It’s called the Salton Sea, but it isn’t much of one. At most it’s fifty feet deep in places, and more likely thirty feet on average. It’s 225 feet below sea level, just five feet higher than Death Valley’s lowest elevation.
It must have been quite a sight in 1905 when the Colorado River burst the levees near Yuma and overran towns and farms and a railroad in the Salton basin. By the time the burst banks were repaired the sea created in the basin was 40 miles long and 13 miles wide. It covered 400 square miles.
When it was all over and the damage was done, the water remained and the sea thrived. It couldn’t drain south into the Sea of Cortez or north into the L.A. Basin. There was nowhere for the water to go, then or now.
During the late ‘50s, the developers moved in to take advantage of the location to create a recreation and resort destination. Yacht clubs, marinas, restaurants and nightclubs vied for the attention of the rich and famous that came to escape the big city to the north. Like moths to a flame, they were drawn to the excitement on their newly-discovered California Riviera.
The party didn’t last long.
In the early ‘70s, the area was damaged by heavy rains that created runoff and floods. The coastline towns and resorts were flooded and re-flooded when the water levels rose. Then, to add insult to injury, not one but two hurricanes swept through and the flame was finally blown out permanently.
Eventually, everything was closed and abandoned as people walked, ran and drove away. Scattered junk was left behind to be salvaged by anyone who chose to remain or by those who wanted to escape L.A. and move to the dilapidated, rusting former resort towns.
In summer, temperatures can hit triple digits regularly, and the nights aren’t far behind. The once-successful resort area is now only a faint memory for the old-timers scattered around the Salton Sea. The towns are mostly deserted, populated only by the few regulars who have remained long past their best-before dates, living in dilapidated trailers and houses built in the ‘60s when times were good.
In a place like this the dream died fast and hard.
1 – Broke Down in Nowhere
I was on the run from the drudgery of rain, cold, sleet and snow that had become all too familiar to me in the north. I was fed up with all of it. I wanted change. And warmer weather. California became my winter refuge, and I ended up riding back and forth for years.
I would high-tail it in late fall and then hurry home in early spring to see what I had missed. Usually that amounted to nothing, and I became unable to turn away from the siren call of California and the seductive warmth she offered up to me that resembled the sweet inside of a woman’s thighs.
The only problem with that was, like returning to the buffet table too many times, you eventually got too much of a good thing.
So I deserted her, and wondered why it had taken so long.
Now Mexico became my favorite place to ride. It wasn’t the mainland that appealed to me, but the more isolated Baja, California, Norte y Sur. Fickle as I was, I chose them both, one after the other in a pattern as random as only a single road that ran north and south could provide.
The sun danced off of the Sea of Cortez, the sky was blue, the weather warm, and the people friendly and unassuming. The Sol wasn’t bad either. Occasionally I’d encounter a friendly woman, local or imported, who helped me while away the hours and warm my bed in the darkness of night.
In the spring I would pack up and head home after another winter spent drinking Sol and wasting away. I didn’t mind. I never did. Better that than shovel snow and grow old doing it.
The border crossing was never a problem. The dog that walked the line never looked cross-eyed at me. I would lower my sunglasses in advance so the whites of my eyes were plainly visible, smile, and say, “I’m just happy to be here.”
It always worked.
A fuel stop in Calexico followed by another in Indio, and from there I was home-free.
Nothing to it. Usually.
This time it was not to be.
Past the border I pulled in to the casino for a quick break and something to chew on that I wouldn’t have to swallow with cheese for good luck. As luck would have it, the clutch let go in the parking lot, and I was stranded. In the middle of nowhere. Really nowhere, on the west side of the Salton Sea nowhere.
If that wasn’t nowhere, somebody needed to explain why.
2 – Sleeping over
When I spied the flatbed in the casino’s parking lot, I figured the driver was inside playing the slots. All I had to do was wait him out. I figured it for a long wait, and sure enough, it was long enough. The driver either re-invested his winnings or he was independently wealthy.
When the operator finally walked out into the heat radiating in waves off of the fresh asphalt, I took my cue and caught up just as he was about to climb into the cab. I felt like a puppy glad to see anyone, and I was. How lucky did I have to be not to have to call for a tow truck? That would have cost a small fortune in this hell-hole.
