In 1967, a woman’s car got a flat tire. The owner of the car was one 43-year-old Marta Becket, from New York City. And her car’s tire just happened to go flat near the abandoned, dilapidated Amargosa Hotel and Corkill Hall, at Death Valley Junction.
Marta Becket was a ballet dancer, actress, choreographer, and painter. She had been in the corps de ballet at Radio City Music Hall. And she had been a Broadway actress, appearing in Show Boat, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Wonderful Town. And later, after age had weathered her complexion and Broadway no longer wanted her, she started her own one-woman show, which she performed in small theaters and school auditoriums all over the country.
Marta stood near her flat tire and surveyed the desert landscape that surrounded her. She absorbed the barren crags of the Funeral Mountains to the northwest, the undulations of the Greenway Range to the southwest, and the spreading Nopah Range to the east. She regarded the broad, flat floor of the Amargosa Valley, and the dry watercourse of the Amargosa River, running through it. And she took note of the short and sparse shrubbery that covered this valley floor.
And somehow it seemed like she’d found her destiny.
Then she turned her attention to the dilapidated U-shaped building. The Spanish-colonial designed Amargosa Hotel and adjoining Corkill Hall that had been built and abandoned by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. And she got a crazy idea. She would stay put, right there.
Sure, service is slow getting your tire repaired in the middle of nowhere. But that’s not why Marta decided to stay. No, she was following an inspiration, and on an impulse decided to act on it.
She located the owner of the hotel, and rented Corkill Hall. Then she renamed it the Amargosa Opera House, and got busy renovating it. And on top of making it hospitable for human attendees, she put her artistic talent to work.
She painted the ceiling with cherubs, and on the walls she limned a wrap-around mural, depicting Renaissance figures of nobility, seated as an audience in tiered galleries. It was an audience she imagined might attend Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.
This would be her audience. An audience that would always show up, and never leave a seat empty. An actress’s dream come true.
Marta’s neighbors regarded this invader from New York City with a mix of droll curiosity and head-scratching bewilderment. And by neighbors, I mean those living within, let’s say, a 50-mile radius. Because that’s how sparse and spread out the population is, in that neck of the desert. But even so, everybody knew everyone there, and anytime anything unusual happened, such as the current goings-on at the Amargosa Hotel, word spread like wildfire, and everyone found out.
One curious neighbor, with a particularly snooty attitude, with whom Marta would have frequent run-ins over the next several years, ventured into the former Corkill Hall and found Marta up on a ladder, busily painting her mural. She stiffened up and barked, “What do you think you’re doing?”
Marta replied that she was painting a mural for her opera house that would be opening soon.
“But why?!” she sounded confused and exasperated.
“But it’s not PRACTICAL!” she protested.
Marta had to chuckle. Little did this poor flibbertigibbet realize that the scene she was making would one day become part of a future repertoire.
Not practical. Marta had a lot to teach the world, at her opera house in the middle of nowhere, and this was one lesson. Not practical. Isn’t that what life is all about? The living spirit goes well beyond that which is practical.
Why do coyotes howl? Why do crows perform aerial stunts on windy days? Why do bloggers write posts?
We do that which is practical in order to maintain life, so that we can keep doing that which is impractical. Impractical is what life is all about. Without impractical, we’d never want to be practical.
This is the latest installation of my series, The Amazing Amargosa. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 9, Part 2: The Sitting Down Show . Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.