From Rural Route One to Palm Springs


You would never think that a spot of red clay in the midst of humble folks would intersect in the hot, dusty desert land of Palm Springs, California, a well-known enclave of rich and famous.

But, somehow, I keep finding my way there.

First, I love that Palm Springs pays homage to those who plopped down second homes in a place where sand can blind you if a wind storm kicks up and anything green is hard to find.

Gene Autry, a 1930s’ pioneer movie cowboy, was a genius businessman. When he died, he was worth hundreds of millions in real estate, radio, television stations and was owner of the California Angels. He invested early in Palm Springs real estate.

Palm Springs has not forgotten the cowboy known now by few. There is a bronze stature while Gene Autry Trail is one of the busiest boulevards in town. Then there is Frank Sinatra Way and other main thoroughfares named for Ginger Rogers, former president Gerald Ford, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dean Martin and others.

A few years after my first book — “What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)” — a women’s book club in Palm Springs wrote and asked if I could possibly consider being their guest to speak to the club.

“We have discovered that though we are women from California and Nevada, that we identify with your book. We’d love to honor you with a Southern tea.”

As fate would have it, I had just agreed to attend a small corporate event at the Rancho Mirage Resort. It was the easiest job I ever had — I merely had to spend the weekend at the resort, then enjoy dinners with a group of Fortune 500 executives and their wives while making dinner conversation.

For the book club, I agreed to come on that Saturday at 2 p.m. Twelve lovely women, dressed in beautiful hats, greeted me, then spent the afternoon, pouring tea from silver pots and serving finger sandwiches.

They all spoke of personal experiences that were similar to what I had written. The most surprising was a woman in her fifties who had spent 30 years as a successful blackjack dealer in Las Vegas.

“I used charm to get big tips. I made more than any dealer in the casino!”

It was the first that I knew that casino dealers were tipped. I was out of my league.

Last year, Tink and I were in Las Vegas for the sad yet celebratory funeral of our friend, Gavin MacLeod, an original cast member of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and forever remembered as Captain Stubing of “The Love Boat.”

We loved Gavin and his wife, Patti. We visited them in Palm Springs occasionally and called them regularly. I have never met people who loved Jesus more than they. Particularly Gavin who wouldn’t hesitate to walk up to a stranger and ask, “Could I tell you about my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

When Gavin died, and the memorial was being planned, I called Patti to check on her. “Ronda, do you think,” she began in her soft, humble voice, “that John (Tink) would mind speaking at Gav’s memorial?”

“He would LOVE to!” I responded enthusiastically, knowing how much Tink hates to speak in front of people.

Never have I been prouder of John Tinker. “You have to talk about Jesus,” I had said. “That’s what Gavin would want.”

Tink followed the vibrant Pat Boone and said, “If you want to see Gavin again, you better know Jesus because that’s who he’s with.”

Recently, we were there for an event with the stars of “Knots Landing” (the first show Tink worked on) and to spend a day with Patti.

Later, driving to the airport in a swirl of sand, I thought, “Isn’t it funny where a country road can take you?”

From dirt to sand.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Visit to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]