May 28th, 2017

We rolled into Flagstaff on a Sunday evening. It wasn’t quite dark yet. It was Memorial Day weekend, so things were still happening in town. There were crowds of people milling around. Karin and I had just left I-40, and we were slowly creeping along San Francisco Street looking for our night’s lodging, the Grand Canyon International Hostel. The hostel was supposed to be on our left. San Francisco is a one-way street, and the GPS suddenly told us that we had passed our chosen destination. I abruptly pulled into the parking lot of some motel, and we wearily exited the Toyota. The drive from New Mexico had been exhausting, and we needed food and rest. We needed to be anywhere besides inside the Corolla.

Looking about, we noticed a sign hanging near a door indicating that we had, in fact, found the Grand Canyon International Hostel. Oh joy! Oh rapture! We shuffled toward the entrance of the hostel and went inside.

The foyer was crowded with young people. It became instantly obvious to Karin and myself that we were, by far, the oldest people in this establishment. Many of the youngsters were sitting around on old sofas, fooling around with their smart phones. There was jazz music playing loudly in the background, and pamphlets for tours of the Grand Canyon scattered everywhere. There was microscopic booth for the concierge, but he was absent from his post. I looked around helplessly until a girl told me, “Ring the bell! Then he’ll come!”

I rang the bell. A thin, lanky man came quickly round the corner and greeted us. He had long, grey hair pulled back into a ponytail and a short goatee. He wore large glasses, and he had a ready smile.

“Are you folks looking for a place to stay? Do you have a reservation? Because we are booked solid tonight.”

“We have a reservation.”

“Cool“, he said, as he looked at his computer screen.

“Did you make a reservation with us, and or did you go through a hostel website?”

“A website”.

“I thought so. When you go through the national website, the amount you pay after your initial deposit is always some funky number. I think these people play around with the currency market, because the fees change slightly every day.” He shrugged and looked for our names.

“Okay, here you are. It will be another fifty dollars, and then you’re set.”

I paid the man with my credit card, and he said, “Okay, let’s do the tour.”

I asked the man’s name. It was Lance.

Lance gave Karin a key and he gave me a key. We were staying in different rooms. I was going to be on the ground floor with the guys, and Karin was staying upstairs with the ladies. Lance went to a closet and got each of us a bath towel. He showed us the breakfast room and the bathroom/showers. Karin went up to see her room, and Lance showed me where they have a big screen TV, and a small room with a computer that had Internet access.

I checked out my room. It had two bunkbeds, and a sink with a mirror.  I was going to be sharing the room with three other guys during the night. I tossed my towel on top of one of the top bunks.

Karin and I needed to find a place to eat, but first I wanted to set up lodging for the following night. We were planning to meet up with our friend, Jody, who was making a bicycle pilgrimage through California, visiting each of the old Spanish missions. Jody was a moving target. She expected to be near Santa Barbara during the next few days, but her exact whereabouts were uncertain. Karin and I looked at the road atlas, and we realized that the drive from Flagstaff to the California coast was just too long for one day. We needed a stopping point along the way.

I went to talk with Lance. He had told me a few things about himself. He had been born in Galway, but raised in southern California. Lance had noticed that Karin had a German accent, and he told us that he had been there. Actually, Lance had been damn near everywhere in the world. He spent years as a reporter for Reuters. He told us a story about when he was in El Salvador. He had photographed an intact American-made cluster bomb, with all its production markings visible. Upon his return to the U.S., he had given the film to his employer for development. Later, Lance had been confronted by his boss who told him, “Don’t ever ask about that film again.” Lance was only recently back in America. He had been living in New Zeeland, and he had come back to America to “see how things were.” He was kind of shocked by the Trumpian political environment.

I mentioned to Lance about the recent anti-drone protest at Creech AFB in Nevada, and about the subsequent unpleasantness with the local police there.

Lance looked at me seriously, and asked, “Just what did you think of the Las Vegas jail?”

I replied, “It reminded me a lot of Arlo Guthrie and ‘Alice’s Restaurant’.”

Lance thought for a moment, and then roared laughing. “I can see that! I can totally see that!” Then he went back to work.

I was tempted ask Lance why, after all his experiences, he was now working in a hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona. Of course, he could also ask me why, after all of my experiences, I was staying in a hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona. There are no good answers to those questions. Some things just are.

I went to Lance and asked him, “What is midway between here and Santa Barbara?”

He thought for a moment, cringed, and said, “I’m afraid to say that it’s Needles.”

“That’s bad?”

Lance sighed and asked, “You aren’t planning to be there long, are you?”

“No, just overnight. We are trying to get to Santa Barbara, but that’s too far to drive in one day.”

Lance rubbed his eyes. “Yeah, that is too far. Well, you could stay in Barstow. The next morning you would still have to drive across the north side of the valley. If you hit rush hour, it could be bad. There is a radio station that I always monitor in L.A. It’s good for keeping tabs on the traffic.”

“So, we should try Barstow?”

Lance shrugged. “It’s probably the best you will do.”

Karin and I went to the common-use computer and found a Quality Inn in Barstow. We set up a room for the next night. We had a plan, and now it was time to explore.

