Postcard - Way out West
February 2001©Nigel Spiers

First stop Vancouver - It's cold but clear and very beautiful. I'm sitting at the window in my hotel room trying to do some work on my PC. But I'm distracted by the skiers coming down the mountains above the city with flares in their hands.

Then on to Los Angeles airport. It's so bright outside but a welcome walk as I stroll past 30 or 40 airlines I've never heard of. Let's see now American - no, North West, United, US Air - no, America South West - no. Aahh yes here we are at Terminal 3 and America West Airlines. At the gate a valley girl asks the hostie "Like am I meant to be like on this plane already..... like?" Every parent of teenage children in the queue shudders and averts their eyes.

En route to Phoenix Arizona and jeez I'm getting sick of these bloody flights - "By the time I get to Phoenix........" However as we descend towards Barry Goldwater Terminal I look out the window to pure magic - a scene straight out of a John Wayne movie. Desert to the horizon, under clear blue skies with the occasional rocky ridge, all bathed in late afternoon sunshine and every colour you can imagine. Good Lord! - a man could forget his own name out here.
This is my first time out west. Yes I'm here all right - there's definitely less baseball hats and more Stetsons being worn in the terminal and tomorrow I'm going to get me a pair of snake skin boots and a big hat to prove it. Another 3 hour wait at Phoenix airport so I haul up to a bar just in time to overhear the barmaid telling a bunch of guys "I've just got the cutest little bitch Pit Bull Terrier.....of course it's got one eye missing" The guys at the bar nod in general agreement and she asks me "So what can I git ya big fella?" While I'm deciding I notice a sign on the bar saying "Reserved Parking - Cowboys Fans Only".

We are now down to 9 passengers on a Beechcraft 1900 headed for Flagstaff and as the co-pilot fires the engines the pilot pops his head out of the cockpit and asks "You all know what do do if we get in the shit - right?" Everybody nods glumly. I gratefully get out of the plane in Flagstaff and jump straight into two feet of snow. The taxi driver cheerfully tells me we are at 7,000 feet - the highest town of over 50,000 people in North America. Jesus! I'm feeling a bit dizzy - I thought only mountaineers with oxygen masks did this.

That night the waiter at my hotel asks "So what can I get for you tonight sir?" Looking at the menu I reply "I'll have a dish of Jalapeno with a side of jalapeno Salad to follow please" "Good Choice" says the waiter "and can I get you some Jalapeno bread to go with that sir?"
Later... "Can I get you something else sir?" I can only do fish imitations because my mouth is so numb that it feels like I've got some else's tongue stuck in it. Meanwhile two blue-rinsers sit down at the next table with their unwilling husbands. The old girls rip Flagstaff society to pieces behind their hands while their husbands crane their necks like a couple of lost Giraffes. You can tell the men wish they were in the shed with their friend Wanda the blow-up doll.

Friday evening and my hosts are driving me from Williams back to my hotel in Flagstaff. "So what are you guys up to this weekend?" I ask. "I'm shootin' pig" says the taciturn driver. "Oooooh you luck so and so" says one of the gals in the back. "I've just got me a new over and under I'm dying to try on some Elk" says the other And for a while I listen as the conversation in the car revolves around ways of stopping Elk crashing through your windscreen at night and the relative benefits of shotguns vs a 38 for stopping a charging Ridgeback. "So what are you doing Nigel?" (pronounced Naaargelle) "Errr... I think I'll have a sleep-in and then take a plane to New Zealand" That answer stopped the conversation dead and we drove the rest of the way in silence as the gals in the back ruminated on where this New Zealand place might be.

Saturday morning and time for a walk after a week of offices, taxis and planes. The hotel concierge tells me that downtown Flagstaff is right at the highway, left at the lights and under the rail bridge - about 15 minutes walk. I gingerly step around drifts of snow and ice to the highway and look up at the street sign - ROUTE 66. You just can't help it. Your arms start to swing, you do a couple of soft shoe shuffles and after a ragged start you are in full voice: "Get your kicks on Route 66.... Down to St Louis......" As I turn the corner a monstrous shop looms emblazoned with Barnes Noble - Book Sellers. And I thought "Ask Barnes Noble" was just an error message you get on your browser every time you do a Yahoo or Altavista search. This store's the size of an average hotel with a car park out front that would be the envy of most supermarkets. Inside there's books and magazine stretching to the horizon, a cafe and washrooms. This is paradise on a cold winter's day and I happily spend the 3 hours there until I say goodbye to the West.

I just hope it won't be too long until I'm back.

Oh and by the way - "Don't forget Wynona".

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