Arizona is dry. That doesn’t mean Arizona is boring or lifeless though. A better word for the state might be arid, but that is a bit of a wonky overcorrection that indeed describes lots of its topography yet doesn’t accurately capture the essence of the place and its people. Arizona is weird. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean Arizona is Austin. A+B ≠ C. Math holds up, except when it doesn’t. Apples still aren’t Oranges, except when they’re watches. Arizona is “dry” as much as we are quarks. It’s a place where you can still see and feel the faint traces of Old West at the turn of the 20th century like the fading embers of an extinguished candle, before the gradual, sludge-creep of endless “connectivity” came for us all; disassociating us all through iPhones, LED lighting, bots, plastic, turf, screens, likes, sharing, fiat money, Google, 24-hour news, and Whole Foods with penetrating finality. Arizona is not dry. Arizona is raw.
Parks and Recreation
I had returned from a month-long sprint of working in nameless cities across the country and some major ones that should as well be nameless or something more appropriate like “Walmart Forever…City” or conceptual, like DFW. Without realizing it, I had become tired of something but couldn’t quite put my finger on it was. Maybe I was jet-lagged, too depressurized and sardined at cruising altitude to think straight. They knew I hate pretzels didn’t they? The month before that, I was in New Orleans for 36hrs, and had been gone 3 months straight before that, a year before that. I didn’t miss home as much as I missed family. The city had changed, the people, the places, all subtle corrections/alterations/over-writes of things that I once knew well, but could no longer connect to with the same reflex. (Treme?) The thing that had been rolling over in my head was that fact that I hadn’t seen the stars. I had grown fatigued from more than that, but nothing quite galvanized my angst like not being able to look up and see something beyond ourselves, beyond our place here on Earth. New Orleans, with all it has to offer, selfishly, will never give you the stars. It’s the reason, I imagine that so many natives leave to become one.
I didn’t know much about Arizona beyond what I had seen and heard in film. A desert…that attracts strange people, spirit walkers and alien hunters and the like. I knew there was the Grand Canyon too, but embarrassingly after associating it with a 90’s Hoveround commercial. I also thought there would be good Mexican food too. More than that, however, I thought there would be stars, or rather skies dark enough to see them. Stars in mind, I hastily booked a ticket, grabbed a room and planned to get away.
When I arrived in Phoenix, I could see foothills scattered about the city in all directions. It’s the visual I was craving, recalling a touch of my time in Las Vegas a year back. The little planning I did do caused me to book a room in Flagstaff, a verdant mountain town located about 3 hours north of Phoenix that’s famous for the Lowell Observatory, abundant opportunity for outdoor activity, and proximity from the Grand Canyon. Unprompted, a number of people recommended that I stay in Flagstaff as a way to access the Grand Canyon as well as Arizona’s other parks and landmarks, which was first on my itinerary.
The rental company’s computers were down. Their sheer lack of fucks seemed to indicate that the computer error wasn’t rare. As they shuffled back and forth, attending to the line at a slugs pace, I made small-talk with a few of people about whatever people talk about in unmoving lines, other than the fact that the line wasn’t moving. One girl had an ill-fitting University of Arkansas hoodie on. Like me, I assumed she was new to the state and made an appeal to that. “You’re from Arkansas?”, I asked. She looked down, somewhat taken off-guard from the question and replied “oh this? This is a mistake” with a wry, defeated laugh. “I’ve driven through Arkansas”, I quipped. “It totally is”. She informed me that she was a local and kindly recommended a number of local eats, of which a strip-mall Thai joint called Red Thai that has a surprisingly bomb selection of pan-Asian and Thai dishes and beer as well as a seizure-inducing projection of random mahou shojou (lit. Magic Girl) style Anime cartoons on the wall behind the bar (think Sailor Moon). Dizzying, yet entertaining videos aside, Red Thai is worth hitting up.
One by one we sheepishly made our way to the front of the line. When I was my turn, I got the new guy. After going through the motions, some of the more senior staff realized a screw up in his handling and I got “upgraded” to an SUV, a Kia–not Sedona as that would have been too fitting–that after some pouting about the relatively poor gas economy, I accepted it and headed out towards Flagstaff.
The ride up from Phoenix to Flagstaff had been a rolling and twisting course the entire way. About an hour or so into the drive, the stars, perhaps the core reason I came to Arizona, came into my peripheral vision and nearly got me killed trying to steal glances at them on the road. When I eventually pulled into the driveway of my AirBnB, I couldn’t differentiate the neighborhood from that of any off of a service road. The hosts had embellished, like, a lot I thought at the time. After a quick check in with my hosts, I accessed and got acquainted with the place: It was simple, with nice personal touches. In the living room, there was an older model flat screen, a simulated fireplace, your parents’ fluffy furniture, and a number of well-selected art pieces for the “mountain “ decor. I liked it. Before bed, I charted out my week on a napkin, struggling to read slow-to-load travel blogs on what had to be DSL wifi for tips on the best natural sites.