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I Love LA–Not

Lightcap takes a field trip and lives (barely) to regret it.


No matter how old and educated you become, never underestimate your ability to execute maneuvers that, in hindsight, are monumentally stupid. Just when you think you've got a handle on the world and everything around you, you're tempting fate to put a flaming bag of dog poo on life's doorstep and ring the bell. My latest gross miscalculation came behind the wheel of my ridiculously large pickup as we crossed the California state line.

"Wouldn't it be nice to go visit my cousin and her family for the holidays?" my scheming wife had innocently proposed a few days earlier. "You know, meet my parents there, go to Disneyland, eat some turkey." My man-radar swept the scope, waiting to spot the other shoe falling, and then it came: "They live in Long Beach."

I quickly slapped the red button that took the issue to DefCon 3, and said, "Long Beach is in Los Angeles, and Los Angeles is in California, right?" This was confirmed, and after calmly pointing out that my perceptions of California revolve around freeways where cars don't move and crazy people rule the roost, it was decided by my wife that this was a fine plan, and that I was happy to participate.

So we loaded up the pickup and pointed the bug-splattered end westward, eager to discover the joys of the Golden State. Unfortunately, I was so eager to get there that I left my wallet sitting on the dresser at home, an unfortunate circumstance that I wasn't privy to until I reached for it in Tucson. Luckily, my wife carries a hearty sheaf of charge cards, but this meant I had to cede my financial powers to her. She even insisted that since I did not have a driver's license on my person, she should drive my truck into Los Angeles, an event I deemed about as likely to happen as Al Sharpton becoming a spokesperson for Slimfast.

Of course, this was before I was reminded of the joys of driving in LA traffic in an exceedingly large pickup truck. Instead of becoming nervous and edgy, I decided it would be a fine time to observe the local people and their customs, so I punched up some Willie Nelson on the satellite radio, leaned my seat back, and one-handed the wheel while repeating, 'Wouldja lookit that," over and over again.

It's amazing the things you learn when you decide to become a student of life. For example, did you know that the car with the most bumper stickers has the right of way? Maybe it's because they look the most underinsured, but those cars sure found more openings in traffic than I did. I also enjoyed using the carpool lanes, which is about the only time I found it convenient to have children in the car, except that these lanes are marked by double-yellow lines, meaning you shouldn't cross them. "You shouldn't cross the double-yellow line," my wife, Captain Obvious, told me as I did exactly that, working toward an exit on the right I was afraid to miss. "You could get a $300 ticket." This would be a big concern to me if I had a driver's license, I thought.

Being from a land where it's a no-brainer to traverse 120 miles in 90 minutes, I marveled at the fact that it took me an hour to travel the final 30 miles to our destination in Long Beach. Luckily, this leisurely pace gave me enough time to read the "Long Beach City Limit" sign, which declared a population of nearly half a million within 50 square miles. If you applied the same population density to the entire Land of Enchantment, we'd have over a billion neighbors, which would make it really difficult to get a seat at your favorite Mexican restaurant. With a crowd like that, you couldn't swing a dead cat without smacking the fellow next to you.

We finally found the cousin's postage-stamp-sized house in a postage-stamp-sized neighborhood where I tried to wedge my parcel-post-sized truck into a postage-stamp-sized space. Postal metaphors aside, this effectively blocked the street, but I figured my yellow-and-red license plate would furnish all the permissions I needed. We stayed in this very small, 40-year-old house that, in the present California home market, is worth $47 million. You'd think for that much, you'd get a mineral-water spritz and terry-cloth robes, but no such luck; we got a small daybed and the kids got the floor.

The highlight of the visit, of course, was Disneyland, that magical kingdom where dreams come true, if your dreams are to have all of your cash sucked out of your wallet (or your wife's wallet, in my case) and spend a lot of time pressed up against people you don't know. As a 41-year-old Disney virgin, I was jaded going into the gates, but by the end of the day, I was positively homicidal. If I had to hear "It's a Small World After All" one more time, or have one more non-English-speaking tourist step on my size 12s, or wait in one more line, I was prepared to rip the head off the nearest Goofy and hack me a path clear out to the parking lot. Luckily, I found a faux-bistro in a faraway corner with some clever name like "Ariel's Grotto" and quaffed a couple of $6 beers, which took the edge off. I'm all for family fun and paying too much for theme-park rides, but when did Tokyo subway-size mobs become "magical"?

Leaving was something I was very much looking forward to, but unlike in our local environs, it's not that simple. First, you get up at 5 a.m. to beat the traffic. Then, you watch the local traffic cable channel to see which roads are unencumbered by inverted turnip trucks, police chases or road construction. You immediately jump in your car and rush out to park behind 7,000 other drivers who did exactly the same thing, at which point you yell at the kids and look for medians to drive over, shooting U-turns on surface streets, and slipping by barricades to find another on-ramp. Or maybe that was just the way I handled it; your experience might be different.

When you get to the wind generators east of LA, you're home free, and you know there's nothing but smooth sailing from there on. My mind began to unwind (which, some will argue, is a process that began much earlier) and I tentatively looked forward to large domestic trucks, relatively open Interstate highways, and wide, open spaces. I looked forward to clean air, cheaper gas and convenience stores without bulletproof glass cashier's booths. Most of all, I was looking forward to getting my wallet back. I still have no way of knowing why people choose to live in Los Angeles, but I know what to do the next time my wife suggests spending a holiday in LA–fake a stroke.


Just try prying Henry Lightcap out of Las Cruces.


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