Home: Marquis Villas Resort, for a week
Day 1: Rett’s Birthday
I did a poor job of commemorating Rett’s birthday, which disappointingly (for both of us!) seems to be a bit of a habit. This year, I feel like my excuses (“I’ve been kinda busy”, “We both know it doesn’t make sense to buy you stuff right now”) are slightly more legitimate, but any minor increase in legitimacy is overbalanced by the fact that, with her Mom gone, it’s my responsibility to be her prime spoiler.
I did use our full kitchen to bake up a batch of her mom’s cinnamon roll biscuits for breakfast. That’s a standard birthday tradition, so it doesn’t hit the creative/surprise aspect, but it was nice to be able to do some “home cooking” for Rett. And then I ran out to pick up her free birthday Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks.
Then we had to fill up our full kitchen with food, so that made-at-home meals could help balance the expense of our lodging. We figured out how to ride the bus, and took that over to Trader Joe’s (unfortunately too late to get a Grinch-tree to decorate our place) and Target. Then another trip to the Post Office to pick up a General Delivery package. Walking there from the bus stop, we were shocked that we literally had to hike through sandy desert, due to Palm Springs’ extreme car-centric design, with its disappearing sidewalks along massively wide (and frequently empty) roadways.
For the evening I took Rett out to Sandfish, a sushi-and-whiskey place, which I would have gotten more credit for if she hadn’t selected it before I got around to looking. Making it a full date-night, we upgraded from the bikes, or the bus, and had ourselves delivered by private motorized chariot (aka, an Uber). Fancy! Seated half-inside/half-outside a COVID-inspired open shipping container, we had some excellent cocktails, fabulous rolls, and then even a candle to blow out with dessert.
A good day of lazing about our room. Rett got back on the bus for a haircut and a perm (but returned only having achieved the former). I did some baking. The rest of the family spent the day visiting Joshua Tree National Park, which is something Rett & I had vaguely been hoping to do in some form, but with the condition of her back, and her appointment, we decided to skip it for now.
In the evening, Mom & Dad, who are staying at the KOA outside of town with their truck-camper, came and picked us up and we drove to The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens for their Christmas lights display. When Joel, Chika, Noah, and Ren joined us there, we finally had the whole family together for Christmas! Some 4,500 miles of combined travel, via airplane, truck, and bicycle, brought us together to converge for this unlikely desert holiday.
The lights were fun, but surely not a 10 Best Zoo Lights in the country, despite being declared as such by a USA Today-affiliated click-bait-y website (that puts Toledo at #2 and doesn’t even include Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo?!)
Much more unique and enthralling were the climate-appropriate animals silently moving about their darkened desert homes. Especially the giraffes, who we first glimpsed as a row of necks rising above a hillside between us, and then gracefully sliding around it until their bodies came into full view. So large, but with an unexpected lightness to their calm movements. Though there were some artificial lights (in addition to the cloud-smeared moonlight), something about the shadowy darkness made it easier to imagine that this was a natural environment for these animals.
Palm Springs is super gay! I realized I’d had some vague awareness of that fact, but I didn’t recall it immediately, not even when, in our first 20 minutes in town at the brewery, a guy walking down the sidewalk hit on a guy sitting across from us (“you’re too beautiful to be sitting here alone!” Alas, it was a swing-and-a-miss). And then in retrospect, I realized that same sex couples had likely outnumbered opposite-sex couples among the tables at the brewery. What finally jogged the memory was walking to to Grocery Outlet and hitting a block with rainbow crosswalks, several bars with only men sitting outside, and shops with names like “GayMart” and “Bear Wear”.
Wikipedia confirmed to me that Palm Springs has ten times the national average of same-sex couples, and the city government is entirely LGBTQ. Those are some pretty cool anomalies to claim! But the next question my curious brain asks is, why? Was it just random, in the way that San Jose became the place where computer nerds conglomerated? The non-random explanation from our Uber driver was both believable and romantic: the movie contracts from Old Hollywood required their stars to stay within 100 miles of Hollywood, and Palm Springs became the place they could go to right at the edge of that radius, honoring their contracts, yet staying as far from the public eye as possible. Turns out that’s not quite true, but the general consensus is that the “escape from Hollywood” part of it was the nugget that got the ball rolling.
As nomadic early retirees living out of our bicycles, any place that’s welcoming to people openly living out-of-the-mainstream lives is our kind of place. And Palm Springs has the most mask-wearing of any town we’ve been in since San Francisco (and maybe even more); I wonder if experience with another novel, frightening and deadly communicable disease, AIDS, has helped inform those behaviors?
