Monday, May 14, 2012

History Sailing Lazily in Palmdale

Mother's Day. Standing in front of the hand dryer in the restroom at McDonald's, hitting the button once more to get my hands fully dry. Riffling through DVDs at Office Depot, happily finding that Rodrigo Garcia's Mother and Child still matters enough to be sold, even at Office Depot. At an outdoor table at Sonic, quickly retrieving fluttering napkins under the spell of wind, Palmdale's chief import. Finding Crispix on the top shelf of the cereal aisle in Walmart, across from Sonic.

I felt it in all those places. In that McDonald's restroom, someone was there before me. Not immediately before, or 20 minutes before, but further back. Way further back. I felt it on the road to Palmdale and past patches of desert on the way to Petco, and then PetSmart, and then Office Depot, then Sonic, then Walmart. The farther you get from the frenetic nature of Los Angeles and the willful historical amnesia of that part of the region, the more room there is for land to breathe, there's a bigger sense of history. I'm still trying to believe that people in Baker are living there by choice, but it's easy to believe that people in Palmdale are. I imagine them as descendants of prospects, settlers, people comfortable with living in such a barren setting, who could make their lives out of the wide swaths of dirt and bleached-out ground. The little grass that's there has to have been there long before anyone even thought of establishing Palmdale.

History doesn't press upon Palmdale like it does in Buena Park. It has a lighter touch, like it does in Anaheim, but it's more of a hands-off approach. It sails lazily in the sky like crows circling and circling above the Walmart parking lot. They have wind turbines in that lot to provide power in the store so that not as much electrical power has to be used. And I wonder about the process of that, who decided on it, what meetings were held, how long the construction took. But then I look across the street from where I'm sitting at Sonic, and I wonder what had been there before that shopping center.

The difference between Buena Park and Palmdale is that there's not as much a need to know the history of Palmdale because the history is always there somewhere. It's right out in the open; you don't have to explore as much. It's quick, whereas the history of Buena Park takes time to know. That's not to say that Palmdale's history is shallow, but you can know it right away, the settlements that were there, the artifacts that possibly remain.

Walking into PetSmart, I said to Mom about being in Palmdale, "Consider it a dry run for parts of Las Vegas." Some areas are as wide-ranging as Palmdale, with that much desert showing. Even with how dense the Strip is with people and hotels and shops and restaurants, you go around the back and there's the desert, going further and further the other way. That history is always available, and there are so many resources to tap to find it. It doesn't feel like Palmdale has quite the same resources, but surely they've collected their history somewhere, and keep it close because what came before cannot be forgotten, otherwise that section of the desert has nothing.

Because it's not near Los Angeles and therefore doesn't have the same "Forward! Always forward!" attitude, there is time for reflection in Palmdale. History will always have room. I don't think I could ever thrive there, but it's nice to know that history is alive in another part of Southern California. I just hope it remains.

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