We were somewhere around Coolidge on the top shelf of some high desert oven rack when my wife Robyn said that the hotel we’re going to serves complimentary cocktails from 5 to 6:30.
My eyes burned from driving several hundred miles of twisty canyon-carved highway, racing like a slot car through the Tonto National Forest, a god-sized garden of dirt and saguaros and trailer park villages proclaiming it as “Where the West Still LIVES!”
And I remember squinting and yawning and swallowing to pop my ear — only the left one — to see if I heard right, that maybe the droning whine of a turbocharged Daddy Wagon barreling down the empty highway (and the screaming kids in the backseat) had somehow influenced what I heard with what I wanted to hear.
Every bump on the road and every slight change in elevation seemed to squeeze on my eyes and ears. Water tasted like water, the sick bland mud puddle of warm that wet my tongue but wouldn’t quench the idea in my mind of free booze, something I’m never too ashamed to enjoy.
And that’s how the trip began, late one night when I should have been sleeping or reading. I was sloshing back margaritas in the living room when Robyn says, “Let’s go to Spring Training for Spring Break.”
Then somehow we got onto the topic of stamps and cancellations for the 394 sites in the United States National Park System, a lifelong goal of ours to visit and photograph each. So I set a few markers on Google Maps through central Arizona that would lead us through the living rooms of mysteriously empty cliff dwellings and ended with an afternoon at Tempe Diablo Stadium of Anaheim.
I felt the pinch late the first night — El Patron at the Little America Hotel in Flagstaff set me back $9. Too sweet and too weak, so I had two more delivered to the room later that night while Frosty dumped nine inches on the parking lot.
Sunset Crater, now a National Historic Monument, erupted 950 years ago, but we only saw black and white. Snow whipped sideways onto our necks and I couldn’t even see through my camera lens.
I saw enough of not seeing anything, so we left. Thirty miles up the road, Wupatki National Historic Monument, a 100-room Pueblo-mansion of the Sinagua peoples, glistened under the Arizona sun.
“FUCK YOU, Arizona,” I thought, for making me wear five layers in 28-degree weather, when 30 miles later and 1,500 feet lower, it was 50 degrees and hot as shit. Then back into the snow and wind in Flagstaff for Walnut Canyon National Historic Monument, a tit in the middle of a mini-Grand Canyon with a 185-foot descent around an areola trail of carved-in cliff homes.
I got through Tuesday’s drive to Tuzigoot National Historic Monument and Montezuma Castle National Historic Monument by listening to “Plastic Beach,” “In Rainbows” and the “Violin Concerto.” Good thing, too, because the landscape looked more like Temecula or Bakersfield than an area of National Historic interest. To pass time, we collected more than just stamps and cancellations, but license plates. In all, we found every state west of the Missus Giant, except Hawaii and Louisiana.
We saw water on Wednesday driving next to Roosevelt Lake, past billboards denouncing Global Warming as a mathematical hoax and anti-Obama slogans from Tea Partying cowboys driving Dodge Rams.
You stay classy, Tonto Basin.
After hiking the Tonto National Historic Monument and Casa Grande National Historic Monument, a giant structure of caliche shadowed beneath an iron blanket, we set sail for Scottsdale, a smug Phoenix suburb with yuppies and Bentley’s celebrating Lincecum’s October triumph.
That’s when Robyn mentioned the free cocktails, probably for the fourth time but the first that I remembered … it was about 3:30 p.m. with 60 miles to go and no Dodge Neon or service truck could stop me. No line of speed limit underachievers could block my 300 WHP drop into third gear through the passing lane.
Fuck you and goodbye and Hello Tempe!
Now where’s the bar?
We hit the parking lot at 4:26. By the time we signed for the room, downloaded our bags, the portable crib, our lunch food and cameras and all the other over-packed bullshit, and after a rush-hour visit to Trader Joe’s, it was 6:24 by the time I was finally free.
I walked through the courtyard, a parking lot and into the next building’s courtyard where, in front of the lobby and pool, scores of geriatric retirees and drunks sat wasted in front of a makeshift grassy shack.
Inside, dude says, “Hey.”
And I say, “Hey.”
And he says, “Whatcha want?”
And I say, “What do you have?”
And he points at a chalkboard with names of watered-down fruity drinks for the throng of wrinkly, white-haired. Around me, the elders speak in gestures with flabby arms and pointy fingers, cackling and pushing and laughing, but loving, too.
And I say, “How about a rum and coke?”
And bartender dude says, “You want two?”
And I say, “Yeah. Yeah, I want two.”