Monday, January 11, 2010

Seeing Blythe, CA With New Eyes

In the past few years, I've spent quite a bit of time camped at Mayflower County Park in Blythe, CA. The city is located on the California-Arizona border in Riverside County, where Interstate 10 crosses the Colorado River. Blythe's population more than triples during the winter months with the arrival of visitors seeking relief from their cold climate home states during that season. I think its main claim to fame is its reputation as possibly one of the hottest places in the United States during the summertime. To me, the city has always seemed a little gritty and nondescript with lots of dust, small businesses barely hanging on, a small K-Mart, an expensive Albertson's supermarket, the normal McDonald's-type fast food places, some motels, a few restaurants, and not much else. However, today I had my eyes opened.

My friend David and I arrived here yesterday after a month in San Felipe, Baja California, where we camped on very sandy sites almost on the beach in a run-down RV resort with no electricity and only occasional hot water in the bathrooms. We were the only ones there. Although the beach was wonderful, the town itself shows the results of the world-wide economic downturn. There are many fancy resorts started but not finished and left empty due to lack of money. Although rich in friendliness, the town, which relies almost entirely on tourism dollars, is quite poor. We got used to driving into town to buy sodas and use the free Wi-Fi in either Rosita's Restaurant or a bar. We communicated in a version of pigeon-Spanish, hand gestures, or a little English, and used only pesos for purchases. I got used to having to leave my clothing to be washed, dried, and folded at one of the lavandarias in town and paying about $8 for the privilege.

David had never been to Blythe and wanted to come here mainly because of the Bluegrass Festival next weekend. So we made the 265-mile drive yesterday from San Felipe. As soon as we got here, he fell in love with the County Park. I've got to admit, the $250/month rate for a site with electrical and water hookups as well as a honey wagon three times a week was probably the biggest draw for him as well as the park being right on the Colorado River. It always has been for me, which is why I keep returning. So, I didn't think much about his comment yesterday that he loved this place.

It was only when we drove into town today to do laundry and some shopping that I got an entirely different view of Blythe. Before today, I think I thought of Blythe by the things it lacks: no Wal-Mart, no shopping centers, not a lot of activities other than water sports along the river, only one small bookstore, and no real cultural activities. I've always considered it just a stop along the way to someplace else. However, when we took our clothes to one of the two laundromats here, I received my first surprise. David really appreciated being able to wash and dry his clothes in machines instead of just rinsing them out and air-drying them as he did in San Felipe. He commented on how wonderful that was. I've really never considered laundromats wonderful. Nope, to me having to take clothes somewhere to wash them instead of having my own washer and dryer has always seemed like just another chore to be gotten over with as soon as possible.

While the clothes were washing, we headed across the street to one of the two Starbucks in town for coffee and a pastry. We sat outside at a small table under an umbrella and again he let me know how much he appreciated being able to do that without being pestered every two minutes by street peddlers trying to sell us painted sand dollars or bracelets. Looking around, he commented that the city has everything needed: fast food restaurants, shopping, great weather, good wide, paved streets instead of narrow, pot-hole infested bumpy roads.

Until I saw Blythe through his eyes instead of my own, I'd never noticed those things, seeing only what I expected to see and was used to seeing that way. Until spending a month out of the country in a very poor place, I'd never noticed how rich in resources a fairly poor area like Blythe could seem. Seen through new, different eyes, it is a beautiful place in its own right. I need to stop comparing this city to larger places like San Diego or Portland. Yes, those cities are wonderful and have everything anyone might ever need or wish for. But they are also fairly impersonal places with their own drawbacks.

I'm going to stay here for a month. During that time, I'd like to open my eyes a little more to the possibilities and resources here instead of continuing to label Blythe, and cities like it, as not quite worthy of respect.


Anonymous said...

Nicest thing I've ever read about Blythe! Well written and good insight, too. Nice job!

San Luis Obispo

budreaux said...

Blythe is my hometown. I live in NorCal now but it's always great to go back and visit.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your nice thoughts on Blythe (my hometown)! I'm living in NorCal right now but felt a little nostalgic so went digging on the internet for some hometown stories. Glad to hear that non-locals can enjoy the town for what it has to offer. It's not a cookie cutter American town and that can often scare off outsiders.