We had driven, swiftly, across Highway 10, after a brief diversion through downtown Los Angeles that accidentally deposited us onto the 5 North. We eventually found the 210, the 57, and shot across those mall-covered lands that stretch from the ocean to the desert.
This was a family holiday, a Thanksgiving out in La Quinta, a 1920s golfing, tennis playing, horseback riding, swimming-pool sprinkled property surrounded by purple mountains.
We went with those relatives who swing from spa-to-spa the way monkeys navigate the trees. In another 10 days, they will be flying to the Caribbean, and next year, may be spending months in Spain, England and France. A few days in a luxury resort is as natural to them as stopping off at Trader Joes for milk and eggs.
La Quinta welcomed us with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, plucked from those hundreds of citrus trees that are planted here. “Sir, may we take your bags?” a bellhop asked. I did not take him up, preferring to load my own into our little casita.
A fireplace roared inside a vaulted lobby furnished with large leather sofas, iron chandeliers and polished ceramic tiles. Guests drove up, valets parked their cars, and I glimpsed many of those fine women who smile with their lips closed, and those haggard husbands, who leave behind, for a few days, lucrative days at Chicago’s Board of Trade and make their way out west to play golf or sit by the pool sipping champagne.
Much of La Quinta seemed like old Southern California filtered and cleansed for Middle Westerners. There were almost no black, Asian or Latino guests, and what passed for Jewish was blonde or riding a scooter in board shorts, just like Brentwood. There were many families here, many kids, and if anybody had a gay thought or a tattoo on their leg, it was well hidden.
On the first day, I swam in the pool and went for a long run around a wide golf course. LaQuinta is behind walls and gates, and it adjoins a 1980s era, beige community of garage doors and affluent deadly silence.
There are a few restaurants where they serve Mexican or coffee house foods, and they are quite good if you don’t mind spending $20 for two tamales. In case you forget your golf shorts, there is a handy Polo Ralph Lauren store on the premises.
On the third day, of beautiful weather in perfect surroundings, my eyes started to tear up. I got a horrendous allergy attack. I took an Alavert and crawled into bed. I had never experienced a worse case of temporary blindness, one that forced me to shut my door, close my eyes, and pull the blankets over my head.
The watery, itchy, parched eyes lasted for much of the last day, until relief finally came with another dose of Zyrtec pills and eye drops. Whatever atmospheric element had attacked me was now diminished.
At twilight, still in a drug induced haze, I grabbed my camera, ventured outside, and walked around La Quinta in the orange-tinted light of sunset. The sun drops behind the mountain, dim electric garden lights turn on, women with wet hair change from bathing suits to bathrobes, cocktails are poured and children disappear. This is a haunting and fleeting hour, a temporary time between the activity of day and the promise of evening, when hope is hungry and our appetites turn to wine and fragrance and love and food.
On the last night, we drove off the property and into the windy town of La Quinta and ate pizza at an outdoor restaurant under the heat lamps. We met the other relatives and their friends, who were drinking near an open-air fireplace. One woman I saw, hair tied back, covered in a cashmere wrap, drank red wine.
Inside the resort of La Quinta, they have erected a plaque near a tile bench. It says that Greta Garbo and John Gilbert sat there, “basking in the sun and watching the Santa Rosa Mountains.” I don’t know if this is entirely true or not, but if you visit here you might be tempted to do the same.