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Coming Full Circle

June 2, 2012
Picacho Peak

I’ve just added an image to my header.  I’m not entirely sure I like it, but it is retro looking and kinda cool.  Also, I live in Eloy, Arizona, and that’s an image of Eloy, taken last week.  Just kidding, that was totally several weeks ago.  Eloy is a speck of a town… one of those places you might confuse with dirt on the map, until you try to clean off the dirt and see that there was a town there all along. I’ve lived in various places around Arizona since moving here 17 years ago.  I’m a renter, and the draw to Eloy was the incredibly low rent for a four bedroom house.  But, that sort of arrangement comes with a price.  In this case, the price seems to be the fact that the house is over 50 years old, and requires constant repair.  Not that the landlord is unfair about it or anything, but she’s on a budget as well.  So, generally, repairs come down to me buying whatever needs to be installed or fixed, and her taking the cost of that off the rent for the next month.  I’m happy with the arrangement, as it allows me to inflate the price of the things I buy to fix the place up, and it allows her to avoid paying labor to have things maintained for her, so in the end we both win.

My current problem is with the air conditioning.  You may live in a place where you haven’t begun to consider running the air conditioning.  Here, though, there’s already been weeks of 100+ temperatures this year, with many more to go.  Therefore, getting this thing fixed landed somewhere between eating and breathing on my “to do” list.  So, I climbed to the roof.

When it first went down, I took my tools and took the whole thing apart, and began to consider just what the hell it was I was looking at.  Luckily, there was a time when I worked in a factory building air conditioning condensers… but this was 14 years ago (I’ve had a lot of strange jobs over the years… and I mean a LOT of strange jobs).  Eventually, I figured out that the exhaust fan needed to be pushed with a screwdriver to start, and once it started, the air conditioner worked fine.  (In case you’re interested, I know what part needs to be replaced: a capacitor about the size of a soda can… which nobody wants to sell me.  Instead, they want to sell me the SERVICE of sending someone out to replace said capacitor, which sucks).

So, for now at least, I simply have to push start the exhaust fan whenever I want to turn on the air conditioning.  This means two things.  First, that we can’t simply set the air at a comfortable temperature and forget about it… we have to PLAN our air conditioning usage.  Secondly, that I get to take a lot of trips to stand on the roof of my house.  And from the roof of my house, I have a wonderful view of this…

Picacho Peak

Oh sure… it looks pretty now…

This is Picacho Peak.  This isn’t really what my view of this monolith in the desert looks like… imagine this with a lot of dust, power lines, buildings, and trees slightly obscuring the view.  Still, I can see it from up there.  And it sparks a sense of dread every time.

You see, Picacho Peak isn’t just the site of the westernmost battle of the civil war, it also happens to be the place where I once thought I was going to die.

2060 Out of 2081 Ain’t Bad

When I first came to Arizona from Charlotte, North Carolina, I decided to take the southern route, coming north from Tucson rather than going south from Flagstaff to arrive at my intended destination of Queen Creek, Arizona.  My car was in fairly rough shape, and in my mind taking it through the desert would be easier on it than taking it through the mountains. Besides, if I timed things out right, I’d hit the desert at nightfall, so I figured things should work out fine.  I figured wrong.  Somewhere which I can only describe as the geographic CENTER of nowhere, my car lurched badly and died.  I knew it was bad.  I was 2060 miles in a 2081 mile journey, and my car had just thrown a rod.  Okay, to be fair, I knew the car was going through a lot of oil, and the oil light had come on as I left Tucson.  But I remember thinking at the time, I’d better get some oil at the next stop.  THERE WAS NO NEXT STOP.  Miles and miles of nothing, then a dead car.  So I rolled to a stop in the emergency lane of Interstate 10, turned on my hazard lights, and waited.  This, dear reader, was the era before everyone had a cell phone.  In fact, cell phones were rare… and cellular SERVICE was even rarer.

