A few weeks ago, I had the sun-dappled pleasure of helping my friend Jeffrey celebrate his 40th birthday in Palm Springs, CA. Jeffrey and a few dozen friends took over an entire 1950's-style motel just for the occasion, Ruby Montana's Coral Sands, owned and lovingly presided over by the vivacious and hospitable Ruby Montana. Though I've enjoyed many Palm Springs lodging options in my visits over the years, from friends' homes to budget hotels like the Travelodge to swankier digs like the Riviera Resort and Spa, Ruby's is my favorite by far. It's a slice of hot pink, mid-century kitsch heaven?with a cozy, make-yourself-at-home vibe and free wireless, to boot.
Each room is decked out with collectibles and has its own theme, like the Liberace Suite or the Howdy Doody Goes To Bali Suite. I was in the Let 'er Buck Suite, which was done up vintage cowboy style. Sleeping there made me feel like Hopalong Cassidy even though I have no idea who he is. I think he wore spurs, though, and maybe he was related to David Cassidy. It would be cool if he was.
It was a blast of a weekend and while lounging with old and new friends around the kidney-shaped pool, I recalled my many previous visits to Palm Springs and reflected on what it is about that desert getaway that keeps me coming back for more. Is it the natural beauty? The Cabazon Outlet Malls? The vibrant gay scene? Is it that they have a Dairy Queen?
Yes, yes, yes and sweet holy Scrumpdillyciousness, yes! But above all what I love about Palm Springs is the fact that I can't help but relax there. No matter what frustrations are bouncing around in my head when I head there, once I pass the windmills, the desert air, casual pace and surplus of parking gang up on me and remind me to, in the immortal words of Faith Hill, just breathe.
Though Palm Springs is home to several big gay events like the White Party and Dinah Shore Weekend, I've never actually been to either. My ideal PS visit is more of a mellow jam. I love to hang out poolside and do the crossword from the local gay rag, Pulp or enjoy a long, leisurely meal under the misters at Matchbox, Look or Wangs. When the sun gets too hot, I'll head indoors and catch a movie at The River shopping plaza, where I discovered the wonder of Kettle Corn, or the more art-housy Camelot Cinema. It was there that I caught Del Shores' Sordid Lives when it was a local cult phenomenon. People were shouting out dialogue and snapping their stop-smoking wrist rubber bands right along with Beth Grant's Sissy on screen. It was quite a scene. That's about as rowdy as I like to get in Palm Springs.
As for gay haunts, I like to dance at Hunter's and mingle at Toucan's Tiki Lounge. The vibe there is friendly. It's hard to give attitude when it looks like you've got a parrot growing out of your head. There are a lot of clothing optional resorts in Palm Springs but I've only ever been to one and I forget which. A friend and I went for a few hours to hang by the pool. We opted for clothing but I remember there was an older fellow splayed out a couch in the lobby who didn't. He was naked and casually fondling himself and nobody batted an eye. I nicknamed him Eb because he reminded me of that peripheral sitcom character that all the other characters just laugh off. "Was Eb fiddling with himself again in the lobby?" I imagine the manager saying. "Oh, that's just his way. Pay him no never mind."
On a side note, I think there should be a clothing optional resort that catered to horny guys who also enjoyed practical jokes. It could be called Wacky Jack's and the proprietor would be a notorious prankster who would short sheet the beds, and hide whoopee cushions all over the place. Hearty cries of "You got me, Wacky Jack!" would echo through the desert and Wacky Jack would laugh and laugh and laugh.
Like Eb and the fictional Wacky Jack, I could easily see being happy in Palm Springs in my older years, should I be fortunate enough to live that long. I think it would be a great place to end up. This notion first occurred to me several years ago. A friend and I were having lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes on Arenas, the gay street, when an elderly gentleman sauntered by wearing a skimpy, stretchy Technicolor get-up straight out of the 1985 International Male catalog. My lunch-mate, who I'm no longer friends with, was appalled. "That's the problem with Palm Springs," he muttered. "I don't need to see that."
"I do need to see that," I countered. "I love seeing that. That's part of what I love about Palm Springs. I love knowing that no matter how old and ugly I get, if I feel like rocking a pair of tangerine mesh step-ins, there's I place I can go to do it."
And they have a Dairy Queen, too.