One year ago this week, my girlfriend and I became My Wife And I. After hitching up at the drive-thru, we grabbed some quick coffee and bolted outta Vegas. Newly de-bastardized baby in tow, we headed west: Death Valley. We didn't have a plan, but we had a reservation: one night, and one night only, at the Amargosa Opera House & Hotel. (Our room, #22: the *Red Skelton Room, is pictured here)
Some background: the Amargosa Opera House & Hotel is owned and overseen by a one-time Broadway actress / dancer / ballerina named Marta Becket. Marta and her then-husband were on vacation in 1967 when they got a flat tire in Death Valley Jct, Ca. While hubby went to fix the flat, Marta explored the old hotel that once housed all the Borax factory workers back in the long gone boom days. Perpendicular to this long adobe building was a theatre, which, Marta claimed, "seemed to be saying..... Take me.....do something with me.....I offer you life". Marta took the building up on its offer, moved in, and soon began dancing in it, 3 nights a week. Given the sparse population density of her adopted desert home, she didn't always have an audience - and thus, the epiphany to paint a trompe-l'œil audience on the walls and ceiling of the theatre.
With no one to see and nothing to do, by the mid-1970s Marta had fully populated her world with her colorful creations. Her painting style was cheerful and bright, and certainly amateurish, but she had a perceptive eye - and an unfailing sense of the perverse. Here's a series of portraits that adorn the lone hallway of her hotel:
Following charming portraits of Robin Williams, Bob Odenkirk and Joanna Newsom, she paints a blank portrait? This was the first of many things to haunt me during our wedding night spent at the Amargosa Opera House & Hotel.
Our arrival at the hotel was cheered by about a dozen peacocks and the departing trio of hotel staffers, who told us other guests might be arriving throughout the evening, and would we mind showing them their rooms? Keys were taped to the front door outside. Unprepared for the bout of 40 degree weather being whipped around by howling desert winds, we sought a restaurant, or perhaps a nice saloon. Ha. Ha. HA! chortled the desert, "good"-naturedly. So we settled for the hotel dining room, with its dusty old electric fireplace. And no food. I can't remember if I ate fritos or yo-yos, but it was one of those.
(feel free to skip ahead at any time - cool links below! I'm really just here to show you these really sick paintings that decorate the Amargosa Hotel & Opera House. What follows is just more stuff about what a little scaredey cat I was on my wedding night)
Anyway, the staff had left us a stack of videotapes and a big TV in the dining room, so we enjoyed a PBS documentary on Marta and The Hotel, all the while feeling incredibly the-only-people-within-100-miles. And that's exactly when someone began BANGING on the front door. Never one to judge a man by his hairdo, nevertheless the dude who presented himself on that dark dark dark DARK NIGHT, with his i've-been-wearing-a-ski-cap-over-my-face-all-day rooster do' and his overly solicitous manner, did not inspire in me the sense that I wasn't Scatman Crothers in a "Here's Johnny!" t-shirt, and he wasn't, you know, "Johnny". In other words, I was very much afraid this man was sent here to end the lives of myself, my wife (on our wedding night!), and our baby, with a big fucking axe. So I let him in. Shortly after he didn't kill me, I realized the advantages of having a fellow scared but alert human around; and then... he announced his departure. His story was believable enough, but was cold comfort when, several minutes later, more BANGING at the door commenced and we were met with 4 to 6 very attractive German youths. It's funny, in the telling they seem so reassuring, but they were very scary at the time.
Well, we showed them their rooms and decided to head for bed, hiding out under the covers. Then the really fearful haunting shit started. You can imagine. Anyway, they didn't get the digital camera, so here's some more pics.
Visit the Opera House & Hotel online here. Book a room, nice & cheap!
Some interesting traveler testimonials here.
And, you know, Google gets you all this and more.
*named, as you might imagine, in honor of all the time Red Skelton spent in the room.