Another piece of my California trip. You can check out further adventures here, here and here.
Bombay Beach, California
No one skis in anymore, nobody has in over 40 years. Now only a golf cart or two, and maybe a rusty car, sit in the parking lot of the Ski Inn. Bombay Beach once a booming resort area has seen its share of hardships, but the town and its people, much like the desert, are resilient, hardy and full of life.
Directly off highway 111 onto Avenue A sits a gem of forgotten stories and lost memories. The Ski Inn. Sure, I had read about this place, seen it on TV and documentaries, but it truly never existed until I made it there in the flesh. I needed to smell the salt air, feel the desert heat on my skin and touch the smooth wood paneling that has been privy to every beer drank and countless stories told.
As we pulled into the parking lot my heart sank. The bar looked closed and there was a For Sale sign in the window. I crossed my fingers, jumped out of the car and tugged on the handle of the door.
The Ski Inn was open and for the next hour and a half it was mine to explore while drinking ice-cold beer out of a mason jar and chatting with the locals.
The inside is just what you’d expect a small town bar to be. It’s perfect. Dim and cozy with wood paneling and stucco covered in years of autographed dollar bills strangers-turned-friends taped to the wall, hoping to see their dollar bill the next time they returned. It didn’t take long for us to hit it off with the patrons of the bar. Once they found out we were from Minnesota a bond was instantly made. Wendell and Jane, the owners, have a special place in their hearts for Minnesota. Jane grew up in Fergus Falls and Wendell spent a lot of time in northern Minnesota hunting. The two of them would often escape the hot desert summers and head back to Minnesota. Gloria, sitting two chairs down from us, also had ties to Minnesota through her deceased husband’s family. We learned she makes killer tamales but doesn’t make them often because they are a lot of work. Another tiny elderly lady we met, whose name escapes me, comes to the Ski Inn every day for lunch. She rarely finishes her sandwich and will always wrap it up in a napkin and put it in her pocket to save for later. The day we were there she triumphantly ate her entire meal.
Wendell and Jane have owned the Ski Inn since the 1960s. He tends the bar and she’s the cook. They run a pretty tight ship. While munching on their “World Famous” french fries, we listened to stories of the town, marveling at the changes they’ve seen. I could have stayed there for hours, days, years, just listening.Wendell and Jane were modern-day pioneers. They came to a new and exciting land with hopes and dreams. Even after the Salton Sea area slowly started turning into a desolate wasteland, the many invasive floods and a majority of the town just up and leaving, they persevered. As we were getting ready to head out, a band was bringing in their instruments. They urged us to stay for the show later on that evening. Sadly we had to hit the road to continue to our next destination. Brian and I carefully designed our dollar (our last name, a star for each of us, the outline of MN and a bulldog). I made a wish and taped it to the wall. It’s there now, waiting for us to come back. And, between you and me, if we make it back my wish will have come true. Our friends at the Ski Inn thanked us for coming and told us to return again real soon. We thanked them for the stories, food and beer, but really, deep down, I was thanking them for memories that will last a life time.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, I had to wipe away my tears. Golf carts, mason jars, pickled eggs, wrinkles, dollar bills and generations of stories. What more could you ask for? The Ski Inn isn’t something you just read about, it’s meant to be experienced.