Palm Springs

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My palms were sweaty and my mouth was dry.  I paced nervously around the United Airlines desk at SFO.  The plane to Palm Springs was full and I was last in seniority to get on as a standby.  My brother works for the airlines and I’m grateful for the family benefit, but it is nerve racking to a chronic overplanner like myself to travel this way.  Some girls from work had invited me on their annual girls-trip pilgrimage to relax and soak up sunshine before the long days of winter settled in.  The next available flight wasn’t till 8:30pm and I was dreading the thought of sitting in the airport for another 12 hours.  I forced myself to go sit down and unfold the newspaper I had brought.

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I opened the paper with a snap.  A picture of a Kurdish family caught my eye.  The whole family was piled onto a small motorcycle-mom, dad, and three kids.  They were running for their lives, clinging to one another and a few plastic bags of belongings.  Turkish bombs were falling nearby.  I stared and stared at the picture.  “These people have nothing” I thought.  “That one motorcycle is their most expensive and most prized possession.”  The disparity struck me with force.  It brought into focus how incredibly privleged and wealthy I am.  I loose sight of the fact sometimes, surrounded by the uber wealthy of the Silicon Valley.  I live in a small, rented one bedroom cabin in the woods, I can pay my bills, but will never be able to retire, but even so, there I was with the paid time off and disposable income to go on a vacation to Palm Springs while this Kurdish family had next to nothing and were just hoping to survive the day.  And I was feeling anxious and irritated about whether or not I would make my nearly free flight.  Shame burned hot in my cheeks and my attitude made a very sudden adjustment.  I became conscious and grateful to be where I was, whether or not I made this flight or the next one or the next one.  I was grateful to be safe, grateful to have the luxury to have the means and the time to get on an airplane and go somewhere.

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The attendant behind the desk motioned to me.  She told me there was a couple arriving from a connecting flight.  It was unclear as to whether or not they would make it in time.  If they did not, she would assign me one of their seats.  If they did-I was out of luck.  I smiled and shrugged my shoulders, all sense of urgency gone.  In the end, they did not make the connection and I was allowed to board the plane.  I decided not to spend the short flight listening to music or staring at my  phone.  In the 46 years I have lived on the central coast of California, I don’t think I had ever been on a flight that cruised straight down the coast before.  I spent the entire flight with my nose pressed to the window picking out familiar landmarks now seen from a birds eye view.  It was so enjoyable.

As we descended into Palm Springs, I was surprised at how rugged and mountainous the surrounding terrain was.  It was actually very beautiful.  I had Las Vegas pictured in my mind.  Once in the airport I had to sit for a few minutes and get my bearings.  I hadn’t entirely expected to make it here and had no transport or hotel to go to.  I was now also grateful for a smart phone and the internet…

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Del Marcos Hotel was a real find.  One block off the main strip, it was close enough to walk to all the shopping and eateries and far enough to be quiet at night.  The first thing to greet me was a row of cheerful, yellow bicycles, free for patron’s use.  The second thing I noticed was that I had walked into a hip version of 1950’s Hollywood glamour.  Like my LA grandpa’s house might have been when it was new and trendy.  The rooms had delightful names like “Shaken not Stirred”.  I have to give a real shout out to the staff as I arrived more or less unannounced having made the reservation online 15 minutes prior.   It was 11 in the morning and while check in wasn’t until 3, they invited me to have a seat by the salt water pool, sip some cucumber infused water, relax, and listen to some of the old crooners playing quietly in the background while they made a room ready for me.  Within 30 minutes I was comfortably ensconced in a very spacious room, delighting in all the details making it seem like I was in a 1950’s movie.  I was invited back to the glass paned lobby for a free happy hour from 4-5 and was reminded that breakfast would also be provided.  Happy hour wasn’t just a bottle of Charles Shaw.  There was a not-too-bad red and white selection and a cocktail of the day.  A selection of meats, cheeses, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, hummus and pita chips was a nice addition to the adult beverage.  I rarely partake in the free breakfast because it’s usually Costco muffins and lukewarm, bitter coffee.  Again, a thumbs up to the Del Marcos Hotel for its very nice breakfast of hard boiled eggs, OJ, yougurts, granola, fruits, and pastry selection.  I would absolutely stay here again, should I ever find myself in Palm Springs.

