It’s 11:14 on a Sunday night at The O Spa in Desert Hot Springs. Two speakers located around the main pool are pointed away from the rooms, but the bass carries to the property’s back fence where a fire pit’s diminishing flames ready themselves for bed. The 808 pierces the desert solitude. The songs are good, a danceable repetition that got the revelers moving when the sun was high. But not now. Now is when guests are tired from the three mineral pools, the sun, the weed and the booze.
The music reminds visitors that The O Spa doesn’t close until the silence from the speakers matches the silence of the region. Nearly 29,000 people live in Desert Hot Springs, a city, according to a 2019 Today.com story, that received fourth place in the annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting. The O Spa is two stop signs from Thai Palms and Pierson Boulevard and Palm Drive. Walk the gravel sidewalks, past the beige buildings with Spanish roofing and blossoming palm trees, to the main intersection. It takes five minutes. You won’t see 29,000 people. You’ll see — and hear — people with mahogany tans twisting and turning in the painted white lines, talking, sometimes yelling, to no one.
You won’t hear these locals at The O Spa. Besides the music, you won’t hear much of anything. People from Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties forgo four-star hotels in neighboring Palm Springs and Palm Desert in favor of mineral water pools, topless sunbathing, cannabis, bottle service and roaming dogs. The five-acre property — constructed in 1958 and still looking like a motel — includes 270-degree views of the San Jacinto and San Bernardino mountain vistas while the surrounding walls make guests forget the dirt roads and apartment complexes in the neighborhood. Children aren’t allowed at The O Spa and some showers need to run a few minutes before the water gets hot. Many people might be bothered by one — or both — of these. If that’s you, go to those hotels with lazy rivers and chicken fingers on the kids’ menu because The O Spa is for people who don’t watch the flat-screen TVs in the rooms, don’t have Hilton Honors Rewards cards and don’t mind the couple whose voices carry under the covered pool. That’s the one to be in at night because the temperature is 104 degrees. There’s a mural on the wall behind the pool and if you’re high enough, if the water is hot enough, and if you stare long enough, you see the outline of boobs, like those paintings sold at the mall during the 1990s of outer space that turned into Daffy Duck. This is where you go when you want the good kind of nothing, when it could be 11 a.m. or 4 p.m. and you wouldn’t know the difference because you’ve been sweating since you woke.
If you’re lucky, a small black dog named Lucy or one of her three puppies (Godzilla, Paris Hilton, Black Betty) will greet you at the entrance. If it’s true that dogs take after their human companions, then Lucy is amiable because of Rick Rabuck, the thin, perpetually tanned, 6-foot-3-inch owner. Along with business partner Desireé Fischer, The O Spa is his doing, this modern desert Americana of electronic music, weed and all-day tanning where there are no cowboy boots but there are cowboy tubs. Close your eyes and you can see the stars and stripes waving in the mild breeze, “Disco Inferno” the new national anthem. Rabuck is the leader but not the boss, the businessman who engages with clients. The official name is “The O Spa,” but it might as well be “Rick’s,” its slogan “Remember the Altamont and do the opposite.” He answers the phone when you’re checking in and says “someone” will be right out. That someone is Rabuck. He’ll increase the temperature in the heated pool and will inflate the pizza-shaped floatie in the 90-degree main pool, the one that has a 10-foot white statute of Guanyin, who is the bodhisattva of compassion and mercy in Chinese Buddhism.
A stage is located at the back of the property between the fire pit and a spa room where guests can receive the $135 (for an hour — $205 for 90 minutes) Body Mind Integrative Massage, described as “deeply relaxing intuitive bodywork tailored to balance, clear and align emotional, mental, physical and ethereal bodies using gentle pressure points, stretching and energy balancing.” Hanging from the stage is a spinning disco ball that reflects beams of sun against the stage walls. Yoga mats rest in the corner of the stage. If this was the ‘60s, The O Spa is where the Byrds or the Mamas and the Papas would have written classic albums. This isn’t the ‘60s, but The O Spa harkens to that era, modernizes the best elements of the counterculture and forgets all that failed. This is what the hippies wanted, a place to bask in nature and pass joints between topless strangers. This is where Hunter S. Thompson would have vacationed, where the hopheads and draft dodgers got it right, where the true spirit of what the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival sells on layaway. Close your eyes again and you can see it, a roadie flipping burgers at the propane grill off stage left while young men in backwards hats and topless women play bocce ball stage right. This is California, the one Hollywood portrays to the rest of the world, the new Woodstock. According to its website, the venue “is a safe and welcoming adult destination and regardless of your gender, sexual orientation or political leanings, the O Welcomes everyone, both young and young at heart” where guests can “celebrate the best of life on a daily basis — conversation, art and music.”
A palm tree lives two feet from center stage, which would partially block potential views if there were musicians on stage. But there aren’t. Instead, there are playlists consisting of ‘70s funk, ‘90s hip-hop and Portishead’s “Glory Box.” This is spa music, the genre that defies artists in favor of ambiance, the type of thing created for lounging by the desert pool. Still, with that sound system, someone should book The O Spa for a record release party. Maybe a 40th birthday or a combined wedding and honeymoon. Rabuck will rent the entire property — 15 individually themed rooms and the three cabanas — for $6,499, a steal when you consider there’s free parking in the adjacent dirt lot and a lounge area that includes a kitchen, a refrigerator, two couches, air conditioning, an ice chest, a bathroom/changing room, a record player with Neil Diamond’s “Hot August Night,” sarongs and Jenga and other board games.
Twenty feet from the stage is where you’ll find one of those fountains that shoots water from the ground that children like to run through at tourist destinations. Bring a folding chair and sit — the water will be a welcome reprieve from the temperature, which can get well above 100 during summer. When the temperature gets this hot, you’ll be glad there’s air conditioning in the rooms.
The main pool is The O Spa’s nucleus, the place where the natural mineral water unites 20-something duos on girls’ weekend getaways with married couples in their 50s who want to discuss their jobs in Santa Monica. The former pose for Instagram photos while the latter hover on floaties.
Or maybe not. Tomorrow is Monday. Maybe it’ll be you, Lucy and Rick getting a tan while the rest of the country is at work. As singer-songwriter Tim Barry says on his 2005 track “Idle Idylist,” “I let tomorrow be tomorrow/And let tonight be tonight.” The O Spa is about now and now it’s 12:01 a.m. Tomorrow. Yesterday’s music plays while yesterday’s guests sleep. Rabuck’s blinds are drawn. Lucy and the Roxy Music (the big dog who isn’t allowed to roam) are inside his abode. From inside the common area, the bass booms.