Black tank

Sometime in Austin we used the wrong kind of toilet paper, and the black tank valve on the Airstream got stuck slightly open.

We tried to fix it but failed, so we decided in Bisbee to take Totto into an Airstream dealership to get the valve looked at, and the next dealership we’d be close to was in Scottsdale, Arizona. So I made an appointment.

Before hitching up and leaving from Arcosanti I spent some time flushing and re-flushing the blackwater tank in preparation for getting it worked on. I didn’t want the technician to have to deal with anything unsightly. Eventually the hose ran clear, so I hitched up and drove to Scottsdale.

At the Airstream dealership’s service department I explained our issue to an energetic family man named Brian, and gave him the keys. He said he’d have it done by the end of the week.

Courtney was in San Diego for work, so I spent the week in Tempe with my friends Clint and Danielle, and got to see their version of Phoenix.

Clint and I both kept early work hours (he works at ASU as an ant scientist), so the afternoons were open for activity, and we used them to do some remarkable desert hiking. Clint is an AT thru-hiker, and still practices his art. Phoenix was oppressively hot during the day, so we hiked around sunset, finishing our journeys by headlamp in the dark. The trails (Camelback Mountain on Wednesday, Superstition Mountains on Thursday) were empty, and to Clint’s delight we saw lots of bugs, including a tailless whip scorpion and an army ant raid.

On Friday, the day before Courtney was to return and we were to leave, the Airstream dealership called me back. Brian from the service department explained, his voice somewhat shaken, how he had hooked up the sewer valve and tons of “debris” came out. He said he kept flushing the tank, and each time more “stuff” would come out. He said he had a weak stomach, and the experience made him gag. Eventually he was able to force the valve closed without having to drop the pan and take the tank apart, a maneuver that would have cost an extra $1000.

I was embarrassed, and apologized to Brian for putting him through that ordeal. He asked me if we were using the right kind of toilet paper, and I said yes, because technically now we were using the right kind, even though back in Austin we weren’t. He claimed to have seen cardboard coming out of the pipe, so we both pinned the blame on that, which must have come from the prior owner.

Clint and I drove to the dealership the next day and Brian was happy to see us. He didn’t seem at all bothered anymore by his close encounter with our sewage, and sold me some enzyme chemical for the tank and sent me on my way with a business card and a kind handshake.

I parked Totto at the curb in the hot sun in front of my hosts’ home and gave them a quick tour. I opened the freezer and water came splashing out. I realized then that I had accidentally turned the fridge completely off when I left Arcosanti, and it had been warming in the Phoenix heat for the past week. The refrigerator and the freezer both smelled foul, and all the food was ruined. I was able to clean it out before Courtney arrived, but the smell lingered for a few more days.

The black tank was finally closed though, and we had learned some new lessons in Airstream life that we would not soon forget. Courtney made it back from her work trip Saturday afternoon and we departed Phoenix together, closing out the 5-week chapter of our stay in the state of Arizona as we crossed the Colorado River into California.

Communion in the desert

After our long stay in Bisbee and our quick jaunt through Sedona we went to Arcosanti, Arizona, a tiny utopian architectural community about an hour north of Phoenix, perched on the rim of a high desert canyon (picture Tatooine with cacti). A music festival called Form: Arcosanti was happening there that weekend, and we had tickets.

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Arcosanti architecture

We set up our Airstream right down the road at the Cordes Junction Motel, RV Park and 50s Diner Backseat Bar, in a no-frills gravel plot with neighbors close by on either side. It was cheap though, had full hookups (water, power, sewer), and there was enough WiFi and cell signal for us to continue working during the week before the festival started.

Next to the RV park was a huge, empty dirt field, and by Friday it had been converted to the main festival parking lot, dubbed Parkosanti, and was quickly filling up with cars sporting California plates and rentals from PHX. Parkosanti housed the booth where you could get your wrist band as well as a free shuttle service to and from the festival site, which was up a long dirt road in the village of Arcosanti itself.

After logging off from work on Friday we put on sunscreen, packed a tote bag with snacks, walked across Parkosanti, and hopped on a packed tour bus to the festival. Everyone on the bus was young and excited, and they had lots of gear. They all got off at the first stop, which was the on-site festival campground down at the canyon bottom. We were the only ones who weren’t camping, so we just rode the bus (now our private chauffeur) back up to the rim and the entrance to the main amphitheater.

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Tent city

The festival was easy and wonderful, like a tiny, comfortable Burning Man. It was capped at about 1,500 tickets, so even the biggest shows felt like high-school pep rally size at most. The architecture was retro and futuristic, with strange domes and ziggurats that you could climb up to sit on the roofs.

We went back and forth between the two intimately small amphitheaters to watch a bunch of bands we loved. Fleet Foxes, Courtney Barnett, Blood Orange, and Daniel Caesar were some of our favorite highlights. Beach House and Skrillex played too, but they went on after our bedtime. Again and again, the performers remarked that they’d never played a show like this or had an audience like this. Everyone was respectful and attentive, and It felt like we were part of something.

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Roofers
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Fleet Foxes from a few rows up

Each night we’d take the bus back to our Airstream, take hot showers, and sleep in our own beds. The next morning we’d make coffee, have breakfast, and walk out to the shuttle to take us back to the Arcosanti compound.

On Saturday at sunset we communed with nature on the opposite canyon rim. We were alone on the butte, and could have been anywhere, anytime in history in the great West. The lichen on the red rocks glowed neon in the sunset light, and the cholla cacti looked like a coral reef. We heard cheering from across the chasm. A slam poet who was opening for Blood Orange had started to perform, so we hiked back across so as not to miss the headliner.

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The canopy above the main amphitheater provided shade and whimsy
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There was ample time to relax and plenty of shade to recline

The staff at Form seemed to be made up mostly of LA festival kids, and they loved to drive very fast on the dirt roads. A funk musician associated with the festival gave us a lift in his SUV on Sunday morning when the official shuttle was late. As soon as the door was closed he floored it and turned up the music very loud (his own band, we’d later learn), and bragged about getting reprimanded for going 70 on the gravel. “It’s just a rental,” he said. We left the vehicle a bit shaken from the g-forces, and promised ourselves to never hitch any more rides.

That evening was the last night of the festival, and after seeing Hundred Waters at sundown (the Gainesville band who founded Form) we decided we were beat, and went to the transportation station for a ride back to the Airstream. We waited for a long time for an official shuttle to appear. Apparently the vans were backed up servicing the canyon campground, so we, along with a few other folks who were ready to call it a night, just had to be patient.

Finally a young woman appeared and said she had a set of van keys and could take us back to Parkosanti. She seemed to be working for the festival, and was very friendly, though something about her seemed a bit off. We loaded into the van while our driver negotiated a burrito for later from her colleague, remarking that she’d been consuming only Adderall and Diet Coke all day and didn’t want to throw up later from an empty stomach like she did last year. Courtney and I looked at each other as the sliding door slammed closed. The woman stepped on the gas and we shot out across the dirt road into the night.

Bouncing down the center of the two-lane dirt track, our driver started to tell her captive audience about herself. “I was born in LA,” she said. “But my family was poor and didn’t want me to get jumped into a gang, so we moved out to Arizona. I became a stripper anyway. Now I live back in LA and I’m trying to be an actor. Is anybody here from LA?” Most of the van said yes.

At this point our driver was turned around telling her story to us, only glancing back at the road occasionally, the van still positioned right over the center line. Another shuttle van approached us going the opposite way, and I thought, “we’re going to get into a car crash.” At that moment several other passengers politely interrupted the woman’s narration to urge her to stay in her lane, and she casually steered out of the way of the other vehicle without pausing her story. We made it back to Parkosanti unharmed, and as we disembarked our fellow passengers were giving each other looks like we had just survived something together. The glow of the festival utopia that day had burned off, and we were thankful to soon be heading back to the real world.

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Festival folk

We got up early the next morning to locate Courtney’s bus to the Phoenix airport (work trip, San Diego). Up at the airport shuttle station near the VIP tent area we were surprised to see that the person checking people in and manning the walkie-talkie was none other than our LA driver from the previous night. She was more sober now, though maybe still a little stoned. Her personality was just as big at 9am as it was at 9pm. She checked Courtney in for her ride to the airport without recognizing us from the night before, and we desperately hoped she wouldn’t be the one behind the wheel. Thankfully this shuttle bus was a real bus with a real driver, and Courtney made it on her way without incident.

