Confusion in Flagstaff, Arizona


Unlike flying which forces you to rapidly readjust your grip on reality while half asleep waiting for a shuttle bus, driving is about gradual transitions. And that’s why I like it. It’s not unreasonable after a 3 and a half hour drive to expect the world to be roughly the way you left it. I get in the hot Chevy in hot, sunny Vegas; I get out of the hot Chevy at Flagstaff where it’s 5 o’clock and dark, and the temperature is 36 degrees fahrenheit, finally deciphered (and checked) as being -2 degrees centigrade.  Merry red-cheeked townsfolk pass by in fur-lined boots, and bobble hats, carrying skis, singing Ding Dong Merrily on High.

Okay, not the carols (further adding to confusion the streets are actually loud with the sound of Santana blasting from speakers somewhere), and they’re not carrying skis, but there are skis on the walls of the bar, and lots of them.  Over a pint of the local speciality, Moose Drool, I work it out. It’s not hard – the bar’s called Altitudes Bar & Grill and it’s built like a wooden ski chalet. It’s located at 6,900 ft in a city that averages 100 inches of snow a year. The unfolding horror continues as I research further. There’s a Flagstaff Alpine Ski Team, a junior snowboard team, plants growing out of ceramic ski boots, a Year-Round Alpine Playground with ‘challenging trails’ and over 2,300 ft of vertical drop just ‘minutes away’, and there’s a good chance it’s going to snow tomorrow.  On top of that it’s Christmas. Hipsters are wearing Santa hats ironically, there are icicle style fairly lights in the bar, and there’s a semi-inflated Santa by the door of the Howard Johnson we end up in (a branch which, as it happens, has not had the HoJo makeover).

At the start of the road trip, I had some facts and insights about possible destinations, and lists of Top Ten Bars, film locations, boutique hotels, crime scenes, and settings for songs, but they’ve all run out so now everything from the geographic spread of the taco to the size of Walmart, and now the winter wonderland that is Flagstaff – generally 15 degrees centigrade colder than just-down-the-road Phoenix  – is a great big surprise.

Five weeks in, I also get a big surprise waking up with the bathroom and window in a different place every morning. I’ve stayed in room number 311, 211, 503, 217, 1053, 25, 3, 629, 329 and 229 and a couple of dozen more, and tried keycards in wrong doors. Sometimes, walking down a hotel corridor, I’ll be trying to work out what town I’m in. The whole time zone thing is also making everything very confusing. I quite liked it getting earlier and earlier as we crossed west from Eastern, to Central, to Mountain and Pacific. I hate  driving east and being late for everything, with the sun setting before you expect it to set, and breakfast over because you didn’t put your watch forward. Motel breakfasts are generally foul, but miss one and it’s tragic.


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