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05 Apr 2013

Early Palm Springs: A Personal Memoir

Written by 
Rick and his mother, Lillian. Rick and his mother, Lillian.

When I was growing up in Los Angeles, my parents came to Palm Springs almost every weekend. It wasn't surprising that they decided to eventually retire here. They lived in the same house for more than 35 years, and I continued to visit them as an adult.

I decided to move here permanently 10 years ago to help out my mother after my father passed away. I took care of her for eight years until she passed away in 2011, at the age of 91.

Looking back conjures up a lot of memories and makes me realize just how much the Coachella Valley has changed over the years. As a kid back in the ’60s, I can remember how excited I was whenever it was time for another Palm Springs weekend. As soon as we reached the desert, the first thing I noticed was how clear the sky was compared to all the smog back in Los Angeles. However, by the time the ’70s had arrived, there were days when even the desert had a cloud of pollution hanging over it.

I could always tell when we reached town by the abrupt change of scenery. One minute, it was nothing but barren desert. Then suddenly, there was lush greenery, as well as the hustle and bustle of small shops.

I can actually remember when Palm Canyon Drive and Indian Canyon Drive were both two-way streets. When you're a kid, everything looks bigger. Now these streets seem so narrow. I can't imagine how two-way traffic ever existed on them.

We used to stay at some of the historic hotels in the area, including the original Riviera and the Howard Manor. I noticed that every hotel's TV set had a closed-circuit station that broadcast nothing but weather information. There would be a series of dials that would show temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure and wind speed. A camera sitting on a track would slide back and forth showing these various dials with music playing in the background. I remember watching this channel for hours, hoping the camera would fall off the track. It never happened!

My father was an avid golfer, and sometimes, he would take me along with him. That would give my mother the opportunity to go shopping. Back in those days, none of the streets that crossed washes had bridges built over them, so in the rain, those streets would become flooded very quickly. My mother was quite a daredevil when it came to driving and felt she was adept enough to navigate the rough waters. Somehow, she always made it across, apparently determined to take advantage of the big sales going on at the stores.

Sometimes, we would come to the desert in the summertime. I remember one visit when we heard on the weather report that it was 122 degrees. But that didn't stop my parents. They would occasionally go to Las Vegas for a change of pace, but Palm Springs always remained their favorite destination.

When she was in her prime, people used to tell my mother she looked like Marilyn Monroe. She used to be a fashion coordinator, and her passion was shopping in department stores for clothes. She had so many outfits that she rarely wore the same thing twice. My mother was outrageously funny, and I think I got my sense of humor from her. There was never a dull moment when she was around.

In her later years, though, she didn't go out much. She preferred to stay home and watch TV. You could always find her sitting on the couch watching Regis Philbin, The View, Judge Judy and her favorite channel, HLN. She also enjoyed reading the National Enquirer and believed every word of it!

In its heyday, Palm Springs was a vibrant and exclusive getaway. Now revitalization efforts are underway to recapture that energy.

My mother's energy and vitality still live on inside everyone who knew her. The two-year anniversary of her passing is this month. To my mother, Lillian: I love you, I miss you, and your sunny outlook will always be synonymous with Palm Springs.

Like the song says, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." So true.

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