Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Need a lift? A ride to remember

Wick's World


December 7, 2017

I rolled off the makeshift bed and stuffed everything that looked like it may be mine into a carry-on bag. My stuff was easy to identify. It had spent the past 72 hours in the desolate desert north of El Centro, California. That may seem like an oxymoron, but this desert was truly desolate. You had to climb the tallest sand dune and look far off into the distance just to spot a cactus. Even creosote brush was hard to find. Animals, birds and lizards were as rare as raindrops. Human activity was in much more abundance. ATVs, sand boards (surfboards made for sand), dirt bikes and temporary shelters for shade dotted the landscape. Such was the playground for the few residents of Imperial Valley.

I quickly put on my cleanest dirty shirt and ran outside the condo leaving a cloud of dust in my trail. I glanced at my cell phone. It read 4:44 a.m. Our lift to the airport was nowhere in sight. The 22 minute ride to the airport still left ample time to reach our 5:55 a.m. boarding time. My numerologist assured me my numbers were in alignment.

An older Prius pulled up to the curb as my wife and I stood in silence. No doors opened. No trunk lid popped open. Finally a young blonde California girl who looked fresh out of high school exited the antique hybrid. She opened the rear of the car only to display a trunk full of suitcases.

We were rather puzzled, when finally she said, “Maybe you can put your luggage in the back seat.”

Things were about to get stranger. My wife and I had a stare down. Neither of us wanted to ride up front, but there wasn’t room for both of us in the back. I lost the stare and crawled in beside our mute driver. Finally, in an effort to break the eerie silence, my wife said, “How long have you been driving cab?”

“Um, about a month,” replied Ms. Lift.

That narrowed it down to somewhere between 1 and 31 days. We both assumed it was closer to 1 and far from 31.

“You must like the early shift,” my wife continued.

Speaking very slowly and softly Ms. Lift looked at me and mumbled, “Oh, I just as well be up. That’s when I’m usually dreaming anyway.”

That is when I connected the dots — or odors would probably be more accurate. The young lady was lightly perfumed, but not enough to mask the smell of fresh bacterial soap. You know the smell. It’s the kind when you wash your hands and face really hard before exiting an airport or a gas station restroom. Ms. Lift was homeless and living out of her car.

However, it was another odor that completed this story. It was the unmistakable smell of medical or recreational pot. If you’ve been in Denver, Portland, Seattle or California in the past decade, the legalized odor has entered our atmosphere enough to which even retired postmasters and little old teachers can identify, as The Eagles sing in Hotel California, “the smell of colitis in the air.”

I looked at Ms. Lift as she was searching her cell phone for Delta’s Terminal. I then looked back at the road only to see solid red brake lights close enough to touch. Before I could scream, “Whoopee, we’re all 'gonna die,” Ms. Lift cranked the steering wheel hard right, I hit the door, my wife hit the roof and we hit the jackpot. Luckily, we somehow survived the stoned lift on the Highway to Hell.

The airport was our final destination on the return from Uncle Charles Westmoreland’s Memorial Service. Irrigation ditches like the one in which they found 89-year-old Uncle Charlie lying face down gave life to the Imperial Valley in California. The autopsy revealed that Uncle Charlie’s heart had stopped and his lungs were clean. He was dead before he hit the water. Charles Westmoreland was the last living member of his clan that had settled just north of Westmorland, California, at the beginning of the 20th century. Ironically, the name of town and the family name differed in spelling.

It was there that Charles and his brothers planted tamarind trees, commonly called salt cedar, for their ability to get nourishment from the salt water in the air that had traveled over a hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean. The Westmoreland brothers plowed up unfertile desert dirt and planted rye grass, alfalfa and anything else that would grow in the barren wasteland. It would eventually become feed for their cattle ranch. To this day, well over a thousand cattle still call the Westmoreland Ranch their home of which Charles’ youngest son is now the steward.

The water flow that gave life to the Imperial Valley was an appropriate place for Uncle Charles to take his final breath. May you rest in peace.


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