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Flower Child in Flagstaff

· Whimsy

Hi! I'm Maggy. Your Airbnb looks amazing! I'm an old hippie (we go by "activists" these days), a total clean freak, quiet as a mouse, will be taking a whirlwind solo retreat to my beloved Flagstaff while hubby is gone.

P.S. I noticed one of your guest reviews mentioned some artwork that some might find offensive. So what's going on there—weed? Sex? I'm dying of curiosity.

My Airbnb host Kaira (who speaks Farsi and several other languages) messaged back that the entire home is accented with original and purchased art, and yes, a few pieces are erotic. It doesn't get any better than that, right? But actually, it does. For starters, this was a quiet home on a quiet street and so impeccably clean it had a "shoes off" policy. Oh, be still my beating heart.

My $40/night private bedroom/bath in this bargain-basement Airbnb was on the upper level of a strikingly beautiful condo with soaring ceilings, splashes of color, and Salvador Dali meets Picasso artistic touches. Kaira explained that he frequently traveled on business, so his roommate would most likely be the one to greet me. Mo turned out to be a soft-spoken young man in his mid 20's with smooth brown skin and an incredible shock of raven-black braids. In three words, drop dead gorgeous. Since they share the master bedroom suite, guessing these roomies are a couple.

Just being back in Flagstaff and taking that first breath of cool, pine air brings back years of getaway trip memories and visits with my daughters in college. This is the town where Lizzy and I gathered with a group in Wheeler Park with guitars strumming and banners waving FOOD NOT BOMBS. The same town where Lizzy's college friend Matthew's mother drawled in a delightful Southern accent, "Oh sweetheart, what a beeeUtiful vase!" when she caught sign of his hand-crafted, glass-blown, fiery-orange-and-red bong with gold trim—as exquisite as it was massive. Matthew bequeathed his priceless treasure to Lizzy as a parting graduation gift, a prize she packed away in our garage for a decade before I passed it along last year to Goodwill as a sparkling clean, slightly modified, eye-catching oeuvre d'art with a mysterious small hole on one side. It would make a beeeUtiful vase, but only for dry flowers.

Long long before their college days, Flagstaff was the place where the girls and I went commando for dinner at one of the city's finer dining establishments. As much as I would love to say our wardrobe choice was an act of rugged individualism or social rebellion or just flying our freedom freak flags at full mast, it was nothing more than improv. Suicide Hill was to blame, the place I had heard was great for sledding right off the freeway on the way into town.

From our hilltop vantage point, the incline looked a bit steep—particularly considering the obstacle course of rocks and tree branches above the snowline and patches of icy mud. This was not Suicide Hill's best snow day and that terrain was clearly too grim for our thin plastic "sledding sheets." That might have been the end of our adventure had we not spied a couple of abandoned inner tubes. Since we had to take turns, I tried to coax Katie into launching but she was having none of it. Kicking her tube forward seemed like an okay thing as I hollered "You'll love it!" above her screams of "NOOOOO!" About half-way down, her tube collided with a rock that sent her briefly airborne before she crashed to the ground. (Yes, of course I felt like Joan Crawford.)

Thank God she was still conscious and able to stand—and walk. Katie retaliated by shoving my tube straight toward a fallen dead tree loaded with sharp broken branch stubs that could easily have impaled my soft innards, but by some miracle that never happened. I can't even remember how Lizzy ended up with her ass soaked in mud, but it was brown butts all around. Our britches were obviously a lost cause, too, but I knew they would get wet "sledding" so I did bring a change of outwear. By the way, our dinner at Pasto was absolutely delicious, and even more so because we were so comfy. Besides, nothing whets an appetite like gratitude for being alive.

No matter where I go in Flagstaff, something around every corner brings a smile, like the sign on the door of Swaddee Thai Restaurant that says: Be Kind to the Earth and bring your own take-home container. Or the very long picnic tables at Diablo Burger that force people to exchange their usual isolated dining routine for a little "I guess we're eating together" experience with strangers. I've been calling Biff's Bagels the Dead Dog Cafe for the past 15 years. Why? Because the owners created a massive portrait shrine to their beloved dog Biff, but it didn't stop there. They invited others to bring in photos with tributes to their own precious lost fur babies, so now nearly every square inch of Biff's is awash in love—and heartbreaking narratives. After a couple of years of having a side of tears with their bagels, Katie and Lizzy started warning me the moment we walked through the door, DON'T READ ANYTHING, MOM.

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Macy's European Coffeehouse & Bakery is by far Flagstaff's most cherished and venerated institution—the Mother Teresa of Arizona coffee houses. Owner Tim Macy writes a little love note on every employee's paycheck and covers the walls with his own photography, self-described as "meant to speak to the peoples of the world of oneness, equality and love." Regardless of how you judge his artwork, you are stepping into Tim's heart and soul the moment you cross the threshold. Sunday mornings are my favorite time, sitting at a small single table near the door and watching the parade of still-sleepy students and professors and couples and families pour in for their Macy's fix. Most of them look as if they have just rolled out of bed, like the young guy with wild bushy hair, a rumpled camouflage t-shirt, and plaid shorts. Oh my God, these are my people.

