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College Trip: In the Desert, Dreams of Luxury Shimmer Enticingly

February 28, 2001|CHRIS ERSKINE

Go east, young man. Forget all that Manifest Destiny stuff you heard in high school. Forget Horace Greeley. Go east. The west is full up. Go east before it's too late.

"Where we going, Dad?"

"East," I say as I ease our proud white minivan onto Interstate 10.

Sinatra knew it. So did Cary Grant. Like us, they went west, then found it a little congested and decided to head east again. They wound up in Palm Springs, where we are today for lunch. You could die here at this crosswalk before the light turns.

"Where we going now?" someone asks.

"Across the street for lunch," I say.

"Whoa," the little girl says, like she never crossed the street before.

We are on the road again, like Steinbeck and Kuralt and every long-distance trucker you ever saw, on the road to places far off and glittery in the night, Palm Springs being our first stop.

It's nice here in the desert. Friendly. Slightly slower. Should you hesitate when the light turns green, as tourists often do, the locals don't honk at you instantly. They wait, then pass out leaning against the horn. Personally, I prefer it this way.

"I've never been to Palm Springs," the boy says.

"Me neither," I say.

For lunch, we stop at a little sidewalk cafe, where they serve a nice chicken Caesar and the sort of sandwiches that don't get all over your face and hands, the way a good sandwich should. Here, they serve neat sandwiches that taste a little too much like cardboard.

"How's your sandwich?" someone asks.

"Terrific," I say.

"Don't you love the bread?" my wife asks.


There is lots to do here in Palm Springs. As we eat, my lovely and patient older daughter quizzes us with Trivial Pursuit cards, left on every table in the restaurant.

"What's an integrated circuit mainly made of?" she asks.


"What name has been used by the most popes?" she asks.

"Ringo?" I say.

"John," she says with a laugh. "You were close, Dad."

We are headed east to look at colleges for her, so she has a right to be giddy and full of life. First of all, she's full of life. Second, she's looking at colleges. Only picking out a prospective spouse or a new boat could be more exciting.

"What's the name of the tall cap worn by bishops?" she asks from the next Trivial Pursuit card.

"A fez?"

"A miter," she says.

She has outgrown us, my older daughter. Hard to figure, because, like most families, we are constantly changing--evolving, becoming more complex and interesting.

Still, my 17-year-old finds us too predictable. Too stodgy. Our hearts beat too slowly for her. Our clothes are too old.

When we walk after lunch, my lovely and patient older daughter prefers to stroll 10 paces in front. Which makes it hard for me to hold her hand.

"Why does she walk way up there?" I ask my wife.

"I don't know," she says. "Maybe she's trying to ditch us."

Who would ditch us? Me, with my floppy Pete Maravich socks and Docker shorts. Her brother, who can lick ice cream off the tip of his nose and often does. Her little sister, singing too loud as we walk. Who would want to leave such a family?

"She's so beautiful," I say to my wife as we walk along the Palm Springs sidewalk.

"Who?" my wife asks, lost in a real estate brochure.

"Never mind," I say.

We are so smitten with Palm Springs, we consider looking for a home here. My wife thumbs through the local real estate brochure, "Distinctive Homes of the Desert," which is just the kind of home we always look for. Distinctive.

There are three homes that appeal to us right from the start. The first one belonged to Elvis Presley. It has four bedrooms and seven baths.

"This beautiful home was one of only two homes owned by Elvis at the time of his death," the brochure brags.

The second home that catches our eye belonged to Cary Grant, a cozy 6,000-square-foot place that, the brochure says, "is a replica of a 19th century Spanish Andalusian farm house."

"One can imagine former owner Cary Grant enjoying the peaceful grounds with his third wife Betsy Drake," the brochure claims.

The third estate is the "Frank Sinatra Compound."

"That's the one for us," I tell my wife.

"But you haven't even seen it," she says.

Turns out, I was right. Barbecue pit. Pool. Spa. Tennis court. Basketball court. Two-hole golf course. On a two-hole course, I might finally break 80.

"What are they asking?"

"It's offered at $2.3 million," she says.

"So they might take less," I say.

My wife suggests we buy the Frank Sinatra Compound and turn it into a bed and breakfast honoring the great singer's life.

I'd dress like Peter Lawford. She could be Mia Farrow. We'd offer special Rat Pack weekends.

There'd be an Ocean's Eleven lounge. An Ava Gardner suite. Happy hour would begin about noon. On Saturday nights, big dance bands would play in the Tommy Dorsey Room.

"You could be Joey Bishop," I tell the boy.

"I want to be Joey Bishop," the little girl says.

"No, you're Sammy," I say.

"I am?" she says.

"You're definitely Sammy," I say with a wink.

"Oh, my God," sighs my lovely and patient older daughter from 10 paces in front.

It tells you something about our life together that this bed and breakfast idea isn't even the silliest thing my wife and I have ever dreamed up.

"You think it's zoned for it?" I ask.

"Zoning is for poor people," she says.

"It is?"

"Sure," she says.

We walk silently for a while, thinking about this Sinatra thing. Crazy as it sounds, we could probably do it. Except for one little detail.

"I just remembered," I say.


"We're poor people," I say.

"Oh, that's right," she says.

On the way out of Palm Springs, I turn the wrong way on a one-way street, which puts me in prime position to be yelled at by a local on a bicycle.

"Hey, that's one way!" the old woman on the bicycle screams. "That street's one way!"

So I curse softly and turn the car around. East I go. The direction of our dreams.


Next week: Phoenix, college kids and spring training.


Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is

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