84 – The Face of Joy

Having left Arcosanti feeling slightly regretful of having not stayed another night, I drove north to the comparatively colder (and wetter) city of Flagstaff. Temperatures were in the 40’s and the rain was coming down by the buckets full. I wanted to go for a run that day as there are trails all over, and so skipped stopping in Sedona unfortunately, but the uninviting weather that greeted me on my arrival at Flagstff discouraged running. I suppose that’s sort of an ironic way of killing two birds with one stone. Oh well. I was happy to check in at Motel Du-Beau, which nowadays is not just a motel but a hostel too.

The motel/hostel is an old, traveler’s motor-hotel (hence, motel, if you didn’t know) from the earliest days of the great American road trip. Opened in 1929 by a French Canadian, it’s original purpose, which it certainly still meets, was to provide a place for traveling motorists to lodge for a night, or several, on their travels across the country. The U-shaped, single story motel is classic in style, and reminiscent of a picture on an old postcard one might find in an antique store. Standing on the opposite side of the street one can easily picture those old, heavy, steel cars of the thirties, forties, fifties… parked out front of each door. Maybe someone is lugging crates of luggage packed full of clothing and souvenirs between a car and room. Others are standing around, slack-jawed, some turning in circles, heads thrown back, gazing up through a confusion of pine needles at the blue sky, smiles on their faces. Despite the rain that appeared with me, and would reappear in bouts throughout the few days I was there, this was how I felt during my time there. In fact, all of Flagstaff struck me as a magical place where one’s head must be thrown back quite regularly to smile at the sun when it’s around, or a bird or tree, the beautiful clouds furling and unfurling, appearing and dissolving, skating across the sky, some marvelous building, or one of the three tall hotel signs from decades ago that are still standing today.

For a city it’s size it manages to accommodate a much larger population than one might think. Permanent residents are outnumbered by students from the university during the fall, winter and spring months, and during the summer it’s inundated by tourists come to visit the Grand Canyon. What this means is that despite its small size there is a surprisingly large number, almost gratuitous, of restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops for one to peruse.

Despite its proximity to great outdoor adventures and sites I went on none. Instead I spent much of my time working on this blog, exploring town with my camera, relaxing with a book, and hanging out with this older fellow I met, Marc. His is an interesting story, though short. He lives up in Buffalo and his girlfriend travels a bit as a performance artist. He was on his way here for the third or fourth time to visit her when in Colorado he sent his car several hundred feet down an embankment (incidentally, near where I was staying with my friend Doug, months ago). Somehow he survived this ordeal—he calls it a miracle, which seems to me an apt term—though his car was obviously trashed. Some way, after attending the hospital and apprehending a back brace (yes, that’s all), he continued his way to Flagstaff. I’m not sure how because I never asked, but he was in the room we shared when I arrived and immediately introduced himself, coffee in hand.

A coffee cup isn’t a mere detail with this man because there is nearly always one in his hand, as though he’d lost an appendage and affixed a coffee cup in its place. That leaves him one good hand for holding a cigarette, phone, set of keys, camera, etc. Perfectly fine. Anyway, he felt an affinity for me, and I for him. There was a kindness in his face, an affability, joy. A tiredness in the way he walked it seemed (though that could just be the bad back) that had me feeling a deep sympathy for him. When he smiled, which was often, it was that of a child, and his eyes shown brightly. He listened to me eagerly when I talked about my trip, when I talked about traveling in general. He’s retired and it’s something he wants to do more of. He also wants to leave Buffalo. Move elsewhere. I think part of his journey here was looking for that place. He really enjoyed Flagstaff. He talked about wanting to stay, but unfortunately with the accident it was important that he got home to his family who were naturally concerned for him. He took an Amtrak home the day that I left, though much much earlier in the morning. We said our goodbyes the night before with a simple handshake. Exchanged numbers. He implored me to call him. I haven’t yet, but I was just thinking about this earlier today. I should soon. There are few people in this world that I bond with so quickly. I can’t even say what it is that attracts me to him. He strikes me as a sort of saint. One who smokes cigarettes, is profoundly addicted to caffeine, and listens to a lot of classic rock, but a saint nonetheless. Despite that, I felt that I was the one imparting some sort of esoteric knowledge or wisdom, not he. I’m genuinely curious about what has transpired in his life these past two months since we parted. I still have a number of people to call and get together with here though, too. Well, all in good time! And Merry Christmas to him!, though I know he’s not reading this.

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