September 29, 2011

A Second Failed Hike: Palm Springs Museum Trail

During my last trip to Palm Springs, I failed at not one but two hikes.

I was proud of myself that I tried any of them at all.

On my second hike, I attempted the Museum Trail, behind the Palm Springs Museum of Art, because it was positioned close to my motel and close to brunch, and was billed as only moderately strenuous. In the last summer / early fall heat of the low desert, I didn't want to strain myself too much.

But standing in the parking lot at the bottom of the trial, looking up at the vertical climb before me, I could do nothing but giggle. And hoist myself up the rocks until I could go no further.

At first, the trail was really well-marked...

...until I got so high into the San Jacinto Monument that the cleared trail gave way to narrow spaces between boulders, pure rock showing no footprints.

High above the city, I could tell I was near the top of my climb, but I couldn't see it...

...And I was so close to where the Museum Trail was supposed to meet the Lykken Trail, I thought, the worst thing I could do was turn around. If I could only find another spray-painted white dot to show me the way...If I could only find another clearing where I wouldn't have to climb rocks like a ladder...

But after a seeming eternity of looking, I could not find where to go.

And so I went back the way that I came.

I paused under a rock, the one bit of shade on the whole trail.

I hadn't remembered it from the way up.

Everything of course looked different on the way down, making me wonder if I was even following the same trail, and making me doubt my own sense of direction.

I easily found my way back to the trailhead in the art museum's parking lot, and promised myself I'd try the loop again from the opposite direction, starting at the trailhead at the end of Ramon Road and climbing up the Lykken Trail to where it intersects with the Museum Trail, and back down to the art museum's parking lot.

That is, if I can find it...

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September 26, 2011

Photo Essay: A Heat Stroke Hike Up the Araby Trail

I failed to complete two different hikes in Palm Springs this weekend.

But I didn't feel like a failure.

After all, the heat was unforgiving.

The sun was scorching.

The trails, tremendous.

The fact that I conquered any of it was an accomplishment.

My first attempted hike was the climb up the Araby Trail to the Bob Hope house, an architectural tourist stop that most people drive to visit.

The trailhead is relatively easy to find, if you know where to look. (I didn't know where to look.)

It quickly climbs and meanders behind private backyards...

...under overpasses...

...and through trees...

...quickly revealing the white-washed housing communities below.

It's a straightforward climb to the Bob Hope house...

...but that wasn't the problem.

It was the hour-long bike ride I'd taken at 8 a.m.

It was the three hours of swimming in the sun that made me forget to eat lunch.

It was the nausea I felt from the breakfast tofu scramble and the dehydration I felt from the morning coffee.

It was the delirium of desert dry and hallucinating heat that kept my legs stumbling forward, bobbing and weaving up the trail.

With half my water gone, and the house in sight, I had to do myself a favor, keep my recently concussed head in mind, and decide to not fall off a cliff.

I had to turn around.

It's not that I would have seen that much more had I gone all the way to the top, but it was hard to abandon the hike before I'd finished.

And yet, I had to remind myself, I was the only hiker out there. I wasn't the only hiker to ever climb that trail, but I was the only one on that day, at that time, under that sun, in that heat.

And I'd done least for that day. At least, until tomorrow.

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September 25, 2011

Pacific Standards

I had some time to kill after dinner and before drinks with a friend on Friday night in Palm Springs, so I went dancing at The Village Pub.

I didn't stay long, though.

It got a little too grabby for me.

I used to go dancing all the time, whether it was at suburban dance clubs, urban tourist mega-clubs, bars with great dance floors, hotel banquet rooms, or late night living rooms in deep Queens apartments. I could always entertain myself, with or without a cocktail, with or without a dance partner.

But since moving to LA, I haven't really known where to go to strut my stuff (though I've recently discovered the Four Seasons, a surprising little slice of Beverly Hills nightlife).

