Two concrete pads, a metal pole, a peeling sign, and the high-speed traffic on Route 58 heading between Boron and Mojave. The sign tells only part of the story. It was a café at one point, and a rock shop at another, but which first? Intuition places the café first in line, as rock shops tend to inhabit the low rungs of the commercial real estate ladder: the failed strip malls, the abandoned gas stations, front porches and wizened mobile homes. It’s all about storage of durable, heavy inventory with low revenue per pound of sale. Unless they’re the tinkly crystally new age kind that sells a buck fifty worth of quartz for a hundred fifty bucks with a free white sage smudge thrown in to cleanse the previous custodian’s negative aura cooties, small rock shops have to find locations where they can clear maybe a thousand a month and still pay the rent and make payroll. It would seem likely that a café opened, failed, and then the owner gladly rented the land some years later to a business that might have paid forty dollars a month for it.
But the broken neon tubing in the sign obviously corresponds to the letters in the word “ROCKS.” The word “CAFE” is amateurishly lettered. Could it be that the natural order of succession in the desert roadside business ecosystem was reversed in this instance, that someone walked up to a property so desolate and remote that even a rock shop had failed there, and said “This would be an excellent location for a restaurant”?
It’s possible. Edwards Air Force Base is right across the road. The pathetic little hamlet North Edwards is maybe a ten minute walk away. The café owner might have dreamed of literal legions of service personnel dropping dollars into his pockets. Maybe he imagined the likes of Yeager walking in, X-15 test pilots unwinding with coffee after a hard day breaking the sound barrier or spying on Kruschchev.
Driving past North Edwards on a dark night about six years ago, my attention was drawn by a small red illuminated sign, visible though not readable from about five miles away. A bar, I thought, or a gas station, maybe a convenience store. It seemed odd, looming behind the sparse shrubs as I sped along 58. I got closer: a remarkably dim sodium-vapor light showed a squat, institutional green shack of a building, no cars parked anywhere nearby. A depressing scene. The red sign eventually resolved into legibility. It said “SHOPPING.”
I didn’t go in.