Chaos, indeed. The must-get-to-Jerome quest starts with arrival at Kia dealership at 7am. Yes, I have bid all what I hope is a final fare-thee-well. Mechanics will look at it, but are stacked with other vehicles scheduled today. A great conversation in the waiting room about the trip and things to see in the region is joined and enhanced by another gentleman, Thomas, who adds a great deal of perspective and information on Jerome and Sedona.
Thomas is a retired teacher of History (more than forty years' teaching experience) and has recently been working on a literary piece, a compilation of all the fascinating people that he has met and their personal stories; a bit like Studs Terkel, I suppose. I lobby for inclusion by enhancing all of my stories, including being raised as a wealthy Arabian prince, who once was near-death after wrestling with a Big Black Bear deep in the Sequoia National Forest… Thomas is laughing at me and with me.
Both of their cars are serviced within hours, they depart; more waiting, more new arrivals. But I am getting organized, Atlas out, and pouring over my spreadsheet regarding the travel itinerary – it is clearly labeled “Draft” as I must needs remain flexible in departures, arrivals, and destinations. If I have learned anything, I have learned this need for flexibility, and I do not mean in the yoga-sense.
By 11am I am on the phone with travel secretary, Diann, as we develop a plan of attack for the end of the journey, when she will meet me in Brown County, Indiana, for the last few days, five weeks hence. I will be tent-camping in the Brown County State Park that final week. Too, I will participate in a painting event in Greenfield, Indiana, on Friday & Saturday end of June. Back in Chicago July 1st.
She makes a reservation at a B & B for one evening near Nashville, IN, where we can take due advantage of many sights, including a visit to the historical studio of turn-of-the-last-century painter, T.C. Steele; it is his influence, and the deep and revered tradition of Indiana plein air painters, that really underlines this entire odyssey for me. In that I am originally from Fort Wayne, IN, born and bred, I hope to walk and paint in his footsteps - as well as in the footsteps of the other artists belonging to "The Hoosier Group" - not unlike so many painters before me have done in the steps of Monet at Giverny.
Seven hours later, I have a new fan for the cooling system and a new deficit of $233, which, of course, while an unanticipated expense, beats the estimate that I had yesterday of over $1,000. But I must confess, it is a dent in my funds. So, I am on the road. Willie Nelson is singing in my heart. On Hwy 17, I spy some signs that suggest it is closed ahead, which doesn’t make any sense to me. I think about taking a bypass and catching up to Hwy 17 further down the road. I continue to head North, see another sign “closed due to accident in left lane, ten miles” – surely I will be able to move through this effectively.
Nine miles later, a complete stop. Twenty minutes. Twenty-five. My heat gauge heading North as well, to the Danger Zone. Temps have topped 115 degrees today in Phoenix. I begin subtly FREAKING OUT. My a/c shudders, then it begins spewing hot air, the gauge nearing Red Zone. We haven't moved. Off with my shirt, roll down the windows to make it cooler inside. Ten more minutes of this and I am done, completely over it. Chicago actor/artist and best friend, "Kia" will be found in the ashes of a burned-up vehicle on Hwy 17 which blazes with too-much-stuff, a fiery Arizona Inferno, smoke from a mass of contemporary painting masterpieces, as yet unseen, billowing forth.
Not gonna happen, not today, not when I have direct access to a Guardian Angel. I pull into the median (this will now be considered “off-road”, Arizona-style) and for a moment, I really think my little Sportage likes it – forget the damn mountains, up and down, give me a little off-road adventuring and I am your’s for the asking. Hell, we can go anywhere together! You, me, and all four of my cylinders!
I get up to speed and the gauge returns to normal, a/c kicks up nicely, shirt back on. I am immediately on the phone with my travel secretary, my hands are shaking a bit. It is very simple, I think to myself: Jerome and Sedona, for whatever reasons, are not meant to happen. End of story. A decision now four days in the making. New plan. Diann tells me, with the aid of her Google Maps, in the comfort of her office and Chicago's 53 degrees temperature today, to get to Shea Road (yep, was just there an hour ago), go east and get to Payson. Done. I am on my way; Jerome and Sedona will be another time. I am actually considering a promotion for her to Vice-President of Travel.
Payson. Elevation 5,000. Will climb to 7,000 later today. A fuel stop. A DQ Blizzard (I feel strongly that I have deserved it). I pat the dashboard, the Kia has been a champ, negotiating the mountains once again (I privately promise to her, the Kia, some off-road business later). Atlas out, I am heading for Show Low (interesting name for a town), can camp there and will provide a striking distance to New Mexico in a few days.
Arrive Show Low, charming as heck. I see a vintage Motel sign that I really want to paint tomorrow sometime. Near it, I see what looks like an art fair, something, tent-booths and people milling about. I will need to come back. Go in search of the state park, consult Atlas, find it, only to learn it is sold out for the weekend, big park, presumably hundreds of sites. I even get a bit of attitude from the ranger, "yeah, see, we take on-line reservations now and, you know...." He lets it linger there in the air as if to say, you might have done well to make an on-line reservation. Dude, if you knew the day I have had today, I think about getting out of the car and popping him a good one in the nose, but I politely inquire after other campgrounds in the area.
It seems a chore for him to hand me a map indicating two others on the opposite side of town. Dude, might I borrow your computer to quickly make an on-line reservation... never mind, appreciate your efforts on my behalf and all that, and off I go searching. I find a place, Show Low Lake Campground (that name again) and inquire with the Camp Host if there is room. He looks a tad confused, says, yeah, there's only two others camping, you make three. I hesitate asking if I need to go on-line to make the reservation, but I pay my fee for two days, $14 each, and he points out the outhouses - and I am being generous in description - as well he tells me there is no electric nor water. Well, there is a bin with water and a spigot, good too, you can really drink it, he says.
So. We will go at it primitive this weekend. Cool. Quickly set up tent, jump in the car, have maybe another hour before sunset and go to visit the fair. It is small-town, which is its heart and charm. I meet couple of folks, suggest I might come and paint in the morning, do I understand there is a Farmer's Market here tomorrow? Yes, and you should go meet that person there, is the organizer. Okay. She is very nice, says how nice it will be to have me painting tomorrow. See how NICE everybody is? Cool. Too late for Safeway, don't want to cook, a Mexican food joint across the street. It is delicious! Two beers and well.... welcome to Show Low.