I hadn’t been motivated to write throughout the entire month of September. The trip’s over, I’m back in Hawaii, and I have just California to write about after this. Let the freewriting begin!
August 23 – 25
Santa Fe, NEW MEXICO; Flagstaff, ARIZONA
With Texas behind us and our beloved California over the horizon, Ian and I were set on flying through the Southwest. We spent most of three days in parts of two states, couchsurfing a night in each one. Both our hosts were young college grads who introduced us to their friends, but that’s about where the similarities ended. On the spectrum of couchsurfing experiences, good to bad, we hit each extreme.
In New Mexico: Our soon-to-be-host Evan informed us that he wouldn’t get off of work until around 10 pm. No problem, we said, seeing as we’d arrive in Santa Fe shortly before that. We rolled in around 9 pm and passed the following hour chatting over dinner, a split five-dollar footlong at Subway.
Fast forward one day in the future. . .
In Arizona: Our soon-to-be-host Sammi informed us that she wouldn’t get off of work until around 6 pm. No problem, we said, seeing a Barnes & Nobel in the center of downtown Flagstaff as we rolled in during early afternoon. We passed a few hours browsing around the store. . . and running into the author of one of the hottest book and television series at the moment: George R. R. Martin!
(Note: It wasn’t an official book signing. GRRM was roadtripping in the exact opposite direction toward his hometown of Santa Fe. He just decided to stop in Flagstaff, stroll into this random B&N unannounced, and start signing copies of his A Song of Fire and Ice books. Only and handful of employees were gathered about him in nerd-struck awe, so it took a mere two minutes of lingering to get to him. The first thing I said was, “Man, I was gonna buy a copy of that book, but you defaced all of them!” He chuckled, found me a version of A Game of Thrones without Sean Bean on the cover (by request), and happily agreed to pose for a picture. That meeting alone made Flagstaff a more worthy experience than Santa Fe the day before, and I hadn’t even gotten to the good part yet!)
Rewind. . .
New Mexico: We finally got a call from Evan who told us to meet him at his friends’ place first. A bit curious, but we weren’t about to object. The man was letting us crash at his place for free after all. We left Subway then and followed Ian’s GPS device to Evan’s friends’ house.
I could see why Evan would want to chill with his friends after work, they were welcoming, laid-back folks. They also happened to be the epitome of hipsters. One guy sported an ironic mustache while the girl cooked some vegan meal in the kitchen. It looked like quinoa and smelled delicious. There were a few cats and plenty of random stringed instruments in the living room. Another guy plucked at a small, guitar-like instrument while sprawled over an armchair, bored and uninterested in his own musical pursuits. Evan’s friends were laughably stereotypical, but we dared not laugh, for they were first and foremost welcoming, and we were first and foremost grateful.
Arizona: Sammi called us promptly at 6 pm and gave us directions to her house. Tucked away at the end of a cul-de-sac in a nice neighborhood, Sammi’s two-story house was clean and bright. Artwork and band posters dressed the white walls of the living room, and in that living room was a long, comfortable couch and an extra bed, both topped with pillows and folded blankets. For a host without spare bedrooms, she sure raised the bar on hospitality.
Sammi told us she lives with two other girls, one of whom has a boyfriend that lives with them as well. They weren’t there at the moment, but she said we’d meet them at a house party we were invited to. The aforementioned boyfriend was moving to Colorado and the girls were throwing him a surprise farewell party. “Don’t worry,” our host reassured us, “it’s at another house.”
You’ll soon see what a relief those words were after our previous night in Santa Fe. . .
NM: Evan took us to the back patio of his friends’ house to chat for a bit. I played fetch with a disgustingly slobbery dog while Evan grabbed us some beers, then we traded couchsurfing experiences. We related our roadtrip journey so far, a story we’ve delved into countless time before but grows each time we tell it. In turn, Evan told us about the few couchsurfers he’s hosted, most of whom came from Europe. “Yeah, I’m always hosting. I think my roommates are starting to get annoyed. I don’t let them know when I’m gonna host couchsurfers.”
Wait. . . what?
“Yeah, I live with this one guy and his crazy girlfriend. They’re both crazy, actually. I’m gonna move out soon, so I don’t care to tell them when I host. Don’t worry though, I don’t think the guy will be there tonight. He went to jail and I don’t think he’ll get out by tonight.”
Um. . .
“Last night he threatened this other dude at Taco Bell because he thought the guy was staring at his girlfriend. He broke the guy’s windshield.”