Several people stopped and offered assistance.  The first couple of people with cell phones had no bars.  Finally, this guy with an awesome CAR phone pulled over (for those not old enough to remember, these were cell phones installed in a car, drawing power from the car battery and connected to an external antenna for signal… and, no, there were no apps for that).  So I called AAA and was told that a tow truck was on the way.  After a couple of hours, a tow truck arrived to tow me to the nearest AAA authorized service location.  It was a tiny garage at the base of Picacho Peak.  Then, with dread, I asked if there was a hotel nearby.

“There’s a motel on the other side of the freeway,” the garage attendant gestured with his thumb over his shoulder.  Somehow by this dismissive gesture I knew this place wasn’t exactly going to be four star accommodations.  I walked the road under the freeway to the motel with a backpack full of clothes and such.  Slowly, the hellhole which would serve as temporary lodging came into view.

bates motel

Like this, only shittier (and scarier)

Worst.  Motel.  Ever.

I had stopped at a number of hotels along my journey, and I knew the problem that faced me next.  Paying.  You see, this wasn’t just the day before cell phones were prevalent, it was also the day before debit cards were also credit cards.  I had the former, and hotels wanted the latter.  So, usually, I was forced to pay in cash, which meant paying the room rate plus a security deposit (which I would get back at checkout).  Having not planned this stop, I didn’t have a great deal of cash on hand.  I stepped into the motel lobby (read: room in the proprietor’s house which served as the lobby).  I stood alone in the room, which smelled strongly of cabbage, waiting for a minute before an Asian woman in her fifties or sixties finally emerged, clearly annoyed by my presence.

Angry Lady: Can I help you?!

Me: I’d like a room.  (sorta obvious though, right?)

Angry Lady: Room costs $40.  You pay Visa, Mastercard, or American Express?

In this era, this was already highway robbery.  $40 should have bought me a room at the Ramada, let alone a bed at the Date Rape Inn.

Me: (with trepidation) uh… cash?

Angry Lady: Then you pay $80.

Me: TWICE the room rate?!

Angry Lady: $40 for room, $40 deposit.  You pay in case you make long distance phone calls or destroy room.

Me: Yeah, yeah.  I pay.  I pay.

Even before I opened my wallet, I knew what I was about to discover.  $80 was all the cash I had on me. I was handing all my cash to this person for a room I really didn’t want to sleep in.  Just great.  At least I was getting half of it back the following morning.  When I stepped into my room, I instantly knew why the deposit had been so great.  $40 would cover absolutely everything in the room, in case I absconded with it all.

Welcome to your hovel

…like this, only less tastefully decorated…

I made only local phone calls (which, in that era, included all of Arizona, luckily).  I touched nothing (including the mattress… eww).  I slept atop a towel which I placed atop the comforter, and I only did that because the towel smelled strongly of bleach and therefore inspired confidence that it was mostly skank-free.  I slept poorly, with a freight train screaming past my bathroom window hourly.  I wasn’t even able to secure a ride for the following morning, either.  So my plan was to walk to whatever gas station was within walking distance, get more cash, and deal with my problems as best I could.  If all else failed, I would spend another night in the Unidentifiable Stain Motel.

The Morning After…

At sunrise, I made my way to the “lobby” to check out.  I walked in the door (this time it smelled strangely like bananas… much better than the previous night) and waited as I was sure the LOUD bell which sounded as I entered meant someone would be with me shortly.  After several minutes I began to call out.

Me: Hello?

Voice from somewhere: Hello?

Me: Yes, I’d like to check out.

Voice from somewhere: Hello?

Really?  Is this a joke?

Me:  Hello?

Voice from somewhere: Hello?

I.  Shit.  You.  Not.  Finally a woman who was probably the mother of the woman from the previous night found her way to the lobby.  I seriously think she might have been lost.

Confused Lady: Hello!

She seemed surprised to find me in the lobby.

Me: Yes, I’d like to check out and get my deposit back.

Confused Lady: Oh, check out?

Me: Yes, and get my deposit back.

Confused Lady: Check out.

At this point, she held out her hand for the key.  And then it occurred to me: she has no clue what I’m saying.  She has no clue that I’m owed my deposit back.

Me: Is, uh, there someone else here?

Confused Lady: Check out, now?

Me: *sigh* The lady from last night?  Is she here?

Confused Lady: You check out?

