A Cold Is A Brewing

8 02 2010

The drive back, for the most part, was pretty anti-climatic. We had planned to pass through Sedona before bunking down in Flagstaff for the night.

It was getting colder by the hour. When we got to the hotel in Flagstaff — another Holiday Inn Express — we rested in the room and Jim caught up on his daily dose of Fox News.

Although I was not very keen about getting out that night, Stallone, the young server from the Canyon was in town and wanted to see me again. We decided to meet at a historic hotel in downtown Flagstaff, or as the locals like to say, “Flag.” I can’t recall the exact name of the lodge, but they had a live band playing that night and it was a popular hangout for the college crowd.

Stallone was there with a bunch of his Canyon cohorts. They were lounging on the sofas in the lobby. Stallone informed me he had taken a room for the night. No telling how many people were expected to stay, but I didn’t feel like reliving another late night pow-wow with the Canyon crowd.

So Jim and I had a beer and we snapped some more photos with Stallone and his girlfriends. Stallone was very friendly that night. Sitting on my lap at the bar and all. He was so sweet, but it did make me a little nervous. We were in Arizona after all.

The Drive to Roswell

Jim didn’t want to stick around very long. We had quite a drive ahead of us. Roswell, New Mexico was the next destination and, as usual, Jim had the schedule planned out in precise fashion. The old engineer wanted to see the meteor crater and petrified forest on the way.

Temperatures continued to drop that morning. We left at dawn and it was a blistering seven degrees outside. Who knew Flagstaff got that damn cold?!?

Jim was determined from the start. He pushed hard that day. I remember asking for time just to wolf down the complimentary breakfast that morning. We made it to the meteor crater before they opened the gates. We were the first visitors in line. Jim promptly paid our entry fee and we went inside, looked around, snapped some photos and left. I wondered why the hell we even bothered. It was really just a big hole in the desert.

We spent a little longer in the petrified forest. This was much more sentimental to Jim. His family had taken him here when he was a youngster and he still had a faded yellow picture as proof. A skinny preppy kid, with wavy dark hair, sitting atop the petrified tree.

“They won’t let you do that anymore,” Jim boasted.

Indeed, the park ranger confirmed that we were not to be climbing on the petrified logs. Jim showed the ranger his photograph and she was impressed. What a job those rangers have. Must be fun as hell to come to work everyday.

We watched a short film about the forest and the message was clear — don’t take these rocks home with you. It’s a felony. The film also documented the wildlife in the forest. Coyotes, prairie dogs and such. The only creature we saw that morning, however, was a hungry black crow.

From the petrified forest to Roswell was pure hell. I must have sneezed a hundred times. I’m not kidding. The wind was picking up and snow covered the countryside. I drifted in and out of sleep. Not wanting to be a total bore,  like Gabe had been, I tried to stay awake and talk, but my condition was rapidly deteriorating. Jim realized this and he drove faster. Too fast, in fact.

I woke up and the car was stopped. Jim had pulled off the side of the road. We were in a small town a few hours north of Roswell. Behind us were the flashing lights of the law. Welcome to Vaughn, New Mexico.





The After-Hours Tourist

10 01 2010

John wasn’t about to kiss and tell in the Canyon …. there is a code among Nerds, one that is sometimes solved by Queers.

But Gabe was another story.

“They can’t grow grass up there,” he said, in his thick Jersey Shore accent.

We were back in Panama City, comparing notes on the trip with Jim and Gabe was unveiling his turf research. John, admittedly, was envious of Gabe’s youth with that baby face that would never be kicked into the streets — at least for very long.

In Vegas, Jim had even encouraged Gabe to walk The Strip, but the youngster keenly stayed inside the casino’s cozy atmosphere.

The Canyon was a different climate, entirely. “How can you stay inside a place like that?,” Gabe declared.

The workers in the park rarely mingle socially with visitors. Tourists, despite being their life source, were usually held in contempt at “after hours” get-to-gethers.

And I was about to get my first taste of Canyon “after hours.”

Stallone, the twinky Hawaiian server, invited me back to his apartment after dinner to meet some of his friends and Jim gave me the green light, offering up the keys to the Murano.

It was cold that night and very, very dark. I drove slow and tried to remember the way, knowing the drive back would be a solo affair. Stallone was a friendly fellow and his language skills impressed me… and then he surprised me, “You don’t have a joint on you, do you? Because I would really like to smoke a doobie.”

Wow.