In Palm Springs, The Village Pub is one of the places to go dancing. Curvaceous girls strap platform shoes on their feet and squeeze their bottoms into narrow miniskirts that could function just as well as a headband. They look unaffected as they get the bump and grind from behind. They drop it like it's hot and mimic every stripper move they've ever witnessed on reality TV.

The guys, of course, love it, and sidle up to them, mostly from the back, undetected until their pelvic protrusions give them away.

As for me, I stand off on the sidelines, purse perched on a ledge, flip-flopped feet shuffling, head nodding and shoulders swaggering to the beat. I wait for a song I really like. Guys approach me and ask me why I look bored. I roll my eyes at them and wave them off.

If the DJ drops a great song, I'll dance by myself, but if someone invites me out onto the floor, I'll go, with one caveat: I don't want to be grabbed. Don't grab my wrist. Don't slink your arm around my waist. Don't try to hoist me on top of your lap. I just met you. We're only going to dance. We don't have to touch. We don't have to dry hump.

This Friday night, one man invited me to dance, and I agreed, until he tried to take me by the arm. I shook him off. He looked at me curiously.

"I'll dance," I said, "but I don't want to be touched right now." It was hot and sweaty in there and I didn't feel like making it worse.

Under arrest, he put his hands up, backed away, and said, "Fine, have a nice night."

I repeated myself. "I'll dance, but I just don't want to be touched...." I was trying to salvage it, because I wanted to dance, and because I honestly didn't mean to offend him.

But why must I be touched?

And not only touched - it's not the loving caresses of fingers stroking my cheek that I'm trying to avoid - but manhandled?

Maybe I've found some strange sense of self-worth. I don't want to be treated like an animal in a petting zoo; I don't want a room full of guys treating me like their scratching post; I don't want to pretend to have sex with a guy who thinks it's more than just pretend and tries to penetrate me through his pants.

I just want to dance.

Even the bouncer, who I joked with on my way in as I paid my cover charge and got wristbanded, insisted on slithering up to me as I stood against the bar, and in an attempt to dance with me, rubbed the front of his sweaty body all over me. Backing away was futile, since leaning backwards over the bar only pivoted my pelvis forward, which is of course exactly what the advancing dancers want.

Maybe I'm old now. Maybe I've become a prude. Maybe not wearing bloomers anymore (which was necessary 45 pounds ago to prevent my thighs from rubbing together) has made me more protective over my exposed lady parts. But I think I've always been judicious about who gets access to my body. In the past, in New York, I guess maybe I just liked a lot more people.

Am I less interested now? Or just interested in less people?

I guess after you experience a romance that's epic and cosmic, and have been fortunate enough to seduce (and be seduced by) not one sex god but two, it's hard to be satisfied with silly little microtransactions with silly little strangers. It's now incomprehensible to have an open door policy when it comes to my body.

So I've built an invisible velvet rope around myself, just big enough for me to dance in on my own. You can stand outside of it and dance with me out there.

From now on, I am my body's own bouncer. VIPs only in my Champagne Room.

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September 24, 2011

Driving in the Dark

Somehow I'd forgotten how dark the desert gets.

I mean, it gets dark.

Even in the Coachella Valley, whose light pollution can be seen from Joshua Tree and Anza-Borrego as a glow on the horizon, and even along a major freeway like the 10, it gets dark.

Is Los Angeles so well-lit?

Maybe it's the lack of traffic this far inland. But there are plenty of headlights, including my own, that don't seem to cut through the darkness at all.

Where are the street lights?

Where is the moon?

Turning the high beams on don't help, because there's nothing for them to reflect off of. They only create an even greater sense of the vast expanse that lies ahead, tiny red and orange interruptions in the darkness twinkling ahead like red and orange stars, in an artificial sky of airports, buildings, wind farms...

Driving to Palm Springs from LA last night, I left a half hour late with the sun already starting to set in the west as I drove east, the magic hour beams of light blinding me in the rear view mirrors. I watched the sun set behind me, driving into the darkness that advanced as I advanced towards it.

