Tuesday, 5 August 2003

We awoke and took showers using a water system that had all the pressure of someone gently pouring a cup of water on your head. That's never any fun. By God, I want a shower system that will blast you through a wall! But it was not to be.

We went to breakfast in the Waffle House next to our motel. While we waited for our waitress, David struck a particularly modelish pose. I'm sure this picture will be copied and will eventually wind up on Web sites all across the world:


Not to be slighted, Denise raised a spoon and gave us a mischievous look:


Our waitress came over and asked for our drink orders. David ordered water, and I ordered water for myself and Denise, and I also ordered grapefruit juice, which sounded tasty, and then we all ordered coffee as well. A few moments later, our drinks were placed on our table. I picked up the grapefruit juice and started to drink. Within a few seconds, I knew something was horribly wrong. A sour, bitter taste covered my tongue, the taste of something just not right, of spoiled juice. I thought for sure I was going to puke, it was that bad. And it wouldn't leave my mouth. I drank water, lots of water, I drank coffee, but it wasn't helping. Our waitress came over. "How are things?" she asked innocently. "Blecccchhhaaauuuugghh," I gasped, "There's something horrifically wrong with the grapefruit juice!"

She brought me a free orange juice to make up for it. I sipped it delicately, carefully, and it was fine. To be honest, I almost didn't want to eat breakfast after that. I was sincerely worried that I would be throwing up in about 20 minutes as a result of the poison I had just ingested. However, hunger wore out, and I went ahead and ordered and ate, and there was no subsequent upchucking. Disaster averted.

During breakfast, I unintentionally arranged my beverage glasses in a way that was aestheticaly attractive to me. I looked down at one point and said, "Look at that! That's so cool! Denise, hand me my camera!"

DENISE: Why? Why do you want your camera?

ME (excitedly, as though I'm photographing something that will disappear in a matter of seconds): Because I want it! I want to take a picture!

DENISE (as she hands me the camera): Of what?

ME (ecstatically): Of the table!

DENISE (as I take the picture): Of the table? Why? It looks like a table!

ME (triumphantly): No, it looks like … America!

So what does America look like? This!


We all had a nice breakfast. I got an omelet, which I carefully ate with my knife and fork. I mention that I used utensils to set up another Denise-ism. Near the end of breakfast, I noticed that a strand of her hair was hanging funny on her forehead, so I leaned over and brushed it back. Or tried to. Denise jumped back and said, "Hey! I don't want your egg-ridden hands in my hair!" "Egg-ridden"?!? That word makes it sound like my hands were absolutely dripping with eggy goo as I leaned forward, cackling and babbling and drooling like a mutant neanderthal while I thuggishly groped her hair, wheezing words that I could barely pronounce, "So pretty! So pretty!".

I used a fork and knife. Really, I did!

After breaking our fast, we drove to the base of the local mountain, Sandia Peak, for a tram ride up to the top, which is 10,378 feet high. This is the longest tram ride in the world, and it moves at 20 feet per second. Even at that speed, it takes 15 minutes to get up the mountain (although Albuquerque has an annual foot race on a trail that winds for 9 miles up to the top of the mountain, and the winner last week ran it in 1 hour and 16 minutes!). Here's what the tram car looks like as it makes its way to and fro:


It was really amazing being on top of the mountain. First of all, the weather all morning was perfect, in the 80s and with a gently breeze blowing. It was not your stereotypical desert weather at all. In fact, I think most people would call it "gorgeous". Second of all, the views we had spread before us were wondrous. Here's Albuquerque from Sandia Peak:


The air was thin, and walking around was definitely winding David and I. We checked out trails and walked over several, pausing to catch our breath and enjoy the beauty. Some ass had left some trash on the trail, so I picked it up. Grrrrr …

After walking about, I found a nice little rock seat on the edge of a fall that would definitely prove fatal, so I took a moment to contemplate the vastness before me:


David took a moment to pose, of course. My, doesn't he look outdoorsy on that rock!


