CALIFORNIA CITY – OCT. 19-20 by Ann Van Hulle

On Saturday morning I only heard once before of the place we would sleep that night: California City. In between Death Valley and Los Angeles City, there is a town with a huge prison, an airstrip and Gloria’s Mexican restaurant named to queen Calafia ‘s paradise: California City.

Around 5 pm we hit the road to the Mohave; I was trying to succeed in my fourth day of the notorious Master Cleanse, and while driving trough the blue hour, I drank 12 onzes of maple syrup sweetened lemonade before we arrived at our host; Dennis Rudolph.

Dennis found himself a residency during the past Spring in California; he works and lives in the hangar next to the airstrip and sleeps in a reformed classroom trailer.  The full moon just arose over the mountains when he welcomes us at the trailer. Using some bowls made from cut-a-half plastic bottles, one plate and a chile conserve, we prepare some fusion Brie quesadillas, some Mediterranean-Middle Eastern inspired toasts and burritos…  The smell of a last minute cooking on the camping stove tortillas and beans weaken my determination to cleanse, so I went to  sleep with a stomach full of cheese, wheat and beans infused by red wine.

It’s the first night since my arrival in September that I lay on a real matrass, and it feels as sleeping in the clouds, until my first meal in more than 72 hours starts to disrupt the dreams I am living. A midnight ride to the entrance of the airport on the concrete airstrip leads to the sanitary block, although it didn’t interrupt the dreams that would follow.

The next morning we drink coffee on the porch of the trailer: we sit on the metal doorsteps and chatting with Dennis in his plastic garden chair about living in California City. He just mentioned that he never get any unexpected visitor passing by, when a car drives in, and a gray-hair sixty-year-old looking man pops out.  The friendly passenger names Allen; he has some cars stalled in front of Dennis trailer. Allen has a car restoration shop in Cal City and owns some of the old fashioned jalopies that he points out by name and brand.  The property that Allen and Dennis sharing is from Fisher, a LAPD cop with big aspirations to make movie props. The courtyard exhibits some of his personal noble unfinished intentions; police cars, cockpits, jets, … and plenty of metal ware.

A few minutes after we met Allen, Marilyn comes out the car, the couple represents a real life Hollywood romance. Before a few years ago when they met again, they didn’t hear or see from each other for about 40 years. After their first date as teenagers, he never asked her out again, they both married and became single parents. Thanks to the almighty internet; Allen sent her an email after decades of radio silence. The story been told and she added that you never can forget the first love. It’s an adorable couple, unfolding themselves as open minded people from town interested in Dennis project.  Dennis introduces them to his art work and shows Marilyn and Allen the tiles he made in the hangar. About 20 different images are displayed on the ground, each made of 4 tiles of kids who are smiling and looking at us. Most kids seem officially portrayed by the school photographer on a generic id frontal frame and looking straight and joyful to the lens of the camera. Dennis adopted the pictures from the internet; the kids been registered as missing California children.  Marilyn engages with the imagery while Allen is fascinated by Dennis his work process and production.  It appears to me that Allen and Marilyn are the first people from town, to create synergy between Dennis’ art and his inspiring surrounding environment.

The noon approaches as we take off for some sightseeing; we visit a historic gold mine town, Randsburg and wandering around under the desert sun. Afterwards we drive along the train trails and the salt lake heading to the ‘bleeding’ rocks of Red Rock Canyon State Park.  We hike up Hagen trail to explore the red rusty (iron oxidize) canyon, that by rainfall colorize the formations into bleeding cliffs. We start at the Turk’s Turban to search in between the Joshua trees and the million years old formations for Camel Rock and Window Rock, although we unfortunately never found back the latter one.  Time flies when you have fun and we realize we should hurry up to arrive before sunset at Dennis his new installation in Cal Cities sculpture garden. It’s a little past four and we consider to drive back by the loop around Randsburg, to make the way back more adventurous. However we first need to drive up to Randsburg again… we having fun and there is time to follow the senses of intuition.

At the point we drive onto the dirt road (that Dennis mentioned before as the start of the loop) we see three buffed guys shoveling a hole in the ground, guarded by a greyish pit bull. We pull along them to ask directions. One of the guys put his shovel in the dirt as we slow down and throw an empty bag of cement behind him. While he greets us, I notice that he’s missing his front left tooth, his body is well covered by tattoos and the black hole in his mouth would perfectly fit a cigarette, if he would time travel back and drinking beer in the saloon of Randsburg.
This pronounced man of showing no fear, emphasized that he wouldn’t take this road to California City. Impulsivity and hubris manned us and we hit the dirt road.

Meanwhile, time passed and the sun starts to set slowly in the desert, the saturated light of the sun blinded our eyes and we only s see a few meters ahead the curves of the dirt road. We navigate the steer by hanging our heads through the window. Neglecting the drift sand, the bumpy parts and the invisibility of the road, we got lost. The only way to get out is trying to get closer to the lights of the trucks and cars passing in the distance on a paved road. After driving more than 100 miles around, we finally make it during the blue hour at Dennis trailer, but he’s not there. We drive back and forth between the airport and the trailer but we can’t find the sculpture garden nor Dennis, until his Nissan truck  pass by and we follow him to the Garden.

The Sculpture Garden is located by the entrance of the city, next to the Mobil gas station that provides the cold white light to see Dennis his work at the evening. He had mounted in the afternoon his missing children installation as a start of the gate from Heaven to Hell. Around the gate, he put up earlier this year some more work. One of the works got customized that day by a local vendor who sold sunglasses in a booth next to it, and freely adjusted a rear view mirror to the work, to offer his potential clients a look at themselves. Working in California City requires a certain sense of community spirit.

The sun set down in the West and we need to head back to Los Angeles, but first we celebrate a last supper in Cal City at the local Mexican restaurant; Gloria’s.  The night falls silently over the desert; we hanging out on the truck enjoying marshmallow Snicker ice scream.  A hour later we driving back on the Highway singing along the shooting stars as crying coyotes.