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Leisurenauts: Three days in Cali's retirement mecca 

It's Tuesday, Jan. 2, and my wife, Anna, and I are trying to get on the road to Palm Springs—Rancho Mirage specifically—where we plan to vacation until Saturday in my wife's grandparents' swanky sixth floor apartment in the Desert Island Condominiums on Frank Sinatra Drive. We're talking lush white carpets, copious mirrors, and saucy naked lady paintings in the bedrooms. Yeah, we're posh like that.

click to enlarge SUNRISE SPECTACULAR This dazzling show was the view from our condo deck on our first morning in Rancho Mirage. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • Photo By Glen Starkey
  • SUNRISE SPECTACULAR This dazzling show was the view from our condo deck on our first morning in Rancho Mirage.

I won't bore you with the drive, which is boring, but we arrive, and after stopping for groceries at Gelson's (OK, we need cold beer, but we get bagels for breakfast too!), we hit the condo, grab our suits and towels, and head to the Jacuzzi. Ah! Let the relaxation begin!

click to enlarge PUBLIC ART DELIGHT We felt the freedom of retirement as we perused the Palm Desert arts and shopping district. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • Photo By Glen Starkey
  • PUBLIC ART DELIGHT We felt the freedom of retirement as we perused the Palm Desert arts and shopping district.

The next morning we awake to a spectacular, eye-popping sunrise! Then we do practically nothing. I won't lie to you. The days go slowly in the Sonoran Desert. We have time to put a puzzle together. I find that whenever we drive somewhere, I have to keep checking my speed ... because I'm driving too slow! The place is filled with retirees with no place to go and all day to get there, and it's easy to drift into the glacial pace.

Around lunch we eat at delicious Piero PizzaVino, and later that night we watch The Room, the so-called "Best Worst Movie Ever Made," which was the subject of James Franco's recent The Disaster Artist. We laugh our asses off and spend the rest of our vacation quoting the film's most ridiculous lines.

"I did not hit her! I did naaaaught ... oh hi, Mark." "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!" "I definitely have breast cancer."

click to enlarge OLD BLUE EYES We found Frank Sinatra’s grave at the Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • Photo By Glen Starkey
  • OLD BLUE EYES We found Frank Sinatra’s grave at the Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City.

On Thursday we're determined to be more ambitious, so we head to Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City and search out Frank Sinatra's grave. It's a cemetery with nothing but flat markers, which probably makes it easy to mow but it's pretty hard to find the resting places of the famous. Director Busby Berkeley, Cher hubby Sonny Bono, Howdy Doody creator and puppeteer Velma Wayne Dawson, Gabor sisters' mom Jolie Gabor, McDonald's co-founder Maurice "Mac" MacDonald, actor William Powell, and author Frank Scully—among many others—are interred here.

We find Francis Albert Sinatra tucked in by his former model and showgirl wife, Barbara, and his mom and dad, Dolly and Anthony Martin. Then we go get lunch.

Fresh Agave Mexican Bar and Grill in Palm Desert isn't easy to find, but their Cadillac margaritas are worth the search. Excellent food too! We walk around the arts and shopping district nearby, killing time until our 4 p.m. screening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 IMAX. I told you we were being ambitious!

When we wake up on Friday for our last full day, we head to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It was either that or nearby Joshua Tree, but I'd never been up the tram, so what the heck! We pay $5 to park and pony up $29.95 each to ride the tram, which takes us up the mountain to the 14,000-acre Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area.

click to enlarge TOP OF THE WORLD The view from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway took our breath away. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • Photo By Glen Starkey
  • TOP OF THE WORLD The view from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway took our breath away.

Wow! The tram rotates 360 degrees while it ascends and descends the mountain, and the views are stunning. Every time the tram crosses one of the cable towers, it swings and the tram riders squeal in frightened delight.

When we get to the top, it's about 30 degrees colder than at the base, and I'm glad I brought a sweater and didn't wear flip-flops. It's beautiful up here, and from the tippy-top at Grubbs View, we see people heading off on the trails into the wilderness. We check out the views down in the valley—the various desert cities, the wind farm, some blue lagoons—and go to the Lookout Lounge for bloody marys and grab some clam chowder from Pines Café. Hey, don't judge! We're on vacation!

Later that night, we drive into Palm Springs to meet our dear friend Joanie at Stacy's, a piano bar in the gay area of town. Singer and pianist Tommy Dodson is tickling the ivories and singing silky smooth covers of R&B hits. Joanie tells us that Stacy's is the place to start the night but that she'll end up at the Blackbook or Hunters later.

click to enlarge LOUNGE CHAIR VIEW We spent ample time relaxing at the condo’s pool and Jacuzzi complex. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • Photo By Glen Starkey
  • LOUNGE CHAIR VIEW We spent ample time relaxing at the condo’s pool and Jacuzzi complex.

Everyone's super friendly and apparently I'd make a passable "bear," which according to Wikipedia is "often a larger, hairier man who projects an image of rugged masculinity." Mm, rugged! "You're tearing me apart, Joanie!"

I'm driving, so Anna and I finish up our second round and head back to the condo to get some sleep before our drive home. My in-laws arrive at the condo tomorrow for the Palm Springs International Film Festival, so we need to make it spick and span before we leave.

On Saturday morning we take another soak, we clean, we leave Anna's mom a couple of beers in the fridge, and we eat one final Palm Springs meal at a Belgian place called Si Bon, then we hit the road for the long, boring drive home, where we quote The Room and dream of retirement. Δ

Glen Starkey is New Times' senior staff writer. Contact him at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.


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