Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Spring Break in the Desert

The first thing you notice is that there is no music. No, the first thing you notice is that what looks from behind like an attractive blonde riding her bike down my parents' street is actually someone's grandma. Then you notice that there is no music. No, then you notice the golf carts which, were they being driven down Powell Street in San Francisco would be heralded as a great commitment to "green" comportment. Here they are old guys on their way to the store, or, as my dad says, "Guys who lost their licenses so they got golf carts. Which is illegal."

Then you notice that there is no music.

Right now I couldn't find myself on a map. The Jawa and I, after three days at Edwards Air Force Base, spent yesterday driving through 400 miles of desert(s) -- first the Mojave (known for its Joshua trees) and then the Sonoran (known for its Saguaro cacti) -- to arrive here in Sun City West, NOT Sun City, my mother explained dryly, but actually one of four Sun Cities presently stocked full of old people of all stripes. We came for Passover, but we will stay for the dry desert air. Isn't that why people come to the desert?

This is Day four of our Spring Break Desert adventure. It culminates next weekend in Las Vegas, and what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, even if you're nine years old. We are far from our Sandra Bullock and our Shack, earning our desert stripes and allowing the Jawa the sublime experience of GameCube on a 50+ inch plasma screen.

So far, we have spent plenty of time in our car. That much is certain. You don't get from San Francisco to Sun City (West) via Edwards Air Force Base without spending lots of quality time, just you, your Jawa and your Volvo, in what would be lonely interstates if not for the ten billion other people "sharing" the road, many of whom pull enormous trailers full of their belongings and/or intimidating-looking off-road vehicles and Jet skis, and most of whom practice what the Rocket Scientist calls "left lane entitlement."

This is only our second time to Sun City (West), our first spent truly absorbing the retiree experience. This morning, after slogging through the heat to one of the myriad rec centers, we saw the copper room, the photography club's digs, the glass club's "lab," and met many older yet very active people. The poor Jawa, feeling slightly confused and extremely shy and wanting only to go swimming, stood in the background. Everyone wore shorts and there was no music. None. Just the sound of contented seniors going about their hobbies.

As I told my father and mother, give it about 10 years and you'll be hearing music here. All of those baby-boomers will show up, bringing their dinosaur rock with them.

I'm not a huge fan of the desert. I've been obnoxiously vocal about my dislike and frank aversion to Arizona, but I think it might be the desert in general that puts me on edge. Speeding across the Sonora, surrounded by its vastness, I could only feel nostalgia for the Pacific Northwest with its cool, damp weather and it's giant umbrellas of green trees. I like road trips, but to me the interesting thing about them is the towns you go through, not the breathtaking views that used to make my dad break out in "America the Beautiful" every time we went on vacation.

Mostly, though, I just freak out at the idea of "NEXT SERVICES 55 MILES." That's why Edwards AFB makes me edgy. On the way down, I had the foresight to buy two extra packs of gum, knowing that there was no way I'd be able to get any at Edwards AFB.

The scary thing about Edwards is not that the closest cities are the very dangerous and glum Lancaster, Palmdale and Rosemond -- though that fact is considerably scary -- but that once you pass the security gates, you still have to drive through about 10 miles of depressingly empty desert to get to Noodles' Mom's house. It makes me want to hang my head out the window and start howling.

From there, another 400 miles to Sun City (West). This includes Needles, where you can pay $4.09 a gallong for unleaded premium and see remnants of Route 66, once "America's Main Street," but now Needles plus several miles of unkempt road running alongside US 40. The Jawa and I, excited by the Route 66 conjured by the movie "Cars," spent an hour on this unkempt road, doing untold damage to our car and watching the unbroken desert landscape creep by. Occasionally, we'd see a sign boasting MOTEL! standing in the middle of a field, no motel in sight. It was disappointing and very sad. Eventually, after passing the long-since dead down of Acton, we went back to the 40, which was at least honest and up-to-date about its emptiness.

And empty it was. Hours of rocks, tumbleweed, scrub brush and cactus. What if our car broke down? What then? As I've mentioned, I can walk through the Tenderloin at midnight and feel safe as a kitten. Put me in a six-month old car going 90 miles per hour and the NEXT SERVICES 55 miles, and I'm tense as caged lion.

Then, finally, dodging golf carts, we arrived in Sun City (West). This afternoon, we went swimming in one of the complex's several pools. This one was open for children until 4 pm, so the Jawa and I entered the 85 degree water, this time dodging the human manifestation of the golf carts -- an army of seniors, doing their daily "pool walk." The pool, in fact, was set aside for walking. "No Swimming! Walking Only!" warned a sign on the wall. "No Jumping From Pool Deck!" said another.

Imagine. You've worked your whole life for this payoff. Now your have sunk your life's savings into a sparkling new duplex, are overwhelmed by the number of clubs and activities available to you. You look forward to your afternoon pool walk, and what do you find? A score of Spring Break-loosed kids, all hopped up on Grandma's chocolate cake, doing cannonballs off the diving board and imitating dolphins directly in your path.

Who can blame the Sun City West residents, one of whom looked eerily like Vice President Dick Cheny, for shooting killer glares at us as we went about ruining their day? Ask them what is worse than other people's grandchildren? Certainly that would be other people's children, if they join the grandchildren on the diving board, offering tips on how to create the largest splash.

"I can't understand why they'd be like that," said my mother, following a quick 15-minute poolside nap. I can kind of see it. I'm not here to change the world, just to fit within its parameters, so I turned over a new leaf, and then spent most of our remaining pool time urging the Jawa to limit his splashiness, nay, his 9-year-oldness.

On the way back to the house, we played a game. "Robert Duvall, yes," I said. "Clint Eastwood?"

"He's too tough," said Mom.

"Warren Beatty, no. Jack Nicholson, no. Harrison Ford?"

"They still make movies!"

"Yes, but they are all old enough to live in Sun City. I mean, the various cities of Sun City. Clint would be one of the older guys. He's 80."

"They'd live in Sun City Grand."

"Is that where the rich people live?"

"Yes."

"Mick Jagger. He could live here. He's 65."

"Your older sister could live here on her next birthday. They're lowering the age to 45."

Silence.

There are a multitude of crafts clubs. Everyone is making something, then for sale at the local craft store. They make totem poles, wooden toys, jewelry, sculptures that look like a cowboy on a horse. They take photos (color and black-and-white), make movies, play lots and lots of golf, bowl, and meet other senior singles, if the need arises.

But there is no music. Except, I'd imagine, when the various music clubs meet.

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