The Lear Avenue Lights

I was driving the 20-minute commute to Joshua Tree from my home in Twentynine Palms. There was a meeting for work that I had to attend.  Most of the ride is on Highway 62, a four lane highway with a turning lane in the middle. It’s an uninterrupted cruise of 70 mph until I reach Joshua Tree and make a right on one of the light signals.  A traffic light turned red and I slowed to a stop. I looked around expecting to see the familiar landmarks of Joshua Tree. Instead I saw that I was still in Twentynine Palms and was stopped at Lear Avenue.  Lear! The stoplight that was approaching mythic status because of how often it’s installation kept getting pushed back was working. And I was stopped under it.

As I waited I looked at the house on the northwest corner of Lear and Highway 62.  It’s been freshly painted a terracotta shade and its bordering oleander plants have been cut back.  This house has been on the corner of Lear and the Highway for as long as I’ve been coming to Twentynine Palms.  My parents would take us kids out to our cabin in the boonies of Twentynine Palms in the 1980s. Dad drove on Highway 62 with the three of us crammed in the back seat of our 1984 Toyota Tercel for what seemed like an eternity.  The only thing to look at through the windows was desert and an occasional abandoned homestead cabin. When I spotted the house on the corner of Lear and Highway 62, the first sign of civilization since Yucca Valley, I knew we were finally turning off the Highway and were almost to our cabin.

This house is a landmark for the turn-off onto Lear from the Highway.  The owners mounted a pole wrapped with white lights on the top of their chain link fence .  It was the only beacon that marked the intersection of Lear and the Highway in the dark desert night.  It served as a marker for all the Marines turning left onto Lear towards MCAGGC in their caravans at night and a lighthouse for those who turn left on Lear to go home.  Lear is well-traveled both by civilians and the military.

Cars travel fast from Joshua Tree into Twentynine Palms.  Lear is the first major road in Twentynine Palms and cars must slow down from 65-80 mph to make the left turn towards MCAGGC.  The berm on the corner of Lear has many scuff marks and gouges from vehicles over turning the left and hitting the berm instead. A fender or a bumper might be resting over the berm in the dirt as a testimony of an accident.  As the population of Twentynine Palms grew so did the amount of accidents on the corner of Lear and the Highway. It was good when the city announced plans to put up a traffic light. Months turned into years as one obstacle after another got in the way of a traffic light on the intersection of Lear and the Highway.  Wrong parts were ordered and the correct safety equipment such as warning lights weren’t installed. For a long time the lights were erected but they were just there, looking at the oncoming traffic with a blank stare.

Now the lights are working.  On the intersection of Lear and Highway 62 I wondered how long the red light would last.  The light was red but there were no cars on Lear anymore. Why am I still waiting here? The light turned green and as I accelerated I reminded myself that I am not in Joshua Tree but in Twentynine Palms still and I have about 15 minutes travel time to get to my meeting for work.

Winter Winds

The winter winds bring us our version of cold-weather living in Twentynine Palms.  The wind brings character into our otherwise predictable and sometimes boring winter days of endless sunshine.  When the winds blow it is not with gentle breezes but with consistent gales. It rushes through the palm trees with a distinct rustling sound.  Flags flap and flutter, furling and unfurling, as the wind whips them around. Open trash can lids hit against the side of the can in an inconsistent rhythm.  It whistles through the holes in the stop sign poles and hums through the electrical wires. It is a cacophony and not a symphony of sound.

Being outside in the cold wind for any length of time is tough but doable.  At a park and rec flag football game during a recent windy evening, the sidelines were filled with parents wearing beanies, sweatshirts, and their biggest jackets.  Some had blankets over their laps as they were watching their sons and daughters play. A few even had a kerosene heater set up in front of them, cranking out heat at the highest setting.  These were the people who have lived in Twentynine Palms for a while. Those who just arrived to Twentynine Palms from much colder climates were watching the game in a sweatshirt and baseball cap.  

