Palm Springs: the desert junkie service station fight

It was hot in the desert and we wanted a swim.

The famed town of Palm Springs was 50 minutes down the road, and if its name was anything to go by, promised both palms and springs.

After all, did not Joshua Tree have an abundance of plants of the very same name?

Recent photos I’d seen on Instagram showcased Palm Springs to be a beautiful suburban idyll, with fancy open-topped (but not-over-the-top) cars, parked outside of single-storey dwellings (with pools) that had a design professor’s sense of deviation within accepted norms.

These houses were just enough different from each other, and yet together made a wonderful ensemble.

At least, that’s what I contrived from the three photos posted by my friend Tom, seen flouncing around in a Hawaiian shirt outside, his intrusion clearly not part of any sane local architect’s original vision.

But we were soon to realise there’s more to Palm Springs. That in fact Palm Springs might not have been as forthcoming on social media about its true self as modern-day Millennial savants might have come to expect.

Diligent journalists that Lucy and I were, we’d done zero research and therefore arrived too late to partake in any guided tours of the town’s famous mid-century houses.

It’s these marvels of Modernism that many celebrities still call home. Curiously, these houses are usually more glamorous, though sometimes even more tacky, than their celebrity occupants.

We had pulled up outside Marilyn Monroe’s one-time house and were taking a few iPhone snaps when a car of four youths pulled into the driveway in front of us.

The architecture was great and all, but where could we swim?

I approached the guys and their cargo of much younger women with caution, exchanged a few words, then returned to tell Lucy to get her bathers.

“You’ve exchanged only two sentences,” she said incredulously. “How is it possible you’ve wrangled a swim?”

As follows:

Me: “Do you guys have a pool?”

Youths: “Yes, of course. It’s Palm Springs. Why?”

“Because we want to go for a swim.”

“Sure. Come in.”

Unfortunately, the crucial seconds it took us to find our bathers was enough to give them cold feet: at least some people here could enjoy refreshingly cold feet.

“Oh well,” reasoned Lucy afterwards. “It looked like they were going to be shooting a porno, and we didn’t need to be part of that.”

Leaving Palm Springs we pulled into a small service station in the less celeb-rified and salub-rified part.

Lucy went in and I stayed to observe a destitute female junkie trying to pull the remains of her underpants on and a raging drunk man having a fight with a beer bottle.

This fever dream of dis-gentrification was interrupted when Lucy tapped on the window to alert me she clearly wanted to GTFO of here pretty quickly.

Why? As I reversed out and to the exit, I glimpsed through the rear-view mirror a huge white man, belly pouring over his belt, pushing around a black man who had rather innocently been tanking his vehicle.

We’d come to cool off, but outside Palm Springs was only heating up.

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