The line for the dim sum joint spilled into the parking lot, so C. and I drove two blocks down and went to another spot with excellent bean curd and taro puffs the size of your fist. The exterior was a hellacious strip mall in the 1990s style; the interior had picture windows overlooking a soothing vista of acacia trees and Italian cypress with pink mountains in the distance. This felt like a metaphor.

We tooled around the city’s perimeter, marveling at its sharp edges. A neighborhood is backed against a mountainside. A retaining wall shields a grocery store from the desert rolling behind it. The parkways are pristine and feel particularly futuristic at night. Instead of dead grass and fallen leaves, topiaries and swept gravel fill the medians like an endless zen garden.

Just before midnight, I stepped into the small yard of the house we rented and savored the unfamiliar flora and stillness. There’s something so tranquil about an illuminated palm tree, a science-fictional kind of calm.