It was about 8:00 PM when Karin and I got on the street. We walked down San Francisco, past a microbrewery and over the railroad tracks. Long freight trains roll through Flagstaff every few minutes. The sidewalks were crowded with young people. Northern Arizona University is at the other need of the road from downtown Flagstaff, and the students were out in force. The bars and restaurants were packed with folk. It was a busy night. One tavern had the doors wide open and a band playing. The lead singer was a girl with multiple tattoos who was belting out a song from the Cranberries. Lots of people and lots of noise.

We wanted to get some postcards and maybe a souvenir shot glass for Stefan. Karin and I made it a habit to buy Stefan a shot glass at each new stop. He collects them. We walked into a place called “Crystal Magic”. It was a New Age kind of place. The store specialized in selling spiritual consumer goods. A person goes there to buy pieces of enlightenment. The girl at the counter had a waif-like appearance. She wore a shapeless sort of dress, and she had gold sparkles in her eye shadow. The young woman had an unfocused gaze and a breathless manner of speaking that sort of indicated that she was either at a higher plane of being, or maybe just plain high. We bought postcards. The store didn’t have any shot glasses.

Karin and I walked a little further. I saw a guy sitting on the sidewalk staring straight ahead. He looked to be about my age. He had blond hair that was going grey. He had a cup in front of him, with a tiny collection of coins at its bottom. People walked around him and over him. He seemed utterly forlorn.

Karin wanted to check out a store across the street. I told her, “Go ahead. I need to talk to this homeless guy.”

I walked over to the man on the sidewalk.

“Hi, how are you?”

The man didn’t look up. He shrugged his shoulders slowly and said, “Okay, I guess.”

I stretched out my hand to him. “My name is Frank.”

He looked at me and reached up. He shook my hand and said, “My name is Anthony.”

“Can I do something to help you, Anthony?”

He raised an eyebrow and said, “Well, I’d like to get myself a sandwich.”

I fished in my wallet. “Here’s a ten. Will that help?”

Anthony’s faced brightened. “Yeah, that will get me a sandwich, and maybe some breakfast for tomorrow. Thanks.”

“Okay. Do what you need to do.”

I turned around to look for Karin. She had disappeared. How could I have lost her already? I turned back toward Anthony. He was gone too.

Karin called out to me from across the street. She had seen something she liked, but she wasn’t going to buy it. We moved along to find a place to eat. It was getting late enough that some of the restaurants were closing down. We found a place that we liked just after they had locked the doors. It was getting to the point where we would have to find something soon or go hungry. Action needed to be taken.

Tucked into a corner of a building was a little place called the “Historic Brewing Company”. We were home at last. The place was extremely busy. The waitresses and the manager were desperately trying to fill orders. There was a certain number of confused looks at order slips and plates of food. Karin and I stood at the bar and examined the chalkboard which displayed a variety of home brews. I selected an Imperial Stout and Karin got something called an “Undercover Cucumber”. We also ordered hot pretzels with mustard dip.

We sat outside. There was a crescent moon overhead. It was getting colder. Flagstaff sits at about 7000 feet above sea level, so the temperature drops like a stone after sunset. We relaxed and ate and drank. It was fun. By the way, the Undercover Cucumber is a blond ale with just a hint of cucumber juice. It’s actually quite refreshing.

We walked back to the hostel. We were bone tired. Thirty years ago, we would have closed down that brewery, but those days are over. We are slowly coming to grips with the fact that we are getting old.

Two of my roommates were there to greet me upon my arrival. They were both young men from Fort Smith, Arkansas. They were doing the tour of the desert Southwest, with their backpacks, hiking boots, and empty wallets. They finally turned off the lights. I crawled up into my bunk, and closed my eyes. Sleep evaded me for several hours. Drunk students roamed the streets until about midnight. I wasn’t really offended by their ruckus. I remember those days. I drifted off.

Promptly at 3:00, the two Razorbacks turned on the overhead light and started to pack up their shit. I thought to myself, “You cocksuckers!” These two guys insisted on moving around gingerly on tiptoes. It would have quieter and quicker if they had just grabbed their belongings and bolted out the door.  Eventually, they had what they needed and they left for parts unknown.

Now I was awake. Again. I decided to shave and take a shower. I had earlier done some ciphering, and I had concluded that there were probably thirty guys and one shower on my floor. The odds of getting to use the shower at 6:00 AM was minimal. At 3:30 my odds were much improved.

After showering, I laid down again. Sleep hugged me. Then at 5:30 AM Karin texted me: “Are you up?” Well, yeah, I guess I am. I stumbled out of the bunk, grabbed my stuff and met Karin in the hallway. Her night had been more peaceful. She had shared a room with three girls from Spain. One of them had stumbled into the room late, but it wasn’t too bad. We packed up the car, and went back inside for breakfast.

The new guy at the desk had set things up. There was cereal, yogurt, bread, butter, jam, and fruit. The hot coffee smelt good. Karin and I sat down with some other early risers. There were three girls there from Argentina. There was also a girl named Ellen, who was originally from Scotland. Ellen had flaming red hair and a discreet number of tattoos and piercings. She worked in Vancouver. She was a labor organizer and anarchist. I told Ellen about the history of the Catholic Workers. She actually seemed interested.

With breakfast done, we dropped off our keys.

On to the Grand Canyon.

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