We were at a birthday party in Los Angeles last weekend drinking tiki cocktails and I got chatting with some handsome motherfucker from the Valley. I’d had a few and when I do, I typically get kind of intense in a hurry with strangers. I don’t like talking about what people do for a living and hate hearing the background radiation of loneliness and disappointment with themselves when they yammer on about their jobs. So instead, I stared into the brown eyes of this guy and asked him what he cared about. He started talking about Arizona, about spending time in Flagstaff, about the sunsets there and around the Grand Canyon being something else. Being something special, like.
And I remembered the time that I went to Arizona to visit one of the best friends that I’d had to that point in my life. We drove around in his white minivan for a week, stopping in towns around Arizona, one of them being Flagstaff. I remember we met some Belgian guys who barely spoke English who talked about “making party” on the beach in Liege. Who knows if those fuckers were making everything up. But I remembered everything about being in Flagstaff that weekend, on the way to the Canyon to see something real special and patriotic. And standing outside the bar and smoking cigarettes, looking up at the clear, dry sky.
When we left Phoenix that afternoon, it had been 115 degrees. Up in the mountains, miraculously it seemed, the temperature started dropping. We drove through switchbacks up into a huge aspen grove and the temperature dove below 80 for the first time in days. Opened the window to the minivan. Felt the breeze.
Later that week, down south in a border town called Bisbee. Populated now by retirees and burnt out hippies selling crafts and tee shirts. Those days, you didn’t yet need a passport to get back into the United States from Mexico. So we walked into Mexico for a bit – Nogales – and then turned around. At the checkpoint, the border officer told us that we had to convince him that we were United States citizens. But he was just messing with us.
Back on the United States side, we played pool in a bar called Gay 90’s while a Mexican family celebrated a birthday party with balloons and a cake in the party room next door. It got really hot outside, and we huddled in the air conditioned darkness of the bar, playing pool and drinking the cheapest beer they had.
That night, we drank again at a place called the Exchange Bar and watched as a monsoon came in off the desert. I’d never seen it rain so hard, so fast. And the water rushed down in a river out behind the bar. And the next morning, driving back north to Phoenix and the airport, there was a smell on the air that I won’t ever forget, I guess.
“Creosote,” my friend told me. After big rains, that’s what it smells like.
Anyway, that’s what I was thinking about, talking to that handsome motherfucker before I blacked out for a few hours.