It is my personal belief that a desert is for sidewinders, centipedes, scorpions and small rodents that feed on grubs. I don't think God ever intended it to be occupied by retired cardiologists, octogenarian golfers, aging actors with jet-black hair and old ladies in shorts so tight they can hardly walk.
Then why, in all of his secular wisdom, did he create Palm Springs?
I ask that with a child's innocence, having just returned from a weekend in the place. I was so happy to be back in L.A., I could have kissed the ground, but I know better than to kiss anything dirty.
Before I get into the Palm Springs story, however, I am forced to make reference to a previous column in which I waxed Victorian over the fog, the jazz and the martinis of San Francisco. I called it my spiritual home, more or less, and pretty much dismissed L.A. as a kind of pimple on a pleasant memory.
Well, I've changed my mind.
In the world of column-writing, we don't always offer a reason when we switch from one point of view to the other with the speed of a cobra strike. That's partly because we don't always remember our earlier point of view and partly because we're hoping that you don't remember our earlier point of view.
At any rate, after a trip to San Francisco, I was required by prior commitment to visit what my wife, the observant Cinelli, refers to as Beverly Hills South or Malibu in the Desert. That would be the aforementioned Palm Springs.
After only about an hour there, sandblasting winds, an unrelenting sun and the prosaic nature of it all quickly wiped the romantic images of San Francisco from my head and replaced them with a view of what hell would be like if the devil had money.
For those who have never been to the jewel of Coachella Valley, it is a city of about 42,000 souls most of the time, but double that number in the winter months, when cold people come to get warm or when spring-breakers come to get drunk and throw up.
With about a third of the population over 60, there are more gray heads on Palm Canyon Drive than possibly anywhere else in the world, wandering back and forth with the aimlessness of grazing cattle.
Because I am over 60 and gray, I kept thinking as I watched them that there but for the grace of taste and ambition go I. A friend, Chuck Morrell, who moved a year ago from Pacific Palisades to Palm Springs for reasons that now escape him, lamented during our visit, "Everyone here looks like me."
Morrell is also in his 60s but is not about to spend his life shuffling about in the desert. He's sorry now that he ever left L.A., with its ocean and its energy, to come to a place where the wind continuously turns his patio into a sand dune. He wants out.
On the other hand, there is Nigel Brown, another displaced person from L.A., who lives in a Palm Springs condo with his giant dog and loves everything about the place. One can only ascribe that to lowered expectations, or the effect of too many hours in the sun without a hat. I tried to see what he saw, looking, as it were, through the eyes of a dreamer, but it just wasn't there for me. To each, I suppose, his own.
Having said all that, let me get to the reason for being in Palm Springs in the first place. It was the Follies. They have been produced annually for 11 years by their creator, Riff Markowitz, and consist of three hours of entertainment that even teenagers with minimal IQs would enjoy.
None of the performers, including the chorus "girls," were under 60, and some were in their 80s. Even the animals in the dog act were old. It was pure vaudeville, a page torn from the past that must have seemed like yesterday to a good part of the audience, who were also old. In addition to the dancers, retired professionals who can kick higher than I can reach, the show consisted of singers, musicians, an impersonator, a real vaudeville team and some of the flashiest costumes west of Broadway.
Markowitz, an ex-circus clown and television producer (why does that seem to go together?), emceed the show with humor oriented toward time and the passing years. For instance, comparing the simple pleasures of yesterday with the high-speed, electronic demands of today, he remembers a trip along Route 66 and asks, "Can you imagine your granddaughter driving 2,400 miles and being entertained by Burma Shave signs?"
When the audience gives a performer a standing ovation, Markowitz ad-libs, "I can't tell you how good it is to see an audience stand." Pause. "Especially this audience."
And: "Some of you have been coming back for years." Pause. "You do remember coming here before?"
I had read in advance the remark of a critic that no one would pay to see old ladies' legs, but the critic was wrong. More than 2 million people have paid to see them and the jump-roping dog and the three-legged dancer and an emcee who can make you laugh so hard your rib bones crackle.
I wish Markowitz would bring the show to L.A., so I could go see it again without crawling through the desert like a Gila monster looking for something to bite. I'm tired of picking sand out of my beard.
Al Martinez's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. He can be reached at al.martinez@latimes .com.