The Not-so-reluctant Traveler Goes to Palm Springs

“Hey, I’m going to Palm Springs. Want to go?”

“Um, yeah!”

My friend Mel and her husband are P. S. aficionados. Mel knows when flights and accommodations are cheapest (between Thanksgiving and Christmas), and they have stayed at least a few nights in every retro chic vintage you-name-it motel in town. Their favorite is Casa Cody, a Moroccan-style compound near central Palm Springs.

Harriet Cody, wrongly identified as a cousin of Buffalo Bill Cody, was a wealthy Philadelphian and accomplished horsewoman married to an ailing architect from San Francisco. For health reasons they moved to the Southern California desert, settling in a tiny town called Palm Springs. To make ends meet as her husband struggled with tuberculosis, she rented out houses and horses, and after he died, she established the lovely little motel, adding houses and rooms, pools, and tall palm trees. As for all P. S. hotels of a given age, celebrities such as Charles Chaplin and Anais Nin are among those claimed as one-time residents.

I have always wanted to visit Palm Springs. Being a nut for the desert—one of my favorite places on earth is Death Valley—the Coachella Valley is a long vale of nine desert cities, flanked by the San Jacinto mountains to the west and Joshua Tree National Park to the east. The southernmost end of the valley is filled by the Salton Sea, with its resort ghost towns and dying fish.

Long ago having discarded my disdain for Palm Springs as a pricey snooty haven for wannabe social climbers, I was eager to see the place for myself. I imagined stucco palaces in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. I was not wrong.

Palm Springs has profited from the current passion for mid-century modern furnishings and architecture. Museums, shops, the art center all feature designers’ works from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. The town seeks to preserve original buildings from the period. One can purchase dishware, linens, clothing all reflective of the colors, bare lines, geometric patterns, and abstract renderings popular at the time.

I loved it there. It was chilly—desert-cold at night, and barely 70 during the bright, sunny days. We took the tram to the top of the San Jacintos—a 7500 foot rise—to patchy snow, a sharp breeze, and the spectacular views of the valley. While Mel relaxed beside one of the Casa Cody pools, nursing her cold virus, I drove to Joshua Tree and took a loop through the Queen Valley among a rising hoodoo-like pile called Split Rock. Of local denizens I saw ravens, two red-tails, and a jack rabbit.

We visited the antique mall. I bought a pair of labradorite earrings. I drooled over a multi-colored assembled set of Bauer dishes. Ashtrays that looked like nebulas. Double-lensed reflex cameras. Ruby glass. Tiered dip sets. Sun-burst clocks.

We browsed shops. Shop-keepers were to a person friendly. I bought yellow and russet dotted socks. Mel bought a painting, subtle brown shapes slashed with narrow black. We fingered coasters made by artists, vintage fake fur, bamboo bowls. On Thursday nights, every week, Palm Canyon Drive is closed down for blocks; crafts people set up booths. Food vendors spread marvelous odors. The museums were free.

Every restaurant we visited was delicious—Mel and spouse had sampled them all and had their favorites. Happy hour at the Tropicale, a busy bar and restaurant chock full of hetero and gay couples, served awesome calamari and edamame. Rooster and the Pig, a Vietnamese fusion place with a waiting line of eager diners fed us curried squash and spicy spring rolls. Prices were no worse than most Seattle restaurants and even some of Albany’s finest.

One of the booths at the street fair was Ecarlate Boutique. Aja designs pillows, and will do custom projects. One year Mel, after one of our favorite mastiffs died, had a mastiff pillow made for me. Just after I got home, our tuxedo cat of 17 years, Stella, passed away—it was expected, but we were very sad. So, I contacted Aja at her Etsy site, and she is making a new pillow for us.

The spouse says he may accompany me next time. “I’ll come for the food,” he said.

Good enough.

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About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison

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