Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Day 167: Walking For Jesus
Palm Springs to Beaumont. 19.6 miles/3228.7 total
Monday, January 31, 2011
7:55 a.m. I’ve parked the car on the side of the road out here in the far reaches of the vast field of windmills at the western end of the Coachella Valley, on California 111. I'll be going 19.6 miles to just inside Beaumont.
I find that my starting point is still technically within the city limits of Palm Springs, although I’m five miles or so from the settled part of the city. Palm Springs has arrogated unto itself a large amount of open land, unimproved and unspoiled.
Before I proceed I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the death of one of the followers of my blog, my wife’s aunt, Laura Kuttkuhn. They’re having her funeral service today in Michigan. She was a sweet and kind person who took an interest in my journey, just as she took an interest in what I was doing from the time I first met her over 35 years ago. I dedicate today’s walk to her. Rest in peace, Aunt Laura. Many, many people will miss you.
I’m getting an exceptionally early start today, maybe earlier than I’ve ever been out before. Yesterday was an unexpected day off, occasioned by high winds and rain throughout the afternoon and evening. At this point I'm not going to walk unless I like the weather.
The rain never made it to downtown Palm Springs according to Uncle Ed, but it did come down throughout the route I'm taking today, and patches of wet pavement remain. Now the sun is out. There are a few low cumulus clouds working their way through, but I think it’ll be mostly clear. The high won’t get much over 60. The wind gets funneled through this corridor I’m walking in now, and I find myself leaning into it, hoping it will diminish a bit. Tamarisks line the south side of the road, growing on top of the dunes and protecting it somewhat from the sand that blows up from the low desert floor.
At about 3 miles I’m finally off of California Route 111 and walking on an access road parallel to I-10. I go past a little village of recent vintage, of good-looking single family houses with terra cotta roofs and stuccoed walls, out in the middle of nowhere. I wonder if this might be a settlement of people connected with the Morongo Indian Reservation and its casino, whose tall hotel looms ahead of me like a big white thumb, perhaps six miles hence.
This stretch of the walk is truly beautiful. The alien slave windmills are slowly petering out on the south side of the highway amid the foothills. Above them, the taller peaks are covered with new snow from yesterday’s precipitation. Random cumulus clouds pass over and through the mountains, caressing the peaks like white silk sleeves. The sharp quality of the morning light of midwinter adds an extra dimension.
At 8.5 miles I enter Cabazon, population 1400, elevation 1791 feet, according to the sign. There’s an exit here, and what greets me are a couple of dinosaurs rising forty or fifty feet above the desert. From a distance they appear to be in the backyard of the now defunct Spanky’s Barbecue. This must be the old “eat here, get gas, see the dinosaurs” exit, probably predating the casino, which is its own attraction and draws a different kind of dinosaur.
As I get closer I can’t resist checking out this brontosaurus, cheek by jowl with the drive through window of the Burger King. It could almost bend over and give its order to the disembodied speaker voice. "Five hundred Whoppers, please. Hold the pickles." As I get closer I see that you can go into the dinosaur from its tail, and that it has round porthole-like windows. It turns out there’s a gift shop in the belly of the beast.
Imagine my chagrin when I discover that this has recently become a Creationist dinosaur park, where they reject the idea of evolution, and posit that dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time. And why not? If God is omnipotent, why couldn't he fake the evidence? The real theological question is, why the hell would he want to do that? Just to make happy a few people who are too stupid to know a myth when they see one? I rather think not. I turn around and leave as quickly as I can so as not to be tainted by the awful contagion within the bowels of this prehistoric creature. So this turns out to be the “eat here, get gas, and be asked to believe something utterly ridiculous” exit.
Sipping a cappuccino to get the bitter taste of Fundamentalism out of my mouth, I continue down the access road toward the reservation. At 10 miles I pass Casino Morongo, a relatively small place that’s now a bingo parlor adjacent to a bowling alley. The big casino, so to speak, is another quarter of a mile away, topped by that 27 story hotel. I see that the great B.B. King is going to be performing here some time in February. Nice.
On the sign in front of the casino they’re advertising something called a “slot tournament.” I have to scratch my head there, because I didn’t think slot machine play lent itself to anything like a contest. In fact, it’s strictly no contest, as far as the odds are concerned. There’s no strategy involved. I wonder if people compete with each other to see who can lose money the fastest.
