Bittersweet Surrender

Though I deliver this post to you from the stark white, Midcentury interior of my Palm Springs Bungalow, where the sun is presiding over a crystal clear, 90° afternoon, I will tell you in no uncertain terms (with a reticence to sound like a malcontent) that it is all bittersweet (more sweet than bitter, but still).

My flight touched down at LAX at 10:00 PT Saturday morning. I was barreling eastward on The 10 in my maroon Ford Taurus (again, thanks Hertz) by 11:00. I pulled into the motel parking lot at 2:00. When neither Walter nor Davey answered in the office, I drove southeast along East Palm Canyon Drive drive in search of a bookstore. A local oldies station played Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, and Tommy Dorsey as I rolled leisurely past retirees casually driving their Cadillacs and Pontiacs along the edge of the mountains. I spotted a Borders at the River at Rancho Mirage, stepped inside to purchase Tim Russert’s book (on account of the fact that I’m interviewing him in three weeks), then headed back to The Bungalows.

Walter and Davey welcomed me back (you’ll recall that I spent a weekend here in February recording “The Desert Star”). Moments later, my masseuse arrived. After an hour-long massage in my living room — windows and doors thrown wide to the sound of the wind through the palms — I sat a while by the pool sipping an ice cold beer.

Why then, you ask, the bitter sweet? Count on me to find melancholy in the most astounding settings.

Once known as the “Playground of the Stars,” Palm Springs lies at the foot of one of Southern California’s most majestic mountain peaks, 10,834-foot-tall Mount San Jacinto, whose eastern flank abuts downtown. Spanish explorers found the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians here in th 18th Century. The Cahuilla considered the hot spring a place of power and healing where nukatem (powerful beings) dwell and a source from which shamans obtained their power. Two hundred years later, Hollywood adopted these sacred waters as thier own. Clark Gable, Al Jolson, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Howard Hughes, Bob Hope, Elvis Presley, Lucille Ball, Sonny Bono and — of course — Frank Sinatra, all called this desert oasis 110 miles east of Los Angeles home.

So in addition to this amazing desert environment (if you’re having a tough time imagining the place, Joshua Tree National Park is 30 miles miles northeast; picture U2 album art), you’ve got this town of liesure comprisd of angular, Tomorrowland-esque futurism from the 40s and 50s. The Desert Star Bungalow, for example, were built in 1954. The rooms are open and sunny, and furnished with modern designs from Eames, Nelson, and Bertoia. In a word, uber-cool.

So, why the long face?

I’ve been tp Palm Springs at least a dozen times in as many years. I wrote a magazine article on National Park Service internship in 1995. I recorded the “Happy, Not Happy EP” here in 1996 (don’t look for it; it’s out of print). I mixed “Crash Site” here in 2001. I spent numerous weekends here with the woman who came to inspired much of “Almost Home.” This year alone I’ve visited twice. Why? Simple: the silence, and the sun. I love the sound of the birds, and the rush of the palms. And I love a cool dip in the pool. But the thing is, I’m not much to sit around reading magazines. I like to hike. I like to run. I can do neither.

I woke around 7:30 this morning, and decided today was the day. My running shoes felt funny; it’s been so long since I’ve worn them. Still, I was excited, if tentative. My first few footfalls were pain free. ‘I’ve recovered!’ I thought. By the end of the street, though, I knew better. Though the pain in my knee was diminished, it hurt. I ran a block more, then stopped, exasperated. I heard voices in my head: Abbi’s, my mom, dad, and doctors, everyone telling me, “Take it easy. Don’t overdo it. Trust your body.”

Not being able to run probably doesn’t count for much here in this paradise. It’s probably some sort of message, one I’m too deaf or too stubburn to get. If you figure it out for me, I’ll be by the pool.

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