Both my father and I have been looking forward to retracing the roads of our past and when we leave the cemetery to begin this three day road trip, my father happily unfolds his new crisp California map and navigates as I drive. We drive south on Hwy. 101; the morning light reflects off the haze and the horizon line between ocean and sky is indistinguishable. I am happy to be the chauffeur with no decisions to make. Just before Oxnard, I turn East on Hwy. 126. The black ribbon of road unwinds towards Fillmore and Piru eventually intersecting with Interstate 5. Heading south we pass the Magic Mountain Parkway. Two immense twisted roller coasters are starkly silhouetted against the grey sky. They look like giant erector sets, colorful and impossible mechanical contraptions. We leave the interstate and cut across through Santa Clarita catching Hwy 14 East towards Palmdale. At 65 mph, this two lane stretch of road rides like a mini roller coaster with dips and rises and my van has moments of weightlessness when the highway drops suddenly away. Our plan is to stop in Palmdale for lunch but there are only fast food restaurants along the main drag. We feel fortunate when we spy an I Hop, but the 45 minute wait on a Sunday afternoon sends us elsewhere. There is another restaurant, some distance away across the undistinguished strip mall parking lot. I set out on foot to investigate and discover that there are no customers whatsoever in this Mediterranean restaurant. This is never a good sign, but at least we won't have to wait. The young Armenian waiter is the owners son, and we have his undivided attention. Our two shish kabob lunch platters arrive quickly, are ample, flavorful but sadly overcooked.
My father takes an after lunch cat nap as I drive on towards Victorville. This stretch of road is monotonous and I pull into a Starbucks for a coffee fix to power me on. We approach Victorville from the north, cross the Mojave River and follow the historic route 66 for a brief stint. I regret that I didn’t pull over to photograph the wrought iron Route 66 sign that spanned the historic downtown street.
Years back, my fathers parents as lived in Lucerne Valley and his sister Helen, lived in Apple Valley. As we pass through this area I ask my father if he can find Helens' house? I remember celebrating many Christmases in this high desert and the house that Helen and her friend Martha lived in was designed by Neutra. If memory serves me correctly, the year was 1965 and I was around 14, when Martha had the house built. I remember then thinking it was unusual; all straight lines, lots of glass and a reflecting pool. It sat a couple of miles up a dirt (?) road and had an expansive view of the valley below. Although my father knows the general area, he doesn't remember the name of the road and with so much new construction, we miss the turn off. I would have enjoyed seeing this remarkable house and rekindling memories. Several days later, we find out, it is on High Street in Apple Valley.
We arrive in 29 Palms just after 5:00 P.M and check into our motel. There is a Marine training base in close proximity to 29 Palms and the majority of the shops along the stretch of downtown, are tattoo parlors, bars and barber shops, advertising military style hair cuts. My father and I eat an unremarkable Mexican style dinner together. The booths within the brightly lit restaurant are filled with young military families, enjoying a Sunday night dinner out.