6 min read
I always felt sorry for folks who went to Palm Springs for a summer vacation. What were they expecting? Bubbling asphalt and an exploding radiator with their Mojitos? Don’t they understand that if summertime Palm Springs were an early sixties record album it would be called ‘Hot on Hot’?
I just don’t get them. Is it a lack of imagination? Don’t summer vacationers in Palm Springs realize they have about a thousand miles of beautiful blue California Coast to soak up the best nature has to offer?
They don’t really have to crawl 100 miles out to the Mojave Desert just to fry an egg on their forehead and brag how they beat the heat under the umbrella at the pool. And then tell themselves as long as they stay hydrated the 115 degrees heat isn’t so bad. After all, what a deal they got on the room, the food, the turmeric face masque.
But no, they just say to each other and their astonished loved ones, “It will be a different kind of vacation.” The fools.
So anyway, Kris and I made plans to go out to Palm Springs just before the 4th of July. She got us a great deal. Not only had she landed a slashed, reduced, crazy summer rate but they threw in an additional $250 a day resort credit! We’d eat like gentry and get multiple massages.
She had worked over the poor reservation manager at the Connor, one of the nicest resorts in that crazy desert oasis. Kris had insisted on the room with the garden patio and then also made special dinner and massage reservations.
She dug in and engineered every detail of our little Palm Springs getaway like it was the escape plan for the von Trapp family fleeing Austria.
This then would be our special escape. Not over the Alps, but into the low Desert. The Coachella Valley would be our Switzerland.
Kris was working it, so I knew I had to step it up as well. I got us a couple of bottles of wine for the room, and just for the heck of it had my car checked out. My mechanic said my vintage Japanese wheels were in great shape… just a hairline crack in the radiator. But nothing was leaking. It was desert ready.
I have a thing about suitcases and car travel. It goes like this: basically, the car is the suitcase. Why pack light when your valise is 12 feet by 6 feet and can handle 1000 pounds? Still, Kris insisted on us taking small suitcases since we were only going for a few days… to which we added piles of clothing heaped onto the rear seat. And books, the wine, a board game, health food for her, junk food for me and far too many internet devices.
I’ve said it before - there is something freeing about a road trip. Once we lock the front door and take off on that long road, our frontal lobe seems to ease into the recline position. The endless highway gives us permission to dream.
I was in this peaceable state, just focusing on my motoring chakra, when Kris suddenly rose in her seat, snapping her head around to view something on the opposite side of the freeway.
Now I like to think of myself as a fairly observant person. Driving out to this desert I observed the changing landscape, the many windmill farms, the shift from suburbs to… outlet malls… and so on. But Kris catches some crazy things I seem to miss.
For instance, a few weeks earlier we were walking along the beach near the Pacific Coast Highway. As I gazed at the lovely ocean waves, she spied a motorcyclist out on the highway flip his bike 180 degrees in the air and come crashing down onto the pavement. She shouted and grabbed me, but by the time I spotted the guy he was upright and racing off to rejoin his friends.
Now here in the desert she’s practically falling over into the back seat, following the action of something across the freeway.
“Did you see that? A truck is pushing a car sideways down the road!”
Well of course I hadn’t seen it. I was busy looking at windmills.
“That was the weirdest thing I have ever seen!” A quick glance in my rearview reveals a sea of red taillights on the other side. Definitely something bad is happening there.
I take a deep breath – grateful we’re not going down the freeway sideways, pushed by a truck. Our drive takes on a different feel and I immediately view the bright, sunny desert with suspicion. I’ve seen too many low budget movies where bad stuff happens out here. I just hope we get to Palm Springs before nightfall.
As it’s 11:00 in the morning and we’re about 30 miles away, I feel good about our chances.
We pull off the interstate, heading into town and I’m watching the outdoor temperature rise – 105… 107. I react by lowering the temperature inside the car. I must think this is going to protect us.
Finally, after a few wrong turns, there it is, the elegant Connor Hotel. A very cheery parking valet runs up. He is just the first in a series of helpful hotel staff that will cater to our every whim over the next few days. How do they all stay so happy over 100 degrees?
I step out of the car into what must be man’s first landing on the sun. I’m certain my eyebrows have singed like tiny solar flares.
We run for the cool, cool lobby before our sneakers melt and we check in. We are so ready for our resort credits and all the happiness they will bring. It’s about this time we find out from the very friendly desk staff that a massage here costs $238 with tip. Hmm, that’s about one day’s resort credit right there.