We worked out a cash deal, and I helped him load the motorcycle. I could pay when he dropped it off. Now all I needed was a place to stay. Everything I rode past since crossing the border was rusted junk, and I figured I’d be asking for it to be unloaded again just so I could sleep on the shady side of the casino.
The driver told me about a motel a couple of miles away, and arranged for one of his casino compatriots to give me a ride. The bike would get delivered in the morning.
The Palms Motel wasn’t much of one. It almost overlooked the sea. It would have if a second story had been added when the place was built back in the late ‘60s. Now it was barely hanging on in a place that had long ago passed its prime.
New bath towels. Fancy comforters. Well-lit parking in nine paved stalls. All that according to the brochure on the front desk.
What a draw.
That, and I was stuck in nowhere.
Okay, technically it wasn’t exactly nowhere, but it was close enough for me.
I didn’t bother to get up in the middle of the night to check on which part of the parking lot was well-lit.
Come morning the flatbed caught up to me in the motel’s lot. The driver tipped the bed and I slid down the back until both wheels were on solid ground.
–Fifty cash ought to cover it.
–Fifty? Shit, I could’ve pushed it here for that.
–You want the bike or not? This time, when I drag it up the bed I’ll be sure it’s on its side so you won’t have to help me.
–No, don’t do that. Thanks for the help at the casino. I didn’t even have time to get to a phone to call for a tow.
Right. There was no chance of that happening once I spied that flatbed in the lot. I counted out the fifty like it was the last cash I had and then added ten to the roll. You never know.
I figured he’d be back at the casino burning that sixty in a Las Vegas minute.
–No problem. Are you good now?
–You bet. I’m going to hunker down until a friend does his thing and ships some parts out to me.
–You could do worse than this place. It’s clean. Not too far from a place to eat. You might even get lucky and find a ride to the casino for a change of scenery.
–Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.
If I could, I would have escaped at sunup in the cool of a desert morning. Not this time. I was trapped. And now I was leaning against a rusty neon signpost, trying to kill some time.
It’s the best I could do at The Palms Motel in Bombay Shores.
3 – Looking good
I heard her before I saw her.
Or rather, I heard the sound of the exhaust when the car rattled into the parking lot. The well-lit parking lot. So said the brochure I had snagged from the front desk. A lonely overhead light was still on. Except it was morning.
So I guess the parking lot was well-lit after all.
She got out of a dilapidated old Pontiac with the paint faded from too many years in the desert sun and salt-laden sea air. All the windows were down, probably because the air conditioner had stopped working sometime in the past ten years. If I called it a beater it would be too kind.
I stood my ground under the sign and watched her walk towards me to get to the motel office. I took a nice long drink. I couldn’t help it. I never could. I didn’t care if it annoyed her or not.
She wasn’t anything special to look at. No makeup. Thin lips. No breasts. But she had dark hair and dark eyes, and I knew those two alone were enough to hook me. The bridge of her nose had that little bump on it that always caught my fancy.
Then she was past me and I turned for a fresh look. She had a nice ass in those jeans. It was nice enough that I hoped I’d be seeing more of it. That, and I wondered what her legs were like.
I figured the less time spent in nowhere, the more time I’d have to be somewhere else. The faster I got busy, the more I could get done before my parts arrived. I pushed the bike into the back and got out my tools.
The sound of feet scraping sand interrupted me. I had to look up and squint to see her silhouetted against the sun.
She had a soft voice.
–Hello. Aren’t you the woman I saw getting out of the car?
–Yes, that was me.
–You staying here?
–No, I clean the rooms.
–Not too busy today, are you?
–No, we only had a couple of rooms rented last night. You make three.
–It’s kind of sleepy here.
–It’s okay if you want to escape.
–Are you escaping?
She changed the subject.
–You want your room done now? I can come back later if you like. I live just down the street.
–No, now would be good. I’m going to be busy out here. Let me know when you’re finished.
Twenty minutes later she was back. This time when I looked up I didn’t have to squint to get a look at her. She was facing the sun.
I took another good look, and she watched me do it.
–Your room is done.
–I’d say you’re going to be here for a while. Is there anything else you need?
Yeah, actually, there is. I need to see the rest of you. A little bit of alabaster to rub the mexicana off wouldn’t hurt. But I didn’t say it.