Denise and David were on top of the world, feeling great:


Finally, Denise and I stood together, lookin' cute:


We rode the tram back down to Albuquerque and got in the van to head over to the old section of town, called, cleverly enough, "Old Town". I rode in the very back of the van for the first time on the trip. We took out the middle seats so we could put stuff in that area of the van, and it has worked out wonderfully. Here's what things look like from the perspective of the back of the van:


Old Town has lots of shops. All of them seem to have some quantity of the following items in them: rugs, jewelry, t-shirts, Catholic religious items, things with chili peppers on them, and pottery. Stock the above list of things, and you've got yourself a store in Old Town (actually, almost anyplace in New Mexico or Arizona).

We went into a lot of stores. A … lot … of … stores. I rapidly became quite bored by the endless expanse of turqoise jewelry, beads, and rugs. Denise and David were having a grand old time, moving at the pace of a drunken tree sloth from table to table, oohing and aahing and picking up and trying on and discussing at monotonous length ("Oh, that looks good on you!" … "Ooh, that is so cute!" … "I absolutely LOVE [fill in the blank]!" … in fact, if David saw a pile of dung on the floor and said, "Look, there's shit on the floor!", Denise would say, "I LOVE shit on the floor!") over every single necklace and earring and beaded thing that they saw. I wanted to shoot myself in the head right then and end my misery.

Then we got some slight release from the sheer tedium: a table in a store with hats! Yes, hats! Thank God. I have never been so grateful for hats in my life. Here's David and I in some absolutely enormous sombreros:


And here's David and Denise in silly hats. I especially love Denise's coon-skin cap.


Finally, I found this gigantic cartoon sherrif's hat. It was at least two feet tall. I tried to put in on Denise, but it didn't quite fit:


The only other break in the constant shopping excursion was lunch, which we ate at Julia's Cafe. It's a restaurant that features vegetarian food, which is always a plus for me, and it was located in a hundred-year-old converted house. We ate on the patio outside. Here's the view from our table of the entrance of Julia's:


The food was delicious, the weather was warm by that time but nice (especially under the umbrella at our table), the conversation was pleasant, and the birds chirped continuously.

Of course, after lunch there was more shopping, but as I'm trying to erase that memory from my mind, I won't say anything further about it.

We got in the car and headed onto the highway, aiming for Flagstaff. We hit Arizona at 6:50 pm. I have to say, this area of the country is hot and dry, but it's just amazingly beautiful.


Sunsets especially are so gorgeous that they practically order you to take pictures.


We're in Flagstaff. It's 8:25 pm. Remember, we're moving back through time zones, so we're gaining hours. To our bodies, it's 10:25 pm. Now we're looking for a motel & a place to eat.

We parked in downtown Flagstaff based on Denise's sense of direction, got out of the car, and started walking around looking for a place to eat. Denise had, through a marvelous serendipity, guided us exactly to the coolest part of Flagstaff, close to the university and bursting with bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and funky stores. We walked around and eventually decided to eat at Monsoon, an Asian restaurant. We all love Asian food, so it sounded good. And it was! The food was fabulous: crispy calamari, veggie with tofu, three pepper chicken, and lettuce wraps. And we all had tasty martinis, but David's was best. The Red Diamond: coconut rum, raspberry pucker, pineapple juice, and a slice of orange floating on top. Mmmmmmm.

After eating, we decided to find a place to sleep for the night. We walked about a block and saw a really cool-looking hotel: the Monte Vista, located at 100 N. San Francisco Street. Here's a picture of it in the day:


It was built around 1927, and a lot of famous folks have stayed there. In fact, all the rooms are named for a celebrity who's stayed in the room: Gary Cooper, Bob Hope, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, Jane Russell, and, astonishingly enough, Jon Bon Jovi and Air Supply. The sublime and the ridiculous.

We walked in and immediately noticed that the lounge next to the lobby was jumping. Music, conversation, and the clink of glasses were clearly audible, along with the scent of people smoking and having a good time. The clerk came to the counter, and we asked him how much a room would be. Normally they start quite a bit higher, but he said he would give us a $110 room for $60. We've been used to paying $35 at motels, so we reluctantly said "Thanks" and left. We trooped into the car and headed for motel row, away from downtown and next to the highway. We really wanted to stay at the Monte Vista, but we thought it would be more responsible to look for a cheaper pad.