By the time I turned off the 10 to the 111 to take me into Palm Springs, I could not see anything. I'd done this drive innumerable times since first visiting Joshua Tree two years ago, but I didn't recognize anything. What was there to recognize? There was nothing to see.

During my first visit to the desert, in Death Valley, I refused to drive at night at all. Taking a long, scenic route from Vegas, as dusk approached I raced across the desert to get to the Panamint Springs Resort, where I'd stay for the night, before it was completely dark out.

I never liked the dark.

And once I arrived in Panamint Springs, I refused to leave until the sun came up.

I held onto this mentality when I first visited Joshua Tree, but I was forced to get over it when I dropped Edith off in Palm Springs a bit too late and had to drive back in the dark, pouring rain, up the dirt road of the Joshua Tree Highlands - which made me very nervous - to The Desert Lily.

Of course, during the course of my month-long stay in Joshua Tree, I looked back on my fear of driving in the dark with a chuckle, since I'd seemingly mastered driving the desert roads with my eyes practically closed.

What has happened to my eyes since moving to Los Angeles?

Funny enough, I feel just as disconnected from the desert - or, I suppose, connected to it - while living in LA as I did living in NYC. People call LA the desert but it is not: not in topography, geology, culture or climate. No one living in LA could claim to be a desert rat, unless, of course, they are a displaced desert rat.

Besides, LA is too bright to be the desert. There are too many clouds and too much smog reflecting the light below. There are too many cars, too many street lights.

How is it that I so hate the dark yet I so love the desert? Do I so insist on embracing my fears that I insist on a constant level of discomfort? Perhaps I hope the more time I spend in the desert, the better I'll be able to see.

Without the distraction of light, sparkly, shiny things, what might one see?

What lies there, in the darkness, undetected without light, without movement?

Do I even want to know?

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September 23, 2011


The cubes are frozen.
The Coke is chilled.
The Jack is stocked.
The snacks are fresh.

My nails are painted.
My legs are waxed.
My hair is washed.
My teeth are flossed.

The floor is swept.
The towels are clean.
The sheets are changed.
The pillows are plenty.

I renewed the parking pass.
I took out the trash.
I charged my phone.
I took my Pill.

The time passes.
The fan oscillates.
The heart aches.
The body waits.

I'm ready when you are, someday, any day.

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September 20, 2011

Could I Love?

I've always been baffled by poetry and prose that tries to explain what love is.

I have no clue what the song "The Rose" is talking about.

Love is a river?

Love is a razor?

Love is a flower?


Further complicating matters, the English language only has one word for every kind of love - romantic, brotherly, platonic, courtly, and so on. Some other languages were smart enough to distinguish them.

But if there's ever any question, let's just establish that usually literature and music are addressing romantic love. Unless you're accidentally listening to the Christian music station on the car stereo and you realize they're singing about God's love. Or their love for God. I'm still not sure.

And usually when I write about love, it's about romantic love. Despite all of my lifelong struggles with lack of parental love - and trying to accept it when it's given to me by people who have taken on the task of trying to be my parents - romantic love still remains the biggest mystery of all to me.

As a child, I was desperate for (romantic) love. A child's capacity for empathy is truly incredible, as evidenced by the innumerable YouTube videos of kids singing along to love songs with relatively adult themes - "Paparazzi" and the like - that they couldn't possibly have ever experienced, or really understand. But children are able to project themselves into this adult emotional world, and become entangled in the mythology of romance and heartbreak, swept away by longing and desperation and heart-pounding infatuation. It's a fantasy, but to them, it at least feels really real.

Unfortunately, I never grew out of that fantasy mode. I never actually experienced anything that taught me what real love is.

I've mistaken many other things for love...


But was any of it real? Real love?

Can it be real even if the other person doesn't love you back?

Does love have to break your heart?

Do you love the person you are desperate to be close to?

Is love wanting to make them happy?

Is it love when they make you happy just by simply being themselves?