Out in front of the casino fly the flags of the United States, the Morongo Indian Nation, and the State of California, whose flag says “California Republic.” Well, California was a republic for about a minute and a half, back during the Mexican War, until the U.S. annexed it. Actually it was 26 days, in the summer of 1846, when some white guys declared their independence from Mexico. But the republic's flag, with its bear, remains the state standard. Sort of like the Republic of West Florida, only much larger. But that one lasted almost twice as long before it was annexed by the U.S., in 1810. The only state that really deserves to trade on its history as an independent country is Texas, which was a republic for over nine years, albeit always a sort of Confederate state in waiting.
Now if California were a republic today, it would be pretty viable. It has something like the eighth largest economy in the world in terms of output, not to mention over 37 million people. California uber alles, as they say.
Inveterate gambler that I am, I stop to play a penny slot machine in the gas station in front of the Morongo casino. I put a dollar in, and determine to play either until I have more than a dollar, or nothing. The nothing part happens. I have a rule about playing penny slot machines that doesn’t sit well with other gamblers. I believe in playing only a penny at a time. I frequently break this rule, but when I do I always regret it. Penny slots want you to play five, ten, or even a hundred or two hundred cents each time. But if I wanted to play twenty-five or fifty cents or a dollar at a time, I’d play a machine of that denomination.
Other slot machine players, thinking they are savvy, will tell you that you have to play the maximum credits to win big, and that’s true, in terms of winning the largest amount advertised on the machine. But I’m convinced that playing one cent at a time will not decrease your odds of winning at all, just the amount you win. So if you play ten credits you might win, say, twenty cents, and if you play one credit you have the same chance of winning two cents. Same difference. The other thing playing a penny at a time does is to prolong your playing time. More importantly, it gives you more spins of the reels, thus increasing your chance of getting that felicitous combination of numbers and symbols you need to win. That’s my theory, anyway, and I’m sticking to it. It appeals to my cheapness and my basic belief that if I’m going to lose anyway, why not lose slowly.
After I leave the casino area I come to the Cabazon Outlets, about a mile of outlet stores. I'll spare you my thinking about outlet malls, but you can rest assured that it is not positive. Suddenly the access road I’m on disappears, and I have to do my “over hill, over dale” routine alongside the expressway. This takes me in time to a dry stream bed that goes under the freeway. Old blankets, junk, trash, and graffiti evidence that this has been a sleeping place for a generation or more.
After a couple miles of bushwhacking, at 12 miles I enter the city limits of Banning and I’m on a real road again. I’ll be here for most of the rest of the afternoon. Banning’s population is about 30,000. It is named for Phineas Banning, a stagecoach line owner and the founder of the Port of Los Angeles.
About a mile into Banning I’m still trying to get a feel for the town, and not getting much of a vibe. Lower middle class, I think. They seem to have a sense that stagecoaches are important to their past here, and the stagecoach theme appears on businesses and murals and other places. Phineas Banning’s stage line came to this city (then called Moore City) in the 1860s, running down to Yuma, Arizona, but of course the railroad came through a decade or so later, and that must have done in the stagecoach thing.
Continuing down Ramsey Street, I pass the Banning Police Department and City Hall, and a couple of parks. I sit on a bench in front of a building across the street from the Fox Theater here in downtown, soaking up the full sun of afternoon. It’s been an incessantly windy day, but tolerable.
I see an old cowboy-looking dude walking along Ramsey Street, going the other way, carrying a large cross made of 4 x 4s on his right shoulder, and a Bible in his left hand. But he has a little caster at the bottom of the cross, so all he has to do is pull it along. That seems like cheating to me, but hey, I’m not carrying anything except a bottle of Diet Coke. It once more reminds me that I am a man without a cause on this long journey now winding to a close. Shit, I could be walking for Jesus.
At 16.8 miles I reach Sunset Street, and I have just two miles until I reach the cross street that will take me south of the freeway to Walmart. The west end of Banning begins to stretch out. The odd dentist’s office, a beauty parlor, a trailer park or two, a plumbing supply store, empty buildings and lots. As with every small city in America, there’s a lot of worthless real estate on the fringes of town.
At 18.9 miles I turn left on Highland Springs Avenue. This is the dividing line between Banning and Beaumont. I cross under the freeway and make my way through a large shopping complex until I spot the motor home. More on Beaumont tomorrow.