Down the Coast 8: Yuma, AZ


Yuma, Arizona: Nothing but caravan parks, American flags and Christmas decorations as far as the eye can see. This is where the debris of America goes to die – people, animals, things. This is death’s waiting room: retirees heading south for the winter to sit among the sand and wait. This is desert and apocalyptic wind, bargain warehouses and personal utes the size of granny flats. This is grotesque consumerism played out in double-bagged groceries and all the cheap plastic the population can lap up. This is dead streets and old people, new houses and deeply mundane conversation about nothing at all. This is where weather-talk was born.

In the caravan (RV in American lingo) the TV blares constantly from the far wall: reality TV, commercial news, daytime soaps, holiday specials and ads upon ads upon ads. Christmas has risen like a bile in my throat and I don’t want to see another snowman or flashing light for as long as I fucking live but there they are anyway, lining the dead streets, cluttering front yards, blinking plastic against the whitewash.

The sun has soaked this place through, no-one even notices it’s up there any more.

It’s like I’ve finally hit America – the America I was expecting anyway – and it’s all concentrated on the border, like they’ve pooled all their forces around the edges to keep other cultures the hell out and American culture in, to slow the process of osmosis as much as is possible.

Cards are important here. In the evenings, Marcel plays game after game of Solitare on the computer while Colette reads or watches TV. In the afternoons, Colette plays bridge in the clubhouse, while Marcel smokes and walks laps of the RV. At 3 or 4pm, they all gather – RV park friends, retired and waiting – in lawn chairs on the clean white gravel, drinking together in the what’s left of the sun. My youth here is a novelty so I am the centre of conversation when I join them. They tell me over and over how dangerous Mexico is, tell me stories of theft and murder and swindle.

I’m here to leave my car. It’s too dangerous and too complicated to drive over the border, so I’m leaving Roger with relatives and flying to Puerta Vallerta, then taking the bus to La Manzinilla, where Jeanne and Brian and Glen have their house. Colette is my step grandmother. She married my grandfather after his divorce and my mother says she saved him. She was there to help him as he grew old and she was there to help him as he died, and then she married Marcel and is now growing old with him, south for the winter, bridge in the afternoons, TV in the evenings, early to bed, up and at ’em late. It doesn’t take long for the photo albums to come out. There I am, two years old, white blonde hair and pixie features. In some, my brother’s a baby. In some, Mum is pregnant and huge, Dad proud and young and making faces for the camera. And then my grandfather in others, who I never really knew, and I search for signs of Mum in his face, for signs of me.

Inside, the RV is spacious and comfortable. I sleep on the sofa, some blankets and my jacket against the night-time desert cold. There’s a fake fireplace under the TV, a small table, a sizable kitchen. The flat, musty Arizona water is reverse-osmosis filtered. Coffee is plentiful. The days are bright white and impossibly clear.
“The RV park where my cousin stays. It has some trees,” Colette tells me.

I take off on my own for as long as I can. I drive past RV park after RV park, past places that repair them and places that sell them. I go to the markets for Christmas presents, and when they turn out to be barns of cheap plastic, I find some antique stores in the centre. It’s the Wild bloody West out here, deserted and dusty and dead in the streets, a few old men watching me from under their hat brims in the shade.

In one of the antique stores, a particularly messy and cluttered one, a slightly askew man goes up to the guy at the counter and asks him if he’s heard of Dan Brown.
“He’s really good,” he says. “I like him a whole lot. Have you heard of him?”
The man behind the counter asks me if he can help me with anything.

In the next store, the strange man has arrived ahead of me.
“Have you heard of Dan Brown?” he asks the lady behind the counter. “I really liked Inception. That was a really good book.”

I drive into the desert. The interstate is a dead straight scar carved into the yellow and heat, a perfect dissection of nothing. I fly away from here and into Mexico tomorrow. It’s three days before Christmas.

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1 Response to “Down the Coast 8: Yuma, AZ”


  1. 1 Bri February 5, 2012 at 8:58 am

    Dark…and perfect.


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