After she left I went home and finished my work day. Then I took a meal at the RV park’s 50s Diner Backseat Bar and quietly eavesdropped on the local clientele. They were veterans, motorcyclists, and gun enthusiasts, none of whom seemed to know anything about the large and inclusive music festival that had just concluded up the road. I had assumed ahead of time that Cordes Junction would be full of other Form-goers like us, but in the end I think we were the only people at the whole festival who lodged at the RV park. The internet makes it look like the RV scene is full of #vanlife folks, technomads, and Airstream dwellers, but in reality we are almost always alone in a sea of retirees.

I went inside to pay for my beer, and a country karaoke night had started. I signed up and sang “Chattahoochee” by Alan Jackson. It felt good to perform for an audience of strangers. Somebody in a booth mused, “way down yonder on the Agua Fria,” which is a local river that for much of the year, including that day, was dry.

A path well worn

We pulled into Sedona and the thermometer on the truck read 99 degrees Fahrenheit. The town reminded us of Disneyland with every store front beckoning at the tourists to make their way inside. It was fudge and ice cream shops. It was commodified bohemian loaded with crystals, aura photos and Himalayan salt lamps.

We drove around for a while, letting the red rocks wash over us while keeping an eye out for anything that might warrant pulling over. We saw what looked to be local twenty somethings walking down a well worn and unsanctioned path wearing nothing but swim suits and wide smiles. Their towels whipped vigorously in the wind, waving as if in invitation to join them. By the time we parked and started in their direction they had disappeared into the woods so we followed the path down the cliffside and eventually found ourselves standing next to a rushing creek deep inside the canyon.

When we found the twenty somethings they had already laid our their towels and had drinks in their hands. Their smiles were still wide as they posed for selfies and waded out into the ice cold water. We smiled wide too and drank in the beauty of the serendipitous scene. We remembered it was our two month wedding anniversary and I stood on a rock so our faces could meet without having to crane our necks. We were warm, and full and in love.

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Music Mike and the blond guitar

I like to play the guitar. I own a few of them, but out of fear of damage from the elements (hot truck beds, big swings in humidity, cacti), I chose not to bring any with me on our grand journey. Instead, I decided I would find a cheap but lovable acoustic guitar somewhere on the road that I wouldn’t mind treating a little rough. Bisbee is a music town, and after being here for a week and feeling like we were living in a perpetual folk festival I was itching to have my own instrument again. So I started looking.

One day after work we went into Acacia Art & Antiques, one of the several antique stores up Main Street. I was immediately drawn to a lovely blond classical guitar propped up near the entrance. It was a 3/4 size (a plus for Airstream life), in great shape, and had a rich tone. The price tag was $95, which, though affordable for a guitar, was more than I wanted to spend on impulse, so I left it there.

I decided a few days later that the the universe was speaking, that the blond guitar was meant for me. I would write songs on it about the adventures we would have on this trip and sing them to our future children, eventually passing the guitar on to them. But when I went back to buy it, it was gone. The owner of the antique store told me that a man named Mike (I’ll refer to him as Music Mike) had just bought it the day before. Music Mike was a local musician and apparently somewhat of a local celebrity in Bisbee. When I stared blankly upon hearing his unfamiliar name, the shop owner laughed and said, “you must not have been here long if you don’t know Music Mike.” He then showed me a video posted that day on Music Mike’s Instagram depicting a man strumming the very guitar that I had wanted, which made me want it even more.

Disappointed, I half-heartedly browsed the store for consolation guitars. There was another medium brown classical model in stock for $85, but it was not as nice. One of the strings was wound backward on the peg, another was steel instead of nylon. The case was the wrong size for the guitar, and had stickers on it of a mushroom, a butterfly, an ocean wave with the word Roxy, and an octagon that read, “311 Chaos Tour 02 Aftershow.” It didn’t speak to me.

