No Telephone Booths at the Inn at Death Valley
The importance of costume changes in the life of a minimalist ultralight traveler
“Good evening, sir. Our sincere apologies. Is there anything I can do or get you to make you more comfortable? We are so sorry, sir, for this inconvenience.” Keeping the straight face that I’ve learned how to maintain in situations like these, I replied with a courteous “No, thank you. I’m doing just fine and no problem at all. I understand that this was well out of your control.” If I had been more on my game, I would have kindly asked for something like a free drink on the house, the best seat in the high falutin’ chandeliered dining room around the corner, or better yet, a complimentary foot massage at the poolside spa. But I was distracted, sinking all too comfortably into the large plush couch sitting in front of the big bay windows overlooking one of the most gorgeous light shows I’d seen. Easy to lose my train of thought sitting here.
“Well please let me know if anything comes to mind. I’ll be just over there. My name is William.” Peering over the top of my reading glasses, the half completed crossword puzzle on my phone, the carefully positioned sophisticated-looking knee cross in my nicest looking pair of pants, the vast expanse of the highly polished coffee table sprawled out in front of me, and the backlit horizon line of the mountain range way off in the distance across the valley floor, I answered with a “Why thank you, William. That is so kind. You will be the first to know.”
Only maybe thirty minutes prior to sinking into this lap of luxury, I was trying to find another spot to dodge the staff at the Ranch at Death Valley, just a hop and a skip down the road. Surely they’d recognized me by now after almost 10 days of lounging around the resort, for I certainly was starting to recognize all of them. “You know, that scrubby, shabby dude who always comes in with those tattered pants and shredded shoes. He’s got that green wool beanie that kinda makes him look homeless. Yeah, that guy. Unshaven, never seems to have anywhere to go. Has no money, I bet. I’ve seen him in here, the general store, the gift shop, over at the ice cream place, and in the bike shop but I’ve never seen him pull out a wallet. I usually see him at breakfast and dinner but he brings in his own food. He always sits with that same family over there in the corner. They always seem happy to spend money on the buffet, but not that dude! I betcha he’s one of those cheap wayward campers from down the street.”
My friends had left for home a couple of days ago, and it was getting harder for me to blend into the scenery. Much to my delight, I had just found a nice new nook that I hadn’t used yet where I could wrap up the sketch I was drawing on my phone. There I was sitting comfortably at one of the easy-to-miss tables out behind the ice cream joint, a spot where staff don’t come around too often, when instantly the scene took a sinister turn for the worse. Just like in one of those superhero comic books of my youth, the world turned upside down somewhere between the small innocent panel at the bottom of page one and the full-page full-blown massive disaster splatted on page two. That’s precisely when the world went to hell in a handbasket.
The skies instantly darkened. In the haste to pocket my phone, had I accidentally swiped left over to all the darker tones on my phone’s color palette? With only a slight sliver of bright light peaking out behind the back corner of Telescope Peak down valley, I could see that there wasn’t much time left. It started to sprinkle and I knew what that meant. I had to move quickly.
Sprinting through a sea of wet picnic tables to my well stashed get-away car parked in an obscure lot behind the tool shed, the sprinkles were turning to rain and then to an all out downpour. Someone or something was trying to get in my way, or at least chase me out of the ranch. Making a quick escape down the alleyways and out the front gates of the compound, a giant wall of wind carrying a flock of flying palm fronds slammed into the driver’s side car door. Glancing across the way, a sand storm had appeared out of nowhere with near zero visibility and it spent no time crossing the street. Cascading waves of sand were showering my escape car. The evil powers that be were surely trying to turn my car into the world’s biggest spice drop with a thick crystally coating of glittery quartz sand, but a quick acceleration to the right after the shortest ever California stop thwarted their plans.
Seeing no phone booths in the immediate vicinity, I reasoned that it should only be a few minutes down the road to find a decent place for a costume change. Maybe in the parking lot at the Inn at Death Valley a couple of miles up the road hidden behind that forbidding fortress of palm trees?
Lightning strikes were pounding the valley floor somewhere way off to the right but they were definitely marching towards me. The enemy must be near! Quickly swooping into one of the only parking lot spaces left at the Inn, a wonky wedge between two big pickup trucks, I hastily scanned the scene. No one in sight. I had maybe only a minute for a costume change. It was time to mask my secret identity as a rough and tumble camper and rise to the occasion. The big trucks on either side of me provided great cover. Quick! Change!!
Costume fully donned, I made a mad dash for the long and sparsely lit subterranean tunnel entrance that led to a well hidden elevator in a side spur down at its far end. But just as I got to the lift, the lights flickered and the world suddenly went pitch black. Oh no! Was I too late?!? A few precious seconds later, the emergency lights flickered on, and with no time left to spare, under spooky glows and shadows, I tunneled further into the depths to a dimly lit staircase. I knew it would be four long flights of stairs up to headquarters.
Exiting the stairwell, innocent guests were milling about aimlessly in the dark, dazed by the quick turn of events. Agendaless, they were easy to dodge around. I knew where I needed to go and what I had to do. A few more steps and I was upon it, a large comfortable couch carefully placed at the end of the long hall past the drawing room, the long string of reading nooks, and a well stocked bar. You know, the one with the bartender named William? Taking my place at the far right side of the wide empty coach and pulling out my phone, the moment of truth had finally come. Seeing that I had taken a seat in the designated spot, William strolled over to discuss the game plan. And that’s where this story loops back to the beginning…
Comic book superheroes aren’t the only ones who need secret identities and costume changes, my friends. Those of you who knew me during my early years of elementary school recess may remember that I loved to dash over to the playground fence, the one in the back that was adorned with all those thick layers of droopy vines of ivy, scoot my way deep inside for a brief moment, and emerge with newfound superpowers. Who knew at the time that it was all early practice for a valuable adulthood skill?
You see, whether you’re out minimalist camping as a desert rat down in Death Valley for days on end or minimalist traveling overseas in hostels and guesthouses, having a nice set of clothes to change into at the right moments is important. Your everyday set of sandy salty scrubs probably won’t cut it if you’re trying to worm your way into a nice reservation-only restaurant, catching a play at the local theater down on main street, wandering through a high brow art gallery on the corner of Snobbery and Wealth, or wanting to blend in with the rest of the crowd at the bar of a posh lounge in a ritzy resort in the middle of a desert.
Adhering to one of the tenants of ultralight minimalism, you’ll also want to be sure that these nicer clothes are multifunctional so that they may be used for more than one purpose. In other words, superheroes, leave your capes at home, but just maybe, if your trademarked logoed suit can double as a set of long underwear thermals in your winter travels, then go ahead and bring them along.
Besides wearing these few extra items of respectable looking clothes, you’ll also want to silently chant the “I belong here” mantra before you exit the telephone booth and head for the scene. That is, don’t actually act like a superhero (phew!), just pretend you're simply another one of the bunch in a way that everyone believes it. Wearing an air of confidence is one of the biggest keys to success in tricking them all.
Well, it’s now time to don a different costume to make it look like I know how to ski, but I wish the best of luck to you all when duty calls. I hope your well planned costumes end up fooling all the best of them. And no need to worry, should I smell you coming from far around the corner on some remote dusty trail someday, I’ll keep your real identity a well guarded secret.