Saturday, August 28, 2010


“TIME JUST SEEMS to pass some places by.”

I agreed.

The speaker was a tourist from Santa Monica. “We can’t let a year go by that we don’t spend some time here.” He reached his arm over his wife’s shoulder as they walked beside me along the main street.

(c) Winnedumah Hotel
I’d arrived in Independence the night before and was leaving the next day. I had attempted reservations – both on-line and by telephone – at the Winnedumah Hotel, a classic Art Deco structure in the middle of town. John Wayne stayed here. So did Glen Ford and Cary Grant. Anyone who was anyone making Hollywood films in the Alabama Hills, a few miles south, stayed here. But the Winnedumah’s on-line reservation service was on the fritz and, according to the tourist, “Sometimes Frank he don’t call back.” Out west, when freed of Santa Monica’s influence, this is how one talks.

PRIOR TO BEDDING DOWN the night before, I walked Independence’s tiny grid of streets. North of town runs Independence Creek. Five eight- or nine-year old engineers worked.

“Anyone need a big rock?” hollered one, bent over a water worn stone the size of a healthy cantaloupe.

Two turn to assist. They weren’t asked twice. They just helped. The goal was clearly understood, as was the means to achieve the goal.

It has been fifty years since I witnessed eight-year-olds attempting to stave the current of a rushing stream. Actually, I was a participant. Now, since parents are afraid of what might happen to those offspring who dare venture outdoors, kids play video games – independent of one another – or surf an Internet teaming with predators not found in our city parks or along stream courses.

I SECURED LODGING at the Mt Williamson Motel, a collection of ten by twenty foot “cabins,” each large enough for a shower-toilet-sink bathroom, a queen size bed and a television with a 12” screen. A small air conditioner grunted attempting to cool the 107-degree to something reasonable. By about 1:00 AM, it had.

Henrietta, the proprietress, insisted on fixing breakfast – scrambled eggs, sausage, fried potatoes and toast – and dining along with me and the other two patrons.

She hailed from Switzerland and told six-decade-old tales of the allies dropping munitions in a field near her home in Zurich. She talked about immigrating to Kansas City in the late 50s and of a German-born neighbor was unable to tell the native Missourians where he had been born. She worried about her husband who’d recently suffered a stroke and the influx of illegals who were only coming over to take and not give. She told me that Maria would be cleaning my room should I go out for the day.

“There’s much to see,” Henrietta advised, “just not much in town.” She counseled a visit to the Eastern Sierra Museum, here in town and up to Onion Valley for a close up of the eastern Sierra escarpment and across the Owens Valley to the Inyos; and if time allowed, to Lone Pine and trail head at Whitney Portal. “But before you come back, eat in Lone Pine. There’s really nothing here.”

THUS, I SPENT MY LAYOVER day exploring those suggested sites - sites usually rocketed past on 395 by those racing between the LA basin and Reno. Mid-afternoon found me back in town, hoofing on Main Street with the couple from Santa Monica.

“Any place to get a beer in town?” I asked.

“Nope. Not until 5:30 when the pizza place opens up, if you’re here on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Which you are.” He grinned. “That’s part of the place’s charm.”

I nodded, but I really did want a beer.

INDEPENDENCE HAS NO BAR. No grocery store – the general mercantile closed a while back. No hardware. A café that’s shuttered. Two gas stations with convenience outlets, the Winnedumah and several tiny motels. Two houses on one lot may be had for under $130,000.
In the evening, as the sun sets over Mt. Williamson and shadows creep up from the toes of the Inyos, people walk the neighborhoods on both the east and west sides of 395. They greet me as I wander past. In the little city park just north of town, children build rock dams in the creek.

The Santa Monican’s words echo: “Time just seems to pass some places by.”

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. DH: Yep, I built more dams than the Corps of Engineers in my own youth. We often went driving through the foothills and would picnic in someones field next to a stream. That is a long lost time in most of the universe. Nice to know there's still a little time warping going on.