There is something important that you need to know in order to understand my Tribe (and me, as well). Like I may have said before, we’re a pretty smart bunch. We were the ones who were told that we were gifted and were going to go and be Tomorrow’s Leaders. The problem with that sentiment is that it wears off pretty damn quickly. I think part of being truly smart is being able to recognize bullshit when it’s being slung at you (and believe you me, this Tomorrow’s Leaders stuff is some pretty thick manure. Powerful strong. Like, Bandini-quality bullshit). And, usually, after one is enlightened to the amount of bullshit there is in the world, one realizes that there is only one course of action for the truly intelligent and sane human being, and that is to have as much fun as possible.
Some people take drugs. Some people amass a fortune. Some people have gobs and gobs of sex. Some people get into politics so they can do all three at once.
And, while the members of my Tribe certainly dig the first three (I have a standing order with my friends to shoot me between the eyes if I ever get involved in politics and mean it), I can safely say that there is one thing that truly makes our lives exciting and wonderful. Our raison d’�tre. The thing that keeps us going day after day.
That thing is Goofy Shit.
You wonder why smart pull so many practical jokes? Why they pull really huge ones, like putting police cars onto roofs and laying down sod in the dean’s office?
Goofy shit, that’s why.
It makes no sense, has no rhyme or reason, doesn’t take away from the Universe, but it sure as heck doesn’t add to it. It just is.
Goofy shit. I live for it.
So, when Sben started reeling off his list of Things to Do Before He Leaves Los Angeles (he’s moving up to Seattle for the rest of forever at the end of May), he ticked off a true gem. One that was pure, one hundred percent, unadulterated Goofy Shit.
A Pilgrimage to Mecca.
Not Islam’s holiest city off in the middle of Saudi Arabia. I’m talking about Mecca, California, about 200 miles away from Santa Monica. Past Riverside. Past Palm Springs. Past Indio, for crying out loud. Way the heck in the middle of nothing.
Mecca. We had to go.
So, since I was the only one with plenty of spare time (the only good thing about unemployment) I got to be Sben’s copilot. We decided that Friday (this brilliant plan of action was worked out on Monday over beer and pizza at Father’s Office) would be the day, so Sben simply called into his office and said “I’m not coming to work today” (what are they gonna do? Fire him when he’s leaving in three weeks anyway?) this morning, and showed up at my door around 10.30 in his clean, white Miata.
The top was down, of course.
After assembling the necessary gear (CDs, baseball cap, flannel shirt, and water water water!), we hit the road with the Interstate ’76 soundtrack blasting out of the Miata’s speakers.
It was (may Allah bless and keep us) a beautiful day. A sky smog-free yet full of clouds. Cool weather. Good traffic. The Miata sang as we barreled down the 10, out past the reaches of Explored Territory.
Now, I’ll admit this here and now: I have many stupid geographical prejudices. I think the San Fernando Valley is a godforsaken pit. I think Marin County is where God rested on the seventh day and hasn’t quite left yet. I think that everything east of the Pomona Valley is nothing but blasted, barren wasteland that is useless to mankind, and that only fools and idiots would live out there.
Boy, did I get an eyeful.
East of the Pomona Valley (where Sben and I and much of the Tribe went to college), right where I expected to be nothing but stinking desert, there was fertile, verdant land. It blew my mind as we rolled through all these green, lush hills with farmland (farmland!) and water everywhere. As we flew through Mereno Valley, orange groves lined the 60, their blossoms bursting forth with a heady perfume that made us cry out loud for joy. We passed huge horse pastures. We passed homes.
We remerged with the 10, that giant artery of a freeway, as we drove on and on. Into Cabazon, where we would stop for date shakes (the only other reason I was on this Quest for Goofy Shit was to stop and have a date shake at Hadley’s Orchard on the way home), where the snow covered the summit of Mount San Jacinto. Radiohead’s “OK Computer” blasted out the speakers, that giant sound leaping out and smashing into the mountains that just exploded right out of the floor of the valley, gargantuan towers of stone that climbed up and up. We blew past the windmill farms in North Palm Springs, where old people go to golf and die. And down the 10, onto the 111, and we were growing closer. Into Indio (*Central* Indio, the signs said. We were getting the Full Indio Experience here, kids), past Thermal and Arabia (real towns, folks!) whose Welcome signs blew past us. And then, Mecca.
If neither of us had been paying attention, we would have flown right past it. Mecca is so small that it doesn’t even rate a Welcome sign. Just a big green square with an arrow and the word “Mecca.”
I won’t mince words with you, folks. Mecca is a rinky-dink postage stamp of a town that has 5 or 6 square blocks of shitty houses, a post office, and a few Mexican restaurants. I was only a touch let down (with a name like Mecca, I was expecting some kinda fake Islamic architecture somewhere!), but I was also tired and hungry and glad to have gotten there in one piece. We had lunch. I’m pretty sure we were the only gringos in the restaurant. We may have been the only gringos in town. Neither of us felt like we belonged there. But we ate our lunch (good burritos) and I popped Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan into the stereo (the only Muslim music I had), and we kept on going.
We were only a few miles away from the Salton Sea.
Like a lot of the shit we saw, the Salton is something you don’t expect to see at all. It is a small inland ocean, an accidental body of salt water that’s just…well, *there* in the middle of goddamn nowhere. You drive and drive and drive through miles of scrub brush and blasted rock, and suddenly, *poof*, there’s this giant body of water! There are seagulls! There are people fishing!
If the other side of the sea hadn’t been obscured by haze, you’d have thought you’d found a passage out to sea. It’s that big and improbable.
We drove around it, with the sea to our right and the desert to our left.
That’s when we saw the cows.
I’m not sure what I said exactly. Knowing my state of mind couldn’t have been too clear, I’m sure I yelled something like: “Holy shit, Sben! Cows!”
Get this: there’s more agriculture out there than you’d think a desert could deal with.
It blew my mind! Make the land a touch more greener, and I’d have been back at the Central Valley! Lettuce, onions, dates, palm plantations (so that’s where all the palm trees in Los Angeles come from…), vineyards, livestock…all out here. In the middle of the desert. Less than a hundred miles from the Arizona border.
We finished our lap of the sea, even stopping to rest on the shore. (The verdict? Pleasant weather, thanks to the water, but it looked just as skanky as the Pacific does, so we didn’t go in.) And then back up to the 111 to the 10, stopping in Cabazon for date shakes (so very good…makes the trip worthwhile) and back through that Beautiful Verdant Land!, watching the cloud banks rub up against the tops of the mountains. And, after a stop at Claremont to tell our friends what we did (“We’re coming home from a pilgrimage to Mecca!” “…as in the Mecca?” “Yep. Just south of Arabia.”) and to eat Thai food (the pilgrimage was over, so we could feast to our hearts’ content), we got back to Santa Monica, brain-fried, sunburned, just a wee bit loopy (please don’t get Sben started on the camels), sitting in a now-beige (from dust and dead bugs) Miata. We brought Ken a package of dates, a souvenir since he couldn’t make it.
So. Goofy shit. Makes no sense, doesn’t harm anyone, doesn’t help anyone. It just makes life fun. You should try it sometime.
And now, I’m going to bed. I have to get up tomorrow to help Trager build a portable dance floor to take to Burning Man this year.