So night number one in the Central Valley was spent at a rather magical place. It was the first of many experiences to come that consisted of picking a dot on the map for our end of the day arrival and the dot turns out to not really be a dot but rather where some cartographers hand slipped and landed, pen down. "Cholame," we said, "...yeah, we will make there tonight." Well, after peddling for a considerable number of miles that day, with our energy rations running low and the image of the BEWARE OF RATTLE SNAKES sign still stuck in our head we were relieved to see the ubiquitous, rectangular green sign for... Cholame! That little green beacon turned to a silly joke though after reading the Population 109 section. We had no intention of staying in a hotel or anything like that but at least give us a gas station where we could get cold water and fantasize about Heath Bars or even the possibility of grass to sleep on or a tree to sleep under. Nope, no amenities, just a town we could shoot a marble across.
When I say no amenities I am not being entirely truthful however. There did appear to be a functional building and it was right across the street from our little green rectangle. The Jack Ranch Cafe was situated in the center of a rather large parking lot with a railed fence left to determine what was parking and what was not. Rush went inside and spoke with the manager/cook/bartender/dishwasher and he came out with great news. We could hang out in a side room until they closed and then we could pitch our tents out back in the small patch of grass that appeared an oasis in the wash of beige. With that we were happy and each orderd something cold to sip on. Rush and I milkshakes and Elspeth a Rootbeer Float.
Post cold treats we retreated to our exclusive side room. The first thing you noticed was the almost life size James Dean cut out leaning against the wall in the corner of the room. Then as you panned around the rest of the space you saw posters for all his movies as well as paintings of him with other famous actors and musicians that had also died their own premature, tragic death. With minor surface scratching we found out that not 1000 yards down the road was where Mr. Dean had flipped his Porsche and ended his young life.
Later on, when it was time for our already famous rice and beans, we set up our camping stove out in the parking lot, next to a monument that had been sculpted by a mourning Japanese artist. The sun sank in the sky and it was soon dark, minus the lights that had been recessed around the base of the sculpture. A couple came by not long after and talked of a James Dean apparition that frequents this highway. They were just out for an evening cruise and sometimes stopped here. Not knowing where they had come from or where they were going they left, but were soon replaced by semis that seemed to take refuge in the big parking lot that is Cholame.
The Jack Ranch neon soon went dim and the nice man who granted us our overnight privilege locked up and said goodnight. We were still full from diner but decided to check the dumpster for french fries or hush puppies but to no avail. We then retired to our grass patch, setting up and diving in our tents as fast as we could before they inflated with mosquitoes. That night we slept with the dinosaur hum of the tractor trailers, sounding as if they were nestled right next to us, as in fact they were. Falling into sleep I got a slight chill up my spine when I thought of the denim legs and leather clad torso of a ghostly James Dean walking that dark and lonely road, he too, searching for respite in the neon signs of The Jack Ranch Cafe.