Here at the very edge of heaven the mountains shoulder their way up green and granite past the great bucking rush of the clouds into a sky as blue and delicate as Wedgwood. Across the long, broad valley the wildflowers pour wanton and hot from the foothills, the lascivious reds and yellows and oranges running thick as lava through the scrub and chaparral. Beneath the buzzing high-desert sun, a hard wind carries the last edge of winter's cold down out of the Sierras and scours the scenery with the clean, astringent smell of sagebrush. It is a pretty place.
The view in any direction is so color-saturated, so Kodachrome luscious, that it's embarrassing—nearly pornographic. Here, it is possible to turn through every one of 360 degrees and believe at last in beauty and truth and the perfectibility of humanity.
The only thing missing is the giant Acme anvil, deus ex Warner Bros., screaming down out of that bright sky to flatten my skull, render me senseless and deliver me from the urgent churn of murderous nonsense into which I've been swept.
These are my thoughts. Not so much mine, really, as they are the thoughts I think are being thought by any right-thinking—which is to say wily—coyote within a mile of where I stand. Oh, brother, are we both trapped in the wrong cartoon.
Actually we're both trapped at the wrong end of a California fox hunt; br'er coyote, if he's out there, is on the much wronger end of things, standing in for the fox, weaving deep in the scrub and puckerbush, breathing hard, outrunning and outsmarting—O.K., outfoxing—the 40 hounds and 40 horses and 40 riders who have come here to chase gaily after him. I'm at the other, slower end of things, a laggardly observer bringing up the rear, a hill-topper, trailing the field as best I can in an underengineered 4 X 4.
In the middle distance, nearly lost in the low billow of its own dust, is the pack of baying, maniac hounds. They surge from one scent to the next, sniffing and yapping, moving as one thing. Behind them, yoicksing and hoicksing and tootootootling are the riders, splendid in their scarlet coats and tar-black boots. Their horses, brown and gray and pale, plunge across the sage. I would venture to say that Mr. Coyote is wondering what in the world he's done to deserve all this. A fox hunt? A veddy Olde Englishe Foxe Hunte? In Southern California? Isn't it enough that he was made the butt of the joke in those damned cartoons?
Wasn't it enough that he never caught the Road Runner? Never ate even a single meal? That he was invariably stuffed full of buckshot or nitro or tactical nukes instead? Or that he roasted his skinny ass again and again in the smoldering wreckage of that crummy mail-order rocket sled? That he was hoisted, flung and flat-ironed into a furry accordion by his own frigging catapult? And that cliff! How many times does a guy have to Buster Keaton his way off the same goddam cliff? And now this? To be chased every which way over God's green acres and the high chaparral by 40 slavering, dimwitted dogs and what looks like every dress extra from Brideshead Revisited? A fox hunt? Here? Where's the justice? asks Mr. Coyote, Where's the frigging respect?
This is the middle of a long story and a bad place to start. Near the beginning is better—not so far back that we're taking the assignment, that first loopy phone call to go cover the upright rocket-scientist squires and the might-be billionaire canyonistas and the liveried, bespoke-boot ladies of the postmodern West who ride to hounds, not that far-just, say, back to the point at which the flight, to my former home, is on its approach to LAX, easing slowly down into California, down over the blinding alkali of the Mojave, down into that galvanized haze above San Bernardino, the mountains streaming past, the plane following Interstate 10 west across a thousand cul-de-sac superburbs, across a million American Dream ranchitas with their sagging carports and their desolate discount swimming pools. There isn't a human in sight from this altitude, but gradually, even up here in the cabin, that hypnotic SoCal lovelight, that glare, that dazzle, that shimmering, stupefying lite suffuses everything.
Once I stagger off the plane and outside the terminal, the first thing I see of Los Angeles is that parabolic spaceport strat-o-lounge. You know the building. It's the view from 1960 into a future that never got here, a cultural leftover from a time when civil engineers no doubt believed that our colonization of Mars hinged on the successful development of a revolving airtight steak house. Located at the intestinal center of the airport's maze of exits, this Jetsonian relic is, I believe, impossible to reach by any conventional means. One must be teleported—or perhaps born—there.
This antique astro-landmark makes two important points about Los Angeles. First, nothing in LA is what it seems. What may look like a sleek, futuristic part of the air traffic control system is, in fact, a doddering homage to the age of Donna Reed, taffeta cocktail dresses and harvest-gold fondue pots. The same is true of Los Angeles itself. What may look on the map like a city isn't a city at all, but rather an immense film location, a patchwork welter of stucco-on-particleboard neighborhoods and titanium-gated enclaves, inhuman amusement parks, played-out oil fields and bikini-wax-and-income-tax minimalls. Los Angeles is more a wild idea, shared among its citizens, than it is a place.