When the winds blow we prep our house for them.  Windows have to be shut throughout the house otherwise a layer of dust will be on the windowsill and surrounding furniture.  Garden flags need to be brought in because the wind will work them off their pole and blow them east to Wonder Valley. We had a shade umbrella for the children’s small outdoor picnic table but lost it because we didn’t bring it in and the wind lifted it and took it somewhere over night.  When setting out trash cans for the trash truck to get them the next day we learned from our more experienced desert-dwelling neighbors to put a large rock on the lids so the wind wouldn’t blow them open and carry our trash all over the desert.

Windy nights make for good sleeping weather.  The sound of the the wind blowing outside in the cold makes me thankful that I’m inside my warm home.  It makes me appreciate my blankets that much more. My young daughter doesn’t appreciate the windy nights.  The wind whips especially loud passed the corner of the house that forms her bedroom. She can’t sleep while the wind blasts past the outside corner of her bedroom.  My daughter usually ends up sleeping on the floor of my bedroom on those cold and windy nights when its windy chaos outside and warm peace inside.

How Living in Twentynine Palms Has Changed Me

Living in Twentynine Palms has changed me in some ways.  I’ve adapted to quiet and non-chaotic desert nights. I’m accustomed to limited store selections to choose from when I shop.  The wide open desert spaces have welcomed me and I am confined in big cities with large buildings sneering at me from above.

It’s very quiet at here at night with the only occasional evening sounds being an adventurous off-road vehicle or the Marines blowing stuff up in the middle of the desert.  So when my husband and I exited off the 15 freeway and headed to the Las Vegas Strip for a weekend getaway, our mouths dropped open and our eyes bugged out, dazzled by the Strip at night.  We looked at all the shiny and flashy lights and were mesmerized. The sidewalks were teaming with people. It was all so busy and chaotic with the sidewalks being a rushing river of people and the lights continuously flashing above them.  We felt like country bumpkins out to see the big city. “Look at all them thar purty lights, honey!” I said to my husband with a hillbilly twang.

“Wow! Look at all them thar people!” He replied.

Living in Twentynine Palms has also changed my level of contentment.  I have become used to limited choices when it comes to shopping. The closest Walmart is 30 minutes away in Yucca Valley and the closest Target is 90 minutes away in Palm Desert.  Going to the store has become a big deal because of the amount of time involved and the cost of gas to get there. Our shopping trips have become very purposeful and I learned to be content with what choices we have.

I recently went to the Westfield Mall in Palm Desert.  Walking through the mall I suddenly realized how bored I was with window shopping.  I wasn’t interested in their products despite all the attractive displays in the many stores.  Now, I’m not sure how much of my contentment is from becoming older and wiser verses living in Twentynine, but living in Twentynine certainly helps.    Living here has helped me be more content with what I have because of the lack of choices and the hassle to drive to a shopping center.

One of the things I love about Twentynine Palms is the wide open spaces.  I didn’t realize how much I appreciated the open space until my husband and I took our kids to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.  We had a fun day at the Science Center and the adjacent Exposition Park Rose Gardens. It was getting late and the sun was setting so we decided to start the journey back home.  My husband was driving and I was trying to navigate him through the labyrinth of freeways to get out of the city. I told him to take a freeway exit that took us toward downtown Los Angeles.  I noticed my mistake as our van came off of the freeway exit and positioned itself in line with the Los Angeles skyline.

“This is the wrong exit!  You have to turn around!” I said.

“I’m trying to!” My husband replied.

The Los Angeles skyscrapers came closer and closer until we were right in the middle of them.  Large buildings towered on either side of us. Traffic zoomed around us and people in suits were walking on the sidewalks.  Everyone knew where they were going except for us.

“Take a right turn at the next street”  I said, looking at the map app on my phone.

“I can’t!  It’s a one-way street!”

I fought down claustrophobia and tried to ignore the buildings pressing down on me as I frantically tried to have my map app give me a new route to take out of the city.  We finally made it out of downtown Los Angeles and my husband and I both breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled back onto the on ramp that would take us eastward toward home.

The lifestyle in Twentynine Palms grew on me and I’ve adapted to it.  After my travels it is good to be in Twentynine Palms again where there are quiet nights, lack of shopping malls, and wide open spaces.  My travels have shown me how living in Twentynine Palms has changed me and for that I’m thankful as it means I’ve been able to see a variety of different places.  There’s a wide, wide world outside of our little desert city.

