An Old Friend (With a Nice Stereo)
The next morning, Saturday, I spent an hour organizing my truck, which was parked out on the curb. After a week on the road, it definitely needed it. And then by popular request, I gave guided tours of my new truck to Troy and Carlye -- and for free (!) because they're such good friends. I then said goodbye to my adventurous friends and took off. It was going to be a busy day seeing more old friends and my first stop was in Temecula, a nice community about an hour north of San Diego famous for wineries and balloon rides. Temecula is also the home of my old friend from college, Weldon, whom I hadn’t seen in two years.
Above: I left San Diego on Saturday morning and drove an hour north to Temecula, where I visited my old friend, Weldon. After a few hours, I continued north up to the Mojave Desert and stopped in Apple Valley, where I saw my old friend, Carole.
Back in the early 1980s, Weldon and I were Geography majors at UC Riverside and became good friends. He was dating a girl, Jean, and I was dating a girl, Katy, and we did a little double-dating back then. We both enjoyed the outdoors, too, so he and I took a camping trip together to the Northwest one summer and to Utah a few years later, when I was working as a ranger in Colorado.
We’d lost touch for about 15 years, but then a few years ago I received an email from him out of the blue. He’d found my DelsJourney website and sent me a note, wondering how I was doing. Ironically at that time I was visiting Troy in San Diego, only 45 miles south, so a few days later I drove up Interstate 15 and stopped in Temecula for an hour to catch up with Weldon. On this particular visit, though, I had twice as much time to spend with him – two hours – and we made the most of it.
Weldon is a great guy and an Audiophile with a capital A. I used to be one too. Back in our college days, when we weren’t spending time with our girlfriends or drinking beer with our colleagues at UCR, he and I would talk for hours about critically important issues like the sound difference between the Shure V15 Type 3 and Type 4 turntable cartridges, or whether gold-plated audio cables really made a difference in sound quality. That goes a long way in explaining why neither one of us ever got married.
I spent a couple hours at Weldon’s house catching up with him on the last two years, telling him about the Middle East and listening to his humongous stereo system, which occupies a commanding position in his spacious living room. In fact, as soon as you walk into Weldon’s house, you know where his priorities lie. He listens only to vinyl albums, not CDs, and he spent 20 minutes explaining to me the technical details of his various analog equipment, only a small portion of said discussion I actually understood. Then he put on Fleetwood Mac’s 1975 white album (Rhiannon, Say You Love Me, etc.) and I was walloped with a wall of sound.
No matter where I am -- driving, camping, working -- I listen to a lot of music, like at least eight hours every day, and I've done so for years. Oh, and in my former Toyota pickup truck, I had 10 speakers plus a massive subwoofer, so I’m pretty discriminating when it comes to sound quality. But I had to admit that it sounded pretty darn nice.
Troy, Carlye and Weldon
And Another Old Friend (With a Nice Porch)
An hour later and with my ears still ringing – but in a good way – I said goodbye to Weldon and got back on Interstate 15 heading north, passing through Riverside where he and I had gone to college and then drove up to the Mojave Desert, arriving in Apple Valley around 4 p.m. to visit another old friend, Carole.
Carole and I met on our first day of high school when we were 14 and have been great friends ever since. In fact, I’ve written more letters (back in our college days) and more emails (in more recent years) to Carole than to any other person – and the reverse is probably true of her. Carole is one of my oldest and dearest friends and we’ve had a lot of interesting adventures together, though we’ve never dated – which is probably why we’ve remained such good friends over the decades. I had a few long-term relationships with women back in my 20s and 30s while at that same time, she was married, then gradually a few years later I realized that I’m much happier being alone than with someone else. Or looking at it another way, I'm becoming more of a solitary curmudgeon as I've gotten older ("Damn kids -- turn down the music!"). So even though Carole and I have never dated, we've always been good compadres.
Carole now lives in the desert community of Apple Valley with her beautiful daughter Brandi. It had been nine years since I’d seen Carole and 15 years since I’d seen Brandi and I was looking forward to spending time with them both. But first I had to find a place to stay for the night.
Carole doesn’t have a guest room at her gorgeous house, so I’d done some research online weeks earlier and discovered what I thought would be an ideal place to stay: the campground at Mojave Narrows State Park, just a few miles from her house. I got to the park about 4:15 p.m. but was dumbfounded when I saw the gate closed and locked and yet dozens of cars inside the park with lots of people milling about. There were no rangers at the gate to explain the situation but the gate was definitely padlocked. This was bizarre and was like the reverse of the Roach Motel (or Hotel California) because apparently you could check out but you couldn’t check in. And yet there, somewhere beyond the locked gate, was a campground with lots of folks camping. I’ve camped in hundreds of places all over the country but had never seen anything like this: a padlocked campground. “So…” I mused, “are all the campers here locked in for the night?” Definitely bizarre.