In a different part of the store there was a real beat-up (but full of character) steel string guitar for $45. The tuning pegs could barely turn though, and the frets hung off the neck like thorns. It seemed like more of a decorative item than an instrument. I left empty-handed. (Later, I came back with my tuner and a set of pliers to see if the $45 beater guitar could be tuned. It couldn’t.)

I spoke to Barbara at Bisbee Books & Music, who said that they were getting in a shipment of 3/4 size classical guitars soon. I half-heartedly pinned my hopes there, but I was still attached to the old blond guitar that was now owned by Music Mike. Rather than letting it go, I decided that the best thing to do would be to find a way to meet Music Mike in person, possibly befriend him, and then ask to buy back his guitar. We had two weeks left in Bisbee, and now I had some kind of a mission.

I started following Music Mike on Instagram. One day he posted a flyer for a “Music Mike and Friends” show at the Copper Queen, so we went. We got there right as St. Cinder was packing up. Music Mike seemed to know everybody, and had a bunch of other locals in his band. They mainly did jammy covers and looked like they were just having fun. He wasn’t playing the blond classical guitar. I knew I wasn’t going to approach him about it tonight.

A week or so passed, and I tried to put the hunt for the guitar out of my mind. Another one would come to me sooner or later, and it wouldn’t kill me to be guitarless for a little longer. We went about our routine of working in town, making meals at home, planning future legs of our trip, and just living our normal lives as residents of Bisbee, Arizona.

One morning Courtney had some video calls to do, so she stayed home at the RV park while I went in to Bisbee Coffee Company to start my workday. It was the postcard of a Bisbee morning. Ray the barista poured my coffee as usual while the lead singer from St. Cinder sang songs from the 1930s on the sidewalk out front. Barbara from Bisbee Books & Music walked in to open her shop, saw me, and told me that the acoustic guitars had finally arrived, but were out of tune. She then went outside and gave the St. Cinder guy 5 bucks to come in and tune them, which he did. I followed shortly to take a look at the guitars.

They were fine, but they were new, made in China, and didn’t have the character of the vintage blond one I had wanted in the antique store. I knew I wasn’t going to buy one, and had resigned myself to not finding a guitar in Bisbee. I picked up one of the guitars to give it a courtesy test strum anyway, and it was at that moment that Music Mike walked into the store.

I did a double take but didn’t say anything. I just kept softly strumming some open chords, wondering if this was the moment when I would ask my big question. Barbara was in the middle of explaining that the guitars were having trouble staying in tune, and Music Mike (while thumbing through the vinyl collection) jumped into the conversation, remarking that that was common of nylon string guitars. “Over-tight, overnight” he said, meaning that if you overwind the strings and leave them, the next day they’ll be more properly stretched out, more able to keep their tune. He then said that he performed with classical guitars a lot (a fact I already knew), and that breaking and replacing a nylon string during a show is a nightmare.

I ached to explain to Music Mike that I was internet-stalking the guitar he had just bought, and that I wanted to buy it back from him. I said, “you probably have to retune it halfway through each song when that happens.”

Mike said, “yeah seriously,” and then left.

I wrestled with regret for half the afternoon. But later I snapped out of it, and found him on Instragram and just sent him a direct message, explaining myself and asking point blank if I could buy the guitar. He replied right away, politely, and without asking any questions about who I was or how I knew about his recent purchase, simply saying that he was sorry but he loved that guitar and was going to record with it. I told him that in that case it sounded like the guitar was in its rightful place, and I meant it. I wished him luck with recording and he said thanks. I had done all I could, and I felt immense relief.

I went back up to Acacia Art & Antiques to see if they had any other guitars in stock, and was surprised to see the old 3/4 classical in the brown case with the 311 sticker still sitting there. I had forgotten all about it. I took it out, tuned it, it felt great, and I bought it. The lady at the checkout desk said, “it’s a great travel guitar,” and I said that’s exactly right.

In celebration, I decided to drive up to The Divide and see what that was all about. I found my way up Tombstone Canyon Road to the overlook above Mule Pass Tunnel. There was nobody around and no cars parked except a conspicuous school bus with the words “ST. CINDER” painted on the side in big black letters. It felt like a good sign.

There was a gravel road called Juniper Flats that led uphill from The Divide overlook. A sign urged caution on the primitive roadway and steep grade. I turned the truck and went up the mountain.