On this trip I treated myself to the only movie on the marquee that didn't look inane or violent: Finding Dory. Slipping in at the last minute, I sat right next to a babyish toddler (his vocab was monosyllabic but oh, that tiny voice!) and his "older" sister (who could not have been a day over three.) These kids were so precious but so young to sit through a full-length film. Their mother must have been eavesdropping on my thoughts because she leaned toward me and said that she was hoping for the best. "He LOVES fish and did better sitting through Finding Nemo than his two older sisters." The little girl said her name was Orion, so I told her some very special stars had that name too. Yes, she knew that. And then she blurted out: "Nanny died and now she's in the stars too. That's so sad. Some people are die and some are live. I don't want to die, I want to live." Oh my, at times, there just are no words. Which in this case was perfect, because a split-second after dropping that heavy philosophical bomb, she dove back into her popcorn.

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And those are only the indoor attractions. In less than 30 minutes from anywhere in Flagstaff, I can be hiking through any number of wilderness trails in a kaleidoscope of breathtaking scenery. The Kachina Trail along the San Francisco peaks is a paradise of aspen stands, boulder formations, and towering pines with gentle inclines and a forest floor of waist-high ferns. Knowing that high-altitude weather patterns can bring up sudden storms with deadly lightning, I'm usually far ahead of any ominous clouds. But this exit was so close that I drove in heavy hail down the mountain and through sheets of rain all the way to a downtown restaurant with window views. I was sitting there in the reverie of my Chai tea, lost in the lullaby of distant thunder and the rhythm of the rain, when Flagstaff cast one of its magic spells with a call from my sister Dixie. She said that she was returning my missed call to her. "What?! I butt-dialed you? How could that have even happened?" It was the perfect time for a long chat so we embraced the mystery and settled into the pleasure of each other's laughter. (For a real glimpse into the Maggy-Dixie phenomenon, check out the post entitled KITTY KITTY KITTY.)

I thought the crowning glory of the trip would be a Restorative Yoga session on the last evening, but the most memorable encounter was waiting back at the Airbnb. Walking through the door, I was met by a flaxen-haired beauty with an expression that fell somewhere between "deer in headlights" and concerned. The moment I asked, "Airbnb or Mo's friend?" her face relaxed into a smile. She had yet to meet Mo so it was nice to have some company, especially someone chatty. Her name was Megan and she was traveling alone from Mammoth Lakes in California to Kentucky to visit her kin. With that cascade of blonde curls against her shoulders, I kept thinking that this slender young thing looks more like Taylor Swift than Taylor Swift.

When I gave her a warm welcome to Arizona's Hippie Capital, she thought I was being sarcastic. Her only impression of our fair state had been in the Walmart parking lot where she had stopped to snap a photo of a gargantuan truck hoisted higher than it's four wheels and sporting a huge sign: "I'm the white bad-ass right-wing conservative Obama warned you about." She was still standing near the truck when the owner walked up, at which point she became, in her words, "Terrified, as in really scared shitless." The dude was a middle-aged fellow, strutting forward in an Army jacket, cowboy hat and boots. He had guns strapped to both sides of his waist/hips and following a few steps behind, his woman was also packing heat. Megan said she had never seen anything like it, even in Los Angeles for God's sake. "Even in LA!"

I just shook my head and told her that Arizona did indeed have a small contingency of frightening sights like that one. Megan had been so traumatized that she had been holed up in the safety of the Airbnb all evening, poor kid. So I thought it best not to share the shocker that greeted us right after we moved to Phoenix: Lizzy and Katie and I were sitting on a bench at an open-air mall when two skinheads with facial expressions as tight as fists and swastika armbands walked by carrying billy clubs and guns and holding obviously vicious dogs with spiked collars on very short leashes.

My default is always humor, so I said my first impression of that guy would probably be "needle dick." Megan exploded into laughter and said that's exactly what she was thinking. In fact, she had texted her boyfriend "he must be compensating for something" when she sent the truck photo. (Okay, that's definitely a more refined way of saying it, I'll remember that one.) I reassured her that she would find a much different scene around the downtown area—smiling, colorful, friendly, gentle, free spirits and the sweetest dogs as far as the eye can see. Wonderful locally owned shops and restaurants, yoga studios, candles and crystals, fine art galleries, massage therapists and healers of every kind. Flagstaff is a brilliant blue dot in the state's political landscape. It's the Liberal Epicenter of Arizona.

With every wall of the house sporting such a wide variety of truly unique artwork, it was easy for us to drift into a conversation about our observations. I couldn't help but ask if her room has a penis abstract on the wall. Her eyes flew open and lit up like a sparkler. "NO!!! Are you kidding? Yours does? "

"Oh for sure, come on, sweetie, and let me give you the grand tour of my suite. And bring your phone, you definitely don't want to miss a photo of this!"

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Megan's room was across the hall from mine and completely devoid of murals, paintings, or other designs. Nothing but boring beige walls. So thank you, Flagstaff, for the never-ending parade of curiosities and chance meetings and inexplicable gifts and serendipities. And angels, watch over brave, beautiful, gentle little Flaxen Hair as she makes her way across the country to her family in Kentucky. Megan said she usually drives for 10, 12 or even 16 hours on most trips just to get there but this time she was taking in a few sights and smelling the roses. I hope she found some lovelies.

On my way down Interstate 17 the next morning, up came a random song by Dan Fogelberg entitled Ever On. Listening to that hauntingly beautiful melody and those poetic lyrics, I felt as if the past was melting into a present that was melting into the future and tears of wonder started to fall. Ram Dass is right: We are just walking each other Home.

May the trail rise up to meet you
May your heart rejoice in song
May the skies be fair above you
As you journey ever on
In this planetary circle
We are but a single stone
Spinning on our fragile axis
Through the endless night alone
May your love be there to guide us
May it always keep us strong
May we walk within your footsteps
As you lead us ever on