I decided there HAD to be another entrance allowing campers into the campground, so I pulled out my GPS, which I rarely do when I’m on the road. According to my GPS map, there was another road providing access to the park, but it was several miles away on the north side. I decided to drive up there but, as I found out 20 minutes later and after following the roads on my GPS, this “access road” was actually a dead end – and that’s one reason I hardly ever use my GPS to navigate. Finally, in frustration, I gave up and resigned myself to the fact that there was no way into Mojave Narrows Park – even though it apparently contained a campground filled with happy campers. By now it was 5:30 and I was an hour late, so I drove straight over to Carole’s house, figuring that I’d sleep in my truck in her driveway or something.
After finding her place, I knocked on her door and, as she opened it, I saw once again her beautiful smile. It was really nice to see her again after nine years, and she hadn’t changed a bit. It was really nice to see Carole’s daughter, Brandi, again too. After catching up with them for a few minutes, we all went to a local Mom-and-Pop Italian restaurant called Mama Carpino's where I ordered the largest pizza on their very lengthy menu. I hadn’t eaten pizza since getting back to the U.S. in March and had a huge craving for it. Well OK, I always have a huge craving for pizza.
Pizza, surprisingly, is pretty popular in Qatar. It’s not a popular as KFC, which is the most popular fast food restaurant in the Middle East – and China and just about everywhere else in the world, I guess – but pizza is definitely popular in the Middle East. I’d been living in Qatar for a couple months eating a lot of local food, like British beans and Arabian pickles (but thankfully not at the same time) and was still adjusting my taste buds to the local cuisine when one evening I stumbled across a Pizza Hut in a nearby mall. Oh yeah, I know – pizza snobs will insist that Pizza Hut doesn’t make REAL pizza. But after living in the Middle East for several months, I didn’t care about pizza snobs, so I ordered a pepperoni pizza. And it was wonderful. There wasn’t anything special about it; it was just a regular Pizza Hut pizza like you’d get in the U.S. But after suffering through a long pizza drought and eating lots of Arabian pickles, that little pepperoni pizza was, quite literally, the BEST pizza I’ve ever eaten.
The same was true about the first can of refried beans I ate in Qatar. I’d been living there for several months, eating British beans and Arabian pickles as I told you before, and was really craving some good ol’ American food – like tacos, burritos and refried beans. Well, actually that’s Mexican food but Americans consider it their own. Then one day in the grocery store in Qatar I saw a single can of Old El Paso refried beans sitting on the shelf. And I swear, it started glowing and shimmering and then I started hearing trumpets sounding. Heaven had answered my prayers and I snatched it up and rushed home, opened it and ate the beans cold. It was definitely the best can of refried beans I’ve ever had and I savored every delicious spoonful.
But alas, I digress with my stories of refried beans and Arabian pickles. Carole, Brandi and I had a wonderful dinner, topped off with gelato for dessert, and then headed back to the house. And as it turned out, she had the perfect place for me to sleep: her front porch. The porch was just large enough for me to pitch my tent, so that’s exactly what I did. And I think it worked out much better than sleeping at that bizarre Roach Motel of a park called Mojave Narrows.
A Sunday at Big Bear Lake
The next morning, Sunday, Carole, Brandi and I drove up to Big Bear Lake in the mountains that separate the Mojave Desert from the Los Angeles Basin, to visit friends of hers, Bob and Susan, who have a cabin there overlooking the lake. We all ate lunch outside on their patio and had a really nice time. I actually had a beer with my lunch, the first beer I'd had since my final week in Qatar – and THAT was my first beer in over two years.
Bob and Susan are great. Susan is a colleague of Carole’s in the school district and Bob is a retired art teacher who now creates some amazing pottery. And they both stunned me when I started talking about my extreme geographic adventures, because Susan was familiar with the town of Point Arena, California, where I hiked out to the west-southwesternmost point of the U.S. at dusk a week earlier. And Bob told me that he used to surf at Jalama Beach, which was near, as I told him, the southwesternmost point of the United States, which I'd visited just a few days before. After I told them about those extreme geographic places – Point Arena being the west-southwesternmost point of the contiguous United States and Jalama Beach being the southwesternmost point – I’m sure they both felt that their lives were now complete.
We got back to Apple Valley in the late afternoon and Carole and I walked around her development, then I chatted with Brandi and bit and gave her a t-shirt from Qatar that she loved. Brandi is exceptionally insightful and throughout the entire weekend, she said things made me shake my head and think to myself, “Uh yeah – you’re absolutely right. I never thought about it that way.” Carole’s a great Mom and has done a terrific job with Brandi – and Brandi has done a great job with Carole, so I’d say they make a pretty good team.
That evening I said goodnight to them both and slipped outside, where I spent another restful night sleeping on the porch. Just about every time I've visited Carole, I've slept in my truck, but I had to admit that the porch was a lot more comfortable. And as she told me, "Del, you can sleep on my porch anytime."
Carole and Brandi