Fake News hits the hi-desert!
Author and awesome squash player, Ivy Pochoda, seen contemplating the wolves of Wonder Valley from the relative safety of the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival. Photo courtesy of David Shankbone. No, really. That's what it says his name is on Wikimedia. Really.
Come on, admit it - it wouldn't be 2017 without some fake news in the mix. And for our final fake news of the year, we turn to author Ivy Pochoda and the "failing" New York Times.
Yes, after all, why should our president have all the fun (we fully intend to tweet this story out as soon as it's done), blathering on about the fake news media all the time. Those of us in the media know far more about how it gets manipulated and co-opted and bought and sold than any two-bit New York real estate developer, after all. And since we now have a legion of mindless MAGAts who know literally nada about journalism all telling us that virtually anything and everything we write is "fake" news, we thought it's high time we just jump into the cesspool with them!
I hadn't intended our prime example of late 2017 fake news to be Pochoda's lovely travel piece for The New York Times, "In the California Desert: Vast Darkness, Vibrant Music, an Oasis," but the more I read, the more it seemed this travel piece had donned the fauxhemian garb of fiction (we stole that term "fauxhemian" from someone in New York, by the way, and we're not giving it back).
Plus, and I need to disclose this in the name of journalistic integrity, an ideal we've all heard about but have rarely seen, I'm jealous. After all, Pochoda's a trendy, popular novelist, and I'm jealous, because I'm on the second chapter of my first novel, and you know what? It's hard work writing these novels. Add to that the New York Times just rejected me for some utter wet dream of a job where they pay you gobs of cash to travel the globe and write for a full year - a job that no doubt saw something near 2.3 million applicants - and hey, so much for objectivity.
Some of Pochoda's meandering desert travel epic rings true, even to these jaded hi-desert ears, though she did claim in her initial story (more about that later) that Joshua Tree was actually south of Palm Springs. Uh, no. You're thinking of perhaps, Borrego Springs, which is also an awesome place to go, and one of our favorite desert towns.
Her first paragraph about winding up in Wonder Valley mostly by accident, sounded like an authentic desert experience. After all, quite a few folks in Wonder Valley have wound up there by accident. Some will tell you they got there on purpose, but press them for details, and... poof! They can't quite recall what that purpose was, can they?
Of course Pochoda blames this accident on mistakenly booking a vacation rental in Wonder Valley while thinking she was reserving a home in Joshua Tree. This is a problem that has gotten worse since her first visit, not better. Virtually all 3,417 Airbnbs in the hi-desert all proudly proclaim themselves to be "in" Joshua Tree. Some are even (gasp!) in Landers.
But by her second paragraph, Pochoda gets down to serving up a hearty dish of misinformation - the kind of misinformation that can only be known as fake news.
First, she refers to our area as the "High Desert." Wrong, wrong, wrong, you urban elitist snowflake. Our area, the area also known as the Morongo Basin, is the hi-desert. The people who actually settled this place purposefully chose that spelling because the Lancaster/Palmdale area has always traditionally been known in southern California, as the high desert. Our wise hi-desert elders (they were wise, but judging by some of their offspring, they seem to have married close cousins, if you get my drift) wanted to make sure nobody mistook our area for Lancaster/Palmdale (good move!), and besides, hi-desert (always lower case, because we're a no-ties, informal kind of place, not at all like Manhattan), sounds welcoming and friendly (though sometimes our residents can be that kind of friendly where they'll drink all your booze, smoke all your dope, and then steal your car).
We see a lot of folks using the term "High Desert," because they're not from here and they want to make sure all of us backward folk get our spelling correct, and capitalize it like it's a proper pronoun, which it is. Sort of. Or not. We often see this unwanted correction of our area's name done by sophisticated pseudo-intellectual urbanites from Los Angeles, or even New York, who also love to refer to Joshua Tree National Park as "the monument," despite the fact that they never lived here when it was a national monument. They think it makes them sound like they fit in. They don't.
But Pochoda's second paragraph contains a more egregious error - and one the editors of the Times should absolutely have caught - that is, if they weren't trying to pass off some of that fishy fake news on their unsuspecting readers. Pochoda informs us that you can go to Joshua Tree National Park (at least she doesn't call it the monument - thanks Ivy!), and "get your mind blown by Martian red rock formations..."
Uh, no. Joshua Tree National Park does not have red rock formations. None. Monzogranite? Sure. But while you can find some red rock up in the oddly named Red Rock Canyon State Park in the northwest of the Mojave Desert, and you can find it in the similarly named Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just outside Las Vegas, and in Valley of Fire State Park, also not far outside Las Vegas, or virtually just about everywhere in southeast Utah, we have no red rock in Joshua Tree (unless Mr. Andre went and painted another boulder or something).
