24 Hours in Civilization (and One Black Cloud)

black cloud


Today we traveled 180 miles west for a one-day work meeting.  Out of the desert and out of the heat.  24 hours in civilization.

What do I mean by civilization?  A city that has such luxury amenities as restaurants (other than fast food, that is), shopping malls, movie theaters, even synagogues.  As for the last two, they do not exist within 100 miles of our home.  So you can see why this is a brief respite from the decidedly ascetic life of the wilderness.

So what if we have to stay in a cheapo motel that features broken crack vials in the parking lot?  Oh, and did I mention that guests must sign a pledge not to conduct any illegal activities while on the premises?  It seems rather sad that a paying guest must promise to be good.  One cannot help but wonder how many times the police have had to be called out to this location, and precisely what for.  Loud music?  Fistfights?  Destruction of property?  Running an illegal numbers ring out of the handicapped suite?

But then again, there are those crack vials.  Sigh.

Just getting here was a bit of a challenge.  About an hour from home, the wind picked up to what felt like gale force and the gusts kept trying to knock me out of my lane.  I had to grip the steering wheel tightly to remain in some semblance of a straight line.  I guess this is what they call white-knuckle driving.

I passed many 18-wheel trucks while doing 70 mph, the vicious wind blowing us inches from each other.  Believe me when I say that this is an activity that requires prayer.

As I approached the two-hour mark, the sky turned 50 shades of gray and presently I passed under a black cloud.  Said cloud picked that precise time to dump water droplets all over my vehicle, at the approximate rate of 100,000 per second.  This occurred, by the way, while climbing up the San Gorgonio Pass.  This is where one passes from the desert into the Los Angeles Basin, a location famous the world over for the dozens of enormous windmills that flank the freeway.  Normally, I am fascinated by the beauty of these manmade wonders.  Today, however, I hadn’t time to watch them turning furiously because I was busy trying to keep the car on the road while a black cloud was busy laughing at me.

At 70 mph, I figured I’d be moving out from under that black cloud fairly quickly.  Apparently, however, I woefully misjudged the crafty resourcefulness of black clouds.  This one appeared to me moving at precisely the same speed that I was, so that my windshield wipers were doing the same double duty going up the pass as they did coming down the other side.

Finally, I gave up and asked my wife to drive the last hour.  Let me tell you, black clouds are exhausting.

It was all worth it in the end, however.  We treated ourselves to an amazing five-course dinner that did not come from a drive-through or from a Mexican restaurant.  We are talking steak for my wife and salmon for me, with all the trimmings and cheesecake for dessert.  A little bit of heaven for deprived desert rats.

I gawked when we passed, quite near our motel, not one, but two multiplex movie theaters.  The little two-screen theater in our remote town closed nearly three years ago, just after we moved to the area.  My wife got to see exactly one movie there, the day before it shut down.

It’s not like we haven’t seen a move in three years, however.  Every so often, we drive to Nevada, stay overnight at a casino and take in a movie or two.  But that is a five-hour round trip.

After my meeting tomorrow, we will head straight back to the desert.  But not before we enjoy another amazing meal somewhere.  Perhaps we should do Italian food, as there is nary an eggplant parmagiana to be found within a hundred miles of our humble abode.  And if we finish the meal with cappuccino and cannoli, I’ll even forgive that black cloud should we meet again on our way back east.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that civilization is overrated.


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