by Charmaine Coimbra
The near-full moon hovered above three massive outdoor screens. Thousands of people looked at the screens with anticipation. At strobe speed, each screen flashed drum skins, guitar frets, backlit Joshua trees and saguaros, and the faces of older men. Heart-pumping rhythm pounded through acres of speakers and shattered the desert air. Like LSD-fueled geysers, fireworks blasted millions of rainbow sparks into the dry, windless sky.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones!” a hoarse and faceless voice shouted into the night.
And that was after three encores by the recently awarded Nobel prize winner, Bob Dylan.
There we stood, dead center among thousands of rock and roll fans, savoring a trip down rock and roll memory lane.
Just a month or so earlier, my social media page lit up with invitations to buy tickets for Desert Trip — a three-day rock fest in Indio, California — home of springtime’s Coachella Music and Art Festival. The Desert Trip was dubbed Oldchella by pundits.
Mick Jagger had jested about the October 2016 Desert Trip, that featured the Stones, Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, the Who, and Roger Waters, “Let’s get ‘em before they die.” Well, I wanted to see ‘em before they died — or I died. But when I saw the cost of Desert Trip tickets, I tripped out. Reserved floor seating and venue access for three days per person: $699 to $1,599. I tallied up lodging, food, and October desert heat and resolved that this would not be my desert trip.
Fortunately, a big part of Desert Trip was the food — a high-dollar foodie fest featuring rock-star chefs. And that was my lucky fortune cookie. I happen to have a rock-star chef in the family who was heavily marketed by the Desert Trip promoters. And that family member, my daughter, just so happened to have some primo passes to Desert Trip that she offered to her mom and dad.
And that’s how I landed, in style and with privileges, in front of the stage, on a Friday night, near the legends of my youth, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.
Taking up temporary residence in the Coachella Valley is one of my favorite things to do. Thanks to the Mission Creek Branch of the San Andreas Fault, the funky little town of Desert Hot Springs bubbles with natural hot springs. And The Lido, a mid-century constructed small motel, offers three hot spring-fed pools for its guests. My second lucky fortune cookie was that I scored a room.
Near midnight, and still reeling from the Dylan and the Stones concert, my husband and I lounged around the pools, nibbled on cheese, and sipped wine. All the motel’s guests were desert trippers. Some took a midnight soak or swam in the pools.
“You going in the pool?” Spouse asked.
“No! When was the last time I exposed my body in a public pool?”
No reply. After 30 body-image-challenged years together, Spouse has never seen me swim in a public pool. I don’t even own a bathing suit.
Saturday, the desert was its typical hell-hot. We ventured to Palm Springs in search of a favorite Mexican restaurant that serves the best and coldest margaritas ever. The plan was to head back to the concert venue for Young and McCartney afterward. Did I mention the best margaritas ever? Do I need to explain the wonder of an icy cold tequila-laden concoction on a hot afternoon that suddenly makes you a little bit too happy?
We were a little bit too happy to drive anywhere. So we window-shopped below the misters along Palm Canyon Drive. As the sun slid behind the San Jacinto mountains, and the palm trees made lovely silhouettes against the clear sky, we were finally okay to hit the road again.
“I’d like to change clothes before we hit the concert,” I said. I learned the previous night that sandals and silky pants were not a good concert arena choice. Jeans and solid shoes made more sense.
The Lido was like a ghost motel. Wind, roughing-up the tall palms, and an occasional hum of pool filters were the only hints of life. The motel owner waved and asked, “You’re not going to the concert tonight? Everyone else here has left.”
Everyone else here has left echoed through the enclosed patio like an invitation to a special tea party. The tea was those three hot spring-fed pools. The party would begin with the rising full moon.
“No. We decided to take a quiet night and enjoy the waters,” I said, announcing an unintended change of plans.
Spouse said nothing. The motel owner wished us a good evening.
“So, no Paul McCartney?” Spouse asked.
“Do we really want to deal with traffic, hordes of people, the drive back late at night, and then hit the freeways early tomorrow? Besides, those margaritas kind of took the wind out me. And, we have all this fabulous water to ourselves. Let’s change into the spa robes and enjoy the night.”
The full moon inched above the palms. The wind blew itself out. We shed our robes and dived into the 101-degree water, lapped the pool, laughed, dived in again, splashed each other in the face, and let nature’s minerals cover our naked bodies that glistened in the moonlight.
No psychedelic screens. No songs from my past. And I didn’t even have to change clothes—just get out of them!
We had taken a desert trip back to re-experience old joys, and we did. Instead of rockers, it was nature. One way or another, you can always count on the desert.
Charmaine Coimbra writes and photographs for regional magazines and for her local newspaper in Cambria, Ca.