Who paid the fact checker to look the other way on that whopper?
I'll overlook the fact Pochoda drops the "bohemian" bomb on us once again (the last time it was the LA Times that did it, and really, once was enough, thank you). We get that we're different than the Coachella Valley, thank God, and yes, while much of the lo desert resembles a well manicured mausoleum, we are a little rougher and in need of a pedicure, or at least a bath.
Now, if Ms. Pochoda were to have submitted her story to this somewhat less than prestigious publication instead of the old grey lady, she would have had her red rocks dug out right away, along with the screaming windmills she had to drive through to get here (they do not scream, that's hyperbolic).
Never mind her brutish depiction of our fabulous Joshua trees with their "knifelike leaves reaching up toward the brutal sun," we all know they don't have leaves, they have spiky things that really hurt when you accidentally stab one into the side of your head, it's her epiphany about the desert that really strikes out:
“I get it,” I say, “it doesn’t look like much.”
In fact, Highway 62 doesn’t even look like desert.
Really? So, Ms. I-saw-red-rocks-in-Joshua-Tree-desert-expert, the desert doesn't look like the desert? Well, it damned sure doesn't look like lower Manhattan, now, does it?
OK, so then she utterly erased Morongo Valley from the map as the first town she passed on her oddessy (yes, it's misspelled, but more accurate this way), was Yucca Valley, where tattoo parlors and smoke shops rival the number of big box stores and fast food joints. Well, she got that right, anyway.
Then, she arrived in Joshua Tree (town, not park), which she describes as "equally grim." Yes, hipsters and fauxhemians, she just completely dissed your "village," in just two words, clearly not understanding that the cool people of Joshua Tree absolutely would, under normal circumstances, kill just about anyone who equated their town with Yucca Valley, let alone refer to it as grim.
Our intrepid explorer, enduring grimness after grimness, continued on to Twentyine Palms, a "town of barbershops advertising military haircuts, more tattoo parlors and smoke shops..." and she goes on to note two bars "too divey even for me," and a worrisome number of massage parlors.
That's hilarious. Back in the early days of The Sun Runner Magazine, when it was still based in Twentynine Palms (before the good citizens of the city offered to firebomb my office, that is), not long after the magazine began publishing on January 1, 1995, Vickie Waite, the founding editor of the publication ran a quite funny piece that gently parodied Twentynine Palms in a similar manner, and it caused an uproar that resulted in quite a few canceled ads and outraged readers demanding an apology. But, in the interest of journalistic integrity, I'd have to say that her portrayal, just like that of Deanne Stillman (another author whom to this day the mere mention of her name elicits an angry response in that scrappy town), is pretty much right on.
The only thing I'd add is that the dive bars are actually pretty friendly, and Pochoda doesn't understand much about the Marine Corps because the base commander will designate any bar that's too "divey" as off limits. I fondly remember the Joshua Tree Saloon's days as being "off limits" because evidently it was too dangerous for Marines returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to have a drink there. This was before they started serving seared ahi tuna salads and putting on airs.
Oh, and I'd add that some folks in the city keep saying they can't do anything about the happy ending massage parlors that service, errr..... serve, the Marines in town. Yes, yes you can do something about them. The Coachella Valley has had licensing requirements that have fully regulated the massage businesses there for years. If they can do it, so can you.
Soon, Pochoda passed the "sturdy" (she loves that word) adobes and emerged in Wonder Valley. She drove by the famous "Next Services 100 Miles" sign (it's famous because artist Andrea Zittel once gave an interview to some big city paper with no fact checkers where she said she lived past that sign - yeah, going the other way, back in Joshua Tree). She bravely drove on through the "savage terrain that seemed to stretch on for a nerve-racking distance." Give her a medal!
Now, honestly, I love it that Pochoda does "get" a lot about the desert, and she appreciates what it has to offer. But snuffling beneath the deck? What desert animal with any self respect snuffles? Was that just a literary device? If so, why do literary devices snuffle? Allergies, probably.
No, I think I've found the answer: wolves. Wolves snuffle. Especially the ones in the original version of her story (that has been edited since our first reading). Apparently we weren't the only ones who caught the fact that wolves had been included in the story, despite the fact that there are zero wolves here. Maybe when sloths roamed the countryside, munching slothfully on the tasty knifelike leaves of our Joshua trees, wolves may have howled, but not for quite some time.
Note to NYT editors who replaced "wolves" with "dogs" in this story: we do have a problem out here with people abandoning their dogs, and those dogs forming packs, and those packs occasionally bringing down a desert bighorn sheep, or threatening and attacking a human. One pack had been really going after our local bighorn sheep, until, a national park ranger explained to me, "we took care of the problem." No, they didn't round up the doggies and take them to the pound.