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I made use of the cheerful, yellow bicycles and went for a cruise downtown.  I treated myself and toasted the beginning of my vacation with a mimosa and duck confit omelette at FARM downtown.  Pure magic.  I felt I had been transported to a little outdoor courtyard in the south of France.  After that I happily wobbled around the surrounding neighborhoods to admire the desert and architecture Palm Springs is so famous for.

In the evening I decided to investigate the gondola my Uber driver had mentioned.   Be forewarned: if you go up, bring a jacket.  No matter how hot it is in the valley, it is COLD up there.  The elevation is over 10,000 feet and you can expect it to be breezy and nippy.  I went for the sunset and wished I had gone earlier as there were many trails for hiking but my hike was limited to a rushed jog from view point to view point as I didn’t want to get caught alone in the dark.  It’s another world up there.  You’d never believe you were in Palm Springs with the huge pine trees sighing in the wind, the silence, the rock formations, and the natural beauty.  On the way down, in the dark, it felt as if we had boarded a UFO.  The gondola is round and slowly rotates so you can take in the view from every direction.  In the dark, there is a small light that shines out of the bottom of the gondola and you can’t see that you are suspended from a track, so it feels for all the world like a ride in a space ship.  The crowd was festive and everyone would cheer when we’d suddenly bump and swing over one of the support towers.

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I got up early the following morning to do a hike.  I figured the rest of the girls, once they arrived, would be more interested in cocktails by the pool, so I wanted to put my adventure pants on before they arrived.  I was SO glad I did, because  I got lost and ended up in a ravine tangled in mesquite thorns.  They would not have found that amusing.  All’s well that ends well, and I found my way eventually, hot, tired, and thirsty, but really none the worse for wear.  I was magically revived by a banana date milkshake I’d read about was a local specialty.  Do try one.  The health food store in town has vegan date shakes for the digestively challenged like myself.  Otherwise, I’d recommend making your way to Shield’s Date Farm-in business since 1924.  You can walk through the farm, peruse the gift shop, or just belly up to the old fashioned milk shake counter and have yourself a tooth-achingly sweet date milkshake.

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The rest of the crew arrived late afternoon and we enjoyed catching up and sipping cocktails in the warm evening air.  The following day was our big “experience” at the Integratron.   It’s a long drive from nowhere to get there, but worth it.  The structure was built in the late 1950’s by George Van Tassel who claimed to have received instructions via the Bible and aliens.  Naturally.  You must make advance reservations to experience the “Sound Bath” which you will absolutely want to do, but the grounds are fun as well.  All sorts of quirky art dots the landscape and the more you look the more you see.  The Sound Bath is about an hour long and involves laying down on mats with your eyes closed as someone plays giant crystal bowls-somewhat like rubbing your finger round and round a crystal wine glass only times a hundred.  The sound was so shockingly loud at first, it was nearly panic inducing.  But I gradually settled into it and enjoyed just noticing what I was hearing and feeling.  Depending on the bowl played, my hands, feet, or middle would vibrate.  Though the bowls were stationary, it seemed to me that the sound rolled from one side of the room to the other, like thunder rolling across a stormy sky.  I found myself drifting off into a series of lucid dreams and then startling back awake when the tone changed.  At one point, as I woke up, it felt like someone drawing back a cool sheet, off my body.  It was all rather strange and unexplicable, but I did enjoy it.

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Integratron
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Parasols are provided to protect you from the relentless sun as you wander the art on the grounds of the Integratron.

My final day in Palm Springs was the lazy, drinks by the pool kind of day I had envisioned at the outset.  One could spend your entire vacation doing just that, but know that there is so much more to do if you are interested in exploring!  I left Palm Springs relaxed and happy, grateful for the opportunity to have been there.

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