Juniper Flats Road led to the top of a red rock ridge high above AZ 80. The only thing around were some radio towers and a few crunchy looking off-grid homesteads. I could see everything from up there. To the west across the valley was Sierra Vista, with the green Huachuca Mountains and Miller peak rising beyond. The historic district of Bisbee, its surrounding red hills, and the rim of the Lavender Pit mine were nestled down to the southeast. Due south was Mexico and the tiny border town of Naco. And to the east I could see the flats, pale and hazy, out where Double Adobe Road stretched on toward Chiricahua National Monument, and where nestled in the scrub somewhere was Desert Oasis RV Park, and our Airstream—our little home—inside which Courtney was now relaxing, done with her work for the day, unaware that I was on top of a mountain looking down at her with a new old guitar in the back seat.

I soaked it all in, took a few photos, and then drove back down to get groceries and a Redbox and to make dinner for me and my wife.

The next week I put new strings on the guitar and tuned it up (over-tight, overnight). It was a handsome guitar, I liked the rich brown color. The action was nice and it felt good to play.

The 311 concert sticker on the case had a tour date on it: April 13, 2002. I was a freshman in college then (and admittedly a 311 fan), and I was getting ready for a family vacation to the Grand Canyon, which would be my first visit to Arizona. I looked up that date online and found that it was from a concert at the Rialto Theater in Tucson, a town that now has extra personal significance to Courtney and me. I knew now that things were the way they were supposed to be. The blond was meant for Music Mike, but this little guitar was meant for me.

Through the mirror

In Bisbee we’ve learned that simply going into a store rarely stops at that. On Main Street there are two vintage & antique shops next door to each other that are only open for half the week: Classic Rock Couture and Objects Limited.

We went into Classic Rock Couture one day, and Courtney bought a black jumpsuit from the 70s. We got to talking to the young woman who owned the shop, and learned that, like us, she had also once traveled the country in a camper. She asked us what we were doing that night, and invited us to a concert by an LA band called LA Witch at a bar called The Quarry. It was apparently a big deal to have an out of town band play a weeknight here.

We went to the show and Courtney wore her new jumpsuit. It was all locals, and largely high-school-aged kids. There was no sign of the shop owner, so we slid into a booth across from two energetic young dudes. A local father/daughter punk duo called The Exbats were playing up on an elevated stage when we arrived; father in the back on electric guitar, high-school-aged daughter up front on drums and lead vocals. After they finished a lot of the crowd dispersed. One of the boys at our booth turned out to be the singer’s boyfriend; we bought both of the band’s two CDs from him, then got tired (we’re morning people now), slipped out, and went home before the headliner came on.

The next day we visited the other vintage store, Objects Limited (very well curated, kind of expensive), and bought a small oval mirror for the Airstream. Emily the shopkeep was a slim, crane-like woman with a stylish short haircut and bright, youthful eyes. We hit it off with her, and after closing up for the day she invited us on a tour of the upstairs section of the building, which was an Airbnb hotel furnished beautifully with items from the shop (all of decor was available for purchase), complete with an entire ballroom whose entrance was guarded by a ceramic tiger. There was a framed photo in the hallway of Georgia O’Keefe wearing the same hat that inspired Courtney’s hat, and Emily told us that that Courtney’s hat brand (Tio y Tia) had actually recently done a photo shoot in this very hotel.

Emily suggested that we go up to see a local mountaintop shrine at the end of OK Street called “The Crosses,” and to not be alarmed if we ran across a couple of goats up there. They belonged to her neighbor, she said. She also told us about a placed called “The Divide” up above Mule Pass Tunnel where you can go to watch the sunset. She told us the best pizza in town was Screaming Banshee, and that we could get a good rate on one of her rooms if we ever wanted to stay there. We were happy we made a friend. Courtney left a glowing online review of her shop, and we went home and hung the oval mirror.

Later that night we found ourselves at the Stock Exchange bar (which used to house Bisbee’s own stock exchange during the copper boom), watching a young woman with a great voice playing solo acoustic country covers on stage. A man approached us and told us he recognized us from the L.A. Witch show earlier that week. He was excited about that show and wanted to talk about it. I confessed that we had gone home before the headliner played, and his expression fell. He was a local promotor of sorts, and it sounded like he had booked that show. He told us to look him up on Facebook to see other shows he was booking soon. He told us his name, but I quickly forgot it.