Anyway, I took the time to write about Palm Springs culture there because not much else happened today. Taking the aerial tramway up into the mountains and the snow above Palm Springs is something that had been on all of our to-do lists, but the unusually cold and wet weather conditions had been making it difficult. Today there was a window, so Mom & Dad picked us up and we made an attempt to get cabled up there, but upon arrival found that it was effectively sold out and they weren’t admitting any more people. They said we could come back at 3pm, but by that point it would be getting dark by the time we made it up the mountain, so we decided to just skip it.
We did finally get to make good use of our “party central” accommodations by having the whole family over to hang out for the evening. We got some takeout “Chicago-style” pizza, which of course was only superficially “Chicago-style”, but it was pizza, so it was good!
If you’ve lived in the same place for a long time, you may have forgotten how long it takes to get to know your local grocery stores and become an efficient shopper at them. Because, while stores share some common principles (milk is near the butter), they also have a lot of differences (is the cheese near the butter, or near the meat?), even if they’re part of the same chain. Luckily(?), we’ve been on a cycle of moving every two years for the last six years, so have had three recent experiences of getting to learn new stores. That’s given us at least some preparation for our current life, where we need to learn a new store every single day. But the benefit of that experience is mostly in the expectation-setting; while our explorations of dozens of different stores may have made us better at recognizing patterns and slightly improving our first-time efficiency, it still takes us forever to run through a store. So it’s just good to know that the inefficiency is something inherent in encountering a new store, and not purely something inherent in our somewhat-unusual bike-touring grocery needs (though certainly that is a factor too).
All this reflection is because today, after lunch with Mom & Dad at the super-popular Sherman’s Deli right next to our hotel, I went with them (in their pickup truck) to do grocery shopping for our Christmas dinner. It took trips to Von’s, Trader Joe’s, and Albertson’s (and a lot of time looking at each) before we collected everything that we needed. Some difficulties were due to pre-Christmas (nearly all the Crescent rolls were gone from Von’s, and they were out of chickens, and fresh thyme), some were due to just what each store stocks, and some were due to not knowing what to get where (had I really seen pans at Grocery Outlet a few days ago for $0.99, vs. the $3 at Albertson’s? And if so, would they still be there, and worth a 4th stop?) On the bikes we at least skip that last set of difficulties, because optimizing across multiple stores isn’t even an option. So it was interesting to feel how switching to truck-based-transportation, while still a huge positive that we wouldn’t have been able to do Christmas dinner without, did return more complexity to the shopping experience. It made me realize that we (and especially Rett, who tends to be more rigid than me about food) have adapted to become more flexible and accepted a more “the store decides what we eat” approach to feeding ourselves.
But of course our whole idea for Christmas was to feel some semblance of our previous life, and maintain at least some echoes of tradition. So we’re super-grateful to Mom & Dad for getting on-board, and helping us achieve that which would have been impossible without their help.
Day 5: Christmas Eve
As I grew into adulthood, I surprised myself to discover the growing importance that tradition and ritual played in my life and happiness. And of course Christmas-time is the peak of that. Coming home to my parents’ for their Christmas Eve gathering, reminiscing about our childhood ornaments hung from the tree, listening to the gravel-throated father from Trans-Siberian Orchestra sing joyously about his long-lost daughter coming home “This Christmas Day“, breaking the oplatek wafer, drinking eggnog with the nutmeg sprinkled on top, making mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert for the once-a-year use of the ice-cream maker that came from Grandma as a Christmas gift decades before, eating shrimp fried in the 1970s olive-green electric fryer, enjoying the spread of Christmas cookies, and most important, just being together with family.
Then to my surprise, I started blowing up a lot of those repeated traditions. First by joining with Rett and her family that had their own set of traditions that deserved equal honor. Then by moving far from home, when “home” is a place that in some ways can be defined as “the location where your traditions sit”.
So I’m grateful to my family (both old and new) for their willingness to evolve their traditions, and create new ones in the process. With my brother leading me by more than a decade in “moving far from home”, our family had already begun establishing new traditions and ways to celebrate and commemorate the holidays together. And one of those traditions has become my parents taking the whole family out, whenever we’re all together on the West Coast near the holidays, to some restaurant with a high number of stars on Google (and usually then with a commensurate number of dollar-signs). Fancy cocktails, ingredients that often need to be explained by a waiter, and multiple courses come in a luxuriously effortless flow, that is a very different experience than the personal work that goes into a previously-traditional celebration at home, but one that time and repetition has shaped into nearly as satisfying a tradition for us all as the older ways.
