Bisbee locals

In our second week in Bisbee, AZ we shifted our daily home base to the Bisbee Coffee Company, a cafe on Main Street in the historic downtown. It’s open before 7 (which is when we start work now), has excellent WiFi, and is situated in a little indoor mall with clean bathrooms, lots of seating, and an ice cream parlor.

Bisbee is a tourist town on the weekends, but during the week it’s a locals only scene, and the social center of town is the Bisbee Coffee Company cafe. The baristas are all close to our age, maybe a little younger. Their playlists have a lot of Tame Impala and Father John Misty. They seem to like us here, and one barista, Ray, always greets me by name.

The patrons, however, are mostly older folks, a blurry mixture between veterans trading war stories and complaining about border protection, and ex-hippies musing about the troubles of the internet age. They all seem to get along though, bonded by a shared love for their strange little town.

Each morning around 7 we arrive with our seat cushions, claim a table, order coffee, and set up our foldable laptop stands (which always get some comments). When we have video conference calls, we step out into the seating area in the indoor mall where it’s more private. The WiFi is free for a few hours, but we paid to have unlimited access for a month. We’re usually done by 3:30, and then we go experience the town. It’s a good setup for us.

We’ve been clocked as new non-tourists pretty quickly since we began spending our weekdays here, and the old local folks love to chat us up.

Richard is always here before we arrive, and he greets us each morning. He looks a bit like Earnest Hemingway or Santa Claus, but a little slighter in the shoulder. He’s an air force vet, a former professional photographer (some of his work hangs in the coffee shop), and currently has trouble getting around after getting hit by a car while changing a tire on I-10 years ago. He is gruff with his friends, lovable and outgoing to strangers.

John usually shows up after lunch and is here when we clock out. He is is a lanky older fellow who looks like Harry Dean Stanton. Also a veteran, John always has a snappy aphorism or cynical response to anything. He seems to think of himself as the mayor of the cafe, and he’ll gladly take any opportunity to engage anyone in audible conversation, even if they’re sitting on the other side of the room, (especially if it has to do with military pensions or the state of public education in Arizona) for the duration of their visit to the cafe.

Next door to the Bisbee Coffee Company is Bisbee Books & Music, which sells books, records, art supplies, and musical instruments. The employees there are middle aged, and definitely in the ex-hippie set. Barbara, a serene woman with long salt and pepper hair and a slight limp, has lived in Bisbee since the 70s, when the Copper Queen Mine and the Lavender Pit closed and the hippies moved in. She told us that before she found Bisbee she had traveled the world like us. “It was the late 60s,” she said, “and the attitude in America then was, ‘love it, or leave it,’ so I said I’m getting the fuck outta here.” We talked with her about our mutual love for the Instant Pot.

Down the street is a Vietnamese restaurant called Thuy’s. It’s always hot in there, with large fans going. Thuy is the woman who owns the place and does all the cooking. We went there for pho and banh mi, and a guy our age with a guitar and a cowboy hat came in. A cheery older woman dining alone at the family-style table struck up a conversation with him and offered to pay for his meal in exchange for a serenade. The man agreed, and sat down and immediately started playing some lovely fingerpicking instrumentals and then had a free lunch.

These kinds of interactions happen all the time here. Locals love to say, “only in Bisbee,” or “that’s so Bisbee,” or “there’s Bisbee for you!”

Around the corner up Brewery Gulch is a vape shop with a few barber chairs. I went there to get my hair cut from a woman named Rachel. She was a Bisbee lifer, probably around 40, and had participated in the town-wide Alice in Wonderland cosplay. She gave me a great haircut for $15 on my lunch break. A few doors up from that is St. Elmo’s, a biker dive catering to leathery-skinned locals and leather-clad riders enjoying a stop along the winding canyon pass of AZ 80.

The historic Bisbee Post Office is in the basement of the historic Copper Queen Public Library across the street from the Bisbee Coffee Company, and since Bisbee doesn’t do home mail delivery (too many narrow canyon streets and homes only accessible by long stairways), locals often sit at the cafe al fresco and read their mail after picking it up at their P.O. boxes.

One day we were sitting on the cafe patio among these locals, and a homeless-looking woman came up and asked us if we could get her a glass of water from inside, that the cafe didn’t want her coming in to get it herself. Courtney happily obliged and the lady drank it down matter-of-factly and without thanks.

The next day we were in the cafe and we heard a commotion. A woman inside said, “that’s my car!” and ran out the front door. A weathered old beige Chevy pickup truck had backed into the side of the woman’s parked sedan. The local police officer, who was hanging out in the cafe too, rushed out excitedly to handle the scene. To our surprise, the woman who came out of the passenger seat of the truck was the homeless-looking lady we had given water to the day before. Apparently the driver, who also looked pretty rough, had just come out of a stay in the hospital. The lady whose car was hit explained that it was her son’s car she was borrowing, but that these things happen and she didn’t want the people in the truck to be in trouble.

Everybody in the cafe was abuzz with the incident and the excitement it brought to an otherwise unremarkable morning. Their eyes and smiles said, “that was so Bisbee!” without it needing to be spoken. But there was no head shaking or anger of any kind, just a comforting sense that regardless of stripes or circumstance, they were all each others neighbors.

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