Letter from the Coachella Valley

Photo courtesy of Nick Reulbach

As part of The Occidental’s COVID-19 coverage, we are running a series titled “Letters from” written by staff writers, editors and Occidental students. These letters aim to document the experience and insights of Occidental students as they adjust to new circumstances.

It’s starting to get hot.

All the windows in my house are closed. Our AC, which I used to consider a luxury, is now the only thing keeping us from frying like bacon.

I had heard stories of desert summers: dry, scorching heat, temperatures reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit almost daily, air conditioning blasting all day long. I always thought, “Wow, that sounds awful, but I’m sure I can weather it out. I’ve been in more extreme environments than that.” As of now, the 10-day forecast for my town is 90–100+ degrees Fahrenheit every single day. It won’t cool down until at least October.

Starting my first year, one of the most common questions I got asked was, “Where are you from?” 

While it comes off as a simple enough question, I always had a hard time answering it. I grew up and spent most of my life in Boston. I lived in the Bay Area for five years right before college, then a month after I started at Oxy, my family packed up shop and moved to the Coachella Valley, where I am now. 

Oxy was — for all intents and purposes — the only home I really had left.

Sheltering in place is given an entirely new twist when you’re sheltering in a place you barely know. While other people are surrounded by familiar scenery, I find myself engulfed in newness that I can’t explore. I have yet to meet most of my neighbors. I don’t know my way around anywhere. 

It’s especially jarring in a place like the Coachella Valley. Everything here seems so artificial. For a community in the middle of the desert, there’s an unnatural amount of greenery here — manicured lawns and golf courses, palm trees and citrus fruit. All the streets either are named after celebrities from the ‘40s and ‘50s, like Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope, or contain one of these words: palm, springs, desert, via or vista. It is essentially the Florida of California. There’s no history here before the 1940s.

Photo courtesy of Nick Reulbach.

On the one hand, being in a new place makes it easier to shelter at home, since I have no real reason to leave the house. On the other hand, I feel lonelier than ever. The only people I know within a 50-mile radius are my mom, dad and older sister. It’s as if I’m stranded in an actual desert, minus the lush facade. 

While here, I’ve been doing what anyone can to stay entertained; I’ve been playing a lot of Animal Crossing (my email is nreulbach@oxy.edu if you want my friend code), watching “Survivor” with my mom and sister and aimlessly browsing the internet for something not related to “these uncertain times.” 

Yet I still see all of the news: the dire situations faced by many all over the country, the shortages and pitfalls and lackings. All the while our orangutan-in-chief is blabbering about lupus medication, UV rays and disinfectant. Ugh.

I’m glad at least that I live in a state with competent leadership. Thanks in large part to our boy Gov. Gavin Newsom, the city of Coachella has just 122 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of April 28, and California as a whole looks like it could hit its peak relatively soon. While this is obviously a good prospect for the fall, we know all too well that nothing is certain these days.

I didn’t realize how much I’d miss the little things about Oxy until they were gone. I miss sitting in the quad and soaking up the morning sun before class. I miss the occasional fun banter with the staff in the Cooler. I miss walking down the hill from Braun in the evening and seeing the sun set over the city. I honestly just miss walking places. 

But it’s starting to get too hot.

Nick Reulbach is an outside contributor and undeclared first year.