Middle of Nowhere

Cruising the low deserts of California conferred much pleasure in my youth. Flat stretches of landscape frighten some, but I thrilled to the sensation of expansive space; the purple hills hanging in the distance; the shimmering waves of heat hovering just above the asphalt. At times the yucca sprouted buttery blooms; other times the ocotillo waved red flags of flaming blossoms. I never tired of watching the miles roll by; the washes, the jutting striated rock formations, the places I knew desert dwellers concealed themselves, waiting for the indigo dusk of evening when the cool luster of starlight signaled relief from the heat of day.

Desert driving was not for the weak of heart in those days of rutted two-lane roads undulating across the landscape like roller-coasters, crisscrossed by train tracks every hundred miles or so. Signs warned of flash flooding, and one only had to experience a single rare deluge to understand for eternity where rainwater goes in places it rarely falls. Dips in roads became perilous ponds that could swallow tires and seep through doors and crack a car’s engine. Service stations were sparse as poplar trees, and we filled the gas tank at any opportunity.

Desert Center was a parched, dusty, windswept patch of earth containing a handful of wizened humans, mobile homes, a fuel stop and general store/cafe. I often wondered, even as a young child, who on earth would choose to live in such a formidable location. Without air conditioning, a person could die.

It was the newly air conditioned cream-colored Mercury with the wooden sides whose radiator regularly overheated in the most extreme conditions. Our urban-loving mother rarely accompanied us on these wilderness expeditions, but on one memorable occasion, she tagged along. Though Dad always carried jugs of water for emergencies, I still remember the rabbit fear in her dark eyes which did not diminish until we pulled into Blythe, steam billowing from the hood of the Merc. As we chugged into the first gas station that presented itself, both parents palpably relaxed. A curious child, I observed the tall dusty uniformed attendant as he raised the hood to carefully crack open the silver hued radiator cap with only a red cotton rag protecting his bare blackened hands.

Fifty years later, I can instantly conjure the smell of rain on creosote bushes; recall the mechanic’s grease-encrusted fingernails and the silver wedding band encircling his left ring finger. A warm desert wind wafts a unique mixture of odors to the nostrils, and Squirt soda never tasted so good as when, fresh out of the ice chest, we swilled it down like elixir of the gods alongside that isolated stretch of highway in the blistering scorch of afternoon.

Desert Center 2



12 thoughts on “Middle of Nowhere

  1. Hello Bela,

    I realise I haven’t been here for a while. Hope you are doing fine.

    What a lovely trip down nostalgia lane! I remain amazed how you could recall and put down all those little details which your senses embraced all those decades back.

    As you travelled to the Desert Center a half a century later, I wonder which emotion showed up stronger for you. Was it the nostalgic thoughts and memories of those days gone by? Or was it the sheer delight of feeling unchained and getting away from one’s routine?



    1. Aloha, Shakti! Yes, its been a long time. I get overwhelmed by too much going on and don’t pick you up in my feed. Occasionally then, I still go to your site to see what you’ve written. Glad to see you visited 😉

      I have not been to Desert Center in almost fifteen years now. Things changed, of course – more people, stucco buildings replacing mobile homes, a ‘straight’ highway where once was a very wavy road! I suppose it was bound to happen.

      Although I live in a worldwide destination – Hawaii – and love it here in the subtropics, I will always have a place in my heart for the desert where I spent so much of my youth. In Hawaii the expanse of ocean is a good substitute for the endless stretches of land the low desert offers. The high desert, where we also lived 20 years ago, offers a different landscape. There, we were at 8000 ft. elevation in northern New Mexico along the Rio Grande gorge. Crescents of mountains encircled expanses of sandy soil and pinon trees. Mountain lions would scream in the night, and the Navajo sheep’s bells would wake us up on mornings when the flock appeared in our yard.

      This earth is a spectacular place filled with wonder, if we open our eyes to it. I’ve always possessed a child’s curiosity, which perhaps is why I recall the details in a way that facilitates relating them in my writing. Glad you enjoy it.

      Thanks again for your presence here, and Namaste.


  2. This wonderful writing very soon brought to mind one of my favourite films: ‘Bagdad Café’.

    And then, as I scrolled down the page, there was a photograph of what could have been that same place.

    With gratitude and respect, Hariod Brawn.


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