Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fight every fight like you can win

I never made it to Monument Valley, and it's going to haunt me until I get back. It's comforting to know that those red pillars that stand on their own over a dusty plateau will probably be there a while longer, but I really wish I had the chance to see them with my own two eyes. Unfortunately, the more time I spend in the Southwest, the more I realise how much I'm actually missing out on here. There is nowhere else like it in the world.

The hostel in Flagstaff was fairly empty of people, and with that, the chances of tagging along on somebody's journey was nil. Tours from the town to the surrounding attractions cost a lot more than two Weezer tickets and public transport over such a wide area is left to my nemesis, Greyhound. With all these situations playing out, I was left to explore Flagstaff, where downtown is measured in about eight blocks.

With my propensity to sunburn, I opted to stay sheltered in the warmest part of the day. I walked down part of Route 66, nearly got hit by a Hummer after I mistimed my jaywalking, and after a few miles, finally got to a cinema. 'Midnight in Paris' was amazing, and with the sun still beating down, I performed my best Elliot Austin Clifford impersonation and snuck into another screening for a very cheap double-bill. Brilliant value.

It didn't take long to see all of downtown Flagstaff, and as pretty as it is, the art galleries outnumber any stores that might have some use. Still, the Americana of being part of Route 66 makes the place pretty interesting. There's a ton of cheap motels and sports bars, yet the place doesn't have the sleaze of other highway towns. Somehow, this cheapness, when mixed with the mountains that surround the city adds to the charm of the place.

It's become standard to be accosted by all sorts of weirdos on this cross-country road trip, and my final morning in Flagstaff was not going to be any different. A group of four drunk Native Americans asked for change, and when I explained I don't carry cash asked for my credit card. I was held up at one point as a large freight train blocked the path for a few minutes and couldn't escape. Eventually an undercover policeman moved them on, but not before I'd been sent on a guilt trip. I've been in America for a while, but I still haven't gotten used to this sort of stuff, and with California ahead, it's bound to continue.

Before I left Flagstaff I raided the hostel's bookshelf and helped myself to some Cormac McCarthy and Hunter S Thompson. I may be turning 25 in less than a fortnight, but sneaking into films and permanently borrowing books is not beyond me. Really, not reading them would be more of a crime than not leaving them, right?

I did my best to get through the Cormac McCarthy book on my bus to Phoenix, but the outside world was too distracting. It wasn't any crazed passengers or bumpy ride that took my attention, it was Arizona. Not long after we'd left Flagstaff the scenery changed from mountains covered in tall trees, to rocky areas that wouldn't look out of place around the Grand Canyon. I may have missed Monument Valley, but whatever this roadside scenery was, it was beginning to make up for it.

As the bus approached Phoenix the hills changed, with tall cacti standing out among the rocky outcrops. It was like the scenes in Western films, or what I imagine parts of Mexico to look like. It's been absolutely mindblowing observing how much things have changed since Santa Fe, and I've only been through two states - if I had my time over again, I would spend more of it around this area (though when the sun isn't so brutal). America is full of big cities, snowy mountains and nice beaches, but it's the Southwest part of the that is completely unique to this country.

Stepping out of the bus in Phoenix was like getting punched in the face by a heavyweight who had dipped his fists in lava. It made Texas feel like somewhere in the Arctic. The desert hostel that I called home for a night is surrounded by dusty carparks and palm trees. The temperature was sitting way above 30°C long after the sun had set and the ground was still hot on the feet.

After a night with the worst snorer I've ever heard (seriously, it cut through ear-plugs) I woke up mildly exhausted, but ready to check out downtown Phoenix. It's a nice area, but the heat kept most people inside. Somewhere along the walk, my brain fried. I had planned on going for a swim in the Hotel San Carlos, but the heat had taken most of my energy. The sun's ferocity here is incredible, and though I managed to see most of downtown, I had to escape before spontaneous combustion got the better of me.

The Southwest is more than just brutal sunshine, rocks and cacti - there's also the burritos that I've fallen for. I've even strategically planned to have one with a sleeping pill just before my bus tonight. Tomorrow I'll be in San Diego, and I'll have officially gone coast-to-coast. I'll be meeting Sam there for his last few nights in America, and since I've played things fairly low-key lately, I hope to make up for lost time. Still, I started this year in California, and there's a bit of trepidation in going back. It's not because I don't love the place, because I do, it's just that it symbolises the end. It's been a magnificent year, there's no doubt of that, but I don't exactly want it to end just yet.

*** Song
Jimmy Eat World - You And I
Here's JEW covering Wilco. They're a great band from Arizona, and I've been lucky enough to see them on three continents (Against Me!/Tom Gabel is the only other band who share that).

Also, I had a pretty good day on ye olde Twitter. Jim from Sparta read my post about them, and Ryan Adams answered my question about Australia. God bless the internet and rock & roll people.

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