I decide to bow out of my massage. There’s a little Thai place I like that gives me an hour’s deep tissue treatment for $35 cash. Really. I just can’t see how this resort massage is going to be $200 better. Could my muscles even feel that $200 difference? I doubt it. I pass, though Kris promises to give me a back rub.
As our room isn’t quite ready we retreat to Dina’s, the hotel’s casual restaurant, for lunch.
There amidst chic mid-century décor and piped in Brazilian Bossa Nova, we hold hands and settle in for our first vacation meal.
$33 for mac and cheese?
When we were awarded our $250 a day resort credit we thought for sure we had our first three meals covered. Now I wasn’t sure we’d make it to dinner. I toy with the idea of a thrifty $19 bowl of berries, but Kris reminds me that our meal is still free. I have to agree but I now realize this daily $250 resort credit is really like… 75 in Earth dollars.
I go for the tuna sandwich and she, the omelet. Our $95 lunch was really quite flavorful. And so, with the tasteful and elegant Bossa Nova wafting over the restaurant’s stylish clientele, I take out my phone/calculator and punch up how much I think we have left for dinner. And let’s just forget about breakfast – we’ll have to smoke out a Denny’s.
Kris already made us dinner reservations at Mr. Connor’s, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant and I had grabbed one of their menus. Studying it now, I think we might just slide through with a few select pasta entrees, maybe a steak. And I think I’ll bring one of my wine selections to the restaurant as well. That should lob off $50 to $100. I just couldn’t remember if the bottles had corks or screw caps.
As I work on my tuna sandwich, I punch in the numbers like a mob accountant adding up the family’s daily take, “Let’s see that’s a pasta, a steak, two salads, corkage, tip; what’s the tax out here…”?
I crunch my numbers. It’s not working. We’ll be over our credit. I adjust my imaginary accountant’s visor and take another stab.
“Ok, subtract the steak, add a pasta, divide the salad, take the square root of a crème brûlée…” I total up the imaginary meal.
I look up at her. I’m sure my eyes give me away even before my voice breaks, “I don’t think we’re gonna make it.” The sounds of my desperation contrast with the lovely Bossa Nova music “that swings so cool and sways so gentle” about us. Just minutes into our vacation and the cabana walls are collapsing.
But Kris calms me down and again reminds me that this is all Free. Still I had expectations… of Value. That’s why we came here to Palm Springs in the summer: to lounge by the pool and soak up a great deal!
Sure, I could spring for the steak, the two salads, the dessert, even the wine… but I thought I had it coming to me. Now all that free stuff feels like a desert mirage.
OK, I can’t complain. This is a very generous thing the hotel is doing for us. We’re still getting a free massage, a nice lunch and some pastas with no salad for dinner.
I take half my tuna sandwich and wrap it in a napkin. Kris rolls her eyes. I usually finish my meal and part of hers. But I insist, “I’m not hungry. Really. It must be the heat. This could be tomorrow’s lunch!”
I’m already thinking how I could crack the code – make the resort’s $500 credit last two full days. With the right planning and careful marshaling of the tuna salad… we could have an Independence Day miracle! But also, I’m really not that hungry…
Our room is ready, and we venture out onto the property’s lush grounds – she with her purse, me with half a tuna sandwich. We had heard the place was beautifully landscaped and this is true. Though it is warm, the towering foliage shades us and creates a maze-like effect with its dense lushness. It is quite lovely, though over the days I never could quite figure out where I was going. I usually stuck with Kris who has a great sense of direction. Left on my own, I would head for the pool in my swim trunks and end up confused at the front desk.
We’re delighted to see our room is tastefully decorated. It came with the outdoor patio Kris had insisted upon and when I get to the bathroom, there is an unexpected treat. If you were guessing a classic black and white photo of Burt Bacharach hanging over the toilet, you’d be right!
There was Burt in his prime, standing by his car, holding a wad of cash – ready to tip the valet. It was perfect. For the next several days every time I went to pee, I would be reminded of another Bachrach classic – “I Say a Little Prayer”, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”, “What the World Needs Now is Love”, “Walk on By”, “The Look Of Love”. Mr. Bachrach’s body of work was as full and familiar as my bladder. And just as enjoyable to revisit every few hours.
Afternoon is pool time at the Connor. And with Kris’ navigational skills we made it through the labyrinth of foliage in just minutes. The pool was a beautiful oval design around which dozens of young people lounged and snacked. This was curious… everyone seemed to be eating.
We were helped by Robbie, the pool guy who seemed to run things here. He was great – whatever we needed – towels, fruit-infused water, more towels, sunscreen… All the help at the Connor were like Robbie, super enthused, high-energy, aiming to please. For instance, Kris and I both forgot to pack toothpaste. But a call to the concierge produced 12 packets of Colgate within minutes. Same with a corkscrew for our wine. This staff couldn’t have been kinder.
