Our first stop was at a Barnes and Noble in Orange, California. The long drive to there from Tucson was uneventful until we go to some troublesome highway construction near Riverside. Tucson is about a two-hours south of Phoenix. This stretch of Interstate 10 is unpleasant, overcrowded with cars and buses, darkened and made dangerous by frequent dust storms, and surrounded by ugly irrigated farm land and condominium and mobile home developments. Phoenix itself is about 1,000 feet lower in elevation than Tucson and therefore a few degrees hotter. We did a Barnes and Noble book signing in Gilbert, a suburb of Phoenix, and the temperature was 105. Dry heat to be sure but so is the heat in an oven. Like all the big desert cities in the United States, it sprawls outward into endless suburban cities and towns, baking in the sun and shamelessly wasting water. Pollution spreads for miles around, so dense that it is hard to see the nearby mountains. We met a man on the Atalaya Mountain trail in Santa Fe who grew up in Phoenix. He said that the air was more polluted in the 1930s than now. This is impossible to believe (see http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/yates141006.html).
Interstate 10 bends west in Phoenix, and it is a straight shot to California. Mountains, desert, more developments, some agriculture, then at the border between the two states – Quartzite, Arizona. This town is ringed by hills and mines, but the town itself is a gigantic mobile home park. Snowbirds and rock hounds come from everywhere to bask in the sunshine, socialize, and shop at one of the world’s largest flea markets. While there are only a couple thousand residents in Quartzite, nearly all white and a majority of whom are over sixty-five, a million visitors come in January and February. There are eight major gem and mineral shows, plus many other events, in these two months. We bought gas a few miles before we got to Quartzite, knowing that it would be more expensive in California. The pump said the gas was $3.05 per gallon, but the receipt said that we paid only $2.46. I wanted to tell another driver to go to our pump, but no one was around. We wondered how long it would take the station to correct this malfunction. Hopefully a long time!
West into California takes you just south of Joshua Tree National Park, which I describe in Chapter Five of Cheap Motels. The desert here is forbidding, and there wasn’t a water fountain, or even a soda machine, at the rest stop we used to have lunch. We drove through the agricultural town of Blythe and Indio, crossing the Colorado River at the former. I had never been to either place, though I remembered hearing about them when I worked for the United Farm Workers Union in 1977. As we approached Palm Springs we were shocked at the brown haze that hung ominously over the mountains, which would have beautiful if we could have seen them. In the flat spaces at the base of the mountains there were hundreds of dreadful looking windmills, giving the scene an unearthly look.
After a nine-hour drive, all done by Karen, we got to Orange. We began to look for a cheap motel but soon realized that we were in trouble. The motels near the Orange county airport were expensive and for the most part full. There were conventions being held there, including a large medical meeting. We drove closer to where the bookstore was located, only to find that this was near Disneyland. It was college graduation weekend, and there were a few high school proms going on as well. The Anaheim Ducks hockey team had a playoff game. Motel after motel was full. We couldn’t even get accommodations at the Motel 6. We were about to get back on the Interstate and prepared to sleep in our van for the first time when we stopped at a seedy looking motel called the Riviera. There was a vacancy – $65 – for a room without a bed lamp. We felt lucky to get it. The next day we did our thing at the Barnes and Noble. A student of mine for the University of Massachusetts who works for a craft union in Hollywood drove down and bought two books. We met a woman whose husband was born in East Brady, a tiny mining town near my hometown. I used to go there with my uncle when he was dating my aunt. She was from the same place. Small world. We stayed in a Howard Johnson that night and the next day headed for Los Angeles.