Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Vow

So, the photo above is what prompted the story below.  Pro photographer Tom Brownold did a Facebook post about his picture of the iconic neon sign at the old El Charro restaurant.  Tom and I swapped some messages about El Charro.  I said I would tell him a story about how El Charro figured into my life-changing decision to move to Flagstaff in 1980. 
Happy Jack. Mormon Lake. Flagstaff....1967.

I'd been through Arizona a few days back in 1957 when we hiked down to Indian Gardens and back but 1967 was my first real taste of NORAZ.  I didn't like it.  In fact, I made a personal vow never to ever set foot in Flagstaff again as long as I lived on this Earth.  That is a fact.

So, how did I wind up living almost ten years in Flagstaff?  Ah, therein lies a story!  But where to being?

Back in Sixty Seven I lived in a one-room log cabin for $30 a month at Mormon Lake.  My room mate was Sid Tortice, a Native American White Mountain Apache.  In today's lingo, Sid and I were BFFs.

Back in Sixty Seven, the NORAZ cowboys ruled their macho kingdom.  If you didn't wear a Stetson and Cowboy Up, you were fair game to get the crap beat out of you.  Everywhere I went, people wanted to beat the crap out of me and they often did.  I got my anatomy kicked six ways to Sunday in more places than I can possibly remember the Summer of Sixty Seven.

I was working on a federal road project to create what's now known as Forest Highway 3 from Mormon Lake to Clint's Well.  Back before 67 is was a rutted, mostly impassible two-track through an awesome Old Growth Ponderosa forest.  The gubmint built the highway so the loggers could take out every big ol' yellow belly tree they could get their hands and chains saws around.

When we got our paychecks, we all dutifully headed to Flagstaff to buy cheap beer.  That's always when the trouble started.  Pretty much the second some doo-doo-kicking cowboy laid eyes on me, they wanted to beat the crap out of me.  It's a danged good thing my Mom made me take a few years of judo lessons or otherwise I'm not real sure I would have ever survived the so-called Summer of Love.  I never used judo to fight back--I just used judo moves to get the hell outta the way of flying fists.  Most of the time, the cowboys were too drunk to cause much damage.  Tuck and roll and git up and go like hell was kinda the name of my game that summer.

And so it was that I developed an intense dislike for Flagstaff.  If YOU visited a city and all the people ever wanted to do was kick the crap out of you, would YOU ever want to go there again?  Heck no.  So, I made a personal vow to NEVER set foot in Flagstaff again as long as I lived on Earth.

OK, now fast forward to when I moved to The Old Pueblo on Valentines Day 1979. Pretty soon I joined the Whitewater Explorers Club at the U of A and had a fine time switching my Midwest canoeing skills into whitewater kayaking.  We had a lot of fun on the Salt River with those gals and guys and they liked me.

They liked me so much they invited me to go on the Middle Fork of The Salmon River in early July 1980.  I told them I couldn't go.  I said I had a personal vow I would never set foot in Flagstaff and the route had to go through Flagstaff so that left me out.  Honest.  I really did.

My Friends were dumbfounded but they soon realized I was totally serious.  There was absolutely NO WAY I could be coerced to set foot in Flagstaff, Arizona.  N-O  W-A-Y!

The Trip Leader was a real scammer.  He tricked me.  He sweet talked me and said, "Well, what if we go through Flagstaff at night and you can be in the backseat blind folded?"  Well, you know, I really wanted to kayak the Middle Fork and that seemed like a pretty fair compromise--at least as long as I didn't have to see the place or get out of the vehicle.

So, yeah, I said "Yeah, that works for me" and everybody smiled and the bottom line is they scammed my socks off and I fell for it.

So, sure enough we headed up north from The Old Pueblo in the dark of night and we got south of Flagstaff and they say, "OK, John, It's time to put on your blindfold" and they really did put a blindfold on me and told me to lie down in the back seat.  And I was so stupid I really did.

And so they were talking, "Wow, we're almost out of Flagstaff" and all this lying sort of stuff and then the car came to a stop and I got out and we were right in Old Flagstaff on West Aspen Street and I flipped out!

But what can you do?  I mean I was scammed.  They won.  And they were laughing so hard they could hardly breathe.  And meanwhile I met my Best Friend Forever Gary W. and he said, "Hey, let's go get some burritos at El Charro."

And so he took me to El Charro down South of the tracks and fed me real good and got me mellowed out and convinced me that Flagstaff wasn't the same anatomy-kicking place it was in Sixty Seven.

And the rest is history.

(Editor's Note: There is quite a bit more to "the rest of the story" about how El Charro figured in my Flagstaff life between 1980 and 1990.  The restaurant closed last year.  We will try and write more bout El Charro later today or tomorrow.)

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