Before we could process our host’s inconsiderate nature or his roommate’s dangerous nature, his phone rang. Little did we know, that call would raise the level of awkwardness even higher.
AZ: We had a few hours to kill before the house party, so Sammi and I played a bit of Mario Kart on her Wii before she took us to a popular local sandwich shop called the Cheba Hut (if that name sparks delightful curiosity, I implore you to Google the place). We told her our ever-growing couchsurfing tale, and she talked about how she just graduated from Northern Arizona University. I can’t recall what she majored in; the important thing was that those sandwiches were delicious.
Because the sun was setting as we finished our “toasted” subs, we bought some cheap beer and our gracious host drove us to the top of this hill where you could look out over the whole city. It wasn’t exactly a picture-worthy skyline, but to stare at the twinkling town lights with a beer in hand was quite calming.
NM: “Those were some buddies of mine,” Evan said, hanging up the phone, “They’re gonna come over to play poker for a little bit.”
He didn’t say, “Is it alright if they came over?” or “I hope you don’t mind if they come over.” It was, “They’re gonna come over.” Honestly, I didn’t mind, and I don’t believe Ian did either. But I kept thinking, If we were any other people looking for simple comfort or a good night’s rest, this would be a horrible situation. Luckily, we weren’t any other people. Ian and I had been able to do this trip the way we had because we are able to just go with the flow, even when the flow get’s this turbulent.
Ian and I bid farewell to our temporary hipster hosts and followed Evan through what looked like a tacky Mexican restaurant-themed suburb to his house a few minutes away. I found it funny and somewhat endearing that the houses were so stylized, as if Santa Fe was trying to simulate Indigenous-Mexican architecture instead of actually just having Indigenous-Mexican architecture. Our exploration of the town center in full daylight the following morning did little to dissuade my naive judgments, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The inside of his one-story house was dim and poorly furnished. There wasn’t much more than a dusty hardwood floor, a worn couch, and some apparently found furniture pieces. Though, being who I am, I was easily comfortable in this obvious bachelor’s pad. Evan pointed to the couch:
“There’s a pull-out bed in there for when you guys want to go to sleep. If you don’t feel like sharing, I think I might have a spare mattress in my room. Those guys are gonna come over in a little bit.”
Again, we were fortunate that our six-hour drive from Lubbock didn’t wear us out. It was about 11 o’clock at night and we were game to meet new people instead of crashing right then and there. . . as if we had a choice.
AZ: Ian and I entered the party a bit awkwardly, but not uncomfortably. Apparently, Sammi didn’t know all the people that were going to be there, either. We dropped our extra beer in the fridge, saving a few for ourselves, and stood around in the front room for a bit saying “hi” to people as they entered. Eventually, we made it out to the backyard where everybody gathered and started mingling, introducing ourselves to friendly faces and retelling abridged versions of our trip so far. When the guest of honor came through the house and out into the backyard, we yelled, “Surprise!” with everybody else. By then, I no longer felt out of place.
Sammi’s roommate’s boyfriend was really friendly and quite interested in our story. Actually, everyone we met was friendly, interesting, and interested. I got along just fine and didn’t even see Sammi for long stretches of time. Free-flowing was the beer, the conversation, and other things I need not mention. I don’t remember any of the names of my one-night friends. I don’t remember what we talked about. I do remember, however, needing to get some fresh air. Badly.
NM: The guys who came in to play poker were a lively bunch. They brought not only a poker set, but beer and cigarettes, too. They welcomed us to join, but seeing as we could not possibly afford to lose the little money we had left, we had to decline. They set up around the coffee table in the middle of the living room, commandeering mismatched chairs and our pull-out couch. Ian and I sat off to the side, watching, but not entirely engaged. I eventually found Banksy’s art book Wall and Piece and started leafing through.
No more than an hour passed when in through the door walked a tall, loud guy and a skinny girl. They seem shocked and annoyed. Well, the girl did more so. She immediately stormed into a nearby bedroom and shut the door. The guy, on the other hand, assessed the situation and joined the crowd. For a recently-released violent offender, he seemed pretty sociable and laid-back. He started chatting with everybody, recognizing some of the characters, but not all. Not us.
I forget his name, but he did introduce himself to me. I’ll call him Bob for now. When Bob introduced himself, I told him who I was and what I was doing there. Bob’s face dropped, but not his manners. He expressed that he was annoyed that Evan would keep hosting without letting him know beforehand, but assured us that we were welcome. He told us that most of the stuff in his living room was his and if we respected that, all should be good. I ended up talking to Bob more than I did to Evan, who, sometime before the arrival of his roommate, slinked off to bed and left his coterie in the living room drinking, smoking, and gambling the night away.