Me: (calling out) Hello?

Confused Lady: Oh, hello!

No.  Jesus, no.  Fuck no.

Me: Um… I’ll come back later. (Slowly putting my key back in my pocket)

Confused Lady: No check out?

Me: No.  No check out.

Confused Lady: Okay!  Hello!

Okay.  Hello.  I was screwed.  So, I walked out of the lobby and looked around.  The hotel sat on a frontage road that ran parallel to the freeway. I already knew that there was NOTHING to the south (for something like 50 miles).  So, I headed north.  Why not.  I had my backpack, I’d hoof it like Bill Bixby in the Incredible Hulk.  No shame in that.

Hours Later…

It took quite a while to reach anything reminiscent of civilization.  By this time, the sun was relentless and it was already unbearably hot.  It was September, and STILL it was unbearably hot.  The “civilization” I had come across was a gas station, grocery store, Mexican restaurant, general store sort of setup.  I looked at the time.  It was already 11am… I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get my deposit back, even if I hiked all the way back to the Name-That-Smell Hotel.  So, it was time to consider my options.  My best guess was if I showed up at the Motel again and paid for another night, they would probably roll my deposit over for me.  No clue if I would be able to get it back the next day, but at least it was worth a shot.  Or, I could call getting that money back a lost cause, eat and regain my strength, then head north and see what else I came across. This plan seemed less appealing, as setting out without a clue as to what I would encounter seemed like a terrible idea.  As I pondered my fate, a car pulled up to get gas playing Nine Inch Nails loudly.  I let out a joyful sigh.  Truly this was the best indication yet that I had stumbled across civilization.  I walked in and picked out the largest bottle of cold water they sold and took it to the cashier.  This would do for now, until I could decide what to do next.  The price was keyed into the cash register, and I held out my card.

Me: Debit, please.

Cashier: What?

Me: I’d like to pay with debit, please.

Cashier: (after examining my card) Is that like EBT?  We take that.

Me: No.  Maybe.  What’s EBT?

Cashier: You know, the stamps.  Food stamps.

Me: Oh, no it’s not that.

Cashier: Then we don’t take it.

Me: Crap.  Where’s your ATM machine?

Cashier: ATM machine?

No. Fucking. Way.  I looked helplessly at my card.  I was going to die here.  Right here in the geographic center of nowhere.  I had no cash.  No car.  No food.  No water.  I was somewhere where the concepts of debit and ATM were akin to bigfoot and pixies.  They belonged in a mythical realm where money was transferred out of the ether with nothing more than the swipe of a card.  The cashier looked as perplexed by the situation as I did.

Me: How far to the nearest bank?

Cashier:  Bank?  I don’t know.  Probably Eloy.  Like, five miles from here.

Me: Never mind the water, then.

I walked outside and sat on the curb, looking at the menacing sun overhead.  Five miles without water very well may kill me.  In the end, though, this story turns out well.  The couple who had stopped for gas overheard my conversation and offered me a ride to Eloy.  I said something like, “only if you promise to keep blasting Nine Inch Nails.”  That comment bought me passage all the way to my destination in Queen Creek.  I loved them for that.  I paid them with the only thing I could, a key to the shittiest motel room on earth.

PS: Years later, that motel burned to the ground.  No, I had nothing to do with that.  The house where the proprietors lived was unharmed, just all the rooms burned, causing damage estimated in the tens of dollars.

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5 Comments
  1. When Troy and I drove from Alamogordo, NM to Las Vegas I literally had nightmares of this EXACT thing happening. We drove would drive an hour through AZ without seeing another car. Or a gas station. Which incidentally worked out ok because Troy had to pull over and take a shit on the side of the road, hoping a scorpion didn’t jump up his bum. He actually saw skeletons of animals while squatting. I was scared. I’m glad you made it out alive.

    • There are parts of Arizona which are FRIGHTENINGLY empty. Coming the way you did, you probably took US Highway 70 and thought to yourselves, “it’s a US HIGHWAY… there will be plenty of people and places to stop.” There are no people. There’s nowhere to stop. That stretch from Safford to Globe is just full-on desolate!

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