–I could use something to eat. Is there anything close by?
–I’m going to the casino in a bit. You can tag along if you like.
–Sure. Give me a couple to clean up this mess and put away my tools.
We made small talk on the short drive. She was working at the motel to make some cash to get farther north. I was headed home after spending the winter down Mexico way on the Baja.
–Then your bike broke down and now you’re here.
–Yeah, that’s pretty much it until I get some parts. I’m stuck in nowhere wasting my cash on a motel room. By the time I’m ready I probably won’t be able to afford a tank of gas to escape.
She stopped asking questions after that.
—I’m Frank Ross, by the way. What’s yours?
Well now. I was right about the alabaster.
I was right about the air conditioner too. The only breeze blew in through the open windows. When we arrived at the casino I unstuck myself from the seat and got out into the high-noon sun.
–Do you work in this place too?
–No. My girlfriend does. She’ll be getting off her shift in a bit. When you’re fed and watered come find me and we’ll head back.
–All right, I will. Thanks.
I wolfed down a sandwich and then wandered into the small casino. Slots, mostly. One game table. I looked around in the dim light and finally found Kelly talking to someone.
–This is my friend I was telling you about, Tammi Dominga.
Kelly’s voice was soft against the backdrop of the casino. I could hardly hear her. When she turned back to her girlfriend I took a good look, up and down. Still a nice fit in those jeans. She had a bra on under her white blouse, but it wasn’t holding much. That’s okay with me though. I like small-breasted women. They’re not always trying to stick their tits in my face to get what they want. They have other ways to do that. Ways I liked a lot more.
–Hello, Tammi. I’m Frank. Kelly and I met back at the motel.
I barely paid any attention to her.
I was more interested in Kelly, and when she turned towards me she could tell I had been checking her out. What the hell, she’s a woman. She ought to be used to it by now. I let her see me flick my eyes up and down one more time and then I looked her straight in the eye.
Well, now what, I wondered.
–Tammi and I were just talking about going over to my place to hang out and listen to some music. You can come if you like.
–I need to finish up a couple of things on the bike first. How about if I show up later?
–That’s okay with me.
Tammi didn’t mind either.
Things were looking up.
We piled into Kelly’s beater for the ride back to town and it was Tammi’s turn to tell her story.
Unlike Kelly, she was a local girl with no car and high school was a bus-ride away. After graduating she couldn’t wait to get out. She left and did a circuit around Northern California, Arizona and New Mexico for a year. When she ran out of cash she took part-time jobs to make up the difference.
—What did you work at?
—Nothing too exciting. Mostly I wanted to see the sights and working part-time let me do that. When I had enough I came home and got lucky with a job at the casino.
I had the feeling Tammi was leaving something out. On the roads I traveled, the only people I knew who did a circuit were bible thumpers, pole dancers and peelers. I wondered which one she was, but I didn’t ask. We all had secrets we wanted to keep.
—Now you’re saving your cash for your next adventure.
—Well, I don’t know about an adventure. I had all the adventure I needed after I pulled up stakes the first time. I’m ready to take a break. How long it’ll last is anyone’s guess.
—I know how you feel. I’m itching to get home too. All I need are some bike parts to make good my escape.
I didn’t ask if she had a boyfriend. I figured she had a local she’d gone to school with. Next you know she’d be shacked up, knocked up and getting smacked up regularly by her old man on drunken Saturday nights. On Sunday morning he’d be crying his way to forgiveness at the breakfast table and finding his salvation in church later in the day.
Life goes on.
Like I was such a prize. Stuck in a nowhere town after spending the winter down on the Baja, broke-ass. I was lucky I made it out of Mexico before my bike did a number on me and broke down. At least the ass wasn’t torn out of my jeans.
I still had a bit of cash in my pocket. Probably enough to get me back home if I counted pennies.
I was a real prize.
—When you’re ready my place is just up the street towards the sea. You’ll see the car out front.
The air conditioner welcomed me with a comforting rattle. The breeze was a relief from the hot and dry outside. I washed up, stripped down and hit the rack for a mid-afternoon snooze.
You can’t be too careful.
And I’m not getting any younger.
Would you like to find out how Dreams Die Fast ends? You can check it out here.