I was recently reading about a ‘general psychologist’ who has spent years collaborating on the study of culture and its effect on our lives: its own sort of quiet push and pull on what we perceive as our autonomy.  Go check it out on Edge; it’s a wonderful read.

I need to talk about Twentynine Palms.

A very good friend of mine joined me for a couple days during my week in this town, which is home to Joshua Tree National Park.  Not Joshua Tree.  Both of which are situated upon 29 Palms Hwy.  Joshua Tree hosted the Desert Stars Festival on the last Friday-Saturday I was in the area.  29 Palms [actually Wonder Valley] held the Wonder Valley Experimental festival that same Saturday night.

There are a number of restaurants in 29 Palms that aren’t open for dinner; there are a number more not open for 2 or more days out of the week; every dining / bar establishment I visited (or even just passed by in Joshua Tree) either had people waiting for tables, or would have a wait not long after I arrived, or was so slammed-waiters-in-the-weeds it’s not really even worth trying to quantify it.

But why?  This was something my friend and I discussed on multiple occasions during those few days.  What is this dichotomy of such small towns seemingly perpetually busy and overrun?  Why doesn’t it expand?  Why aren’t there more businesses soaking up that foot traffic?

I have no legitimate speculation on the matter; I just needed to put it down.  I’ve never experienced a place that appeared to be so squarely in the position to capitalize on ever-present and willing tourists / visitors / residents / passer-bys.  But just not.

We went to both the Desert Stars Festival (its 11th iteration) and the Wonder Valley Experimental (also its 11th iteration).  Both were very good experiences, but for very different reasons.  We determined that Desert Stars really oversold itself, and Wonder Valley was great insomuch because it absolutely did not oversell itself.  At Desert Stars, I got to see for the first time an artist I have been a fan of for nearly a decade.  At the Experimental, I got to see honestly curious and creatively non-dismissive people enjoying one another’s company.  Both had their share of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ acts.  Both were good experiences.  Both were weird.  We paid too much for one.  The other was free.

Diaphanous dichotomy in the high desert.

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