Trick-or-Treating Disappearing?

It was Halloween and for the past few weeks I haven’t known my ATM pin number.  I took myself to the bank to get it reset. I walked into the branch and saw Halloween decorations everywhere.  The bank tellers wore pirate costumes and there were bowls of candy on the counters. A pirate-teller was finishing a transaction with a woman and they were talking about what there is to do in Twentynine Palms for Halloween.  The woman said she was new to town.

“Well, last year my kids went trick-or-treating around the neighborhood but we had maybe a 50% success rate” I said.  Many of the houses were dark and some of them were obviously at home but ignored the doorbell. It was rather frustrating.  It’s Halloween,darn it, participate!

“I think a lot of them were going to the activities at local churches” I said.

“Oh yeah, the trunk-or-treats are pretty popular” another pirate-teller lady said as she opened another window to help me with my forgotten ATM pin.

“It’s so sad that it seems trick-or-treating is disappearing” continued my Pirate-Teller,  “I remember when parents would stay home handing out candy and the kids out went around the neighborhood trick-or-treating.   You can’t do that anymore – it’s just not safe to leave your kids alone like that.”

I was impressed with her trick-or-treating memories.  My Pirate-Teller looked to be around my age and I didn’t have the same experience when I was a kid when I trick-or-treated in southern California.  My parents never let me go out with a bunch of other kids. There was always someone’s parent with us.

“Did you grow up here in Twentynine?” I asked.

“I grew up in Washington” my Pirate-Teller replied.

I was disappointed that she wasn’t from Twentynine Palms.  It would have been interesting to know what trick-or-treating was like in Twentynine Palms maybe 20-30 years ago.  

Is trick-or-treating disappearing in Twentynine Palms?  We’ve lived in two different neighborhoods here and the first neighborhood saw zero trick-or-treaters.  Zero. When we took our small children to trick-or-treat, neighbor after neighbor said they “didn’t buy no candy” and we left empty handed.  I resisted the temptation to deliver the “tricks” when we got no “treats.” We ended up sneaking onto the base housing by Luckie Park to get good trick-or-treating in.

In our current neighborhood we got our first trick-or-treaters.  It was neat to hear the clatter of people coming to the door and knocking or ringing our doorbell.  

“Trick-or-treat!” a chorus of little voices would say.

There weren’t a lot of people but it was enough for me to run out of candy.  We shut off the porch lights and turned off all the lights in the front of the house.  I was surprised when the doorbell rang. My husband and I exchanged guilty looks. This was the first time we ever pretended we weren’t home on Halloween.

The next morning I went outside and saw that the last group that we pretended we weren’t home with had destroyed the jack-o-lanterns that my kids were so proud of.  I swept away the remnants of the pumpkins angry and bewildered that someone would do such a thing,. I was tempted before to dish out the “tricks” but to actually carry them out?

We had a few trick-or-treaters this year and they all came after 7pm.  I made sure I had plenty of candy so children wouldn’t have to carry out the “tricks” if I didn’t have the “treats.”  Some of the kids coming up the walk were driven by their parents. They’d stop the car to let out the kids when they saw a lit house.  I also had a group of kids come by that I hoped this would be their last Halloween trick-or-treating. Their voices weren’t little when they said “Trick-or-treat” and it was more a statement and not an exclamation.  

My husband took our kids around our neighborhood to those houses we knew and then went over to a housing development near our home.  Our young neighbor asked my son if he was going to base to trick-or-treat as he hopped into the car in his costume. People seem to opt for base housing where the homes are closer together and there are sidewalks or they head over to the church trunk-or-treats.  The City of Twentynine Palms offered a Halloween Fun Fest with games, candy, and a haunted house. They advertised it as a “Safer alternative to traditional door-to-door trick or treating.”

Trick or treating is not disappearing in Twentynine Palms, it’s just not happening around my neighborhood.  The idea of going door-to-door and getting treats on Halloween is very much alive in Twentynine Palms. It’s just not happening as much in the neighborhoods like mine where the houses are spread out and there are no street lights or sidewalks.  I will still make sure that I have plenty of candy, just in case.