SideWalk Ghosts / Interview 109: “Everybody Has Their Own Desert”

Come rain or shine, city landscapes or barren desert, 365 will roll on, no matter what. So with the failure of my good camera, please excuse the grainy photos from my back up rig. What’s most important are the messages of my friends anyway.

Now with that compulsive disclaimer over (my wife calls me a perfectionist, I prefer the title of lovingly retentive), it’s time to move forward with todays story.

Arizona Christmas behind us and we are backtracking our desert drive of last week.

It’s a little different from the calm departure of our previous 4am push off from Los Angeles. This time, we are all buzzing on sugar from the endless trays of holiday treats.

Just for perspective of my insanity and lack of self-control in my festivity consumption, I scaled myself prior to our leaving the in-laws, plus 15 pounds since Thanksgiving. To repent of my wrong-doing; I’m debating of grabbing a bike to pedal the rest of the way home… Though gone now, back to reality.

Not sure how many of you have been through the Arizona wilderness, but it’s deserts are a mix of barren beauty and brutally rugged horizons; the sort of place where I would never desire to be stranded, or let alone, look to as a place for a week or two of relaxing refuge.

There are parts of our travels that I’m sure have never felt human footsteps, my wife even grabs a few quick passenger seat snapshots for you to see. We pass trough one of the several isolated sections of highway, sign reading, “No services the next sixty miles,” and I’m glad we rented a reliable Durango.

It’s easy to get over confident on the modern highways, so many cars, loaded with travelers all around us. But I am sobered by two sightings:

A rolled car in the middle of nowhere, standing on its roof, demolished. Looks like it has been there for days, no human presence.

The other, and not as gruesome, a mini van buried up to it rear axels in the deep sand that parts the East and West bound lanes of Interstate 10. Guess the driver thought the, “No U-turn” sign did not apply to a four-wheel driven family mover, still no human presence.

I try to imagine the shame the driver of said mini van experienced as he was rescued, and in thinking that, I take a double gulp of my 64-ounce Doctor Pepper, check my eye sag and refocus my eyes forward to the road.

A sign grabs my attention, Quartzsite, 30 miles. I remember a Huell Howser show years ago that featured the stop as a must see.

“Must see what?” I ask myself.

We stop, and here is my first finding, “every year, and I’m not exaggerating, one million visitors flock to this desert destination for the largest of the largest swap meets, gemstones to shaved ice, it’s all at Quartzsite.”

There is only one motel in town, The Super 8 Motel, the next closest is eighteen miles away in Ehrenberg, then twenty-two miles in Blythe and so on.

So where do the millions sleep? You got it, in the desert.

It’s December 26, the festival doesn’t even start until January first, and the parking is already limited. A single, double lane, road runs through the center of town, and it is packed like a Los Angeles freeway during the much feared Friday rush hour.

Every where I look are desert dwellers of every type; Retirees in state of the art motor homes, earthy families packing tents and even braver desert conquerors residing in even simpler desert dwellings (got to love the open air of a truck bed). All are seamlessly coexisting, all with one constant tone: We are a community.

Being somewhat vicarious, I blend in, circulating with the newly curious to the most seasoned of Quartzsite visitors. Visitor is the wrong word. What I mean to say is city citizen; this place in no rest stop and not even near its target of population of one million. And the ten to twenty thousand that are already here make this place a city in my book.

The law puts by, three guys, riding on one of those ATV things. I lock onto them, following as if I’m being guided to where I am supposed to be. After one hundred yards, or thereabout, I realize the scale of this event, and it is gigantic.

My uniformed friends stop to chat with the eyeglass guy and a few of his customers, and as they are talking, I scan the scene. The eyeglass tent is stocked and ready for the masses to come. And it is only one of countless vendors.

I can’t fully express the magnitude of Quartzsite. But picture this macro view of the eyeglass guy, a twenty by twenty open tent, filled with racks of hip eyewear, hundreds of frames, and he is one of the smaller nomadic shops.