As we settled onto our chaise lounges, Robbie asked if we wanted anything to eat or drink, materializing two menus from thin air like the pool magician he was. Scanning the brightly colored water-proof menus we suddenly understood Everything.
This was where people came to eat. Tacos, salads, burgers all at human-sized prices! No wonder the pool area was awash with ceviche, dip and sandwiches… items here were 8, 12, 15 dollars! This was the Connor’s little secret. We had penetrated its deep state. Here then, was affordable food. Food I could relate to.
These mid-priced meals had a catalytic effect on me. Suddenly I saw new horizons for extending our food credit. I excitedly whispered to Kris - if we could just mindfully ration until lunch tomorrow, gazpacho and Wagyu Burgers could be ours… on the house! Kris sighed and turned to her book, but I couldn’t let go of the intriguing food/math possibilities. That’s when she gently encouraged me to put down the calculator and read my book. That’s why we were here… to relax… remember? I did pick up my book. But I couldn’t concentrate.
So… dinner. As usual Kris planned ahead and landed us a nice corner table at Mr. Connor’s. She can be a wily one and told the maître d’ that it was our anniversary. Just a small fib as it wasn’t even close to our anniversary. But she needn’t have bothered. We were the only ones in the place. I guess the desert crowd goes to dinner later than 6:15.
Everything about this place was a pleasant throwback to the 70’s – from our thick, tufted leather booth, to the O'Jays and Commodores playing overhead. I expected a spinning disco ball to lower over us any moment.
The menu presented us with big, big meat dishes. It was like facing an expeditionary encounter. There were mountains of roast beef au jus and towering peaks of tri-tip waiting to be scaled, should one take up the challenge.
But somehow, I wasn’t inspired to conquer these meaty summits. I think it was the heat. No really. I just didn’t have much appetite. And Kris kept looking at the appetizers and small plates.
“We’re really not that hungry,” we agreed. We did order drinks as I forgot to bring the wine, and we had a perfectly nice meal with several tasty small plates. It was just the right amount of food… considering the heat. This was so much more sensible than stuffing ourselves with all that heavy meat. Don’t you think?
And surprise! They brought us a nice anniversary dessert mousse that said, “Happy Anniversary”. “We should take a picture”, Kris offered as she grabbed her phone. But then her phone/camera rang, and she took the call from her daughter.
As she chatted, I reviewed the meal – it won’t be that much after all, maybe $70, $80? I did some quick mental calculations: lunch plus dinner minus the credit… we would have enough for breakfast! We’ll have room service out on our terrace. And maybe even some credit left over for shrimp tacos at the pool?
I was so pleased with these new dinner computations I absent mindedly started eating spoonfuls of the mousse. It was excellent, and now we wouldn’t have to buy dessert. But then Kris got off the phone and gave me a sideways look.
“You didn’t take a picture of our dessert!” I looked down realizing I’d eaten half the mousse. And I felt terrible. What a thoughtless pig. I had gotten so wrapped up in this silly numbers game I hadn’t been considerate enough to wait and instead attacked our anniversary dessert… But…
“Wait a minute. It’s not really our anniversary!”, I squawked a bit too loudly. Kris practically did a spit-take. It was our best laugh so far. Like the couple of value-hustling junkies we had become, we had lost sight of what was real as we tried to squeeze our vacation goodness to the last drop. We’d even conned ourselves at this corner table in the desert.
I happily received our dinner tab and am happier to report we barely scratched $70.
A few days later heading home on interstate 10 West, I reflected on our value-induced vacation. We did get to enjoy that beautiful breakfast on our lovely terrace. Kris got her well-deserved massage. And not only did we relish a hearty poolside lunch… courtesy of The Connor’s generous credit, but we even managed to requisition a few items for our third day’s lunch – a couple of chopped cobbs we squirreled away in our room fridge.
I was feeling very satisfied with myself as we sailed through the 110-degree desert, past the legions of windmills, the chugging semi’s, and the other vacationers…. that is, until I noticed the needle on my engine’s heat gauge edging up to the boiling point. At any moment white smoke would come billowing out from under the hood.
Hmm… Maybe I should have had that radiator replaced. But they had wanted so much for the job and it would have eaten into all the money we were saving… And then what kind of deal would that have been?
“Uh, Kris…”, I murmured, trying to keep the panic from my voice. “Why don’t we pull over for a few minutes and… take a look at the view? Are you hungry? I think I still have that tuna sandwich.”
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