Roadside: The Tomb of Hi Jolly, Quartzsite, Arizona

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In the 19th century the U.S. Army decided to test out using camels in the deserts of the American southwest. If it worked in the deserts of the Middle East, why not in America? Well, the experiment didn’t quite play out the way the Army hoped and the U.S. Camel Corp shuttered. Lead camel driver Hadji Ali (who came to be known as Hi Jolly) was brought in to work with the camels while the project was running, but decided to stick around after the experiment tanked. He became a pretty beloved local and after his death a pyramid topped with a metal camel was erected in his honor in Quartzsite, AZ.

While driving between Los Angeles and Phoenix last week the Tomb of Hi Jolly was a must-visit. It’s located in a small cemetery off the 10. We hit the town just as the last sunlight was dipping over the horizon, so it took us awhile to figure out where the cemetery was located. If you get off the 10 and follow internet directions to go west, it’s likely you won’t see the sign pointing in the direction of the cemetery. As far as we could tell in the dark there is only a sign facing the road when you’re headed east down Main St. (just a tip if you venture out that way to pay your respects).

Flashlight in hand, we headed into the cemetery. I was a little bummed to not get to see much of the rest of the place, but there is a bit of a spooky bonus for wandering around a strange cemetery at dusk. The Tomb was pretty much as expected, but it was still satisfying to visit. Thanks Hadji Ali for your services – what a strange, strange life it must’ve been to be a Middle Easterner living out in this place in the 19th century.

As a bonus we stopped to pee at a gas station where one of my companions pointed out a little jewelry stand across Main St. It was the only store that looked open at that hour and we decided what the heck, let’s go check it out. My two friends picked up some jewelry souvenirs and a bonus story from the shopkeeper. He’d come out to Quartzsite decades ago, on his way to Oregon from Pennsylvania. A woman in a bar captured his interest and he stuck around, living a very different life than the one he probably would’ve had in Oregon, but no less worthwhile. Neat guy.

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Roadside: Charlie Brown Farms, Littlerock, California

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Charlie Brown Farms is pretty much a grocery store and a restaurant with ok food. I was pretty impressed they had a vegan chili (I guess it’s close enough to the Los Angeles health cult aura to merit throwing a few bones to the health conscious metropolitans passing through town.). I can’t judge a desert place on their vegan chili (I’ve had way better – thank you Phoenix Saloon in New Braunfels, TX for setting the veggie chili bar impossibly high), but my friend got the ribs and rated them only ok, so I’m gonna say food is not the reason to come here. They had a fun selection of honey, molasses, snacks, candies, and sodas, so I don’t regret the stop, but the charm is just not there. They had some small dinos hanging out by the parking lot, but nothing to write home about.

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Roadside: Randsburg General Store, Randsburg, California

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On a trip up to Red Rocks Canyon State Park (the California one), me and my hiking buddy stopped at Randsburg, CA. Randsburg is a bit more touristy than Goodsprings, NV, but it was still a heck of a lot more engaging than Calico. At the Randsburg General Store we got to sit at a 100+ year old counter in tiny little bar chairs constructed for the size of the average American circa 1900. The diner style food was only average but their lime phosphate was legit and it was fun talking to the cashier/server/waitress about her life out in the desert.

Roadside: Goodsprings, Nevada

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On the same Vegas trip that we visited Calico, we also stopped in Goodsprings, NV for lunch – now that was a cool town! People still live there and there is a great restaurant/bar with all the old timey saloon atmosphere you could hope for. The bartender was great to chat with and the food was pretty good. I had an Irish coffee because I wasn’t driving and I was still in Vegas weekend mode. It was more Irish than coffee, but I’m not complaining. Plus, if you’ve ever played Fallout: New Vegas, you might recognize Goodsprings as the town where your character first wakes up. The saloon and general store in the game were modeled on their real life counterparts, and it’s a lot of fun to geek out and pretend to be in a postapocalyptic wasteland.

Roadside: Calico Ghost Town, Calico, California

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Everytime I drove between Southern California and Las Vegas I wistfully looked at the signs advertising Calico Ghost Town and wished we had time to stop and take a peek. Last Vegas trip my dreams became reality! It was sort of a disappointing reality. It was July and well over 100 degrees, which was sort of exciting to experience in a masochistic way. The little shops and town were cute, but they looked more touristy than ghosty (I know, I’m writing about my love for tackiness and I complain it’s too touristy?!). I don’t regret the stop, but I probably won’t be back.

Roadside: Berdoll Pecan Farm, Cedar Creek, Texas

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Pecans are awesome. You know what is more awesome than pecans? A giant squirrel hawking pecans! My entire motivation for going to Berdoll Pecan Farm in Cedar Creek, TX was to take a picture with Pearl. She was a sweetie, and their pecans were delicious (their bathroom also has collages of squirrel pictures – winwinwin). I bought a bag of Texas Trail Mix, which consisted of four different types/flavors of pecans. I also tried their tasty pecan coffee. I wish I’d bought a bag of beans to go instead of just the cup of coffee.

