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On the Road to Spring Training

by Josh Heller Apr 3, 2012
Roadtripping with dad through the Sonoran Desert to a baseball game in Phoenix.

WE LEFT LOS ANGELES at 6am. Dad was driving, so I was asleep before we even merged on to the 134. I woke up just outside of Beaumont. A billboard emblazoned across the highway in Old West font read: “Gramma’s Country Kitchen — God Bless America.”

I live in a multicultural liberal bubble; I sometimes forget that our country is currently embroiled in a debate about which kind of Republicanism should dominate conservative thought. God or Capitalism? That discussion hasn’t quite reached the blue corridors of LA, but we found it at Gramma’s. Just 80 minutes outside of LA you realize you’ve hit the middle of the country.

This was officially a family restaurant, so they wouldn’t have let me in if I wasn’t traveling with my father. We needed to refuel on coffee and gravy en route to a spring training baseball game in Phoenix.

The room was filled with Americana tchotchkes — artisanal pieces of wood painted to resemble a Revolutionary era American flag. (Though I can’t remember when the US flag had seven stars, two red stripes, and one white stripe.) The plaid table cloths and kitschy paintings made this restaurant feel like someone’s imagined interpretation of what a country grandmother’s house might look like in the 1930s.

I scanned the windows for freshly cooked pies. The restauranteurs were excitedly promoting their Classic Car Night. Most people in attendance probably could not actually remember the 1950s. Their only point of reference would be Happy Days reruns. The collective memory of the 50s and 60s gets mitigated by the popular culture of the 70s and 80s.

Gramma’s showcased handwritten construction paper signs conveying inspirational messages and information about menu items. Over the pie display case a misspelled sign read: “When you feel like your drowning in life…Do not worry your life guard walks on water.” Beneath this affirmation a sign advertised: “Homemade cinnamon rolls.”

Perhaps I am less evolved because my body can’t process gravy for breakfast.

I ordered Gravy N Eggs® because it was the most disgusting thing on the menu. A biscuit and fried eggs drowned by a white sausage gravy. Do foods like this contribute to the American obesity epidemic? Is this something people eat on a regular basis? How do people not have constant stomach aches? I could never eat this more than twice a year. Perhaps I am less evolved because my body can’t process gravy for breakfast.

We drank unlimited pots of coffee and joked about how lame that elderly white man in a Native American print t-shirt was for flirting with the cashier by asking her how to spell pendejo.

I paid because my dad was going to cover every other expense on the trip, and we drove into the vast Sonoran desert.

This land was underwater during the Pleistocene. We drove through along the perfectly flat bottom of this dried up ocean bounded by mountains on the horizon. The desert heat pretends that there are still remnants of the sea along the silt, but that is a mere mirage.

A man with a bushy mustache and a legionnaire’s cap carried an American flag and jogged east down I-10, thirty miles outside of Indio. There’s not much between the Coachella Valley and Phoenix, just Blythe, the blighted hamlet on California’s frontier at the Colorado River.

Why would anyone choose to live in the desert? Maybe it wasn’t a choice.

We stopped at the K-Mart in Blythe to use the toilet. The bored staff eyed us in the food court while they slowly ate nachos and stale popcorn. We considered shopping, but realized we didn’t need any above ground pools or packaged cotton candy. My dad put his fingers over an advertisement: “Free Ham for Easter” became “Free Hamster.”

I put that picture on to the internet, and my sister instantly responded, “OOH DADDY BUY ME ONE!!!”

Firstly, the ad for “Hamsters” was clearly hoaxed, secondly it said the aforementioned pet rodent was “Free.” I wondered if my sister had fallen into the trap of millennials not thinking before they send instantaneous responses or if she was America’s leading brilliant absurdist. In the sundries aisle a father with a face tat was holding his son’s hand. I wondered how much cooler my dad would be if only he had a tattoo on his face. I briefly considered purchasing a teddy bear with a t-shirt that read “Alguien En Blythe, Me Quiero!” but then realized that nobody in Blythe loves me.

Further east there were strict border controls at the Arizona police state line. We waited for 15 minutes before they decided that we weren’t deportable. There was no wait to enter California.

Phoenix makes you forget that you’re in the desert.

The terrain changes east of the Colorado — the land is empty except for cacti that look like scarecrows and chimney-shaped red mountains that block cell phone signals. The land is barren, then briefly rural, then abruptly metropolitan. Phoenix makes you forget that you’re in the desert. It’s a Moon Colony with houses and tall buildings, built around skyscraper mountains.

We drove into town along a boulevard named after a 1964 right-wing presidential candidate. We passed posh chain restaurants, expensive design studios, and a steak house written in comic sans font. We parked at a hotel and met up with my dad’s friends.

We walked down to the Giants’ temporary stadium. Bay Area baseball descends on Scottsdale for one month a year to celebrate their home team.

The desert sun was blaring down. I didn’t have a hat, so I bought one. It’s not that I’m a Giants fan, it’s just I prefer them to sunstroke. We ate Italian sausages, garlic fries, 24 ounce Modelo ‘bombers.’ I put down my beer and took off my hat for the National anthem. I picked up my beer and put on my hat when we sang Take Me Out to the Ball Game.

During the seventh inning stretch, I realized that a Spring Training outfielder’s primary job is to throw foul balls to kids. The game ended in a tie in the tenth inning, because nothing really matters during Spring Training. It’s all about having a good time. And I was having a good time, with my dad and his friends.

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