Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Camp Followers

The note slipped out of their Christmas card.  “We’re going to be in Palm Springs in February. Would love to see you.” Translation: How about a free lunch and pool time when we’re in town. The code talkers were back.

Like the ten thousand pound elephant in the room, it’s a subject talked about in hushed tones and only among the closest of friends.  Every season it’s debated and pondered among full and part-time residents. What to do with those visiting guests who don’t seem to get it?

It’s like the holy grail of Catholic guilt.  For some outsiders it must seem like a curious con-fluence of rich people complaining about having company, being ungrateful for their good luck and showing little empathy for folks who can’t escape winter themselves. For the insiders it’s a realistic appraisal of individuals who don’t quite understand the art of ‘being an appreciative guest.’

Mind you, this does not include most folks who visit the desert.  Nor is it all the time. In fact most of our visitors understand and appreciate the unwritten rules of etiquette for guests. Those folks don’t have to be looked after, ‘baby-sat’ or catered to. They’re self-sufficient and appreciative of being invited here in the first place.

The problem, really my problem as my wife likes to point out, is that I’m an ISTJ and my wife is an ENFJ.  She loves entertaining, chooses not to see inequities in having company staying with us and is reticent to judge others for their lack of appreciative behavior. Me, not so much!

Desert living is a special treat especially in the middle of winter.  For both residents and guests alike it is a welcome respite from the harsh reality of winter back home. Most of us understand and embrace our great fortune to be able to live in desert if for only a short period of time.

Truth be told I’ve worked hard to get to this place in my life.  So I only want to share it with select individuals who appreciate the good fortune of clear blue skies, warm weather in January, and starlight overhead with just a hint of chill in the air.

If one were to gather together a group of folks who live here part-time or full-time, they could probably come up with a list of criteria for what it takes to make for a pleasant guest experience in the desert.

These are the unwritten rules understood by most travelers.  They’re the common sense approach to living in someone’s home for any period.

1.      First and foremost, remember that you are the one on vacation not the folks who live here.  In fact, this is a disruption of their normal routine. That’s OK because they’ve welcomed you into their home but it is a fact. You’re the one on vacation…they’re not.

2.      This is not a hotel, a B&B, a hostel, a boutique motel or tent city. This is their home and as such guests need to respect it and treat it as if they were living in your own home and not a hotel where it’s acceptable to leave their stuff all over the place…and expect others to pick up after them.

3.      This is not a week of hosted entertainment or conversely a week of lying around doing nothing because that’s their vision of a vacation. Your hosts are not inn-keepers or maids or the chauffer. If guests want to tour the town they should have their own car to do so.

One of the cultural benefits of living in this desert environment is the plethora of parties thrown on an almost weekly basis.  Interestingly enough the same principles apply when accepting an invitation to a party. And again, most folks get it while a few still don’t.

A few folks feel it is acceptable to collect any leftover liquor they brought to the party.  The idea of reciprocating for being invited to someone else’s house is an unknown equation to them. They come and partake but never reciprocate. Most are pleased to have been invited and show their gratitude in a variety of ways. Yet there are always a few who just come and drink then leave and wonder when their next invitation will arrive in the mail.

A close friend of my wife had an interested analogy that I hadn’t thought of before.  He and his wife are incredibly hard working folks who understand and appreciate where every penny comes from and where it goes. They were delighted to be invited to visit us last winter.

They turned out to be gracious guests, appreciative of their surroundings and quick to show their appreciation in a variety of ways.  The husband surprised me with his observation of the money they saved by staying with us verses staying in a Palm Springs hotel as a regular visitor. I was astounded.

Average costs for a week spent in Palm Springs during ‘the season.’

Hotel room (7 days)     1750.00
Rental car                       750.00
Three meals a day        1050.00
Sight-seeing tours          250.00

Estimated costs:          3800.00

A few ways that guests can show their appreciation borders on just plain common sense. It would be nice to pay for a few meals when dining out with your hosts. It doesn’t hurt to pay for gas if long trips are incurred. A thoughtful gift for the host is a sure sign of appreciation.

And my favorite pet peeve…if you like to use the television set as background noise in the morning, make sure that’s acceptable to your host who might prefer a quiet wake-up period instead. Remember you’re the one visiting and a return invitation isn’t always a guaranteed thing.

So there I’ve said it. Those who get it don’t need to hear this. Those who don’t probably wouldn’t get it anyway.

Such is life.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Only Question to Ask

It was 7:30 on a Saturday morning.  We were gingerly nursing our java and waiting for the caffeine to kick us in the head. My friend and I were nestled in our weekend lair; a place crowded with the usual suspects each seeking solace in their surroundings as they downed liquid battery-chargers and inhaled tasty treats that were bad for them. It was their chance to devour the morning news before weekend chores filled the rest of their day. My friend and I just wanted to philosophize about life.

