ABQ to Tucson: Arizona Highways, Arizona Canyons
West of Albuquerque doesn’t look much different from Pueblo country north and south of Albuquerque, this being Pueblo country, too, though a bit higher and dryer, without the Rio Grande’s famous little trickle southwards. First comes Laguna Pueblo, then Acoma, then Zuni, hop-skipping-and-jumping over to/from the Hopi mesas where time stands still and continuous settlement goes back to times immemorial…
But right around Gallup is where the Navajo ‘Rez’ begins, one giant emporium for rugs, turquoise and silver, just like Flagstaff used to be, in the old days. Too bad it’s Sunday—and raining—or I’d stop and have a look around. As it is, I just keep on truckin’, ‘cross the continental divide, which once featured Navajo nude dancers, if I remember correctly, ‘cross the AZ state line, where the broad New Mexican valleys and vistas gradually broaden out into something higher and flatter, plateaus and platitudes…
From there you can go north to Window Rock, Dine’/Navajo capital, or south at Sanders along the state line, but those clouds down that way look blacker than black, don’t look back, so I cruise the vacant streets of Holbrook and meditate on the human condition, not to be confused with ‘air condition’, lamenting the lack of centrality and formality, excess banality, lives scattered hither and yon on dusty streets and scattered dreams, emotions laid bare on three-quarter-inch plywood and tacked together with ten-penny nails. Welcome to America.
Now we’re on the back roads, for sure, Holbrook to Snowflake, mile after mile of meditations on loneliness, aloneness, the fundamental fact of the human condition, the conflation of consciousness with physicality, the urge to merge and the need for greed. Temporary billboards line the thoroughfare through greater downtown Snowflake, the most auspicious of them screaming, “Espresso!” and my heart stops like a clock caught in the element of surprise. Can it be true? It’s worth a try.
The menu reads like the real thing, ‘Espresso, cappuchino, macchiato…’ Macchiato? Dare I hope? When in doubt, dive in. “I’d like your largest size macchiato, please.”
“Macchiato? Did you want that with caramel or chocolate?”
Huh? Okay, I think that’s what they asked me at the Starbucks last time I ordered a macchiato, also, so I’ll reserve judgment. “No, just plain macchiato.”
“I’m out of whipped cream.”
Uh-oh. Is it too late to back out? Uh… uh… uh… “That’s okay. I don’t need any whipped cream.”
He looks skeptical, but goes about his business at the push-button espresso machine. Now I’m growing skeptical. I prefer a street-slick four-on-the-floor candy-flake streamline baby with racing tires, two Holley four-barrel carburetors and a stick-shift, early Italian, but I guess that this will have to do. It sounds puny, though, like a fart that just keeps going.
Now he’s steaming a 16-oz cup of milk, whole milk. He obviously doesn’t know what a real macchiato is. It can’t be worse than the crap I had in India, though. ‘Chai,’ indeed. When I order a coffee, or tea, I want something black, predominantly… I think I just bought a cow. Let’s call it a ‘latte’, yeah, that’s the ticket to fulfillment…
It’s not half-bad, really, just not a macchiato. This should last me the rest of the week, what with my own infusions of home-brew java tossed in for good measure. The man knows his cinnamon rolls, though. I buy one about the size of my butt’s left cheek
“Know what that would cost you at Starbucks?”
Don’t go there, Roland; don’t go there… Don’t ruin the kind thoughts I’ve reserved for you at this particular moment in history. Just keep rollin’ out those pastries for the overweight locals…
From Show Low the road dives downward steeply into the trip’s greatest surprise: the Salt River Canyon, something like a Baby Grand (already got a Little Grand) that you can just drive right over, down and down, over the bridge, then up and up, over and back down into Globe, where the traffic thins out to nothingness, mostly going to Phoenix, and leaving me alone on the back road to Tucson. I could get used to this.
I guess this is something like home now. I could do without the sprawl, though. I’ll stay downtown. But now I realize: Grand Canyon aside, Arizona is the state of canyons, plural, narrow steeply etched wrinkles on sun-dried skin. In many ways, Salt river is the nicest of them, very accessible and very painterly. There’s not much left of it by the time it gets to Phoenix. But I won’t go there, not any time soon. Tucson is better.