The answer, of course, was no and this seemed to solidify park workers’ biggest complaint.

“You tourists,” Stallone said, shaking his head with a sheepish grin.

We arrived at Stallone’s apartment before the herd. Stallone introduced me to his roommate, a short lesbian who liked football and beer. I don’t recall her name as shortly after introductions the apartment began to fill with Canyon people, all workers in the park and all with vastly different personalities.

Still sporting my blazer and khaki pants from dinner, I was overdressed for this soiree, but still my ‘Southern Good Ol’ Boy’ wit attracted quite a crowd. The girls seemed to like to hear me talk. So did Stallone, who grew more girlish by the hour.

A whiskey bottle was passed around and inside Stallone’s living room people huddled on the floor and lounged on couches, conversing about Canyon life. There was a young Asian girl there who dispensed the trouble with housekeeping and her beef with management.

Her comments made me wonder why Jim always tipped the bellhop but never the maids.

There was no music playing and nobody was dancing. I guess you could say it was a drinkin’ party…and since I was the token tourist in the crowd, an outsider, I wasn’t offered any mind-altering substances.

And that was cool with me. The decade of decadence was coming to an end. Stallone probably would have had more fun with Gabe.

After a few hours of spin the bottle, I said my goodbyes and returned to the El Tovar, driving ever more slowly through the dark park. A steady wind made the cold air slightly bitter.

On the way, I came upon a large elk, casually walking a long side of the road. There was no fear in this magnificent creature’s eyes as I passed by. Back home, that elk would be a welcome addition to many walls. My trophy, however, was seeing this beast roaming free.

Something only a “tourist” could truly appreciate.





The Canyon Dinner

5 01 2010

From Durango, we drove through Monument Valley to get to the Grand Canyon.

Jim had secured dinner reservations with an old friend at the El Tovar, a landmark lodge overlooking the Canyon’s South Rim. It would be a chance for me to dust off the blazer with a night of fine dining in store.

Parked outside the El Tovar

Parked outside the El Tovar

Monument Valley was stunning.

“Can’t you just see John Wayne leading the Calvary,” Jim remarked.

We pulled off the road on several occasions to take pictures of the rock formations and mountain backdrops.

And this leg of the trip was the first time we spotted hitch-hikers. It was a sight I was not accustomed to, certainly not around Panama City.

It made me think about Barry, my Berkeley friend. When we were preparing for our renedezvous in New York, Barry had suggested I skip the bus ride and instead hitch-hike to Atlanta.

This idea, of course, seemed preposterous to me, but to Barry, the 60s radical, it was something he had done many times before in his youth. Turns out, the bus ride, with all those convicts in tow, might have been more dangerous.

Jim wasn’t about to stop and offer any hitch-hiker a ride. I was plenty enough company on this trip. We got to the Canyon before sundown and the bellhop at the El Tovar helped us unload the car and showed us to our room. Before dinner, Jim did some shopping at the gift shop, buying a piece of Native American pottery with a price tag that could be a mortgage payment for most folks.

Meanwhile, I was saving what little cash I had for Vegas and sprucing up, back at the room, for dinner.

We met Jim’s friend Tom in the lobby. Tom knew Jim’s annual routine well as the two had met years ago when Tom was a server at the El Tovar. These days, Tom was pretty much in charge of the place and had recently published a book on Grand Canyon National Park.

The three of us had a delightful dinner and great conversation. Tom was originally from Michigan, a stout fellow with a neatly trimmed beard. His overall appearance, sans the beard, reminded me of Syracuse’s famed basketball coach Jim Boeheim.

My intellect seemed to surprise him at first. Jim’s previous travel companions had probably not been as challenging a conversationalist and Tom appeared to appreciate this change.

Tom also seemed surprised that I had given up my newspaper career.

“But your stories were on the front page?,” Tom asked.

Before I could respond, Jim came to my defense, “But, if you’re not alive to read them, it doesn’t matter.”

As usual, Jim was right on the money. He had seen my career at the newspaper come full circle. He knew how tough it was, for me, at the end.

After dinner, which included a tasty entree of duck, we moved into the lounge where some of the park’s workers had just gotten off their shift. Waiting there, was another surprise. Tom introduced me to a young server named Stallone. He was a thin fellow of Hawaiian descent with feminine mannerisms. After a few drinks, Stallone asked me if I cared to step outside.

He wasn’t looking for a fight and neither of us wanted to smoke a cigarette.

“Do you kiss and tell?,” Stallone asked.