My un-named eyeglass selling friend, his customers and the law-men are jovial, expressive and united in dialogue, here is when I begin to understand the culture I have stumbled across, and in the blink of an eye, I get why I am here.

Simply this, plus one million people will be here soon, a community is forming, and watching the communion between, shop keep, the law and a few Quartzsite patrons, I see the 365 statement in full color: “We are all in this thing together”

OK, I’m being a little weird now in obsessing in watching the eyeglass hut, and with my wife and daughter catching up to me, it is time to move on. Also, the eyeglass guy has caught eye-line and it feels a little uncomfortable. I’m sure he’s thinking, “What are you staring at.”

I don’t have to go far, really just a 180-degree turn that carries me East a few yards, right into the heart of one of the huge tents, K&K Kitchen supply.

Its like being in a sun shielded William Sonoma, less the annoying mall music, and the over aggressive sales force.

In walks, Kevin, the proprietor of the tent; He is inquisitive as I am talking to his son, who even though taking a 365 card is reluctant to be interviewed, but Kevin shows no fear, and with a, “’Here is my council to the world, ‘Be good to one another, and kindness goes a long way,’” he joins us in 365.

We chat for about twenty minutes, all the while he answers the questions of countless costumers (really more like friends).

“How much for twenty of these sugar shakers? I’m buying them for my church.” One asks.

“Your church,” Kevin says, “How about a buck each.”

“A buck!” I think, “This is a very generous man.”

The dialogue continues: From across the tent Kevin sights another gentleman surveying some sort of kitchen apparatus (I’m clueless to what it is), and with a sincere “How are you my friend.” Kevin and the browser are instant pals, like they have known each other forever.

Kevin turns to me, “That is just the way it is here. Everybody is like an old friend.”

Not knowing, I’ve stumbled upon one of the main arteries to Quartzsite: Kevin, his family and the community of K&K.

How can I call a store, community, easily, that’s just what it is.

Kevin does not sweat to make a sale; Quartzsite sells itself, like I said community.

“I used to live in Phoenix, fourteen years ago we did our first Quartzsite event, a very small tent, and ever since then I have not missed an event.”

That is an understatement in introducing you to Kevin, He tells me, “I love it hear, so much so that we moved here eight years ago and have not looked back.”

“Everybody has their own desert,” Kevin shares. “For me, it is the desert, this is where I connect with my soul. For others, maybe it is somewhere else, but we all should be lucky enough to find it.”

Think about that statement, it’s huge, and it in itself is a great take away from the wisdom Kevin shares with us.

When I ask, “Where do you see yourself, or the world, in the next five, ten, fifteen or so years,” Kevin gets a bit choked up. “Things are kind of hard right now.”

I’m a little thrown off, and noticing that I’ve hit upon a tender subject, do not full court press Kevin. But he holds strong and continues, “I’m going through a divorce, we are still great friends, but it is hard.”

And knowing that his wife is standing with us, I swallow a little, but there is no contempt between them. Even in the middle of the moment, they joke about a dent in one of their high-end products, a large $240 pot (probably $500 plus in the mall).

I think about Kevin’s beginning statement, “Be good and kind to one another.”

Kevin and family, I know it is forward of me to say this, we don’t really know each other, but there is a spirit in you’re tent, I felt it speaking with you, witnessed it from you customers and respect it in the way you and your wife are parting.

What hit’s me to share is this, “Thank you for your courage in sharing the good and difficultly of your life. Hearing it helps us all to know this. “We are not along in our blessing and trials, and seeing how you are living is an inspiration to us all.”

You say, “You quest peace in life, but it is hard to obtain.”

Perhaps today, this blog is for you, and your family, as much as it is for us.

Kevin, Keep going; we’re with you my friend.

And, as far as the Quartzsite experience, I’m in; see you next year!