For all the fun we’ve been having observing the humans of Bisbee, they too have been observing us.

A few days later we hiked up to see The Crosses. It was steep, very windy, and the views were spectacular. Then two goats appeared, followed behind by their keeper, a friendly gentleman not much older than us named Fred, sporting a long beard and a hoodie with thumbholes. He told us the whole story of the crosses (old man Vasquez was going blind and God told him to build a hilltop concrete shrine and he would get his sight back; he still went blind), the story of the goats (they were obtained to befriend a donkey), the story of the donkey (he didn’t like the goats, escaped, and now lives feral in the hills), and the story of himself (he came to Bisbee a year ago to escape the winters back east and bought the cheapest house in town, the former home of old man Vasquez and his large, eccentric family of hoarders).

Back down the hill Fred invited us in to see his work in progress fixing up the old home. He showed us the side yard where the goats lived (they were jumping around on the roof by then), an insane fence made of scrap metal and wire above his back retaining wall, and the inside of his place, which was very much a work in progress but had good bones. We were happy to have made another friend, and we figured that this kind of counted as being invited to a local’s house party (minus the party).

Walking back down OK Street towards town we passed Emily the shopkeep driving home. She waved and asked if we had checked out The Crosses, and we happily reported that we had just come from there. She was delighted. We went up to Screaming Banshee for dinner and Kyle (the young man from the bathroom line at the St. Cinder show the previous Saturday) was there making pizzas. I ordered the restaurant’s eponymous pie, and it was excellent.

The longer we stay in this place, the more it feels like we are transitioning from observers in an audience to players on a stage. We’ve met so many odd and merry folks, it’s easy to forget that we too, with our folding laptop stands and our Airstream home on wheels, probably appear as unusual birds from unknown shores to everyone else we meet. In a town like Bisbee, that means we fit right in.

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.

St. Cinder

Our first week in Bisbee we signed up for the Bisbee ghost tour, and while killing time in the mid-afternoon after work (we’re currently on a 7am-3:30pm MST schedule) we wandered into the historic Copper Queen Hotel.

There was a band playing, kind of a ragtime outfit with no amplification, and everybody in period dress like like 19th century miners turned to busking. They were called St. Cinder, and they were surprisingly great for how low-key the show was. The only folks in the crowd were us and the next band up, a middle-aged Celtic ensemble. The St. Cinder folks mentioned a bigger show they were playing on Saturday at the Bisbee Grand, and we decide we would go.

The Celtic band came on, and the place started filling up with locals. They were nowhere near as good as St Cinder. In fact they were not fun to listen to, and we left before their first song was over.

We went on the ghost tour led by a middle aged local man named Lee who wore a top hat with a feather. It was us, one other couple from Phoenix, and a woman shadowing Lee to learn how to give ghost tours. Lee walked us all around the back stairways and dark alleys of the main historic part of Bisbee.

I had had a few drinks earlier and so I already had to pee before the tour even began, and once we were well underway I was in the emergency zone. An hour into the tour we finally made it to a public restroom and I had the longest pee I can ever remember having. I was thankful that Lee continued telling more stories to cover up the endless (and audible) sound of me urinating.

The hour and a half tour ended back at the Copper Queen Hotel, and to my surprise the Celtic band was still playing. They had drawn quite a crowd. I couldn’t understand it.

On Saturday after hiking in Chiricahua National Monument we cleaned up and went to town to see St. Cinder’s bigger show. The Bisbee Grand was pretty packed, about 70/30 locals to tourists, many in strange dresses and loud hats. The band had amplification now, and a different drummer, and they just didn’t sound as good as the low-key jam at the Copper Queen.

In the bathroom line I struck up a convo with a local dude around our age named Kyle. He had a Screaming Banshee shirt on (the local brick oven pizza joint). He told me about the weekend events related to Alice in Bisbeeland, which is an annual town-wide Alice in Wonderland-themed cosplay. Now the odd outfits made a little more sense (Alices and Mad Hatters). Mostly I was proud that I had met a local. Courtney and I made a vague goal to somehow get invited to a local’s house party before our time in Bisbee was through, that if we did that we would be officially locals ourselves.

