Thursday, March 10, 2005

rambling in the desert

Olga’s the first 94-year-old redhead I’ve met. I sure her hair has some artificial help; even so, it shows spunk. She gets around well and lives by herself. "I wouldn’t have it any other way," she confesses. She also still runs The Joint, pulling a regular shift, tending bar. The desert has been good to Olga. She and her husband brought the establishment back in 1955 and she had honest work ever since, in a town where tap water cost one cent a gallon in the 1940s.
The Joint is in the heart of Randsburg’s business district. Randsburg, a former mining boomtown, is today a sleepy community visited by tourist and weekend prospectors. The Joint is one of the original buildings in town. First a bakery, it was converted to a bar and pool hall in the 1930s. Today, the place is open Wednesday through Sunday. Closing time is listed on the door as "Not Busy." Today, as Ralph and I sit at the bar, Olga stops cleaning up long enough to sit down for a chat.
Sitting a few stools down at the bar is the proprietor of a saloon in Red Mountain. An attractive woman, she wears a barely amble halter that displays a more than amble chest, a short skirt and five inch heels. My first thought is that prostitution must once again be flourishes in Red Mountain. At one point in time, the town claim to fame was vice. The saloons with backroom gambling lined the west side of the street. On the east side were cribs, where the prostitutes who free-lanced in the bars, led their clients. It was a cozy arrangement and local authorities did little to discourage the business. But then, World War 2 came along and the Navy decided they needed a base on China Lake. After losing many sailors, who found they were unable to navigate the mountain roads home after a night on Red Mountain, the FBI came in and shut down the gaming establishments and ran off all the women.

After a while, her partner from Red Mountain joins us at the bar. He’s a scary sight. Wearing fancy cowboys with tight short pants, showing off his skinny legs and leaving less to the imagination than I’d like, I’m glad I’m not alone. Had he been the only one drinking, I’d taken the temperance pledge. After talking, he seems to be an okay guy. Maybe I should remember not to judge a book by its covers. However, the two are weird and unique.
We’re staying in Ridgecrest, a town built next to the Naval station at China Lake. Since China Lake is mostly dry, the navy doesn’t use this for ships but as a place to practice bombing and to test weapons. Ridgecrest should be known for it’s stop signs, for the town has more four-way tops than most states. The town also has a dollar store, where nothing is priced more than a dollar. In and of itself, that’s not unusual. But it also has a 99-cent store for those for who a dollar is just too much. And then, just down the road, is a 98-cent store, for those for who 99-cent is too much. And, as Dave Barry would say, "I'm not making this up."

Most of today was spent exploring the mining areas around Goler Gulch. The desert is in bloom. Tomorrow--Death Valley.

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