My lifelong, nagging question has been, Could I be loved? But lately, I've been wondering, Could I love?

And I think, maybe, at least, I suspect, yes, I could love.  I could love someone who doesn't return my love, as long as they accept my love, and just let me love them.  But I hope to someday love, really love, and have the feeling returned.

I think love must be real when you don't have a choice. You cannot decide not to love. It is insistent, all-encompassing, joyful, scary, selfless and selfish. It asks to be acknowledged. It demands to be spoken. It will not be denied.

Then again... would I know?

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A Bike Of One's Own

I've been wanting to buy a bike for years. This weekend, I finally got one.

The last bike I owned had been purchased by my parents and ridden by the teenage version of me. I don't remember picking it out. I think it was actually a hand-me-down from my sister.

And even though I called it "my" bike, it was never really mine. As a kid, nothing ever was. My parents made that very clear.

A couple of years ago in New York, I really wanted a bicycle, but living in a small studio apartment with no storage space (the same reason I never got a cat), I couldn't figure out where I'd keep it. I then had it in my head that I would get a folding bike that I could put under the bed, carry on the subway, or throw in my purse, but was deterred by the expense and the sense - partially influenced by my fellow opinionated New Yorkers - that it wasn't really a real bike.

Last year when I rented a bike at the Ace in Palm Springs, I got hooked, and I started looking for every opportunity to rent or borrow a bike to ride.

I couldn't help but smile while I was on a bike. As a kid, it was my only mode of transportation, my only escape from my parents' house, my only taste of freedom. On a bike in New York, I was liberated from the underground tunnels and from the straphanging at the joint of a public bus weaving through the streets like a Chinese dragon.

So when I realized I was going to be moving to LA, I said, "I have to get a bike."

Upon my arrival in LA though, there was too much to do: move into and furnish my apartment, buy (lease) my first car, start a new job, build a new life...I had no time to go find a bike. I was kind of hoping one would fall into my lap. One never did.

Besides, for the first three months I was here, I was really dependent on my car, commuting 20 miles daily on an unbikeable route (at least for a novice like me). In the months that followed, I spent my weekends driving for hours to explore the reaches of California, my new home state.

But walking to and from work several times a week, I started to realize that, as freeing as my pedestrian lifestyle was, I still had to drive when I'm in a rush or the distance is a bit too far. At an average pace of 3 mph, walking just takes so long. As free as I've been, I could be freer.

I could once again be liberated by a bike.

Of course, a bicycle is actually a major purchase. It's not cheap, and it's a pile of aluminum and alloy and chain and rubber and spokes and wires that all seem like a big jumble to me. After freeing myself of many of my worldly possessions before moving to LA, I'm not inclined to collect many more and once again become dependent on material goods.

But it's a means to an end, a vehicle to liberation. It takes me out of my apartment, out of my car, outside.

I just have to make sure and lock it. And figure out how the damn thing works.

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September 16, 2011

The Best I Ever Had

I have to keep reminding myself that just because something is the best I ever had, it doesn't mean it's the best I could ever have.

Things can always get better, right?

People can always get better?

When I was in nursery school (what they now call "preschool"), I was interviewed for the special Mother's Day edition of the lifestyle section of our local city newspaper, and photographed as I painted a flower for my mom. (Wearing a royal blue painting smock with a rainbow-colored bullseye in the middle, I attracted quite the attention and ended up as the section's cover model.) When asked, I said that I loved my mommy because she took me to the movies.

Later in life, I realized that wasn't enough to earn my love. Back then, she was the best mother I ever had, I'd ever known. But because I was locked in our house with her, I didn't have a chance to experience any other mothers.

Now I know better. Now I have a better mother. She's not only the best mother I ever had, but she very well may be the best mother ever.

But when you get something that seems really good - say, a flavor, a job, a boyfriend, an orgasm - you want to hold onto it. You don't want to let go of it. And, if you have an addictive personality like mine (thanks, Mom, the alcoholic sugar addict compulsive shopper overeater), you can't get enough of it.

