There are eight million artist stories in the city. This is mine. This is “A Flagstaff Meeting”.
On a cold January morning in 2006, early and while it was still dark, I walked down the three flights of stairs from my apartment on Joy Street in West Medford, Mass for the last time, climbed into my severely loaded Ford Taurus, turned right onto High Street, over to Route 60, out to Route 2, up to Route 128, down to the Mass Turnpike, up to Route 84, left into Connecticut, over across to the beautiful country of eastern New York state near Newburgh, into the Quaker state and left onto Route 81, then punched it and barreled down all afternoon through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and into Virginia, eventually turning off the highway before dinner to find a motel room just beyond the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. I was due for a good night’s sleep because the night before I had slept on the floor in the bedroom of my otherwise completely empty West Medford apartment, the furniture picked up by a mom and pop moving company in Roslindale a day earlier, to be stored until I called from California with a shipping address. I had made the moving company deal for approximately $1400 but ended paying only $400 when the furniture was delivered four weeks later to my new home in a basement apartment in the Berkeley hills, from where when I walked a few hundred yards I could see the San Francisco Bay stretched out before me, the luscious red of the glimmering Golden Gate Bridge standing sentry before the Pacific. I’ll tell the story of the $1000 discount another time. It’s a fun story.
I was on my way to get situated in the East Bay, having rented on and through Craigslist the basement apartment in Berkeley, in preparation to begin my pending job as the Director of Adolescent Services for Walden House in the Lower Haight section of San Francisco. I was to begin on Martin Luther King’s birthday, the 16th that year, and was giving myself time to take the dead-of-winter ride on a southern route across the country, Route 40, and stay with my best friend Bob Zimmerman, his wife Ann, and their son Gabe in El Cerrito for two weeks until my furniture arrived. Did I mention my furniture arriving a month later is a fun story?
My second day of driving found me taking a right and turning west onto said Route 40 just west of Knoxville, Tennessee. There would be no more turns other than motel exits until Barstow, California, three days later. I crossed over the Mississippi River in the midst of a brilliantly shaded Memphis sunset and drove a while longer into Arkansas and my second night of highway respite. Up early the next morning, there’s Little Rock way over there on my left, and into Oklahoma and a stop in Oklahoma City and the memorial site to the bombing. It is a powerful and sad place. After an hour or so I moved on toward Amarillo for the night, but my experience buying gas and questioning at a couple of motels sent me flying out of that city and into the deepening night until I finally found a wonderful motel and family-owned diner in the town of Vega, Texas, population 800, literally in the middle of nowhere.
I could go on with this personal travelogue, and swoon about my love for Vega, but this is a story of a meeting in Flagstaff. So it was up early the next morning, through New Mexico where Route 40 slopes down so dramatically into Albuquerque for mile after mile that you feel like you’ve been shuttled into some fantastic elevator, then Arizona and on to Flagstaff, my shortest day of driving on the trip, a fun highlight being the moment a science fiction sized tumbleweed was gust-driven across the highway and firmly attached to and just short of into my radiator. I surgically removed the flora and completed my ride, checking into a Best Western around 2:30. This particular Saturday there was an evening New England Patriots play-off game and I planned to watch some of it. But there was something I needed to do before.
I go to these meetings. Because of the sworn-to-secrecy, midnight ritual, secret handshake, blood brother and sister written down rules, I cannot tell you the name of the meetings. We’ll just call them the meetings. And I wanted to go to one. It had been about four days since I had last been to one, and they are fun and interesting and have free coffee and cookies sometimes, and I was sore and tired and slightly highway crazed and hungry and still had more than 700 miles facing me with tomorrow’s drive. So I wanted some good conversation. And cookies. But how do you find one of these meetings in a town 2500 miles from my old home? I asked at the motel front desk but they couldn’t help. So I got back into my car (ouchie) and drove around and about before stopping at a church. The woman I found in the church who didn’t know about any meetings, but she said there was another woman working in the church store who might, and sure enough, not only did the second woman know about these meetings, but she went to them herself. Things like that happen a lot, by the way. Some people call it luck. I think of it differently, but in any case this woman told me there was one of these meetings happening in just a couple of hours at five o’clock – early, yay for watching the game, which I did back in the motel room with a large pepperoni pizza, and we won, so double yay – and this particular meeting took place, of all places, in a room above the Flagstaff Amtrak train station.
I went and washed the Taurus and a while later parked near the train station. There were people smoking outside and a guy asked me if I knew that the San Francisco Mountains, just over there to our northwest, were considered the most sacred mountains in the land by the local Indians. I said I didn’t know that, thanked him for letting me know, and walked up the stairs and into the meeting. A styrofoam cup of coffee, three cookies, and myself found a seat, and the meeting filled and filled with people: old people, young people, brown people, white people, boys, girls, men, women, and a few visitors to the meeting, me being one, which earned me a loud round of applause from the gathering, quite deserved after all that driving.
I should say here that these never-shall-be-named-in-any-media meetings tend to be unique in their own ways, each unto themselves. This meeting had a policy, sometimes called a group conscious, of everyone taking a moment of silence whenever an Amtrak train would pull into or out of the station, which happened a couple of times during that hour.
I talked a little, listened a lot, finished my cookies, said thanks, and went back to the Patriots and the pepperoni pizza and an early morning wake-up call for the Mojave Desert and beyond.
That’s my Flagstaff meeting