You can come across some weird shit in the desert.
It’s always hard driving through the IE (that’s Inland Empire for you non-natives). There are always a lot of people I’d like to catch up with but the usual case is I’m only passing through for a night and only get to 2 or 3 of my closest buddies. I still had that cold and actually spent a couple nights in cushy little Claremont lounging by the pool before my buddy Mike and I headed out to Yucca Valley. It’s on my way to Arizona so we drove separately.
We settled into our AirBnB and knew from the first sunset the weather was going to be perfect.
Just to fill you in on a little not-so-secret secret. The desert is cool. This particular part of the Mojave is really cool. For people who grew up around here this is something we’ve always known. But over the last decade it’s become cool to a whole new generation- the hipster. Mike said he really had to search to find a place that wasn’t owned by a hipster charging twice the rate for half the services. (Look, we respect your decision not to own a tv, but your guests may still want to relax in front of one now and then.) I don’t know if it was the combination of Coachella and the whole desert music scene, but this place might as well be the Silver Lake of the Mojave now. Matter of fact, the week after we were there I saw this. Bout sums it up.
We made it a point to get out and about our first morning there. After some land prospecting (Mike is looking for some desert property) and a visit to the Integratron (don’t ask…some new-age hippy shit) we stopped and asked directions to a restaurant Mike had heard of recently. (Supposedly, the chef was on a popular competitive cooking show. She started a trendy “farm-to-table” spot back east before moving out to SoCal and opening La Copine in Flamingo Heights in 2012, just up the road from Yucca.) The guy gave us directions, and his impression of the place. Said he went in and looked at the exotic-sounding menu and asked what kind of food they actually served. They told him it was “new American” cuisine at which point he said he turned around and walked out.
It was brunch time on Sunday and the tiny place was packed. I had no interest in sticking around purely by the sight of it all- bohemian chic and trendy and trucker hats rule this place. (The latter is ironic because Mike quickly pointed out I, too, was wearing a trucker hat, which I vigorously defended because “Backcountry Hunters and Anglers” is nowhere near the kind of cool in this place.) I still don’t understand why he was so set on it, but I was ready to leave immediately after walking in, just like our friend who gave us directions.
Nevertheless, we waited forever and ended up debating the pretentiousness of the hipster. Mike thinks there’s little to none at all, and that it’s good they seem to value quality over everything else. (As a university professor I think it’s his obligation to find the positive for the kids he teaches.) I’ll admit the food was good, and reasonably priced. But! My take is that the pretentiousness doesn’t stem from their desire to create quality goods as much as it does from their desire to make their ideas seem new. But little of it actually is no matter how many times it’s framed with buzzwords and phrases like “farm-to-table”, “locally grown”, “small batch”, “gluten-free”,”sustainable”, “artisanal”, “authentic” (my personal favorite), and on and on. If anything they’re more masterful marketers than anything else, and why wouldn’t they be growing up amidst the endless barrage of traditional and online advertising. And when you put it like that, it exposes the whole hipster ethos as just another marketing gimmick to sell shit. Kinda like grunge in the 90s. But hey, it’s probably going to be good shit! Just like the grunge scene had some good music. (YES. it. DID!) But it’s still shit you’ve probably already had, heard of, or just plain ol’ don’t want or can’t afford. It’s still consumerism at its core. (Notice how much more explanation I give myself at the expense of any nuance in Mike’s comments?) (Also, I’m getting old, I know. “Back in my day…”) As we were leaving there was a honk in the parking lot immediately followed by a young lady loudly chastising the offender with a proclamation that they don’t use their horns around there. Should’ve run her over to see how she liked that instead.
Contrast that scene with this next one and you start to see the strange cultural co-mingling happening in this part of the Mojave.
That there is Soggy Lake in Johnson Valley a few miles north of Yucca. Mike had never been to one of these dry lake beds so we ventured out off-road into the desert to find this one. It looked like some folks were out there racing but we couldn’t tell what was going on until we got a little closer.
We figured they were testing by the way they were hauling ass and pretty much yanking the wheel and spinning out at high speeds. The lake bed was big enough that we went to the other side of it and watched, still wary of approaching them for fear of getting in their way. It wasn’t until this guy drove up to us and invited us over that we found out the story.
One of the guys owns a car repair shop in Yucca. He came across this Dodge Magnum with a mean-sounding Hemi engine for $300. (I guess these things happen when you’re in the business.) He and his friends have thought about starting a side business teaching driving skills in the desert so they brought this thing out there to explore the idea and have a little fun in the process.
With some cones set out and a general course in mind, they pushed the car to its limits to see how fast they could lap it and recorded the times on the lake bed…
Next thing you know Mike is jumping in for the ride of his life. I’m such a control freak I wouldn’t get in the passenger seat.
And then we both took turns driving. The feeling of spinning out at 60-80mph is pretty indescribable.
They had other toys out there, too. And that crazy Czech Canadian bastard was up for all of them…
Before long one of the guys was pulling off complete 360-degree spins at high speed…
And literally creating his own dust devils…
After seeing the tire, though, I’m comfortable with my decision to only drive a few laps…
Pushing it so hard, the car started overheating, too. At one point, it looked like it was going to blow a gasket.
After a couple hours we needed to get going. We thanked the guys for showing us a damn good (and dangerous) time and exchanged info. Oh, and we were curious what they thought of places like La Copine and its clientele. Their response was surprising- Bring’em on! More people for us to make a buck off!
Maybe not so different from the hipster after all.
We had one more hipster haven to check out that evening. Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown has become pretty famous for the list of performers that have stopped by this restaurant/saloon/venue. Paul McCartney played there recently during the Old-chella gigs. And a week after we left Jim James was scheduled to play. I’d love to see artists of that caliber in a place like that, but for an average Sunday night it was just alright. It’s me, I’m sure. And the hipsters.
Our first full day in the desert. We peaked early, as the rest of the week would seem dull comparatively. I can only take so much excitement like that, though, so dull and easy was fine with me. And I was finally recovering from that cold.
A couple more short trips around the area in Part 2.