A World Less Certain | Joshua Tree

We’re all getting a bit stir crazy. Pardon me while I take a mind trip to Joshua Tree. 

L.A. County officials have extended the stay-at-home order until mid-May.

Cabin fever is real. As real as the silent, invisible killer COVID-19.

I feel like I’m being waterboarded, ready to confess where I buried the ants and spiders. I committed mass insect murder when I was a kid; fueling my guilt is the frog I caught with my bare hands and murdered in a mayonnaise jar. Regrettably, I forgot to punch holes in the lid, and Freddie the Frog fogged the glass and croaked (no pun intended).

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The coronavirus is finally getting the best of me. I need to break free from the mental shackles of this house-arrest vibe.

This morning I left home on a Mind Trip.

My mind is traveling on Interstate 10 heading for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival – recently postponed to October. I miss my caffeine-addicted hermit pals at the local coffeehouses and being smashed together like sardines at a rock concert or sporting event. Who doesn’t miss banging bodies with their besties at a rave, or Burning Man, or Coachella – sweating and screaming and spewing in EDM heavenly bliss, then pass out drunk while hole hovering in a sun-fried porta potty?

My mind is swimming, I mean, still cruising down the highway. The desert is everywhere. I’m lost in a forest of solar windmills. WE WANT THE WORLD AND WE WANT IT NOW! Jim Morison screams into my ear with his cupped hands. I pull over at Denny’s parking lot to delete “The End” (The Doors) and “Melancholy Man” (The Moody Blues) from my playlist.

My brain follows the asphalt crown until suddenly, my thoughts nosedive into the soft shoulder where I explode in a plume of playa dust.

*     *     *

“Dude!” says the desert tortoise. “You need to lighten the load.” And just like that, my tortuga hombre surfs a nearby dune and disappears into the burnt-orange sunset.

The perceptive turtle is right on the money. I’ve been jotting down ideas and observations related to the coronavirus outbreak for weeks. Now, I wish to unload my burden and share them with you.

So that you know, I haven’t gone completely off my writer’s nut – I’m way too professional for that. But I figure our mutual stay-home captivity funk is probably the best time to devour some lightly-salted humor.

Junk from my writer’s trunk:

• My neighbors are busy foot-surfing the streets: sidewalks, bike lanes, and curbsides (weaving in and out of parked cars like sidewinder snakes). Hardly a nod anymore as they pass by. People were a whole friendlier during the Jurassic (“pre-mask”) Period.

• The daily drama of COVID-19 is like binge-watching Season 8 of Game of Thrones, except not everyone dies.

• I wish the virus glowed green. All the places with a green glow will be visible and easy to avoid. I came up with this idea on Saint Patrick’s Day while drinking green beer.

• Visiting the bank a month ago wearing a face mask might have invited a dozen SWAT rifles aimed at your itchy blood-skull. One wrong move or twitch, and you’re toast! Today, wearing your badass mask in public saves lives.

• A friend of mine told me that “social distancing” reminds her of the “sexual distancing” mantra she experienced during sex education talks as a teenager: “Sex is not love. If you get too close and have intercourse, you’ll be sleeping with everyone your partner had sex with.”

• I’m retired with lots of time on my hands, but I’m afraid to touch anything. I wait for someone to come by and open the door for me. I’ve had some close calls but always manage to get inside before the door touches my butt. Hmmm. If only I can figure out how to use the toilet when the lid is down, and my wife’s not around.

• I went to the supermarket today. Some of the shelves remain bare, except for the Hostess Twinkies section. The “golden sponge cake with a creamy filling” is not a big hit with consumers. I don’t understand. It seems to me Twinkies is the best medicine for the doldrum days of COVID-19. Daily dose: take two Twinkies by mouth. Soon you’ll be flying high as a kite. Three times a day, and you’ll be riding a fire breathing dragon all week long.

*     *     *

I think I’ll take that road trip now, for real. Joshua Tree National Park sounds nice. I’ll take my Honda Element and the family dog, Sukie. We’ll travel by day under COVID-free blue skies and sleep under a billion stars at night (like John Steinbeck and his standard poodle, Charley). Steinbeck wrote a travelogue “Travels with Charley” about his 1960 road trip with his dog in search of America.

The interstate highways are clear, and gas stations are open. Gas is cheap. I’m in good health. What am I missing? Oh yes, the restrooms are all closed.

I’ve come up with a solution that might work.

I’m at Rite-Aid. The adult diapers section is fully stocked. Wow, I didn’t know there are so many choices. The REAL FIT brand promises to prevent leakage. They are super-absorbent, close-to-body fit, and have comfortable leg elastics, so I’ll never need to leave my Element until I see the bristled arms of the Joshua Tree welcoming me to camp.

I’m home ready to try on my new diapers and see how they fit.

Nice. They fit perfectly.

Just a couple of more boxes to check: I’m looking up park hours on my cell phone, and giving my diapers a leak test. Aaah, warm. I like the feeling down there – so comforting. I’ll just take a peek. Looks dry. Now, my hand. Feels dry too!

A banner pops up on my iPhone: In consultation with the local county health office to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Joshua Tree National Park is closed to all visitors until further notice.

Road trip, denied.


Rick Thomas
Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.