Night life in Borrego Springs
It takes about two hours to drive from San Marcos, through Escondido, inland, uphill, up about four thousand feet, to crest the mountains and then descend down, down, down to a small, flat settlement.
Borrego Springs isn’t “at the end of the world but it is AT the end of the road”. So writes the President of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce. This tiny town (regular population 3,000) is down on the flat desert plain (in deep South California) surrounded by towering mountain ranges to the south, north and west, and to the east some twenty odd dead flat miles away is the vast inland Salton Sea.
For three successive evenings the Captain and Boatwif ate at Carlee’s on Palm Canyon Drive. There is a fair range of places to eat in Borrego Springs but each night Carlee’s drew us in. It is easy to park right outside the premises, situated as it is towards Christmas Circle (think over-sized roundabout) at the end of the broad main street. Any global traveller (or viewer of international television) would immediately recognise this place as being in America. The entry door swings outwards and first view inside is of the large three-sided bar. The counter top is broad and right around the bar are high-backed bar stools. A series of low-hanging light shades keeps the lighting level relatively dim while ceiling fans whirl quietly to keep the air moving.
Locals, usually men on their own, tend to opt for the bar seats. Those not making a beeline for the bar stools will be seated by a greeter. On the right of the doorway are five deep dining booths, the seats and high seat backs furnished in rich red leather. To the left are tables of differing sizes, some small enough for intimate groups and some big enough for party groups.
High in the corner of this side of the room is a TV set. On Monday night the set displayed American football. The Chicago Bears were playing the Dallas Cowboys. At the bar, dressed in the black and white colours of the Dallas Bears, was a lady who was probably in her late middle years. She was engaged in the match, urging on her side, cheering at their successes, whole-heartedly supporting their cause…
Tuesday night is College basketball night. Boise College trailed behind rivals Kentucky. In their defence, claimed a commentator, the players had endured a 7.5 hour bus ride from Idaho to their match, their flight having been cancelled by the bad weather. These long-limbed basketball players pounded the floor with grace and aggression, the play interrupted only by advert breaks and the interjections of a grim-faced, grey-suited coach. The match ended and Carlee’s began to empty. There was some shouting from a bar stool – a demand for the Great American Channel. The barmaid (is that word allowed?) struggled with the technology but after much thumb work on a remote control fulfilled the request. Live from Las Vegas was being beamed Rodeo. On the mark straight from two starting pens would gallop twin horse riders. Simultaneously a young steer would be released from a pen between them. Lassoes swirled overhead – rider on the right catches the animal by the neck, rider on the left lassoes a rear hoof. It’s fast, it’s competitive – and the winners were those who downed their steer in the fastest time. That contest over, the next started: Bronco Bash. Why would anyone want to ride an unbroken horse, knowing that the best that can occur is that it will take a longer rather than a shorter time before you are battered, bruised and tasting sawdust as you lie squirming, flat on the ground…
Booth seating on Wednesday night meant the TV was hidden from view but as we strolled back to the swing door the screen was showing American football again.
What about the other eaters in this classic American restaurant? Well, apart from the solo men and the other snowbirds (winter visitors) there’s been a courting couple, a group of check shirted men who left abruptly after the basketball, a family celebrating a late teen’s birthday and a trio of Spanish speaking Hispanics. There are snippets of conversations that you overhear, of course: “Well I watch Downton Abbey,” (staff member), “Vacation area down in the south of Vietnam,” (guy at the bar) and the anecdotes told by the staff “ Well I once flew six freshly caught and cooked crab from the East Coast to Las Vegas and all the passengers were salivating…”
Diagonally opposite Carlee’s is a pizzeria: a couple of dozen teenage students, all with pizza boxes under their arms, were emerging on Wednesday night, heading for the yellow school bus. That was Borrego Spring’s night life… before 9pm the Christmas lights outside the plant nursery had been switched off – and all that there is to look at in this Dark-Sky town is the sky. And in this special place not even tonight’s thin cloud or waxing moon can disguise the presence of hundreds of sharp distinct pinpricks of light far, far above a darkened desert..