It Was Just Another Weekend in Paradise

My wife and I spent an idyllic weekend at the La Quinta Resort and Club in La Quinta, below Palm Springs. We drove down on a recent Saturday morning in the tail of a rainstorm that darkened the skies and slowed traffic.

The weekend began Friday night in the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, where we had attended the Pasadena Heart Assn.'s dress ball. That night there was a bottle of iced champagne in our room and we drank it.

As we drove through Indian Wells on Saturday, a local radio announcer kept predicting a heavy thunderstorm for that night and the next day. But Sunday morning in La Quinta, we awoke to what was surely the most beautiful day I have ever seen.

The sky was an incredible blue, unmarked except for a few white cumulus clouds that sat on the sharp peaks of the Santa Rosa Mountains. Our hotel room was a white cottage with a red tile roof. It sat among other cottages, each surrounded by gardens of scintillating color.


My wife, Denise, knows flowers. She said there were petunias, snapdragons, ranunculus, Iceland poppies, alyssum, white daisies and roses. Great bougainvillea bushes hung overhead, scattering their red blossoms over the sidewalks. We were both enchanted. Though we had lived in Hawaii for two years, we had never seen a more perfect day.

We had lunch at the nearby Morgan’s Restaurant, sitting out in the open amid all that beauty. Our guests were Cecil and Cleo Smith and Zan Thompson, all retired residents of the desert. Cecil had been television editor of The Times and Zan had written a column of sophisticated reflections.

Denise and I and the Smiths were there to attend a meeting the next day of the Round Table West in La Quinta. The Round Table, run by two charming women, Margaret Burk and Marilyn Hudson, introduces authors and their books.

Zan had a program that noted I was to be a special guest at the meeting. She read: “His column in the Los Angeles Times is a classic part of Southern California culture.”


“My God, Jack,” she said. “You sound like Ramona,” proving she should never have retired.

That evening we were guests of Burk and Hudson at Mario’s La Quinta Garden Cafe, where we were entertained by waiters who sang the most beloved arias of Puccini, Rossini and other great opera composers. Our waiter, an older man with gray hair and a gray beard and mustache, sang “If I Were a Rich Man,” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” with tenderness and panache.

The Round Table luncheon was at noon Sunday in La Quinta Garden Cafe. Authors Charles Bragg, Ron Ely and Dr. M.J. McCarthy introduced their new books with wit and fervor.

I sat quietly at my table, thinking of myself as Ramona.

There was no champagne in our fridge at our cottage that night, but my wife found a bottle of chardonnay, which we split to round out the evening.

Both of us read suspense novels until we fell asleep.

As we drove home on Monday, I regretted that we had not been able to attend the match at Indian Wells between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, No. 1 and No. 2 in world tennis. I was gratified to read in Tuesday’s Times, though, that Sampras had won on his ferocious serve.

I don’t dislike Agassi. He’s a colorful personality and a very good tennis player, but some of his posturing is too much for me. After beating Michael Stich, for example, he knelt and looked reverently up at the heavens, as if thanking God for his victory. God had nothing to do with it. It was Agassi’s return of serve and his powerful forehand.


We stopped at Cabazon, where my wife spent several dollars on dried fruits at Hadley’s and we stopped at a small cafe for a glass of wine. The waitress put my glass down. I didn’t reach for it for a moment, and she asked, uncertainly, “Can you see that glass?”

I realized she had seen me shuffle in on my wife’s arm with my cane and dark glasses and thought I was blind. I was glad to be reminded that’s one affliction I don’t have.

On the way home, my wife took a wrong turn and we wound up on Highway 60 instead of 10. We passed through green meadows and low green mountains. “I’m glad we came this way,” she said. “It’s much prettier than the other way. It’s serendipity.”

The desert is beautiful, as close to paradise as one could get. But I doubt I could retire there. It’s too beautiful. There are none of the signs of human dissolution. No trash. No graffiti. No homeless. Just flowers and wine and blue skies and opera.

Of course, if I were a rich man . . . .


Jack Smith’s column is published Mondays.