My friend Jennifer and I went to the desert so she could do some research for a novel she’s writing. Somewhere between the sterile outlet malls of Barstow and the kitschy rustic ghost town splendor of Calico, we stopped by an RV park to ask some general questions about weather, water rights and desert life. The sign indicated that visitors should park on the road. We did, but wandered in the far entrance, toward the little trailer marked OFFICE. The silence of the desert is so startling to me that everything felt a little dreamlike.
Anyway, the suspender-clad bespectacled guy running the Shady Lane RV Court seemed cordial.
After a perfunctory greeting, he indicated that he’d already walked out to the road and checked out my car.
“I have to make sure I know who is walking around here or the guests get nervous,” he explained.
I didn’t see any guests, and attributed his zealousness to boredom, although I had told Jen on the way up the 15 Freeway that the desert seems to nurture a particular kind of paranoia. I don’t know if desert paranoia is different from swampland paranoia, or deep woods paranoia, but my friend Helen and I had experienced a few examples of desert “eccentricity” while visiting a Mojave wolf sanctuary last Christmas.
The proprietor told us an abbreviated history of Shady Lane — of the permanent residents who seemed to make the desert home by default and the transient “monthlies.” He rattled off a few dates of the odd times it had snowed there, and said the desert held no charm for him but peace and quiet. The entire conversation took about five minutes. We didn’t come off like urban archaeologists slumming it. We smiled, thanked him and turned to walk back to the car the way we’d come–passing through the truncated loop of the very still RV park instead of walking straight to the shoulder of Soapmine Road.
“Your car is the other way,” he informed us.
“I know,” I said. “This is the way we came in so I just thought–”
“Your trip,” he said, “is over.”
Have you ever felt that you have seamlessly crossed from your life into a movie? At that moment, the crack of gunfire seemed like the only possible punctuation to “Your trip is over.” Or perhaps an immediate cut to: the old bastard groaning and sweating as he dragged our lolling corpses one by one up the wooden steps to his trailer).
Later over lunch in a 50s nostalgia diner (HAVE A SLICE OF PIE AND A SLICE OF THE PAST!), I stared at a pale pile of iceberg lettuce shavings, I wondered if the RV steward was a bonafide sociopath? While he lacked the tennis pro charm of Ted Bundy, but he certainly had mastered the simmering violence-beneath-a-veneer-of-civility thing.
When I returned home grateful again for the city, I immediately did some shark homework, relieved to remember that I’ll be spending tomorrow at the beach.