But if you spend all of your time consuming something that's good - merely good - doesn't that limit your opportunities of experiencing that which is great, perhaps the best, not just the best you ever had?

In 2007, after living in New York City for 10 years, I thought I had a good job. It was my best job in the music industry up until that point. But over the year or two that followed, I realized how bad the job actually was, and how it was eating me from the inside out.

I now know that things can get better in the music industry, that a job exists - my job, the one I have now - that's supportive of women, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-national, multi-faith, humanitarian and profitable.

Does it get any better than that?

Maybe. But I'm going to stick around for a while to see how good this job can get.

I know a guy who's never happy where he is. No matter what job he has, he's miserable, always longing for the last job he had, which he now thinks was so much better (though he was miserable enough at the time to leave it). He is the guy who's never satisfied with his current girlfriend, and instead always pines for his ex.

There are others - namely, New Yorkers - who always have their eye on the door for a better-looking person than the one they're with to walk through it.

I, on the other hand, feel like I've made good progress over time, steadily improving my career choices, fashion sense, dietary habits, and taste in men. But I've always been reluctant to give up what I have now if I know it's good (or maybe just good enough), even if something better could be lurking around the corner. If you rock my world, I'm going to keep inviting you back to rock it again.

I think this must be why tourists insist on eating at Olive Garden and TGIFriday's when they visit Manhattan. They know it's good. And they're afraid to try something new because it might not be as good.

Then again, if you know your way around, it's easy enough to find a meal that's so much better (as much as I love Olive Garden).

The sad truth is, because of individuality and cultural nuances and social perspectives and irrational personal preferences, it's impossible to determine an objective "best possible" scenario for basically anything. The best possible job for me would be very different than the best possible job for my sister or any of my friends. And when you take any measure of lack of self confidence into consideration, you then find humans adjusting their expectations from the "best possible" to "the best I could get." And the best you actually could get is probably way better than what you think the best you could get is.

It seems to me that the key considerations in evaluating "the best I ever had" are: 1) how many have I had? 2) how long have I had each of them? 3) how much opportunity have I had to sample all the available options?

The best boyfriend I ever had up to this point is actually the best boyfriend I ever had when I was 19, but that's because he's basically the only real boyfriend I've ever had. Since him, I've had the opportunity to sample plenty of other men - as dates, friends, affairs, lovers - and right now there's one I can't get out of my head, because not only is he the best I ever had, but I have this sneaking suspicion that he's the best one I can get, and the best one out there.

I welcome someone to prove me wrong. Especially since, apparently, I'm not the best he ever had.

Related reading:
The Best Thing I Ever Tasted
The Best Life?

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September 15, 2011

Photo Essay: On My Nerves, In the Forest

I don't remember ever feeling trepidatious in Los Angeles - as a business visitor, tourist, housesitter, or resident - until this weekend. Sure, I've been started by rattlesnakes lazily strewn across the trail, and scurried in the dark to try to find my way back to my car, one ear listening for mountain lions, but even in the so-called "scary" neighborhoods (Watts, Compton, etc.), I've always felt pretty darn safe.

I got a little creeped out this weekend upon my return to the Angeles National Forest, which I had such fond memories of. I returned to it in its westernmost reaches to hike the Oak Springs Trail, not remote at all (comparatively at least to the rest of the Forest), and not far removed from the foothill communities just south of it.

Maybe it was the rusty, rumbling pickup truck that looped slowly through the parking lot and then exited without stopping.

Maybe it was the weather-worn black compact two-door that pulled up alongside my car and just sat there, radio blaring, passenger side window rolled all the way down, air conditioning cycling.

Or maybe it was the compact parked in the trailer section, all four of its doors open, as though someone were camping (or living) out of it.

I was nervous to even leave my car there unattended.

But I did anyway because it is, after all, just a car.

And I had a trail to hike.