Roadside dinos seem to be a little more traditional as far as giant fake roadside creatures go,  but give me a squirrel over a dino any day.

Roadside: Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota

High kitsch. There is something about a tacky roadside attraction in the middle of nowhere that is part of what makes America great. You drive out on a road trip to see what beautiful natural formations Earth cooked up and then you take in the constructed dives and palaces of humanity.

I enjoy visiting iconic locations like Mount Rushmore or the Eiffel Tower, but there is nothing quite like a dusty or colorfully gaudy roadside attraction held together by remanents of memory and local gumption.

I’m gonna do a week of roadside attractions and history exploitation, starting with:

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Wall Drug is probably the king of campy tacky tourist delights. Not my favorite, but fun to visit for a “ride” on a jackalope. When you drive west through South Dakota on I-90 you can’t miss the dozens and dozens of billboards that count down your arrival to this giant strip of tourist-oriented stores. I think the exciting anticipation the billboards ramp up is more exciting than the place itself, which is a statement that can probably be applied to most general things in life.

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That Time Georgia and I Had a Fling.

Me and Los Angeles are still in a pretty healthy relationship with one another, though I did go try to cheat on LA last December. I had a wintertime romance with a small college town in Georgia, but even the small college town knew it wasn’t the right place for me.

One of my must-dos on any trip is to look at old things and/or attempt to purchase old things. I’m like a less ballsy American Pickers (in that I don’t knock on the doors of strangers living in rural areas with large barns – that sounds like the beginning of a slasher film). I love antique stores, especially the warehouse kind with lots of little stalls with all sorts of odds and ends.

While having my wintertime fling with small town Georgia I drove out into the country to one of the nearest antique emporiums to see what unusual old Georgian junk I could buy that would fit in a carry on bag and get through airport security scanners. As I scanned row after row of homey needlepoint kitchen towels, yawn inducing repro tin signs, and old empty food jars, I came across an original fruit crate label that asked to be taken home and nailed to my bedroom wall.

Yay! It was the perfect size souvenir and TSA approved. I looked at the fine print on the label to see what part of Georgia this fruit came from……and found out that this was a label for grapes grown in Los Angeles. Exactly where I’d flown 5-ish hours from. I think it was a sign.

I haven’t entirely sworn off rural Georgia (or rural anywhere else), but I realized I needed a little more time with my underdog metropolis before I was ready to look for other pastures (or skyscrapers). There are other more complicated reasons beyond a piece of 90 year old paper, but sharing that info is for the future when I have greater distance and perspective on things.

Since moving to my current abode it’s been the longest time I’ve spent anywhere since I was a high school kid, which is both sort of nice (who really likes the physical aspect of moving?) and sort of antsy inducing (where to next? go! go! go!).

I’ve been keeping my antsy at bay with little trips here and there. Last weekend I drove out to Tucson and Phoenix and got to try a date shake, see part of the Romance and Sex Life of the Date film, visit the final resting pyramid of 19th century U.S. Camel Corp member Hi Jolly (aka Hadji Ali), and attend a fan reunion festival for a 1960s/1970s Western television show for work.  All and all a pretty good miniadventure and proof that there’s still plenty to see in the southwest.

X-Files Alumni.

There’s a lot of great TV kicking around the airwaves (and internet cables) lately.  I always find it pleasantly surprising when I find out an X-Files crew member is involved with one of the newer shows I get into.  Vince Gilligan is probably the most talked about (you know, that little show Breaking Bad?), but there are quite a few other behind the scenes folks involved in a lot of fantastic television making recently.

Kim Manners directed a bunch of Supernatural episodes before he passed away, but before that he directed and produced so many X-Files episodes that I’m not even going to try list them all.  (You can go see for yourself on Manners’ imdb profile.)

I was a late-to-the-party xphile (6th season joiner), but I threw my teenage self into it wholeheartedly.  I’m a little rusty, but even today you could tell me an episode’s title and I could probably give you a complete rundown.  I never knew the last seasons as well as the earlier seasons and there are a few early episodes I was never a huge fan of, but my memory is decent about a lot of the storylines.

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (written by Darin Morgan) is my all time favorite X-Files episode.  Back when Fox had an X-Files fan forum on delphiforums there was a group that ran a list of iconic things that people “claimed” from different episodes.  I was the “owner” of the banana cream pie from Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.  It was sort of a silly thing, but silly things are often the best things, and it was a nice way to conceptually connect myself to what I considered X-Files’ finest hour.

I’m also fond of Darin Morgan’s episode Humbug about circus performers, though that could also be attributed to my repressed love of old timey circuses.  (Freaks, my favorite book Nightmare Alley, Carnivale – it’s probably time that I admitted I love the circus?  I still need to read Water for Elephants, though I can definitely say that the movie was a yawn.)

