Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We Stopped in Palm Springs Before Heading North to Family, Friends and Cooler Weather

Katie and I are on vacation. Being on vacation is not that different from our regular retired life, except that we’re sitting in different places, surrounded by different scenery and talking with different people. We’re in Seattle now and the most notable difference is the weather. We have successfully escaped the Arizona heat and there is nowhere more beautiful than the Pacific Northwest in August.
We drove here and our first stop was Palm Springs. We’ve been to Palm Springs several times before, but never in the summer. July is not the time to visit. The temperature was easily over the 100 mark. After putting our bags in the room, we decided to walk downtown to a Mexican restaurant recommended by the Concierge. The name of the restaurant was Las Casuelas and she said it was on the left hand side of the street in the middle of downtown. “The food is good, reasonably priced and the atmosphere is great with outdoor dining and live music.”
We were extremely hot on our walk downtown. Not only was the temperature over 100 degrees, but the humidity was high as well. Many of the restaurants along the way had water misters for their outside tables. The cool water vapor hung in the air over the outdoor tables and the sidewalks. We slowed our pace while passing through these cool spots. A few times we stood still in the mist for several refreshing minutes.
We noticed the merchandise in many of the stores was straight out of the 1950s. Some of it was actual ‘50s stuff and some retro; colorful plastic drinking glasses, rattan furniture, aluminum and vinyl tables and chairs, Polynesian artifacts and lots more. I don’t know if this is a national trend or just a Palm Springs thing. The heyday of this town was probably the‘50s, so the period stuff didn’t look out of place.
As we drew near the center of town, we began tromping on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars area. It’s similar to the one in Hollywood. Some of the names on the sidewalk were familiar, but many were not. We recognized famous actors, musicians, and authors, but who were these other people? I wondered what the criteria were for getting your name on one of these stars. You can find out just about anything on the internet, so I looked.
To be considered for a star, the individual has to have actually lived in the greater Palm Springs area with some regularity (the length of time is not specified) and his/her presence must  contribute to “the charm, worldwide prominence and name recognition of Palm Springs.” (subjective criteria, to say the least). The categories drawn from are: show business, literature, pioneers/civic, humanitarian, sports and military.
The first people whose names were immortalized on these stars in 1992 were: Earle C. Strebe, William Powell, Ruby Keeler, Charlie Farrell and Ralph Bellamy. All of these people had been prominent and influential residents of Palm Springs. I was familiar with the actors William Powell (Nick Charles in the Thin Man movie series), Ruby Keeler (actress, dancer and once married to Al Jolson) and Ralph Bellamy (one of the old rich guys along with Don Ameche in “Trading Places”), but had never heard of Earle Strebe or Charlie Farrell. I discovered that Charlie Farrell was a silent movie actor. He and Ralph Bellemy, started the Palm Springs Racket Club. I can imagine the stars needing some healthy recreation and exercise between bouts of drinking, smoking and carousing. Earl C. Strebe was the owner of The Plaza Theater that opened in 1936. In its day, it put on live theatrical plays. Today it’s the home of “The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies”.
Katie and I found Las Casuelas restaurant which appeared quite plain, old and run down. In the front was a small hot looking seating area with no misters, so we went in and sat at a well used booth in the air conditioned interior. The food was good and the staff was friendly, but it seriously lacked atmosphere. After dinner we continued our walk downtown. We remembered the lights on the palm trees at Christmas during a previous visit and Thursdays when the street was closed for the arts & crafts and food vendors. The town was bustling with people at those times, but now, near the end of July, it was nearly deserted.
In the ‘90s Katie and I and my sister, Karen, flew to Palm Springs for a spiritual retreat. It was the annual New Year’s retreat with Gurumayi, the guru of Siddha Yoga. We didn’t actually attend the retreat, but went to a workshop just prior to it. The retreat, typical of Siddha Yoga functions, was too expensive for us. Our workshop was led by one of the monks, but unexpectedly Gurumayi showed up and led the large group in meditation. She was petite and quite beautiful. Some of the people around me were weeping in her presence. I wasn’t feeling much of anything, maybe just a little irritated at all the weeping going on around me. After the meditation was over, Gurumayi slowly walked down the aisle, stopping to talk with a number of people. She talked for a long time to a guy right in front of me. I have to admit, I would have liked her to look my way, just a little glance of recognition, but she didn’t. She walked right by me and I still didn’t feel anything. When she exited the large hall, everyone followed her with expectant looks on their faces. I’m sure it’s just my unenlightened ego, but I was embarrassed to be part of it. I absolutely did not want to chase after her like all the others.
The best thing about that trip to Palm Springs was the guided bus tour. Our tour guide and van driver was very informative and quite animated telling us about the history of the area and showing us the current and former homes of various stars. We couldn’t go to Bob Hope’s huge house on the hill, where, we were told, he entertained guests. But the guide did show us a small modest house in a normal looking neighborhood, where he said Bob and Dorothy actually lived. I strained to look in the windows as the van crept by hoping to see someone stirring inside, but no luck. I like thinking about Palm Springs in the ‘50s. It must have been a great time to live there and hobnob with the stars.
As Katie and I continued our walk downtown, we came upon another Las Casuelas restaurant. The old mission style building had a large courtyard crowded with people drinking margaritas, talking, laughing and listening to a live band playing infectious, compelling Reggae tunes. Water misters hung in trees above their heads, fountains bubbled everywhere and everyone looked cool and happy. The concierge was right; this would have been a great place to eat, oh well.
On the walk back to our room we paused at the sculpture of Lucy lounging on a bench. I heard on the news, she would have turned 100 years old the other day. I don’t know why there is a statue of her there, but she deserves it for making us all laugh for so many years. Tomorrow we head north to friends, relatives and cooler weather.

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