We figured the St. Cinder folks were just passing through town, but throughout that week and next we kept seeing them and their posse around town, the guys busking alone or in pairs, the ladies fetching food. I looked up St. Cinder online and found an Indiegogo campaign to finance them getting a new school bus, in which they apparently lived while perpetually touring. We wondered where they parked that bus, and if they, or the other townies of Bisbee, were at all curious about us as we were of them.

Tucson, Arizona

Jeff and I spent the weekend in Tucson Arizona visiting family that I haven’t seen since I was about five years old. It was a very special getting to spend time with them and it was really cool to see myself and my sisters in their faces and personalities. We saw Saguaro National Park, we drank margaritas and ate shrimp quesadillas, we gorged ourselves on cake and icecream, we looked at family photos and shared memories and stories, we saw amazing mariachi bands, we visited the Sonara Desert Museum and toured The San Xavier del Bac Mission. We’re thankful to call Tucson our second home.

Family pics (more to come):

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Me and my Aunt Patrice and cousin Philip.

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Me and Jeff and my Aunt Barbara.

Saguaro National Park:

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Sonara Desert Museum:

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Our cute Airbnb in Tucson:

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The San Xavier del Bac Mission:

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Me and Jeff and my Aunt Barbara.

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Bisbee 1000

These are some photos from a recent exploration of the many hidden streets and treasures in Bisbee. There are stairways that connect the streets up the side of the mountain and a lot of the homes are literally built on top of each other. There are so many stairs in fact that they created a race every year called the Bisbee 1000 which features nine of the longest staircases and over 1000 steps in total.

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The wind

This place, the Desert Oasis RV Park on Double Adobe Road, is very windy.

The wind starts midmorning and goes off and on all day. It usually goes east, down from the mountains to the west of us. It’s gusty and dusty, and when it really gets going it just beats everything down, blowing sustained for hours.

The wind is serious enough that we can’t put the Airstream awnings out for shade, and often it’s too strong for the windows or roof vents to be open as well. This has been of note for us because we are still working full time, and often times, in the sunny, 80-degree heat of the Arizona midmorning, the Airstream is our office.

We do open the front screen door for cross breeze from time to time, but one day last week a dust devil whirled up and nailed us, coating everything in our living room (including our keyboards) with fine layer desert powder. Usually now we just turn on the AC.

Our first couple of days here we tried working out of the RV Park clubhouse, but that didn’t last long. The high speed internet up there was not as high speed as we’d thought, and three days into working there a memo went out about limiting individual wifi use to 2 hours a day. Then Len scolded us for rearranging tables in the clubhouse without asking, (even though a resident puzzle-worker told us it was fine).

So, we’ve been cooling our heels in Old Bisbee, working at the Copper Queen library or various cafes in the afternoons. But in the mornings we just work from Totto, and we do our dance with the desert wind.

The air is calmer around sunset, and we often go on walks then through the trails here after dinner. Then at night the wind returns, and this is when it gets the strongest, buffeting the Airstream until it rocks like a ship at sea. By then the temperature is down in the 50s or 40s, and we click on the furnace until dawn, when the last gusts of the night are waiting to greet us.

Leaving things outside is a risky proposition here. The wind has flipped buckets and toppled folding tables. At first we put stones the size of baseballs on the corners of our rug at our front steps, but the wind blew the rug out from under them. We found larger, t-bone steak sized rocks, and put them on the rug, but by morning still the whole apparatus usually slides out of place. Our camp furniture currently lives face down on the dirt (more aerodynamic that way), with a big rock on each chair, another on our camp table. So far those haven’t blown away.

For the flagpole dedication ceremony on our first day here Paul and Len had zip-tied tiny American flags to the campsite address posts all around the park. For several days these flags held fast, being tormented by the endless cycle of wind like some kind of metaphor for arbitrary resilience. But now the flags have finally started to break free, and we see them at rest in the dust of the gravel driveway, cradled at the base of the thorny mesquites.