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Chris Erskine: Palm Springs Family Trip Follows the Tiki Trail

PALM SPRINGS — So we’re doing a tiki crawl in this dusty, grassless prairie two hours from Los Angeles. In summer, it’s like living in a lava flow, but right now Palm Springs is as green as your chopped salad at Mr. Lyons, the luxe steak house everybody loves.
Tiki bars are a subset of dive bars. Ever been to a brand-new one? No, because tiki bars were all built in the same year, 1945, to welcome home troops from jungle battlefronts. And Hawaii.
You can get a good drink in a tiki bar, mostly crushed ice, pineapple juice, 47 kinds of rum, some hope, some understanding, a spritz of salvation, all of it topped with a little sword stabbing a blood-red cherry thingy.
Very Biblical.
At the Bootlegger, the drinks are perfect. Across the booth sit my daughter, Rapunzel, and her brother and sidekick, Smartacus.
As usual, I’ll be picking up the tab. My kids always offer to pitch in. But why did I work 45 years if not to be able to pick up a bar tab or two? It’s the ransom you pay for time with your adult kids.
Smartacus is back for spring break and is now 21. This is his first tiki crawl. Might be my first tiki crawl. By rights, every American should do at least one tiki crawl.
Yes, we Ubered over, and poor Daniel the Driver had to overhear some story I shared with the kids about my recent lunch with Angie Dickinson.
“What a tool this guy,” Daniel the Driver must’ve thought. But, trust me, he was hanging on every word.
I was telling them how, when Burt Bacharach was about to propose, Angie decided she needed to warn two key people in her life: her mother and her boyfriend.
I presume the second call went something like this: “Baby, just wanted to warn you. Burt’s taking me to Vegas this weekend. I think he’s going to propose. Hope that doesn’t affect our relationship in any negative permanent way. Yet, it might.”
Like a Roman candle, Angie used to light up Palm Springs. Back then, it was a swanky Rat Pack getaway, a mid-century playground.
Palm Springs is still a playground, though I’ve never found it very swanky. Now, it’s more for golfers and bachelorette parties.

Marilyn Monroe statue in Palm Springs LAs mid century retreat

Places evolve, is what I’m saying. That’s the only explanation for that giant Marilyn Monroe statue, the one where she is flouncing her petticoat over the subway grate. On a hot day, wouldn’t that feel refreshing?
Please note that, for thousands of years, sculptors carved statues from the finest granite or marble. Then California found a better way: aluminum. Coming soon: statues made of bacon.
Later, I warn my girlfriend that I might soon be marrying Angie Dickinson. Suzanne seems very relieved by this news, and wisely suggests I craft a prenup, so that Angie doesn’t claim anything of value I bring into the marriage.
“Like my Butkus jersey?” I ask.
“Um, yeah,” she says.
“Or my Emil Verban baseball card?”
“You get it.”
So, I draw up this pre-Angie prenup. Mostly, it protects my power tools and my self-help books, but also the many boxes of holiday decorations in the basement. It also protects the letter Shirley Jones (aka Mama Partridge) once sent me, with her lovely picture.
Back then, I was a pretty big deal, and the Los Angeles Times was still a very big deal. If I mentioned someone in a column, I often got a nice call or a courteous thank you note. Mel Brooks once invited me to lunch that way. After that, I was careful not to mention any more celebrities.
That’s how I met Angie Dickinson, by the way. Our first date was at Bob’s Big Boy in her hometown of Burbank, where there’s a statue as well.
Generally, California isn’t much for statues. It prefers bronze stars in sidewalks, so people and dogs can step all over you. That’s better than a big, elegant statue any old day.
Meanwhile, it’s raining goosebumps here in Palm Springs as we steam in a hot tub under a chill rain. I prefer hot tubs in bad weather — at ski resorts when it’s snowing, or in Palm Springs when icicles drop from the sky, exfoliating your skin. It’s just more romantic.
And suddenly I remember: In the prenup, I should mention that Smartacus gets super itchy sometimes and you have to scratch his shoulders for 2-3 minutes till he quiets down and leaves you alone to watch the Dodgers on TV.
That’ll be an important codicil to this prenup. But it seems worth mentioning, in this funky desert town of lanky palm trees and fevered nights.
Such a place, Palm Springs. Really dig it.

Do you dig Vin Scully too? Check out “Perfect Eloquence,” a new collection of Scully tributes by Bob Costas, Orel Hershiser, David Halberstam, Joe Davis and many others (including me). Order it online or from your favorite bookstore.

First published April 11-13 in Outlook Newspapers.

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