Tuesday, July 31, 2007
A Coachella Magical Mystery Tour
Nobody rides the bus in Southern California unless they are desperately poor, out of luck, Mexican or merely eccentric non-drivers like myself and the gentleman pictured above.
There wasn't even a public bus system in the Coachella Valley other than Greyhound until 1977, when the SunLines first formed.
This momentous event was being celebrated with a day of free service to all destinations on Monday, July 30th, and I took advantage of the anniversary to catch a bus from Palm Springs as it made its way southeast through the various desert cities along Highway 111.
I waited for a bus with the wildly informative gentleman above, who when asked where one should go for a fancy golf resort ladies' lunch, immediately replied, "Miramonte in Indian Wells."
"And you can walk across the street where there's the Hyatt Championship Resort, though I hear the time to go there is Happy Hour on Friday evenings."
"Where should you eat in Indio? There's a great place next to the K-Mart in a strip mall next to a McDonald's. This guy has a Mexican meat market that's the best in the valley and then he opened up a bakery a couple of doors down and also put in a taqueria. It is The Greatest Taqueria in the world. Although if you want to get the greatest burrito in Southern California you should take the #90 line from Indio and go about five miles further to Coachella where the housing developments end and you're in the middle of a date orchard with agriculture stretching across the east. There's a grocery store there with the greatest burrito I've ever tasted, and I used to live in The Mission in San Francisco, so I know what I'm talking about, and it's only $3.00."
He also warned me not to sit in the back of the bus because he'd already been mugged a couple of times back there, and over the course of the next three hours there were quite a few scary looking people getting on and off, so I don't think he was exaggerating.
Still, I was never really frightened because the driver all the way to Indio and back was Andre, maybe the greatest bus driver I've ever experienced. At first, he struck me as a little scary looking himself, but as the afternoon wore on I watched him patiently maneuver an obese wheelchair couple on and off the bus, wait for passengers as they struggled to catch up to the vehicle, and engage in a friendly conversation about the 109 degree weather.
When a couple of violent 16-year-olds threatened to get into a fight, he merely stopped the bus and stared in the rear-view mirrors without saying a word. They shut up pretty quickly.
Most of the stops had shelters with a bit of much-needed shade, but the less affluent town of Indio didn't bother with them, which meant lots of very sweaty Mexican mothers and laborers gaspingly boarding the bus. One of those young laborers, in fact, had one of the sweetest natural smells I've ever encountered.
The itinerary was Palm Springs, followed by Cathedral City (mostly working-class Mexicans), Rancho Mirage (very rich and Republican whites), Palm Desert (the ultra-rich like Bill Gates on the western bluffs with the Mexican working class below), Indian Wells (very rich whites in gated developments where there are huge walls so you can't see in from the highway)...
...followed by La Quinta (very rich whites in a Western canyon with Mexican labor congregating around the highway), and finally Indio (a small Mexican city).
I never did go to Coachella for a burrito or Indian Wells for a fancy golf course lunch because there was an "Apocalypse Now" flavor to the afternoon and the line that kept running through my brain was, "Don't get off the boat. Don't get off the bus." Happy birthday, SunLines.