn’t just the aged who drive as though they have left their brain at home in the walk-in closet. On one afternoon, while walking to town, I was almost hit by a lorry (a semi in USA speak), an RV who was towing a trailer behind it almost as long as the RV itself, an idiot in a pickup truck who passed another car and came so far toward the other side of the road that I had to leap to safety and some jackass who left so little room between me and the car that a mosquito would have been killed had it tried to fly in the gap.

Other times, there are drivers who refuse to leave a door’s width between their speeding vehicle and my bike. Not too upsetting if they are slowly passing by, but most are hitting around 50 mph. The combination of being way too close and too much speed has, on more than one occasion, almost made my heart leap out of my throat.

The point being that out of all those dangerous drivers mentioned above, none appeared to be over 40.

Still, my day of rest has allowed me to ponder what the summer months will bring and how much I need to set up a routine. Getting up early has never been my thing. I can do so and have but not willingly or well. Still, I now know that I am becoming a “regular” at one fast food place, Burger King, and staff at a lot of shops speak more readily now and will share a little laugh occasionally.

The weird way I speak helps. Having an accent that people mistake for Australian “Throw some shrimp on the barbie and crack open a few tinnies mate,” always helps to make one more memorable. There will obviously come a point where I do not have to explain where the accent comes from and that I was actually born in this country. Until then, it is (pun intended) a talking point which allows me to be that bit more approachable.

My list of things to write about, in the small town of Quartzsite, includes the small empty house on the way to town and the local celebrity (silent film star) who was given a sword by the famous Pancho Villa. There are many other things about life in the real desert which are fascinating and these will also be addressed whilst I write my own stories and continue to seek monetary recompense for articles written.

8 March 2015

Trapped in The Twilight Zone?

Old Gas Station in Quartzsite Author Photo

Since moving to the little snowbird community of Quartzsite, Arizona life has begun to resemble an episode of The Twilight Zone; the one where William Shatner is trapped in the diner with the fortune telling machine. Not the one which still gives me the screaming meemies everytime I watch it (black and white old timey effects be damned), “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

In the “Nick of Time,” Don Carter and his new wife become fixated with, and scared to leave, a fortune telling machine that seems to really work. At the end of the episode, both he and Mrs. Carter are seen feeding pennies (That’s how long ago the show was, now that sort of machine would cost you a quarter at least.) into the thing, refusing to leave the diner. Trapped by their own curiosity and not wanting to leave before getting another fortune told, again and again and…

While I am not trapped by a device that predicts the immediate future, I am caught by several different things in this tiny burg. For one, I find the whole area deliriously addictive. On main street alone, there are abandoned buildings, old and new, that pop into view as one rides or walks along it. The petrol station above, and its partner the garage below, are both quite old. At a guess, probably built in the 1930s or 1940s. Although looking at the pumps; the 1950s is probably more accurate for a time frame in terms of usage.

Petrol station's garage...
Downtown Quartzsite Petrol station and garage circa 1950?

Here is where my innate laziness comes in, I could probably find out when the building was used or at least built but since my Internet signal is intermittent as best, as Stevie King says, “fuhgeddaboudit.” I did Google 1950s pumps and my last guess appears to be correct, but the time the buildings were constructed will have to remain a mystery for now, or until I get better access to the net.

Interestingly enough, on the other side of Main Street is another closed down petrol station. Much newer in design with modern fuel pumps sitting alone and forlorn in front of the boarded up brick building, it makes Quartzsite look like a ghost town in the making. There are other old buildings that are remnants of  days gone by that were old before a time when the average automobile that passed through Hi Jolly’s final resting place were gas guzzling monsters all made in Detroit.

