In the end it was my feet that did it.
Leaving Yosemite we began to inspect, in the rearview mirror and on one another, the extent of our filth. There were beaded lines of black residue across the neckline, strange rusty stains emanating from thoraxes, a whole new feel to hair, and stuff around the eyes that made us afraid to blink. It had indeed been a while since the last shower. Meg still held on to her usual appeal somehow — but I, I had drifted far down into the arena of the (to put it politely) unkempt, and the climb out was certain to be a long and difficult one.
Then I took my shoes off.
We had been camping for too long. It was instantly apparent that two things needed to happen. One, we needed to rid the car of my socks immediately. Two, we needed to get me to a resort. Restoring my feet to something Meg could be near again was not a job that could be left to a roadside motel with its eucharist wafer soap discs and cramped trickling mildewy showers. No, for this we would need a large bath tub, a lofted shower nozzle, generous amounts of soap (both in the room and available for petty theft from passing housekeeping carts), and a swimming pool (with apologies in advance to any fellow hotel guests and swimmers). In short, we would need a mega-complex resort with a lot of water — the kind one finds, paradoxically, scattered throughout the desert in the hinterland of the USA. We were on our way to Reno.
We found an incredible deal from the road (last-minute hotel deals on a weekday in Reno are the playground of the consumer), and after adding five hours of driving to the day’s résumé, we shuffled shyly up to the check-in counter. The poor receptionist’s eyes widened (“may I help you” was more like “may I — *choke, splutter* — HELP YOU?”).
“Checking in,” we replied. Then, leaning forward and whispering to draw her into our conspiracy of corporal contamination, “we’ve been camping you know.”
“You don’t say. You’re in room 1612 take the elevator to the sixteenth floor here are your keys enjoy your stay thank you next please.” *exhale*.
Dejected, we got into the elevator and pressed 16. A delightful elderly couple — he with scraggly legs protruding from baggy shorts, sporting flip-flops and sturdy white socks pulled all the way up to the knees; she with a food-stained blouse that revealed far too much cleavage — stepped in. We exchanged smiles and nods. I was searching for some way to make small talk about gambling or the weather or both when, around the eleventh floor, the lady piped up. “Looks like you two have been camping.” I couldn’t get into the shower in 1612 fast enough.
For the next two days we cleaned up, scrubbed down, enjoyed the desert’s warmth then cooled off in the swimming pool. We showered, slept in a bed, ate fresh salad, used fresh towels, went bowling, ate dessert, drank alcohol, drank tea, watched TV, and learned never to take any of these things for granted again.
Driving past ghost towns and strangely small desert settlements in Nevada, through desert thunderstorms and sprawling scrubby farmlands, we made our way back into the state of California, from vast open roads under endless desert skies, to the angry smoggy highways of Los Angeles, and down the coast to Orange County.
For three days here we unknotted our shoulders in the quaint and perennially sunny beach community of Corona del Mar, staying with Alex (whose mom Fifi has already played a role in this tale) and Renee, catching up with friends, eating brunch, walking on the beach, spending far too long sitting outside at Starbucks, barbecuing, yoga for the girls, beer and greyhounds for the boys every time the girls’ backs were turned, eating amazing Mexican food, reconnecting with our canine friend Maya, and drinking just ever so slightly too much. A huge thank you to Alex and Renee for putting us up for three nights, and for keeping us well fed, I mean really well fed, and well-watered throughout.
Our time with them went by in a flash of fun; almost before we could take it all in, the weekend was over and it was time to head back out into the desert.
Now driving east, we were on our way through the open roads of California, back into the state of Nevada — Las Vegas-bound. Past the most alphabetically inferior town in America (Zzyzx), on we pressed, stopping for a few hours in Joshua Tree National Park.
Photographically pleasing, scorchingly hot, wondrously interesting — Joshua Tree is well worth a visit. But after two hours of walking around in the dirt it was time to start pampering my feet again lest they begin to revert to Yosemite Feet.
In Las Vegas we reprised our Reno schedule: walk, relax, get hot, swim, shower, wear a bathrobe, drink coffee, do all the things it’s hard to do when you live under a small piece of canvas in the woods. One memorable day (with far more time than money on our hands) we agreed to listen-then-say-no to a short timeshare sales pitch in return for free Blue Man Group tickets (and tickets to some magic show we didn’t go to, and a free breakfast bearing all the expected unimaginative hallmarks of a free breakfast). At the Blue Man Group show, things were going just blue manny until two thirds of the way through, when they scoured the audience for an assistant to one of their skits. It didn’t take long for them to settle on the prettiest audience member of all and before I could wish her well she was being hauled up to the stage by three wide-eyed blue guys in front of two thousand cheering fans and one adoring husband.
It was a scene that was part fun, part cynical commentary on our culture in which the affectedly bemused blue men are all on a dinner date of sorts with an audience member (Megan, in this case) and are trying to woo her and outdo each other’s attempts at wooing her over a romantic dinner of Twinkies, which they eat politely with a knife and fork and then violently puke out (from mechanical chest vomit pipes). Swooning from all the attention and throwup, Meggy flashed her fake wedding ring — the one we bought in San Francisco (as promised, it makes its reappearance in the story here) to a disheartened blue man who, completely in character, stared at it agog as though it was an artifact from a different dimension. The audience loved it. In time Meg was returned to me with her doggie bag of vomit, an underdeveloped Polaroid picture of the event, and a nervous condition that could be tempered — according to Meg — only by several drinks in a bar afterward.
There was more lounging by the pool, minimal gambling yielding moderate winnings, sleeping, Cirque du Soleil, Vegas by day, Vegas by night… after four days of this my feet had just about returned to their normal hues. It was time to leave civilization (if indeed Vegas can be called civilization) and get them good and dirty again.