American tour 2006 part 2

Wednesday morning we had breakfast with a couple from New York. He was a Gram Parsons fan too and I told him about the Gram tribute I’d played at the Union Chapel in London. He was so impressed he bought one of my cd’s . We decided we would put the $15 in the gambling pot and blow the lot in Vegas!

Las Vegas was a town which seemed to have a special place in Gram Parson’s life. One of his most well known songs ‘Ooh Las Vegas’ is about the self destructive lure of that place. It was a long way from this one horse desert town. The hotel owner seemed to have given up. After breakfast I went to find him and he was curled up asleep on a couch in the office with his cross breed spaniel dog. Jill had an idea that the hotel was up for sale, although there were no signs it had that feel about it.

There were a few GP related dusty T Shirts hanging in the office, overpriced at $10. There were some pictures on the wall of visiting musicians including Emmylou Harris & Polly Parsons, Gram’s daughter, who I met at the tribute concert. There were also some Flying Burritos photos showing them in their Mr Nudie suits at The Joshua Tree. The overall impression was of some retro hippy enterprise that never really took off. The look in the owner’s sleepy eyes said no one was buying. As we stepped out into the dry, 100 degree desert heat I spotted a sign across the road that said it all. All that was missing was the exclamation mark.

We stopped at a thrift store to get water & check out the vintage clothes. As a natural forager I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a town by what they throw out. Having rejected the Gram Parson’s T shirts as just too sad and tacky I badly wanted to buy something in the way of a souvenir, but in this dingy little store packed to the rafters with every kind of junk I couldn’t find one single thing I wanted to own.

The proprietor was a slight woman with dyed red hair and far too much make up for her age, and she was shadowed by a surly looking man in a baseball cap with greasy black hands and 5 day stubble who I guessed was her son. I asked them the best way to Vegas and they looked at me funny. In the silence I could hear the dry clatter of banjo strings and a voice saying,

‘you aint from around here are ya’.

The woman spoke first.

‘Drive all the way to 29 Palms, about twenty miles and turn left..’ and the man took over.

‘and jest keep going.’

‘Is that the nicest route ?’ I asked, and could hear the stupid English tourist in my voice as I spoke.

‘aint nothing out there!’, said the woman.

‘cept desert’ The man finished off again.

There’s not much to say about The Mojave Desert. It is hot and you wouldn’t want to break down in it. If you keep going North you get to Death Valley, you get the picture. The roads are very straight and not many people live there. What settlements you do see are not the sort of places you’d want to be stranded in. They brought to mind the Bob Dylan song Motorpsycho Nightmare

‘I was sleepin’ like a rat
When I heard something jerkin’
There stood Rita
Lookin’ just like Tony Perkins’

That was pretty much it until we saw signs for Amboy. As we approached the tiny, slightly industrial looking desert town (pop 20), I began to notice large patches of white sand. Up ahead a coach had stopped by the side of the road and people were getting out of it.

‘Probably Mexican workers’ Jill said. As we got closer I realised it was a coach load of Chinese tourists. But why were they stopping? Not for a picnic, it was too damn hot. Then I spotted a sign at the side of the road ‘Chloride’ it read. Was there a place called Chloride? As we got closer to the group I noticed they were all pointing there cameras at something. There on the edge of one of the whiter patches of sand was what looked like an irrigation ditch and it was filled with electric blue water. The effect was stunning in this barren landscape. This area was Bristol Lake, mined for its calcium chloride, which was used to de-ice roadways in colder climes, hard to imagine in these temperatures.

I considered for a moment the photo option but the heat persuaded me that the chloride blue ditch would have to be a mental picture experience and we carried on in the luxurious air conditioned comfort of Jill’s Toyota Prius.

As we were leaving Amboy I spotted Roy’s Cafe and realised we were driving across Route 66. The once famous truckstop looked pretty run down to me, but then maybe it had always looked that way. We drove past Amboy School which was well & truly closed. Just as we were about to leave the town I spotted the boot tree. My daughter Lily had mentioned this before I left. Apparently she’d seen a tv programme where a couple returning from Vegas had had a fight and the woman threw the man from the car and his boots into the nearest tree. This incident has evidently started a bit of a trend. The tree is now strewn with all manner of footwear. Unfortunately the only shoes I had with me were the new Converse boots I’d bought for $13.00 on Venice beach and I was still far too romantically involved with their rock’n’roll magic to part with them.

Reg Meuross Singer Songwriter Storyteller