Motel Row looked kind of dull and drab compared to the nightlife we'd just seen. None of the places looked particularly inviting. We saw one place that had a vacancy, the Red Rose Inn, and decided to try it out. As we pulled into the parking lot, we grew apprehensive. This place was old and seemed pretty rundown. There were about 20 rooms, arranged in a horseshoe. In the center of the lot was the entertainment area: some half-grown grass struggling valiantly to hold its own against the dirt, a cracked and broken white stone fountain that had long ago lost all its water, and a few bent metal fold up chairs around a card table. Pefect for all kinds of family fun!

We walked into the office room. It stank of ancient cigarette smoke and sweat. The carpet was stained and worn thin. The counter had the shine of smoke and dirt on it. Denise whispered, "You know, we have the right to inspect our room before we get it." "Let's do that!", David and I agreed quickly, almost tripping over each other to be the first to agree. At that moment, I looked up and saw a sign on the crumbling corkboard that said, "All room sales are final! No refunds! Ask to see your room first!"

The man behind the counter looked up. Short, unshaven, his hair and face shiny, a mole on his left chin. Wearing a tan short-sleeve button-down shirt with the top three buttons open so we could see his smooth brown chest, also shiny. Denise told him we were interested in a room with two beds. "I've got a three bed available. The people in it just moved out. It needs to be cleaned. Give me ten minutes. I'll give you a discount." "Can we see the room first?", asked Denise. The man agreed and slid the room key over to us.

As we walked up to inspect the room, David asked a damn good question: "Who moves OUT of a motel room at 10 o'clock at night?" It was a question we were all thinking.

We slowly approached the door and slid the key in the lock. A slight click, and the door was open. Carefully, cautiously, we entered the room. Someone found the light and flicked it on. We could see the room.

I wish I had my camera with me. You really need to see this room to appreciate it. It wasn't the worst room I'd ever seen; that would be the Banana Bungalow in Manhattan. But this one came damn close. Of course, it was still messy from the previous tenants, who had vacated just a few moments before. But they had been messy in a bizarre fashion. The beds were unmade, but the covers had been completely taken off and thrown halfway on the beds and halfway on the floor. Towels were everywhere, wadded and wet. One towel had been jammed tight into the small, dirty plastic trash can in the first room. There was an odor of … dirt.

The room we were in had one bed in it, as well as a chipped dresser and a yellow-sheened mirror. There was a narrow door to the left of the bed. We walked with trepidation through it, and found two double beds crammed into a room. There was barely any room for walking, but there was a small, rickety table in a corner next to another doorway leading to a bathroom, and on it was an old television. Stretching from the wall and across the bathroom doorway was the TV cable, making it impossible to walk into the bathroom without stepping up and over the cable.

One glance into the bathroom was enough. More wet towels. A bare light bulb, flickering and chittering and spitting out light fitfully. Pools of water on the floor. Grime. Lots of grime.

At that point, the three of us skedaddled back into the first room. No one said anything. No one needed to. And then I looked at the central air unit connected to the wall. The top grill was bashed in, as though someone had battered it again and again with a blunt object, and it was filthy with rust and black with dirt. "Let's get out of here!", I begged, and we did. As fast as possible.

Denise went in to see the night clerk. "I think we're going to pass!", she announced as she dropped the key and ran out. We all felt like we had escaped from something horrible.

Next to the Red Rose Inn was the Best Western. We trooped in and Denise started talking to the young night clerk, a college kid with glasses and an earnest manner.

DENISE: How much would a double cost?

KID: That'll be $74.

DENISE: The Monte Vista was only going to charge us $60 for the same thing.

KID: Then it'll be $60!

He began to fill out a card and then stopped.

KID: Why didn't you stay at the Monte Vista?

ME: Should we stay at the Monte Vista?

A pause.

ME: We're only in Flagstaff one night …

A pause. The kid is thinking. Finally, veracity wins out over commerce.

KID: You should stay with me. Sure. But really … you need to stay at the Monty Vee. Especially at that price.

DENISE: Thank you for your honesty! I mean, it just looked so cool. And that lounge …

We start to back out as the kid tears up the card.

KID (raising his arm in triumph): The lounge is cool. If you're only here one night, check it out and party F-L-G style!

So we left and went back to the Monte Vista. We ended up staying in the Miss Barbara Stanwyck room. It was really nice, and we were glad to be in a good location after all the choices we'd had over the previous hour.

It was time for sleep. Some wine, and we were off to bed.

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