Adobe ruins on Main Street Quartzsite Az
For instance, this Adobe structure could have housed Hi Jolly…

Apart from the dead and dying businesses that litter the streets, there are signs that modern amenities exist in the town. For one thing, RV sales clutter up the main road through town and Burger King just got in WiFi for its customers, to compete with MacDonalds and Carl Jr’s, and most places that sell cigarettes also sell “vapes;” the modern “healthier” equivalent of tobacco smokes. Never mind that the WiFi offered for free, and for purchase is slower than dial up used to be and that no one seems to be too interested in cigarettes that are electric and “safe.”

The other strange, or Twilight Zone-ish thing about Quartzsite is that there seem to be no young people. Certainly there are those passing through, one visiting young lady that was stunning enough to make the heart pound, but on the average the population is aged. There are a few younger folks who work in the Dairy Queen, Subway and the other few fast-food eateries in town but the area is not overrun with denizens much younger than their mid 70s.

*And yet, surprisingly, there is a grade school here. The bus can be seen coming out to the community where I’m living at the moment. So there must be a younger population somewhere; just not, apparently, along Main Street.*

In fact, at 56, I feel like a youngster myself.  While this has nothing to do with feeling trapped it does add to the surreal flavor of this town. Apart from my fascination and the feeling that I’ve stumbled onto the geriatric version of Never Never Land,  there is the lack of transportation. I have a $50 bicycle that I am slowly getting used to, but no car or any other motorized vehicular mode of travel.

Cactus and Mesquite

I feel that I’ve stepped back to yesteryear in terms of time it takes to get anywhere. From my current residence, if I bike, it takes me around 40 to 50 minutes to get to main street. By foot, it takes roughly 100 to 120 minutes depending on the heat and my physical state. I have learned that the fall, aka face plant, in the desert really banged me up pretty well. This has not helped speed up travel times.

Running out of one of my heart meds hasn’t helped either. It is apparently in the post office now, but my poor father couldn’t stand in the huge queue to pick it up. I told him not to worry, that if I didn’t need the stuff I wouldn’t stand in line behind 50 people either. It’s been three days since taking it and I’m not dead yet…

The Quartzsite USPS is tiny and when the season hits, an army of snowbirds queue up to get their general delivery mail and the “lady” who runs the place appears to be eccentric and not a little contrary. Apparently it is a prerequisite to be this way when dealing with an elderly population. And yes, that last sentence was meant to be facetious.

I have learned that there is a bus to Prescott, AZ for Veterans ride to the VA there. I will be using it as I have no other way to get travel to that facility.  The actual VA “run” takes place twice a month. There does not appear to be a bus running anywhere else, either from or through this tiny hamlet.

This lack of motorized transport definitely adds to the feeling of being trapped. The inability to get decent internet or even a television signal at the RV is also a contributing factor.  Financial situations dictate that if it ain’t WiFi at the Burger King watching Hulu Plus the day after, I’m not seeing it or writing about it. I continue to get invites to screenings of films but thus far have no way to travel and watch/review them.

However trapped I may feel, there is no question that this is beautiful terrain. The feel of Quartzsite is that of a western town lagging behind the rest of the world. It has just enough modern amenities to keep it from feeling like the “town that time forgot” but apart from looking like the world’s largest flea market, the town has an aura of yesteryear. This is not helped by the average age of those who both live here year round and the snowbirds who flock here every winter running easily into the retirement range.

Camel Stop Auto Repair
The old Camel Stop

In essence this surreal flavor of Quartzsite, combined with the step back in time, equates to a trapped in The Twilight Zone feel. While there is no Rod Serling providing an introduction or epilogue there are signposts “up ahead.” One final odd note on this quirky little town; there seems to be a regular contingent that migrate here every year, and the locals as well as these snowbirds appear to know immediately when a new bird flocks in.

Anecdote: While sucking up the Burger King WiFi, a lovely local Snowbird, assumed that I was a feathered fly-in seeking warmer climes and said as much. I responded, “No love, I came here from Vegas.” Her confused and shocked face was truly funny and gave me the best chuckle of the day. To that friendly woman I say, “Thank you.”

10 February 2015