Journal 2
Jan 30 Day 8
Mecca to North Shore

Today: 12 Cumulative: 170

At 7: 30 in the morning the alarm sounds, a big fire to the west near Oasis. “Good luck fella, we gotta go.” I don’t have time to thank them, they are gone and I am on the street again.

Mecca. Millions of Muslims are circling a big black box in the center of town, the center of the world. The Kaa’ba. It stores the energy of over one billion Muslims, it is them most powerful object in the world. They wear white robes to make them equal, swirling masses, techtonic plates. A new Renaissance or a new Dark Age? One billion Muslims. Alla O Akbar. God is most great. 5 times a day, on hands and knees, forehead to the ground, ritual washing. Hands, feet, face. The box was built by Abraham and wears a cloak of black and gold. The name of God. Calligraphy. Desperate hands have worn away the stone, touch it and be saved. 5 times 7 times 4 times 12 times 80 give or take. 146,000 prayer sessions will get you a free pass to paradise (ten virgins for every one man). Please add 1,825 for each year there after (based on a life expectancy of 80 years, proof of insurance required, taxes not included, APR of 12.9% after 10 months.)

This is a different Mecca but there are similarities. No one speaks English, and the men circle the liquor store. Prostrations to the god of cheap beer. At 7:45 in the morning I am in line to pay for my coffee, behind me 4 men are in line to pay for beer. Unemployment is high, the work is seasonal, the grapes are gone. Oranges, lemons, limes. Most of this town’s population are illegal immigrants. Government housing, wild dogs, waiting for work, drug deals, more dust, more dogs, more alcohol. Outside the store there are 20 Mexicans with cowboy hats. One of them that speaks English tells me to leave this town before dark or I will be robbed. Most of the men in cowboy hats smile and wave, it is the younger ones who are not wearing cowboy hats that I am worried about. A few of them do not smile, they watch me from where they sit in the shadows, or from their front porches as if to say, “See you at the edge of town when we take your cameras and stick a knife in your gut.” I wave to them but they don’t wave back.

Mecca ranked as the second poorest city, per capita, in America.

Larry Diaz drives by and saves me. His wife teaches at a school up the street, away from the men who do not smile. Amy Diaz teaches at an elementary school, room number 5. It is recess, and Cosmo and I start a stampede on the playground. I talk to the class about Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Revolution,” the Iron Curtain, the Afghan wars, and in America, the possibility of a life less ordinary. Be free. Will they remember?

An invitation is extended, an extra room, a shower, good company. 12 miles down the road. 12 miles of limping. Towards Afghanistan to avoid the highway, a farm road with no traffic. On my left a vineyard of pruned grapevines on crosses, they all appear dead, hanging Y shapes, like 100,000 crucifixions. On my right, a citrus Eden. The sun is hard and burning my arms, dust is still blowing across the road like a western. I would rather be in the garden of earthly delights today than crucified on the cross of this journey. Today is the first day I am afraid of the pain.

Back on the highway the sun is setting, cars are not moving out of the way, a train rolls by every half hour. Palm tree farms, $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 each. For the country clubs, malls, suburbs. Your palm trees are harvested by illegal immigrants, so are the grapes for your wine, and limes for your gin and tonic. I ask someone why the government supports so many known illegals in Mecca. “Its obvious,” he tells me, “who else will do all the shit jobs that Americans aren’t willing to do?” A man walks down the tracks after a slow train passes by. He needs help, he speaks no English, I think he is lost. The North Shore of the Salton Sea is a strange Ellis Island. One mile up the road towards Mecca, at a place called Poor Richards Bait Shop, he will see a huge headless statue. The new Liberty. A man in blue overalls with a white t-shirt, his hand extended, gesturing to the new arrivals. A symbol of America’s old labor force. Decapitated. The man looks up at the statue; “I am your new America.”

Limping into the sunset. No one to complain to but my dog. She is doing so much better than I am, and to think I was worried she wouldn’t be able to do this. The question today is, Can I do this? I still appreciate the colors over the sea and the cool air that blows off the water. A gas station out of a movie set. More trains, more stars. At Larry and Amy’s I fall asleep on the floor with Cosmo, too tired to make it to the bed, too tired to care.

In my dreams: a song from the minaret. .....