Bisbeeing

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Long white hair mingles with a lengthily equal and snowy beard as it hangs from under a dirty brown hat and pours over a pair of overalls, all of which belong to a local man who consistently complains about all of the “damned tourists.” Tourism disdain is a common theme among those individuals who’ve deemed their stay in Bisbee, AZ, but typically it’s jovial dislike rather than anything resembling real hatred. The man sits among friends, most drinking coffees in front a shop specializing in just that product, many smoking cigars and all of the age and demeanor which indicates they were among the original hippies to move here in the 1970’s, after the last of the copper mines shut down and the city risked Ghost Towning it for good.

Younger hippies, traveler-types, some homeless, some simply living in vans and cars, walk their dogs or children around the streets, which are few in number, but winding and packed with parks, bazaars, bars, hotels and great eateries that make it easy to stuff yourself with fine, healthy and organic food. You won’t find a single Big Mac or Grande Frappucino in all of the land, and if you plan on grocery shopping, don’t expect any familiarity in the single small grocer in town either. If you’ve a hankering for the unique, for a time before chainstores and megalythic corportropolises, though, you’re taking a big risk traveling to Bisbee: it’s almost guaranteed you’ll be checking out the local realtor before you can even leave.

Grizzled, wrinkly and leathery-ready-to-be-tooled, another gentleman’s face smiles from behind a bushy mustache and dimming but friendly eyes. He’s dressed from head to toe in a sort of amalgam cowboy/miner/rancher getup, a large hat shades him from the sun, a handkerchief pours from his wrist, vests, jeans, and buckles of all varieties prevail, and his boots resemble something cowboy boots-meet-hip waiters. He gives walking tours around town, and though he might seem almost homeless upon first glance, he’s a history professor at a nearby university. So many of Bisbees own give off this vibe; you think it’s like this but really it’s like that.

Cowgirls belt out tunes from the deepest parts of where their throats and hearts can sink into. Caravans of painted buses, beaded, art cars and circus troupes drive through town. Tiny shoppes that are like digging into your grandmother’s attic offer up handmade, 40 year old and preciously painted belts for $20; afghans like your dearest old aunt would have toiled hours weaving over, $18.50. Old bottle caps and ancient belt buckles mix with cornucopian other trinkets, bobbles and doo-dads. Every drawer is an exercise in hours spent digging, perusing and contemplation over what mighty magical device might fall into your hands.

A young couple walks the streets and up into the winding part-stairs-part-goat paths, the woman with long and red hair partially tucked up into her woolen cap to hide the fact that she’s not washed it in a number of days equal or greater to quite a few, the man trailing behind her, photographing this mysterious new world they’ve just fallen into the lap of, stray puppies finally finding an old woman to love and pet and nurture their potential. Winding twists and twisty turns allow you to sneak into backyards, dash above the rooftops and rest in caves all along the way, gem stones, old pottery, railroad ties and the solid orange earth itself leading you from one treasury cliff to another grand vista. The city is small, sure, and that’s what will keep it wonderful forever — there’s no room to add a mall or pack in a Walmart — but it’s vast in that even those sexagenarian hippies who’ve been here since, as you’d think from their conversations, time began haven’t been able to explore every trail, every climb, every alley stairway.