My friend has just finished a book called ‘Platonic Superman’ by Dr. James B. Clark, Ph.D. Somewhere in the course of our conversation my friend commented about’ the only question a person has to ask of himself or herself.’  It was the only one true question that answers all the others.  He said the question came out of that book or so I thought.

A few days later, I called him to get clarification but he couldn’t remember that part of our conversation.  I guess his caffeine hadn’t kicked in as quickly as mine had.  I remembered that question because it had triggered an immediate response on my part.

As I recalled my friend’s comments, there is only one question that truly encompasses all of life’s analysis of the reasons for living.  I think he had it right. In truth that one question answered all the other questions that had been swirling around in my head for oh so many years. Plato had it right; there is only one true question in life that need be asked.

That book seemed like a strange place to find such a question.  ‘Platonic Superman’ is the story of Dr. Clark’s study of eastern philosophy, metaphysics and spirituality as a means to break world records. James Clark began breaking world-records right out of high school. My friend explained it this way: ‘Dr. Clark’s premise is straight-forward yet complex. By combining Plato’s metaphysics on spirituality with his own physical strength, Mr. Clark pushed through physical pain to achieve his record-breaking goals. Essentially, my friend explained, ‘Plato used to say there are only two parts to a person: spiritual which is God and the soul which is the individual. He believed the body was nothing but a vessel. So Mr. Clark took that philosophy to heart and punished his body so he could reach super-human strength and beat all kinds of world records.’

After breaking these physical endurance records Mr. Clark took a hiatus from world record-breaking and went to the university to study theology, philosophy (both ancient Greek philosophy and Eastern philosophy), Platonic metaphysics, and transcendental meditation.

He then went on to use the principles gained through his philosophical studies and transcendental meditation to break over thirty more world records. His mantra was quite simply ‘mind over matter’ and a belief that he could mute the physical pain his body felt and transcend that pain to another level of physical endurance.

While studying Plato, Dr. Clark came upon the one true question.  I wanted to research the genesis of that question so I tried to Google it but came up short. There were all sorts of ‘one question to ask’ articles but none relevant to what I was looking for.

There is the one question to ask...  During an interview
                                                     About the GOP debates
                                                     About getting a job
                                                     About getting married.
                                                     Of your role model
                                                     Are you a narcissist?
                                                    The only question Christians should ask of gay marriage

Larry Flynt (Penthouse magazine) chimed in with his question: How much are you willing to sacrifice to achieve success? None of these were helpful so I turned to that brainy guy.

Albert Einstein said that there is only one question worth asking; the answer to which determines your entire outlook on life and affects your finances, romance, and even your health. OK, he had me so far.

His question was: Do you believe the Universe is malevolent or benevolent?

Moving on, I went the philosophy route and bumped into that French guy. Albert Camus in his book ‘The Myth of Sisyphe’ undertakes to answer what he considers to be the only question of philosophy that matters: Does the realization of the meaninglessness and absurdity of life necessarily require suicide? No, that wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

Next I turned to business journals and found several good candidates for my one question. Pushing past the old standards such as: ‘What is my purpose in life?’ and ‘How can I be happy?’ and then combining several into ‘Do I even need purpose to be happy in life?’ I settled upon the question ‘Why am I really here?’ or ‘What is the purpose of my work?’  Those were all plausible questions but still didn’t resonate with me as that first question had.

Recently, business consultant Clifford Jones wrote an article on that subject for the Twin Cities Business Journal.  His main premise is that we must have a purpose in our endeavors because without purpose work is just slavery for a salary and not meaningful work. He goes on to talk about a work-life balance and most of the new take on the workplace that millennials have grasped and the older generation still struggle with.

But this still wasn’t getting me any closer to someone else’s analysis of that one true question.  So finally, I gave up and went back to the question as I thought I had first heard it from my friend.

He said that question was: “Who are you?’

That morning at the coffee shop, it had taken me all of two seconds to come up with my answer.  It came in a flash and settled into my consciousness like a comfortable old blanket; encompassing all that was truly me. Without forethought, pondering, self-analysis or examination the answer was there and it was right.

I am a seeker…and have been most of my life.

Consciously and organically, it probably began with my paper route in seventh grade and the wonderful, exhilarating world I entered every morning with my transistor radio and that new elixir called rock and roll.

It continued in high school with my first taste of love and then on to college accompanied by the music of Bob Dylan and the Beatles.  Ten years followed that I’ve labeled my ‘lost years.’ Then it was taking those first steps at novel writing in the 70’s. Real estate and business ventures in the 80’s and 90’s. A career shift and a renewed focus on writing beginning in early 2000’s.