Despite the wonderful surprises of discovering X-Files alumni in current TV favorites, I think the most shocking connection between a TV show writer/director/producer of the 1990s/2000s and present day media belongs to Melissa Rosenberg.  About the same time I fell in love with X-Files I was also crushing on The Magnificent Seven, a late 1990s TV take on the movie of the same name.  Well, Rosenberg wrote the episodes “Witness” and “Working Girls,” (and co-produced several others) but today she is much better known for working on Dexter – and writing The Twilight Saga screenplays!  I definitely did a doubletake on imdb when I saw that.  I’m already a Dexter fan, but I guess I finally have to watch The Twilight Saga.  Sigh.

P.S. The Magnificent Seven was an overlooked and underrated TV series that is worth a viewing.

How a show full of poo jokes motivates me to be myself.

At various points in life I thought I wanted to be a writer, a journalist, an actor, a film director, a history professor, and an archivist.  I think I spent like two weeks (hours?) thinking I’d want to be a computer engineer like my Dad when I was in the single digits age range, but maybe this is just hazy memory and I’m filling in the blanks with something that sounds nice.

In various unofficial capacities I’ve done a little bit of everything on that list (aside from computer engineering).  If you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen in some form.  It may not pay your rent, it may not be the ideal dream situation you thought up in the first place, but if you’re so into a particular thing you will make it work in some fashion.

Lately my biggest pet peeve is people talking about what they “really want” and how the world is keeping them from doing what they’re really into.  I try to think up exceptions to this.  Like, say your dream is to be a skydiving champ, but you can’t afford to go skydiving on a regular basis.  But the more I think about it, the more I feel like a person who wants it bad enough will figure out how to earn and save up the money to do it.  It’s all about owning the choices we make and deciding what we’ll sacrifice for the things that really matter to us.

It’s hard to admit this to yourself and the people around you.  It sounds nice to have ambiguous creative goals or lofty career aspirations.  And sometimes it’s hard to figure out what it is that you actually want.  I mean, I don’t think we always know what we’re willing to jump out of a plane for, and that’s where the hang ups are – suspended in mid air, awaiting some kind of landing.

I’m in the process of reevaulating stuff.  As I get older a lot of my earlier wants are still hanging around, but a few other to-dos jumped on the list that are jostling for higher ranking on my life list. I don’t yet know which goal is going to come out on top and serve as my parachute to keep me from splatting on to the earth at a zillion miles an hour.  It’s kinda scary and kind of liberating, but mostly I’m trying to take it as motivation to flex some muscles that’ve been sitting on the back burner.

Watching Workaholics is incredibly motivating.  This might seem like an odd statement for a show with a lot of juvenile humor.  AV Club summed up the jist of the show with: “Workaholics is…about the extended adolescence of post-college life, where an unchallenging first job and the proximity of close friends ease the transition into the real world.”  And in the interview one of the creators really nailed it by saying they “try to be smart in the dumbest way possible.”

The first half of season one isn’t all that great, but it really hits its stride by the end of that first season.  Hilarious.  Originally I was gonna write about how much I relate to this show, even though their biggest demographic is teenage/young adult boys and I’m a closing in on 30-years-old female.  I’ve got a soft spot for any show that privileges buddy relationships over other relationships, they make references to pop culture I grew up with, my first years in LA centered around hanging out at my dude friends’ apartment, I’ve worked an office job just to pay rent, and growing up as a kid in the Bay Area I used to film skits with my friends.

That last point is the motivational point.  The creators of the show spent a couple years making their own videos as Mail Order Comedy before Comedy Central saw their work and funded Workaholics (and even before that they were the kids in school who wrote and filmed their own material for nothing more than their own gratification).  That shit takes motivation, perserverance, and work.  So even though this is a goofy show with a bunch of teenage boy jokes, the guys behind it are hard workers who figured out what they wanted to do and kept at it until something stuck.

Now, not every hard worker is going to see their goal realized with a Comedy Central show (and that’s definitely not my personal goal), but it’s admirable and sorta warm fuzzies to see a group’s determination and work pay off.  The characters they play on the show are ridiculous people, but what Mail Order Comedy achieved professionally is basically a stellar example of “if you want it bad enough you’ll make it work somehow.”  Talk all you want about what you think you want to do, but if you’re not actually doing it or actively sacrificing for it, maybe it’s time to reevaluate what you think you want.

And nobody’s want is any better than anyone else’s want.  It’s hard to not let outside judgement cloud your goals – I am swatting away doubt flies all day, erry day.  If your want is to write skits centered around dick jokes and share them with an audience, that is awesome, because you figured out what you want.  Now, time for me to figure out what my dick jokes are.  I’ve been watching way too much Workaholics (and like a dozen other shows) and not working on my own Workaholics-esque goals.

(I also thought about writing how I intitially dismissed Workaholics and how this show is a great example of why you should never say you don’t like something until you give it a real try.  Man, serious life themes from a very unserious show!  My favorite kind of stuff. (And also why I sometimes still think about heading back to the ivory tower, land of making everything have meaning and piling on the bullshit.  Apparently I am just a crap fan all the way around. (Like how that Sorceress character I wrote as part of an online RPG in junior/high school lived in a tower and now I think about working at a metaphorical tower and maybe life and art have some weird parallels. (Okay, too many tangents.))))