We set out on our journey, the LA smog behind us as we searched for a cleaner breath of air and a simpler way of life. “How far away is it?” I asked. “Eh, about 2 and a half hours or so.” “Jesus, that’s a long drive,” I thought in my head; I hadn’t spent that much time in a car with one person in quite a while.
The sunlight followed our every move; the further we got outside of L.A., the warmer the embrace felt. We talked of things long before our existence: the stories of how our parents met and fell in love, tales of our grandparents lives abroad, chronicles of immigration at a time when the American Dream was still tangible. We talked of our shared sentiment for something different in our lives. While our mutual yearns for new stimuli sprouted from different palettes and our approaching means of escapism are two totally different paintings, it was in that moment I discovered that I was not alone in my search for new inspiration.
“Welcome to Joshua Tree,” I read as we flew past the sign and rolled into town. I think you might’ve been focused more on how to get to the summit of our hike, but I was so engrossed in every storefront, every sign, and every passerby. “Hey! I want to check out that flea market. Mind if we stop real quick?” Of course you didn’t mind. Soon we approached a man with a Wild West mustache who talked of the art of leather making like it was his darling daughter. “I’ll show you illegal,” he joked as he pulled out something I might cut myself with just by looking at it for too long. Those hands of his were rough, yet the leather he displayed was so smooth. He may have not been gentle with much, but he was with his love: his leather. Your face was beaming when he handed you your brand new pocketknife. It was yours, and like a happy kindergartener you were going to treasure it with all of your might. We left his stand and approached a pleasingly plump lady; her smile was inviting me to hear her story. “I have samples of all of them, which one would you like to try?” After tasting a couple of Lisa’s jams, I decided to buy the Garlic Pepper jam; it was refreshingly off-the-beaten-path. Serendipitously, that same quality is what drew me to you.
After arriving at the base of Ryan Mountain, you grabbed your backpack of snacks and water and we started our ascent. “Oh man, this hike is rough. But worth it!” and “You guys are a long way from the top, heh heh! It’s beautiful though!” were some of the comments made by jolly adventurers whose eyes had already took in the beauty of the view from the apex. We stopped periodically to catch our breaths and take in our surroundings that were so vastly different from where we started the day. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, and if I looked at it long enough, it felt like I could see right into the stratosphere. I felt the sun’s presence now more than ever; it was impossible to escape its glow. I didn’t mind, though, as I felt a little chill when the dusty winds blew against my sweat. We finally reached the top and it was, indeed, beautiful. Hopping around rocks trying to find good ones to take as souvenirs, you yelped as a little winged insect absent-mindedly buzzed away and you were left with a swollen finger. I sympathetically laughed in place of wanting to kiss it. The hike back down the mountain was a breeze; I felt invigorated! You looked like a cartoon stumbling on some rocks and wildly waving your limbs around to brace yourself from falling. I laughed at you, but you were also laughing at you so I felt less bad about poking fun, my dear Bojangles.
We got back in your car and searched the ends of this sleepy town for Pappy & Harriet’s, a restaurant whose name I pondered the meaning behind while you drove us through the uninhabited. Who were Pappy & Harriet? Lovers? Family? Childhood friends? Whoever they were, I set foot in their restaurant and there was hospitableness present that put me at ease. The potent smoky barbecue scent made me drunk with hunger. I was also literally kind of drunk; those beers went down smoothly after a long day outside. Dang, you polished off a whole slab of ribs! I was impressed. The band started playing, and everyone in the restaurant collectively felt the good-natured vibes the band members emitted. Feet tapping, hands clapping, heads swaying, people soaked up the easy-listening tunes. There was a long table full of senior citizens next to us; they were so damn cute it was hard not to stare. Our shared affinity for the aged had us both staring, trading hypothetical ideas of who they were and how they all knew each other. An elderly lady and the elderly man sitting across from her hit the dance floor, doing what I imagine would be the Fox Trot. Their seasoned joints didn’t stop them from enjoying the music and each other’s company. “I hope I’m like that one day,” gesturing to the couple. The deep laugh lines on the elderly lady’s glowing face enchanted me. You smiled at me with your kind eyes, “I think you’ll definitely be like that lady when you’re old.” I’m not sure if it was meant to be a compliment, but I reserved it as one. The fried catfish sandwich I ate started to round out my belly; I was physically, mentally, and emotionally satiated.
The ping-pong session of music we had on the drive back was a smorgasbord of tracks. It wasn’t a ‘have you heard this new track yet?’ playlist of one-ups. Rather, the songs we played were ones that we loved or were embarrassed that we loved. I sang loud enough so you could hear me, but not too loudly because I still felt shy around you. I wonder if you liked what you heard. The windows were rolled down and the air from the descending sun was chilling up the car. I went to shut the window but a plastic bag suctioned itself to my face and I screamed impending doom. We were both laughing so hard, the kind where your stomach hurts. I remember telling you earlier that that was my favorite feeling in the world. That damn plastic bag makes me laugh every time I think of it being stuck to my face. In fact, I’m laughing about it right now. As the sky fell into night we both grew tired and spaced out in the music. No words, no awkwardness, no pressure. The level of comfort pleased me.
I showered off a whole day’s worth of dust, sweat, sun; I was so relaxed my mind was in a sort of daze. I nestled into bed, tucking my cold feet under the warmth of yours. “Hey, thanks for taking me to Joshua Tree. I had a really nice time.” I said in my tranquil state. “You’re welcome. It was the perfect day,” you replied while trailing off into sleep. My mind grew light as I drifted off into what was the most restful night of sleep I had in a long time.