As my daughter and I sped along the interstate between Phoenix and Los Angeles, it occurred to me it was better to move to a new place — as she’s doing — traveling by car, instead of air. This way, you get a better appreciation of the great distances and the slow changes in topography, food, and accents. We watched the mountains loom in the distance, snow-capped as we got into California. It made us both think of the early pioneers in their wagon trains. I could just see myself in a group like that. I don’t even like to camp out in the 21st century — and would have doubtless ended up in an unmarked grave on the prairie, my last words an inarticulate whine.
It worked better for me to drive, since I have enough automotive mastery to point the car in the right direction. Meanwhile, my daughter huddled over her iphone, reporting on the cities we were passing through. Phoenix, it seems, was originally named Pumpkinville and was the site of an attempted prison break by German POWs during World War II; they planned to float down a river to get to Mexico, failing to realize the river had dried up decades before. Jesus. No wonder they lost the war.
In Palm Springs, we ate Mexican food for the fifth meal in a row, since we’re conducting a scientific survey on the cuisine’s changes throughout the Southwest and want to be quite thorough. My daughter got on the phone with a hotel in LA to negotiate our room rate. I eavesdropped shamelessly, since she was the TA in a negotiations class last year — and God knows, I could use some pointers. I am the most hopeless negotiator on earth, a human facsimile of a white flag. Basically, every time I negotiate, I can hardly wait to give up.
“Can you give us a lower price than that?” she asked. “Come on! You’re killing me!” (I was so proud!)
She negotiated the room price, the garage price, a possible third-night rate. In the background, I offered prompts, such as: “I’m an AARP member!” and “Remember, we’re Indians!” Once again, nobody cared if I was practically geriatric or one-quarter Indian; my people just continue to suffer and pay full price. Revenge is going to be swift and merciless if we ever go on the warpath again, so watch out, palefaces.
We finally straggled into the hotel, looking like hell and schlepping our bags (trying to convince the bellhops we really, really enjoyed lifting heavy objects and weren’t merely poor or cheap). We’re here, Hollywood, ready to relax, waiting for our closeups.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)