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That California Trip

Our kind hosts waiting for us in Mesa directed us along a different route from what we’d planned, and we are mightily glad they did. We left I-40 at Holbrook, Arizona, and angled southwest through fog and crags and steep mountains. Take away the cactus, wait around for sixty or eighty million years, and you’d almost think you were in the Scottish Highlands, but with a wee bit more sunshine.

Everything we encountered after ditching the interstate took our breath away. The mountains were vast and seemingly endless in their variety; at times they appeared soft and rumpled, and at times they looked cracked, tortured, and broken. The clouds tangled with the peaks and wove themselves into the folds and rifts. I kept hearing Butch saying wearily to Sundance, “LaForce is strictly an Oklahoma man; I don’t know where we are, but it sure as hell isn’t Oklahoma.”

We sure as hell weren’t in Oklahoma. There were moments when we feared that these overwhelming, elemental vistas would spoil us for the comparatively mild views in northern New Mexico. (This fear would be allayed, rather violently, later on our second day of driving.)

We passed through all four seasons that day, the first of 2004. Deep fog and drizzle; snow; searing sunshine; dry buffeting winds.

From the early morning of New Year’s Day, when we headed south on St Francis Road to I-25, to the late afternoon as we pulled into Mesa (past the crumbling dirt lots on one side of the wide boulevards and the opulent golf courses on the other), we had descended from seven thousand feet above sea level to just over one thousand.

We spent a very relaxing and enjoyable night in Mesa. We got back on the road at about nine yesterday morning. I-10 heads west out of the Phoenix area and carries on interminably until it hits the ocean, the airport, and our hotel.

We crossed western Arizona as the morning wore on. The distant mountains resembled Mordor, and the nearby mountains resembled great mounds of gravel dumped along the side of the road. When we arrived at the state line, we met the Colorado river, looking quite pleased with itself after the magnificent artifice it had wrought with otherwise stubborn rock a few hours north of there.

Southeastern California is the most efficacious cure for insomnia I have yet encountered. The mountains can’t quite muster the enthusiasm required to be impressive; the flats in the near distance seem somnolent in their uniform yellowness; the listless scrub and brush dotting the landscape appear lost and wandering. The cactus, which in other settings displayed an austere mystery that approached an ineffable majesty, here merely looked like bored people in a dole queue. Just when we thought we couldn’t take it anymore, the mountains closed in, snagging a storm system and locking it in place overhead, and obscured the sun. An apocalyptic pall fell over the whole scene, with an unnerving wind that began battering us with an annoying persistence, like a wailing child in a supermarket.

I can hardly believe I’m saying this, but I found myself yearning for the interminable sprawl of Los Angeles.

It rained all afternoon, and we crawled our way into the city, our only consolation being that we were now awash in signals from lavishly funded NPR stations.

Our hotel is a bit old and tired, but generally comfortable. Our room looks northeast, and we can watch the planes on final approach to LAX. The Wife has already begun her program, and will be dancing every day for the next two weeks. I will be relishing a bit of R&R (though with a fair amount of R&D, since there is never any complete time-off for intrepid self-employed persons).

I have yet seen very little of the city, but I am busily clicking my way around Mapquest to locate various important nearby destinations, and to get a sense of where exactly I am.

I am in Los Angeles, and the sun is shining.