by Ben Small
The wife and I just returned from several days in California, two in Palm Springs, two visiting relatives in Bakersfield and of course Men of Mystery in Irvine, one of my favorite book festivals.
The memory I will hold of this trip is of an empty Palm Springs. And I mean empty. Store fronts empty, streets empty, shops that hadn't closed empty, and restaurants... well, empty.
I could have put a lawn chair on the main drag and felt safe.
In those shops still open, we were the only customers. No golfers, no tourists, and this is supposed to be the high season. Our waiter, blaming everyone but Californians, lamented that the Hollywood types no longer come to Palm Springs; they go to Vegas. But I think Palm Springs' troubles go further than that. Despite nobody on the streets, nobody in the stores, and stores closing everywhere, the J-walking police were still handing out tickets. Sure, they need the money, but with no shoppers, no J-walkers, no revenues, one can only wonder where their salaries come from.
And the stores still open are desperate for customers. You wouldn't believe the sales. Some stores, the owner came outside, trying to draw us in. All we were doing was walking the no-crowd sidewalks, but our footfalls must have reverberated up and down the avenue. At just about every shop somoene came out to ask us in.
We thought it sad.
Normally I'd have said Bakersfield and Palm Springs were worlds apart, but on this trip, their downtowns looked like twins. Except I was not accosted by San Quentin paroles in Palm Springs. Seems San Quentin buses paroles up to Bakersfield and lets them go. According to the guy who hit me up for a buck, it's standard San Quentin procedure. He'd been through it before.
I was just glad I wasn't in Bakersfield during evening hours. I understand the released prisoners aren't so polite then. My niece said she'd had a gun stuck in her face at a traffic light just two weeks ago.
That couldn't happen in Palm Springs.
There's nobody there.