October 5th, 2017. Flagstaff, Arizona.
After barely surviving the post-apocalyptic, sand-blasted catastrophe that was Phoenix, we fled north in search of anything that wasn’t Phoenix. We found it, two hours later, in the form of a college town called Flagstaff. It was billed as a college town, but I didn’t see any colleges, and the generational mix among the locals was fairly, perhaps distressingly, even. What I did see was thousands of breweries. Millions of breweries, shining like beacons in the dark since the town had no streetlights for some reason. The roads were all torn up, surrounded by DO NOT CROSS tape, and abandoned, but that didn’t seem to discourage any of the Arizonians from driving their trucks through the remains, kicking up clouds of dust. I hid in my hood to avoid strangulation.
Let me expand on my hood for a second. In Phoenix, it was The Devil’s Balls degrees everywhere you went. If you turned the air conditioner in the car on, it emitted a low “Nooooooo” sound, turned the car off, and automatically Bluetooth-called Triple A. It’s because all the cold is in Flagstaff. Maybe the town was built on a Freon deposit or something, I couldn’t say, but I can say I packed exactly one pair of sweatpants and the thinnest hoodie mankind has ever manufactured and that and copious amounts of porter were all that allowed me to survive the sudden and inexplicable 40 degree drop that occurred in two hours of northern travel.
We stopped in Flagstaff for one reason and one reason only: a burger restaurant called Bun Huggers. They left us no choice. Their t-shirts were unfortunately horrible in that kitschy, Wal-Mart tweety bird style so popular of middle-aged dads with nothing to lose, so I saved my hard-earned ducats for when I found one more suitably ironic and bought “The Big Hugger”, a half-pound of cheesed beef on a roll. That was the whole of the transaction, and they set me loose on the Fixin’s Bar to decorate this goliath myself. I loaded it down with onions, jalapenos, and anything else I could find that could be described as “pungent”, then accidentally saturated it with Worcestershire and disgraced myself trying to funnel said Hugger into my cavernous face.
After hitting my daily allotment of grease, we decided to look at the arboretum, mistaking it for botanical gardens or something else that might be interesting. It was heralded as a “must see” on every Arizona tourism website, all of which were definitely written by people with a different relationship to trees than a couple of Pennsylvanians, also known as “treefolk” or “hick elves”. After seeing a few hundred ponderosa pines, a moth, and two botanists who gave us the side eye, it was agreed that we would head back up the trail.
On the way through the woods we passed an elderly couple. As we approached, the obese old man dropped into a combat stance, facing away from us, and thrust his right arm into our path in a mighty karate chop, his fingers assuming the metalhead devil horns for no reason that I could understand.
“SHH!” he ordered, transfixed. We followed his gaze up to a single fat squirrel.
“Isn’t it beautiful,” his wife said, gasping in a combination of awe and altitude sickness.
“Yes,” I said, not laughing even a little bit.
Once they were out of earshot, I turned to the Girl, shaking my head.
“Man, and that was just one squirrel. West Chester would blow their minds.”
We drove into Flagstaff proper and made a b-line for the visitor’s center. It was set to close in 15 minutes, and the Girl missed the turn into the correct parking lot, bringing us into a much larger parking lot for a brewery-themed strip mall. An old cowpoke in an electric lime vest grinned and flailed from the corner of the lot.
We parked the car and I approached.
“Hey, would it be all right if left the car here while we ran to the visitor’s center?”
“Aw, I cain’t letcha do that,” the elderly herdsman drawled. “You gotta be goin’ into onn’a the businesses in this lot t’ leave your car there, then it’s a 2 hour minimum.”
“We’re trying to do that,” the Girl insisted.
“We heard about a pub pass situation we can get at the visitor’s center that’ll give us discounts at all the breweries,” I told him.
“Well, I wouldn’t know nothin’ bout that,” he said, “but it’s happy hour right now at Beaver Street brewery. Can get you a big Imperial for $4.”
Now, I am not what you would call a beer snob. I didn’t like beer a year ago. Everybody at bars pretended it tasted good and I don’t know why. Now, I have realized that there are some beers that are full of chocolate and coffee and smoke, and those taste good. People still pretend that bad beer tastes good, but nowadays they’re just called IPAs.
The beer I’ve taken a particular shine to is imperial stout. For those who don’t know, imperial stout was invented in an effort to get Russian czars happy and plastered, on probable punishment of decapitation. They nailed it, brewing a genetically engineered soviet super-beer that averages 11% alcohol without the grotesque bitterness that everyone plays like they enjoy. Also, it tends to be kerosene-thick, which just feels more legitimate to me. I assumed that’s what he was talking about.
“Tell ya what,” the dude said. “Ya’ll head in there right now, then do what you want. I never saw your car.”
“Much obliged,” I said, and in we scampered with full intent of scampering back out and heading for the information center. It was then I discovered the sign at the door that said for the next hour, I was able to get an “imperial pint” of whatever I wanted, which was 22 oz of beer for $4. Where I come from, $6 gets you 10 oz.
We passed on our pub passport plan for the plentitude of porter the post promised.