It’s been a continuous ‘vision quest’ most of my life.  Restless drifting and bouncing off new and old ideas alike. A collusion of thought, desire, thirst, fear, and longing that has robbed me of the ability to settle down and accept retirement as an alternative life form.

It’s been a Spartan journey offering tantalizing clues along the way.  Others around me simply define their lives as ‘retired’ or ‘doting Grandparents’ or ‘busy.’ But I have to selfishly wonder where is their passion? What is the point of living if there isn’t a purpose beyond simply getting through each day?

Mine is a never-ending journey collecting clouds until such time as immobility and constricted brain cells slow me down a bit.  There is no end goal. There is no destination. There is only the journey. Always trekking toward an ever-elusive horizon yet feeling alive and relishing the trip itself.

For truly this journey of mine is the ultimate destination.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Palm Springs: Wet and Wild

Palm Springs can be a comfortable contradiction of terms.  On one hand it’s cultured and refined. In the other palm it can be wild and crazy. Staid old traditions often collide against hot trends germinating from both coasts. It’s a confluence of the old and new, reserved and uninhibited, legacy verses fa├žade. Yet there seems to be something for everyone who comes out here looking for a venue outside of the norm.

Palm Springs is wet.  The Dinah, the White Party, Splash weekends, Coachella and Stagecoach are just a few of the fun-inspired events and festivals.  They can be edgy, outrageous and even scandalous. And those are just some of the tamer ways to describe how some people behave once they get here.

The legendary Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend turned twenty-five this year.  From a small one-night event with 1,500 participants twenty-five years ago to now five days of epic pool parties and world-class entertainment, the Dinah has evolved into one of Palm Springs largest tourism boosters. This year the Dinah attracted over 15,000 attendees and cemented its status as the largest lesbian event of its kind in the world.

The White Party has done the same thing for gay men from around the country.

Coachella is a cultural rock and roll happening in its own rite.  Since its humble beginnings in 1999 as a two-day indie rock festival, Coachella has established itself as one of the largest two-weekend celebrations in the country. In 2015, it attracted well over 500,000 attendees and continued to draw some of rock, hip-hop, and electronic dance music’s biggest names.

Stagecoach is a simpler, more traditional roundup celebrating country, bluegrass, and folk music and culture.  The polo field grounds are dotted with bales of hay, stagecoaches, and mechanical bulls. Since its launch in 2007, the festival has grown exponentially and offers comfortable options including a recreational vehicle camping resort for a fancier experience.

Local hotels add to the flavor with their own hedonistic menu of pool-parties, lounge entertain-ment acts, splash events, and all-night carousing.  Most hotels have their own venue of live music party bashes. Local shops feature Coachella and Stagecoach fashions from hipster cool to Wild West to boho queen to cozy country and desert chic.

Yet even in that crazy colliding quilt of fashion and fun both generations love to cross over occasionally.  For the more mature among us, it can be wild and wet if the climb is hard and honest sweat counts for anything.

For those seeking some respite from city living greater Palm Springs offers up a plateful of scenic escapes by the hour or by the day. Visitors can find quiet and sanctuary on mountain paths, red-walled canyons and the relaxing solitude of the high desert. There’s a plethora of hiking, biking, swimming, mountain climbing, trail running and that’s just in the morning hours.

Palm, Murray and Andreas make up the much larger Indian Canyons just south of downtown. Lake Cahuilla Recreation Area features over 710 acres with fishing, camping, hiking, and horseback trails.

Whitewater Preserve is a vital wildlife corridor between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains and is home to several species of endangered birds and a robust population of deer, bears, and bighorn sheep.

Joshua Tree National Park boasts over 790,000 acres of divergent topography and rapidly changing landscapes.  Two deserts merge among a seemingly-endless swath of boulders to form the national park. The Colorado Desert occupies the eastern half of the part and the higher, slightly cooler Mojave Desert makes up the western half.  Year-round activities include hiking, biking, rock climbing, camping, and stargazing.

Aside from its majestic physical surroundings, Palm Springs can be anything you want it to be.  It’s a state of mind in a land of temptations. For some, ‘hooking up’ means a solid crampon lodged in granite. To others it means something entirely different. A ‘one night stand’ means overnight lodging to one person. An experiment in mutual satisfaction to another.

Welcome to wild and wacky world of the new Palm Springs.  Part fable, part legend, part public relations and media snowstorm and part reality. For most it is a reflection of what they think this place should be…at least in their own minds. For others it is a culmination of self-induced parity of what everyone else their age is doing, acting, and pretending.

Leaving Palm Springs
Whether you chose to be part of the circus or not, it can be a curious and ever mind-expanding place to be…or be from.