We took a drive out to Bombay Beach, on the forgotten Salton Sea, and met an unlucky traveler in need of assistance.
First, meet Diana. Diana is my best friend and partner-in-crime. She has a weenie dog named Bentley, who we often refer to simply as, “The Man.” The three of us go on adventures together. This was one such adventure… I told Diana I wanted to celebrate my 32nd birthday by taking a drive out to the Southern California desert. Most of Southern California is desert, but I wanted dry, hot, wide-open desert. Sand and desolation. Blinding sun. Something out of The Hitcher, minus the stalker in a big rig. Road-stops with ice cream and Carl’s Jr. and sticky pavement and the smell of gasoline. Sometimes you want those things. We got on Highway 111 and the places started to get weird. This is where people pass through. These are the places we stopped. First:
Carniceria Toro Loco — Access & Vander Veer Rds.
No ice cold Mexican Fanta to be had here. Forget about Titanic on VHS. This structure was complete with payphone, broken glass, and employee schedule. Maria would not be coming to work tomorrow. It didn’t look abandoned long. And whoever left seemed to have done so in a day’s time, loading up a truck and bailing out, leaving behind containers of pigs feet. When the zombie apocalypse comes, someone will fortify this place…but probably die anyway.
We continued up 111. After awhile we reached…
A sign and a palm tree welcomed us. They had each other as company, in a place where there’s not much company to be had.
We turned at the sign and were on a dirt road. Sure didn’t look like no beach, no sea neither, but Siri seemed to think this was the right way (go 1.1 miles then “prepare to park your car”…or drive into the sea, is the part she didn’t say). At first glance it was a post-apocalyptic trailer park. Plenty of gutted and abandoned dwellings. Peer through the open doorways, graffiti on the walls, references (appropriately) to Dante’s Inferno.
Every now and then something cared-for: a lawn, a one-story house with clean windows, a roof with current satellite dishes. Still, if you’re compiling a list of “Top 10 Places to Hideout,” Bombay Beach needs to be on it. We turned again and there it was: The stillest body of water you’ll ever see. So flat, so wide, so dry. The driest wetness. Try and stare to the edge and your eyes will burn. Get close and you get the smell, something like sulfur and dead fish. Walk along the edge and the crackle beneath your feet, walking on Rice Crispies. It was enough to possess Diana and Bentley. They looked out on a forgotten sea — one that was never supposed to be. Listen hard enough and you can almost hear the casinos, the excitement, the voice of Sinatra, long since faded.
We sat in the car and listened to the nothing, felt like Dali clocks melting in the desert. Then, about 50 yards away and partially obstructed by a sand dune we noticed a man — a fellow tourist parked in the sand. He sat in the open passenger seat of his car, and wore a tan fedora, shorts and sandals. He wasn’t enjoying the nothing like we were. He was trying to solve a problem. We muttered something about how he didn’t look to be from here. Too hip. And we focused back on the sea. A few Dali minutes passed and there he was again, this time approaching our car. “My car’s stuck in the sand…wondering if you might give me a push.” This was Peter Tarasiuk. “Sure, no problem.” I listened to his predicament and thought, piece of cake. The four of us walked over to Peter’s car and examined the situation. Oh, it was bad. His car had certainly tried to drive into the ground. Not even worth a push.
“I don’t have AAA. I even tried buying a membership. But they won’t do anything for me since I’m not a citizen.” Peter was here on-assignment for an Australian magazine. He had a couple days off and had decided to explore the Salton Sea. “I have AAA.” Diana to save the day! But of course, it wouldn’t be that easy… Good news is it was only the first day of summer. The air temperature held at 104 degrees while we waited those 2 hours for the tow truck to arrive from El Centro. We had plenty of water, bananas, and need for a tan. But dachshunds don’t do so well in the heat. The Man panted over his water bowl, allowing sand to get all over his mouth and not caring. He even hobbled out of the shade of Peter’s car to join us as we played Heart & Soul on a piano which just so happened to be there, and in-tune, amongst the wreckage.
We had no complaints. We came in search of adventure, and adventure had found us. It took the tow truck driver a couple attempts to free Peter’s car from the Bombay Beach quicksand.
Peter thanked us with a photograph taken on his 1976 Polaroid camera. And that was our time-machine. That completed our journey, honoring these places once filled with joy, now ghostly reminders of the cruelty of time.