I cut across the Mojave Desert on CA56 and I-40 today. I went through lots of little towns, some almost deserted, some with still some life left. It was night when I went through most of them, but I’ve been through these towns in daylight, and there was a common theme to all of them: The people who live there hate where they live. You can tell. There is no pride of ownership, no attention to history in these places. Historical buildings are empty and run down or demolished and replaced by strip mall Americana, and everything is trashed. The desert around them is full of old televisions shot to pieces, and bullet-filled rusted-out old cars and beer cans and fast food wrappers and paper towels and just tons and tons of junk. Actually, the old cars are being hauled out by the scrappers — along with anything else made of metal. Such as historical plaques. I walked to where one historical plaque is supposed to be. There was nothing but the outline of the plaque on the concrete. I was looking at a picture of the plaque in my tour book, a nice bronze plaque with a description of the old fort that I was looking at, but the plaque itself was gone — hauled off by the scrappers, sold off for a few pennies to a fly-by-night scrapyard to buy more meth or heroin.
These towns were created by mining, or by the U.S. government when it built military bases out here in the desert, or by the railroads when they drove train tracks across the desert. Now all of that is winding down or requires far less manpower than in the past, and the people who are left behind… they have gone more than a little bit crazy. They lack the education or the drive to leave, but they hate where they are, and only destroy, they don’t create. They don’t create new industries, they don’t create new jobs, they work odd jobs for odd money and live in the run-down old house they inherited from Granny that they’ve let run down and stew in the desert heat with their guns and their resentments, both of which go out to destroy things whenever they scrape up enough money for the ammunition.
This isn’t everybody in these towns, of course. There’s still a Marine Corps depot in Barstow and some number of service workers to serve the trade passing by between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, for example. But those people are where they are because they have to be, not because they want to be, or because they like being there. When we tried to get together some people to clean up areas in the Calico Mountains near Barstow? We got not a single person from Barstow to come out to help us clean up the desert despite posting the cleanup all over town. We removed tons of trash thanks to the BLM dropping off the dumpsters for us to fill, but nobody from Barstow cared about their desert. Nobody.
These people are stranded, like so many other Americans, stranded in the desert of what was once the American Dream but now is just a hardscrabble existence in a harsh and brittle place. I haven’t looked around to see if I can see lots of red caps. But I bet I’ll find plenty of them there. Because where the American Dream has died, something evil this way comes.
– Badtux the Desert Penguin