The Oak Springs Trail begins with seven immediate switchbacks up a canyon wall.

It is steep, eroded, and, in places, rocky.

After only a mile or two - which seem to take forever - it takes you along a ridge with a view of the nearby mountains...

...and then spills out into a grassy basin...

...that dips into a forested area where Oak Spring lies hidden beneath a grove of huge oak trees.

When I arrived to the oak grove, I immediately felt nervous again.

I decided then what I'd suspected for some time: I don't like the forest. I need wide open spaces.

Maybe it's because I'm convinced I'll get kidnapped or worse when under cover of so many trees, shaded from the light, enshrouded by leaves and twigs and shrubs and poison oak, tiptoeing over creeks and streams and puddles and mudslides.

Maybe I just don't like the mosquitoes.

Maybe I just don't like the dark.

But once I got to Oak Spring, even though the trail could've taken me farther, I turned around and went back the way I came, back to my car, which was still parked in the lot, next to the black car that was still running with the window rolled down and the radio on.

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September 12, 2011

Photo Essay: California's First Commercial Oil Well & Abandoned Company Town (Updated for 2021)

[Last updated 1/30/21 1:25 PM PT—Pioneer Oil Refinery site update at bottom]

After all of my travels up and down the 5, through such oil towns like Taft, and everyday in Los Angeles pass oil wells that have been well hidden or decommissioned... seemed appropriate that I take a hike in Pico Canyon, site of California's first commercial oil well (a.k.a. Pico Well No. 4), which struck "black gold" in 1876 after three prior drilling attempts failed.

The big tourist stop in Pico Canyon is Mentryville, a veritable ghost town of California's commercial oil history, named after Charles Mentry...

...the Pennsylvanian Frenchman oil driller of Star Oil Works Company (which would eventually become Standard Oil and then Chevron).

circa 2018

The oil business in Pico Canyon was still going strong by the time that Mentry died of typhoid fever in 1900...

circa 2018

...and although Mentryville never extended beyond its status as a company town...

circa 2018 many as 26 families lived there, according to the 1910 census.

The oil boom declined throughout the 1920s and 1930s (when some folks dismantled their houses to take with them when they moved out)...

...but surprisingly, Pico No. 4 didn’t actually get capped until 1990!

circa 2018

That made it the longest continually operating oil well in the world.

In addition to Mentry's 13-room mansion and the historic barn...

circa 2018

...there are lots of other buildings...

...some restored and others looking downright abandoned.

Many appear to be of an industrial nature...

...or maybe even a movie set (which the yellow "Movie House" actually is, built here for the Disney movie One Magic Christmas in 1984).

circa 2018

But there's also a one-room schoolhouse from 1885...

...and piles of rusty equipment.

The canyon itself features an old creek bed, now dried up...

...but in wet seasons, they say you can still spot tar flowing in the creek.

Managed by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, not far from Six Flags Magic Mountain...

... Pico Canyon offers a nice climb to a lovely vista...

And plenty of old relics.

Most of the hike is along a recently-paved service road, so it's an easy hike until the steep, unpaved final portion beyond most of the oil history vestiges.

But for someone like me, who wants to get out of the city a little bit, get dirty a little bit, get deserty a little bit, it's a perfect little retreat on a hot weekend day.

circa 2017

P.S. The crude oil from Pico Canyon was piped to the former Pioneer Oil Refinery...

circa 2017 the area formerly known as Needham Ranch...

circa 2017 known as Newhall.

circa 2017

The site, located off Pine Street next to the railroad tracks just north of Gates King Open Space, is California State Historical Landmark that's owned by The City of Santa Clarita.

Update 1/30/21 1:23 PM PT—The Pioneer Oil Refinery, built in 1876 by California Star Oil Works (which eventually became Chevron), has been added to the National Register for Historic Places and is being converted into a park. 

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Ed Davis Park at Towsley Canyon
Photo Essay: The Ruins of Santa Fe Springs