But while it appears the fact checkers may have awoken at the Times and realized that wolves are not included in our entertaining selection of wildlife, they missed the subtle clue that followed that tipped us off that Pochoda had engaged in time travel as well.
Time travel? How could that be?
Simple. Pochoda's description of the 29 Palms Inn gives it away. She talked about her trip nearly a decade ago, and the wall around the Inn's pool area being painted in "gradients of purple" on the pool side of the wall, and gradients of orange on the exterior. Well, they just painted the wall in those gradients in the past year, so clearly, Pochoda time traveled during her first visit.
But on a later visit to the Inn (which is well worth repeated visits, by the way - we go as often as possible), she understands that being at the Inn in the Mojave is somehow the equivalent of being in a U.S. consulate on a small island in the South Pacific. Minus the South Pacific, of course, or the tall coconut palms replacing our squatter, native palm trees. If you spend enough time at the Inn, you may find yourself thinking it's similar, however, to a consulate somewhere on Alderaan, before the planet's untimely demise.
Her depiction of a night at the Inn is hilarious, with its "rugged tourists" and "resident artists and musicians of a rougher cut." I'm trying to visualize the Inn filled with "rugged" tourists. Were they all wearing lumberjack clothes? Big beards? Those are hipsters! The only thing rugged about them is their desire to make big bonfires during 45 mph winds when they're getting a craving for s'mores at some Hipcamp, doing their best to burn down our homes.
Pochoda's description of the Campbell House is about as shallow as it gets for travel writing, entirely ignoring, well, the Campbells, who really deserved more of a mention, especially in light of their contributions. No. We're not going to tell you more about them. Go ask the New York Times. They're the ones hiring people who don't know anything about the places they write about.
I can forgive Pochoda's hyperbole and odd adjectives to a point, especially since this is ostensibly a story about fake news, even the swallows carving the purple sky, our gritty flowers, and fields of cactuses, with our insistent hidden oases, but then she went to The Palms, which defies description anyway.
Don't get me wrong, I love The Palms. I just can't take my wife there any more because the first and last time I took her there some drunkass local woman tried to pick a fight with her. "Yoush look like onna dem LA womenth," the local woman who is actually from LA, said to my wife, who is from New Jersey. It went downhill from there. The woman, it turned out, made her living by taking pictures of people's auras every Thursday night at the Palm Springs VillageFest, with a special (ie: expensive) Polaroid camera. What portion of the money the woman did not spend on driving back and forth to Palm Springs from Wonder Valley, she spent on cheap beer, knowing full well The Palms never 86es anyone. Not even the shape-shifting reptililans who frequently drop by on Saturday nights.
I was ready to jump in to keep my wife from being clumsily assaulted as the woman got threateningly in her face, but luckily, my wife's hairdresser at the time, Jerry, walked through the door right then and quickly intervened. Jerry lived in Wonder Valley and frequented The Palms, and had even survived a tornado that struck his home. We do have some pretty interesting, and sometimes severe, weather out here. Dick Dale, the surf guitar king, had a giant 2,000 gallon (don't quote me on this because I'm going on memory here) water tank that once was blown something like four miles away, and Jerry had his roof - and his electric meter - blown off his house and off somewhere into the desert, never to be seen again.
What was funny, was that Southern California Edison sent Jerry an electric bill while he was waiting for them to come out to replace his meter. He asked them how they knew how much to bill him. "We read the meter," was the reply. "Oh, you found it!" Jerry responded.
Virtually none of us who live here would be surprised to find out that SCE lies. Some of that might come from the fact that another agency in the line of plying power, LA Department of Water and Power, told some really big whoppers to us a while back. But that's another story.
Pochoda wrapped things up saying "big city artists and artisans and a rumored hipster hotel chain are coming," conjuring up images of change sweeping across our little wolf-riddled red rock part of the Mojave, snuffling through the knifelike leaves of the Joshua trees, and, well, changing things. But we already have lots of big city artists and artisans, and some get me called a pornographer for printing their ads in the magazine (another story, but tied to that mention of people wanting to firebomb my office), and others make me really nice stuff that I love and use, and are as sweet as can be. The hipster hotel "chain," is really just a couple remodeling (slowly) Govinda's old Circle C Lodge. Not exactly Ace Hotel Twentynine Palms or anything.
Pochoda's story in the New York Times isn't a happenstance kind of thing. She has a novel that's just come out called "Wonder Valley." I'm glad she finds inspiration for her storytelling in our sturdy, rugged part of the desert.
Oh, and this notice has appeared at the bottom of her travel story in the New York Times:
Correction: December 20, 2017
An earlier edition of this article described incorrectly the location of Joshua Tree. It is north of Palm Springs and other resort towns, not south. The article also misidentified the source of sounds in the desert. They were coyotes, not wolves.