In honor of road trips, today I’m going to recall a trip Joey and I took to Palmyra—Palmyra, Syria, that is. Palmyra was an ancient oasis in the windswept Syrian desert, an essential stop for merchant caravans that brought both wealth and war to the city in the centuries preceding and following the birth of Christ. Not many people seem to know about it, which is one of the many reasons why it was so cool.
By bus, you can really take in the vast, tedious emptiness of the desert. And, taking all that in, when the driver finally pulls into a rest area, you can surprise yourself by actually feeling eager to brave the restrooms and willing to pay for any sort of toilet paper.
The driver was smoking outside when Joey and I emerged from the restrooms. Surveying the barren landscape, Joey pointed at a giant satellite dish about a mile out on the horizon. Aside from the gas station, it was the only thing within eyeshot that you could point at. In Arabic Joey asked, “What’s that?”
Joey, of course, was just making conversation in a place where there’s not much conversation to be made. But the driver, although an amicable guy, didn’t take the bait. He gazed out in the direction Joey had pointed, shook his head, and said, “I don’t see anything.”
I looked again at the satellite and the wire fences and the important-looking buildings. Then, considering the baby in my arms, I cautiously leaned over to ask Joey what the bus driver was smoking. Joey confirmed that the guy’s Camels were legit and then explained that we must be looking at a hidden facility.
It’s funny how a country can manage to create a hidden facility along a main road to a tourist site, across from a gas station, with the biggest structural profile for miles around.