What am I doing out here in the middle of the desert? The lights of Las Vegas are a distant memory, faded away into the early morning, and now about a hundred miles into the past.
A blurred landscape of clay-colored dirt and scrub brush drapes a blanket over the sweltering desert floor. Mountains flank Highway 15, heading west toward Los Angeles. Digging into my subconscious there's a feeling that a slight car malfunction out here in the 100-degree fire pit of the Mojave will have the vultures picking at my bones in no time.
Out in the distance, a bright blue sign climbs out of the dirt. A trick of the mind. False signals flashing to my eyeballs.
"The Mad Greek."
This sign is different than the others that litter the highway; most are tattered, falling apart at the base and covered in decade-old decay. Remnants of old gas stations, shattered hopes and dreams of a water park in the middle of the California desert, and visions of the American Dream fall apart, fading into the landscape. But this sign stands out. It's new, attractive. The place survives.
Exiting I-15 and onto Baker Blvd., I fear my car will be in danger, overtaken, and ravaged by that of deadly, runaway tumbleweeds. The boulevard, flanked by gas stations and small local businesses, runs parallel to the highway.
To the left, towering 134 feet above the earth, is the "World's Tallest Thermometer." What a sight to see. A brilliant execution of human engineering is being showcased right here in Baker, California.
In the distance, at the end of the strip is a larger building. Blue-and-white exterior, flags flying, a series of faux pillars and statues. A mirage. Again, another trick of the mind. Why would a Greek restaurant exist out here? How did it get here? So many unanswered inquiries.
Outside the front door, a sign reads:
- *Athens, Greece. 10,215 km 6,348 mi
- Las Vegas. 150km 93mi
- Death Valley. 177 km 100mi
- Los Angeles. 281 km 175 mi
- Greek Islands. 10,300km 6,400mi
- The Mad Greek*
I enter, immediately confronted by a bizarre sensation. Patrons fill the bright blue booths, more faux pillars divide the sections, and the walls are covered in Greek phrases, maps and Socrates quotes. At the side counter, an array of colorful gelato. At the front counter, another large display, this one filled with a variety of baklava.
Approaching the front counter, I'm a bit thrown off by the menu. Yes, I see some typical Greek dishes, but now I see Mexican Food. Mexican food? Bizarre. But then again, how much more bizarre can a Greek restaurant in the middle of nowhere be? There's also what appears to be traditional American breakfast.
Also quite strange. Albeit kind of interesting.
"What's the most popular item on the menu?" I ask.
"The Gyro," she replies. Okay, the gyro it is. (It's pronounced "yee-roh." Not "gee-roh" or "gye-roh," "hee-roh" or "hi-roh"... it's "yee-roh.")
Now that we've got all of that cleared up, let's continue.
The Gyro is very good. I wouldn't say it's the most amazing piece of culinary delight I've ever treated my taste buds to, but it's good. In traditional gyro style, it's filled with lamb, beef, tomatoes, and served on a pita. It's accompanied by a very tasty white dill sauce. For about one one hundredth of a second, I actually look out the window expecting bright blue waters, palm trees and white-washed homes perched high on the hillside.
Immediately, I'm pulled back – back into reality. But is this even real? Perhaps my car has broken down and the vultures are already picking at my bones and the synapses in my brain continue to fire just enough to transport me into this bizarre oasis on the edge of the Mojave.
Is it a possibility that I've gone completely off the rails...that I've gone mad? Mad Greek? Perhaps. But in this time of uncertainty, I chow down on my gyro, choosing not to confront the unknown possibilities.
I finish my meal, climb back into my vehicle and continue the journey west; the road leading me closer to the Pacific, through a landscape of mountains, Joshua trees and a seemingly infinite desert horizon. In my rear view mirror, Greek statues and the words of Socrates fade into a fuzzy dream.
"To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge."