Monday, September 28, 2009

SERIAL LITTERING ALONG ZZYZX ROAD

In my day (1979-1984), the traditional jumping-off point when driving to Los Angeles from Las Vegas was the Tropicana Avenue on-ramp for Interstate-15. This spot was highlighted by a mileage sign that read: L.A. 285 miles. So distance-wise, you knew immediately what you were against.

Due to the time factor, bordem plays a major role in this journey. So, unless this was your first trek across the desert, the scenery is a repetitious blend of brown deadness surrounded by dull, barren mountains. Nevertheless, within a half-hour, even rookies are ready for a nap before they pass the prison hamlet of Jean. Beyond that, the next incorporated town...which is only a dot on the map, is aptly called Stateline. Its at that spot that the Nevada portion of the trip ends. In the blink of an eye, you zoom by the two dusty, miniature casinos squashed inside the border as you enter California.

Despite its Utopian reputation for lush fruit orchards, fertile valleys, Pacific beaches and big cities, California's eastern side is dominated by deserts. And the bulk of the next three and a half hours to LA-LA-Land will be dominated by the nothingness.

100 miles into the trip, the excitement mounts as you near the thriving megalopolis of Baker. Boasting a Denny's, McDonald's AND a coffee shop in the Husky Truck Stop, this two gas station town, complete with a single flashing yellow traffic light, has billboards all along I-15, proclaiming Baker to be the: Gateway to Death Valley. I'm not certain that's something to be proud of...however, it is the first oasis since Vegas. So, whether you're burnt-out from the road, have a legitimate need for a pit stop or just want to fluff-up your butt, this opportunity is rarely passed-up by travelers.

Five minutes before Baker, just when the thought of being there has everyone agog...anticipating the experience of 113 degrees, you pass the oddest sign. At first you try to recall the spelling...then try to pronounce it. Inside the truck stop, you ask the chubby waitress the same question she's answered 10 thousand times, "Can you tell me about Zzyzx Road?"
WHEN YOU HAVEN'T SEEN A TURN-OFF OR MUCH OF ANYTHING ELSE FOR 80 MILES, CURIOSITY OVER THIS SIGN IS QUITE NATURAL. ALSO, THE 2006 MOVIE, "ZYZZYX ROAD," (note the different spelling), STARRING KATHERINE HEIGL DOES DEAL WITH THE SAME ZZYZX ROAD.

My waitress opened by correcting the pronunciation: "Zee-ZIX."

I can understand why a waitress or anyone in the hospitality business might become sarcastic. First, being sardonic is not an offensive weapon. Its a defense mechanism designed to protect against...in this case, the annoyance of being forced to respond to the same stupid question over and over. On the other hand, the most industrious souls, especially those who work directly for their own tips, have put them self into an interesting position by insulating the sarcasm with cleverly devised lies. The double benefit here is...she comes off as sincere and receives a more generous gratuity while entertaining the troops and giving impetus to a budding urban legend.

That's what my waitress did. After she confirmed the pronunciation she said, "To the naked eye, it looks like Zzyzx Road don't lead nowhere but..." She then rattled off quite a fantastic yarn. Down through the years, I have spread the word and have also heard many other versions it. That's why I always believed her story to be the McCoy. Nevertheless, 29 years later, I decided to find an objective source. After exhaustive research, I announce to you, the TRUE truth regarding the settlement called Zzyxz.

Numero Uno...it was NOT where NASA had a friendly close-encounter of the third kind with aliens from Planet Xenon. Part Deux...it was NOT a sex, drugs and rock 'n roll infested hippie commune and thirdly, at NO point did it serve as a hideout for Charles Manson and his legion of zombie-like, serial littering followers.

ITS A PROVEN FACT THAT LESLIE VAN HOUTON, LYNETTE "SQUEAKY" FROMME AND THE REST OF THE MANSON GIRLS HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH CRAPPING-UP THE MOHAVE DESERT WITH GARBAGE.

Actually...prior to 1944, the area was called Soda Springs. It attracted mainly elderly tourists who sought the therapeutic advantages of its natural spa. Back then, access was almost completely limited to rail service. Earlier, it was a watering stop for stagecoach lines and wagon trains.

In the early part of the 20th century, Soda Springs became an important prehistoric quarry, specializing in the recovery of ancient native American items. Later, salt mining became an important local industry as well as associated mills.

After 1944, Curtis Howe Springer took control of the enterprise and renamed it, "Zzyzx Mineral Spring and Health Spa.". He chose the word Zzyzx for the sole purpose of inventing the last entry in the dictionary. Due to tax problems and misuse of the land, he lost control in 1974 and the federal government seized the property. It's been overwhelming uninhabited until 1976. That's when the state university system was permitted to put its Desert Studies Center there.

In the heart of San Bernadino County, the entire four and half mile ride on Zzyzx Road from I-15 is still only partially paved. Despite providing no roadside services, curiosity seekers are still always welcome. It won't exactly be a Kodak moment but the remnants of the old mines and mills are still there. Plus, you can also check-out Lake Tuendae which is known as the home of the nearly extinct Mohave tui chub (fish). And if you're completely lifeless...the area code is (760), the zip code is 92309 and Baker...the Gateway to Death Valley...is seven miles north.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just finished your short story, A Gummy Conspiracy. Wow, it was great DMM

Anonymous said...

Why couldn't it (A Gummy Conspiracy) have a happy ending...like Meat-Bone geting crushed by a steam roller - SLW

Anonymous said...

Loved the story (Gummy Conspiracy), great character description, Fleischbien...what an ass-hole! I liked Barton Barton but the Bud got the best of him...I cried at the end. KING