This is all to say that this year, we were treated to a wonderful and tradition-continuing Christmas Eve dinner at Workshop Kitchen and Bar in Palm Springs, found and reserved by Chika, walked to-and-from by the whole family, and gifted to us by Mom & Dad. The food (of which tastings were shared liberally across the table) was all delicious, even without anyone springing for the $25 for 5 grams of truffle to be grated on top of their entree. The fact that we were comfortably eating outside, under Christmas Eve starlight, was amazing, and certainly nothing that had been part of any of our traditions prior to this year. But best of all was that our family was able to come together, in yet another new non-traditional place, amid another year of the whole world being knocked off its routines by COVID, and add another harmony line onto the symphony of echoing memories that mark the traditions that help give me an anchor in this un-anchored life we’ve chosen.
Day 6: Christmas Day
Mom & Dad decided to add to the family-Christmas feel by staying over at our place for the night. Sleeping on the pull-out couch’s mattress on the other side of the wall from our bedroom, they were positioned directly in front of the fireplace, flipping the parent/child roles by attempting to stay awake long enough to catch Santa coming down the chimney. It seems they mostly succeeded in scaring him off.
Between their hotel checkout and their flight home, Joel, Chika, Noah & Ren joined us for some Christmas brunch. More use of our first-time-in-months oven, to make a breakfast casserole and a third(!) round of cinnamon rolls, plus fruit, drinks, and probably some more Christmas cookies.
After sending the Oregon contingent of the family back on their way home, the rest of us did a leg- and stomach-stretching walk through town, and ended up making it to Robolights, a residential home transformed into a nightmare-carnival by decades of work from a mad-genius. Robots, carousels, twisted Santa Clauses, and much more, all crafted into being by assembling discarded materials into recognizable shapes, and then painting them a uniform color. The pungent smells of rotting wood mixed with cat urine drove home the fact that this is no sanitized tourist attraction, this is the work of a man whose inner creativity nearly forces him to make these creations.
Our palates cleansed with the fresh air, the wild art, and the striking mountains, cloud formations, and flora of Palm Springs winter, we all returned home to get going on our Christmas dinner. A whole roasted chicken, winter vegetables, garlic mashed potatoes, and crescent rolls filled out our main plates, with Old Fashioned cocktails, Christmas cookies, and chocolates surrounding them. While the dishes weren’t entirely “traditional”, they all fell in that vein, and everyone working together to bring the meal to our table definitely gave me echoes of that warm family togetherness that has long been such a part of Christmas for me. Thank you to Mom, Dad, and Rett (and earlier, JCNR) for making it happen!
All too soon, the day to check out from our Palm Springs home. Two of our main goals for our week had been to get Rett’s back healed up, and to plot out our next course. Unfortunately neither of those quite happened. With Rett’s back not getting substantially better, and the weather forecast continuing to show rain and cold in the region for the next two weeks, the idea of riding on to some new place (especially up into the remote Joshua Tree NP, as had been a possibility) was a non-starter. Extending our stay in Palm Springs didn’t make a lot of sense, so after some searching we found a house back in the town of Redlands on AirBNB that we could rent for a month. Making a month-long commitment to a place sight-unseen was a bit of a risk, but at least we had already been through Redlands and loved the town, so we knew the logistics would work for us there.
The other huge component to making the backtrack to Redlands work was my parents deciding to extend their stay at the KOA by an extra day, which then freed them up to shuttle us and our bikes and all our gear back up through the pass and down the other side. That was invaluable for us, because riding the 50 mostly-uphill miles on our own would have likely decimated any bit of healing that Rett had accomplished over the week.
So we improvised a way to get our bikes and gear tied and wedged into the tailgate-less pickup truck, and then all of us wedged into the slightly-extended cab. Our return through the pass proceeded without incident, and, as is normal for such things, shockingly fast compared to our two-day bicycle ride that had covered the same ground.
Mom & Dad helped us unload and we all checked out our next home. The place was in a strange state of disrepair, with some things cleaned and set up for guests, and some destroyed and disgusting, but it would all be liveable, and our month-long stay meant that putting in some of our own elbow grease to improve the place would be worth it.
With that one final Christmas gift gratefully received, we sent Mom & Dad back east to further adventures for them, while, alone again, we began settling into our next home.