I was driving the 20-minute commute to Joshua Tree from my home in Twentynine Palms. There was a meeting for work that I had to attend. Most of the ride is on Highway 62, a four lane highway with a turning lane in the middle. It’s an uninterrupted cruise of 70 mph until I reach Joshua Tree and make a right on one of the light signals. A traffic light turned red and I slowed to a stop. I looked around expecting to see the familiar landmarks of Joshua Tree. Instead I saw that I was still in Twentynine Palms and was stopped at Lear Avenue. Lear! The stoplight that was approaching mythic status because of how often it’s installation kept getting pushed back was working. And I was stopped under it.
As I waited I looked at the house on the northwest corner of Lear and Highway 62. It’s been freshly painted a terracotta shade and its bordering oleander plants have been cut back. This house has been on the corner of Lear and the Highway for as long as I’ve been coming to Twentynine Palms. My parents would take us kids out to our cabin in the boonies of Twentynine Palms in the 1980s. Dad drove on Highway 62 with the three of us crammed in the back seat of our 1984 Toyota Tercel for what seemed like an eternity. The only thing to look at through the windows was desert and an occasional abandoned homestead cabin. When I spotted the house on the corner of Lear and Highway 62, the first sign of civilization since Yucca Valley, I knew we were finally turning off the Highway and were almost to our cabin.
This house is a landmark for the turn-off onto Lear from the Highway. The owners mounted a pole wrapped with white lights on the top of their chain link fence . It was the only beacon that marked the intersection of Lear and the Highway in the dark desert night. It served as a marker for all the Marines turning left onto Lear towards MCAGGC in their caravans at night and a lighthouse for those who turn left on Lear to go home. Lear is well-traveled both by civilians and the military.
Cars travel fast from Joshua Tree into Twentynine Palms. Lear is the first major road in Twentynine Palms and cars must slow down from 65-80 mph to make the left turn towards MCAGGC. The berm on the corner of Lear has many scuff marks and gouges from vehicles over turning the left and hitting the berm instead. A fender or a bumper might be resting over the berm in the dirt as a testimony of an accident. As the population of Twentynine Palms grew so did the amount of accidents on the corner of Lear and the Highway. It was good when the city announced plans to put up a traffic light. Months turned into years as one obstacle after another got in the way of a traffic light on the intersection of Lear and the Highway. Wrong parts were ordered and the correct safety equipment such as warning lights weren’t installed. For a long time the lights were erected but they were just there, looking at the oncoming traffic with a blank stare.
Now the lights are working. On the intersection of Lear and Highway 62 I wondered how long the red light would last. The light was red but there were no cars on Lear anymore. Why am I still waiting here? The light turned green and as I accelerated I reminded myself that I am not in Joshua Tree but in Twentynine Palms still and I have about 15 minutes travel time to get to my meeting for work.