It was getting late, two, maybe three in the morning. The gamblers were nearing the end of the tournament, only three guys left. I had just finished reading/staring at every page of the Banksy book when the skinny girlfriend came out. She sat next to Bob, visibly upset. Understanding, Bob slammed his fist on the coffee table and said in a mild tone, “Alright, the game is over. It’s late and it’s time for everybody to leave. Split the pot among those left.”
Without a word of contention, the gamblers respectfully and quickly divided the pot, packed up, and filtered out until only Ian and I were left in the room with the couple.
“Do you two have somewhere to go?” the girlfriend asked us. Before we could respond, Bob turned to her and explained that we were Evan’s couchsurfers.
“Again?!” was her response. She didn’t even look at us.
Bob and his girlfriend retired to their room, leaving me and Ian to move around the living room furniture in order to pull out the bed and settle in for the most situationally awkward night of our trip.
AZ: The Coors Brewery tour should have been a lesson to me about alcohol and altitude. I’d left the house, but the patio was spinning. Fresh air wasn’t enough, I needed to be mobile. Without a word of notice to anyone, I started walking around the block alone. Breathe in, breathe out, step, step, step. One lap wasn’t enough to clear my head, so I continued on for another go around. Feeling a bit better, I opened the front door. There were plenty of party-goers inside, but none that I recognized. I then realized that the inside of the house looked different, too.
“Are you lost, man?” one friendly stranger asked me.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I slowly replied, realizing my mistake but also my fortune that there were two house parties on the same street.
“Well, the house next door is having a party, too. Try that out.”
“A’ight. Shoots, brah!” I said as I waived the shaka. Before I moved to Hawaii, Spanglish used to pour through my inebriated lips. Now, it’s semi-forced Hawaiian Pidgin.
“Wait, are you from Hawaii?!” asked another party-goer in the most random displays of coincidence.
“Brah, I used to live there!”
“Shoots! No way! Cool. Okay.” And with that, I stumbled out the door.
I was about to enter the correct house when I felt my stomach churning. I once again shot right by the house and snuck into the bushes around the corner. I didn’t think I was back there releasing my insides for more than ten minutes, but when I emerged, Ian said that they’d been looking for me for over half an hour. I felt too bad physically to feel bad emotionally. Sammi drove us back to her place and I passed out on top of the nicely folded blankets laid out in the living room bed.
NM: I woke up to an alarm the next morning and immediately started packing up. In a sleepy daze earlier, I saw Evan leave the house for work. I didn’t even attempt to say “bye.” As we were folding the couch back in, Bob came out to bid us farewell. We thanked him and apologized several times before heading out into the Santa Fe sun. In the car, Ian and I half-jokingly agreed that we’d have much rather slept in the car than in that living room.
For the next few hours, Ian and I explored downtown Santa Fe, a gorgeous and colorful city, but I couldn’t shake the thought that it was all a bit fake. Sure, there was a legitimate mixing of indigenous, Mexican, and American cultures in this area–and I’m sure plenty of the buildings were authentic–but a part of me could only believe that they were putting on airs for the tourists, not unlike how Waikiki lends itself to the tourists’ idea of what Hawaii should look like. Gorgeous, nonetheless.
‘Round about noon, we set out for Flagstaff, Arizona, apprehensively optimistic about our next and final couchsurfing experience. . .
AZ: I woke up to the sight of a bottle of ibuprofen on my bedside. In a sleepy daze earlier, I saw Sammi and Mary leave the house for work. I think I tried my best to say “goodbye.” Stephi was still there, as was her boyfriend, who seemed to had had a rougher night than me. Stephi made us surprisingly tasty scrambled eggs–I never cared for them much before I tried hers–and we leisurely got ready for the day. There were folded fluffy towels in the bathroom for when we took showers. We thanked Stephi and her boyfriend profusely before heading out to the Grand Canyon.
For the next few hours, Ian and I stood in awe of the Grand Canyon. We’d both seen countless pictures and videos of the place growing up, but there’s an ineffable majesty that comes with standing before such a vast natural wonder. You can spend a day looking up appropriate adjectives in a thesaurus for this place but still come away sounding like a cheesy brochure. I apologize for my previous attempt.
Our experience in Flagstaff with Sammi and her roommates, and then at the Grand Canyon, capped our exploratory roadtrip in the most positive light. All we had ahead of us was a homecoming through California. That exciting thought may have been the only thing that could have pulled us away from the Grand Canyon so easily.