Read Write Retreat - Days 2 & 3
Weekend in Cochise County
It’s the first morning of my retreat, and the schedule is out the window already. I awoke late, having slept a little fitfully in an unfamiliar—and too small—bed. I had to lie diagonally to fit my 6’1” frame entirely on the mattress, and it got a little chilly for me in the trailer, so that affected my sleep, too.
No matter. I arose at 6:30 in good cheer, pulled on some sweatpants and a fleece jacket, then cooked some steel cut oats on the gas range and ate them along with a banana. I’d forgotten to pack anything to add to the oats—I like some almond or oat milk, a pat of butter, a drizzle of Wisconsin maple syrup, maybe some chopped pecans—so I had to eat it plain. I took a moment while I chewed to look up the definitions of gruel and porridge.
I put on some classical chamber music and settled into the little dinette in the trailer’s popout to write the Day 1 post. After publishing that, I walked outside for a few minutes with my bird spotting scope, and added to my weekend list a pair of Inca doves, a mockingbird, another cardinal, and two ravens in dancing flight. After the trailer warmed up, I took a shower and dressed, then I walked around the property and up the rocky bed of a dry wash that runs to the south of my trailer.
With my mind sharpened by the fresh fair, I sat down at the computer and wrote another 15 pages of my novel synopsis. That’s a good start, but it’s not a lot, and there’s a long way to go.
However, this is the weekend, and this trip is my birthday present to myself, so that’s enough work for today.
I got in the car and drove the 40 minutes to Willcox—7 minutes of dirt road, 10 minutes of rural highway, 10 minutes of interstate, 13 minutes of missing the exit and having to go an extra 5 miles before having the option to double back.
I made this drive for the wine. Cochise County grows 75% of the grapes that are used in Arizona’s expanding wine industry. There are half a dozen wine tasting rooms in downtown Willcox, and another half dozen within 30 minutes of the town.
I didn’t expect to be able to do more than two tastings, so I wanted to choose wisely. (In case you haven’t done a tasting, it is typically four or five wines in 2- or 3-ounce pours, so one tasting flight is roughly equal to two normal glasses of wine).
The problem with choosing wisely is that I’d done almost zero preparation. All I’d done, actually, is skimmed a Cochise County Wine flyer I found in my trailer, noted that there were a bunch of tasting rooms in downtown Willcox, and decided I should go there. That’s it. I didn’t look online for menus, photos of the interior and exterior dining spaces, reviews, not even addresses or directions.
Which is WEIRD. Because I’m a planner. Big planner. Maps and notes and lists and itineraries. You saw a little of that in the retreat intro post. I mention this not as a plot point in the wine tasting travelogue that comes next, but as a thematic note on this retreat. Only 24 hours in, and I’m starting to slay my masters, the calendar and the list and the map.
With no data other than the outward appearance of their building, I chose Aridus Wine Company for my first tasting. I walked in and immediately sensed that there was no food to be had, which would be both disappointing—because I was hungry—and a tactical error—because I’ve made the mistake of downing a wine flight on an empty stomach before, and I don’t recommend it.
I asked the hostess if I could see a food menu, and she said they didn’t have one. I knew then I had to leave, and I had to figure out how to break it to her gently. Happily, she was also the sommelier/server—and everything else—and she quickly said she could put together a charcuterie board for me. I imagined her slipping out the back, driving to a convenience store, and buying a bag of Lunchables, but I was hungry and ready to start drinking, so what the heck?
Turns out, this was their first day serving the charcuterie board and I was the first person to request food, so I was the guinea pig/esteemed first customer. The board was excellent, with thin slices of salami arranged like a rosette, several wedges of sharp white cheese I couldn’t identify, fig jam, kalamata olives, some thin crispy wafers—rice crackers, maybe?—and a ramekin of glazed pecans. I should have taken a photo, but I was ravenous and had eaten half before I thought of it.
The rich flavors paired well with the flight of red wines I enjoyed, including a graciano, montepulciano, tempranillo, and malbec. I enjoyed the malbec so much that I bought a bottle, as well as a bottle of sauvignon blanc. As a bonus, the Aridus wines were quite inexpensive: $12 for the malbec and $9 for the sauv.
A group of five women came in not too long after I did, and in the small tasting room I could eavesdrop on their conversation without guilt. They were three sisters and two daughters, four of them from Nebraska visiting the one who lived in Arizona, and they planned to hit four and maybe five tasting rooms today. They were ready to party. In contrast, I was already feeling buzzed after my second tasting pour, and I wasn’t sure I would make it through five. The Nebraskans took selfies with the Aridus sign and then had Carolyn photograph them as a group, drank mostly sweet white wines, and discussed whether they should stop dying their hair and let it go gray naturally.
Then, as swiftly as a warm zephyr wind blowing across the Nebraska plain, they were gone. Their aggressive itinerary beckoned. With no other customers around, I joked with Carolyn that I didn’t give strong odds on them hitting their target of four tastings. She said she thought they might, several of them had been sharing flights. Tricksy Nebraskans.
After seeking recommendations from Carolyn, I walked across the train tracks to Big Tex BBQ, which is a restaurant built in and around a railroad dining car.
I couldn’t understand why anyone was sitting in the other part, because I wanted a seat in the dining car by the window, looking out over the street and the railroad tracks. I ordered a slice of pecan pie a la mode (my birthday cake) and a glass of iced tea.
I hadn’t thought of it beforehand, but the iced tea was the perfect antidote to the wine, and in no time I was alert and ready for more tasting.
There’s a strip of storefront buildings on Railroad Avenue that have been here, relatively unchanged in their external shape, for a century. At one end, across the street from my seat in the dining car, is the tasting room Birds and Barrels. Halfway down the block is Keeling Schaefer. And at the far end of the block is the Willcox Commercial Building, which now houses three tasting rooms: Golden Rule, Copper Horse, and Strive. I went for this three-in-one option, and had a quick $2 pour at each of Copper Horse and Golden Rule. The wines were good but the vibe was not comfortable, just a huge two-story room with a bar in each of three corners and a few tables and stools scattered around the middle. And the only other customers in that huge room were the Nebraskans—a couple of whom were starting to flirt with me—and three 20-something women at a table against the back wall who were SMASHED. Quiet, causing no trouble, but stumbling drunk.
I crossed back over the tracks to Aridus to pick up my bottles, and Carolyn, after hearing my adventures so far, suggested I try Coronado, which was 5 miles up the interstate (yes, right where I ended up when I missed the main street turn and drove 5 miles out of my way). She said the tasting room was attractive and comfortable, the wines were good, and the food was especially good. The Stumbling Trio of 20-Somethings, who had apparently crossed the tracks not long after me and had come in to Aridus while I talked to Carolyn, piped in to say that they had started the day at Coronado and it was, indeed, worth the trip. The most gregarious of the three asked my name, told me hers, and introduced me to her two friends. She said they were from Sierra Vista (about an hour southwest of Willcox) and were here for a girls’ weekend. They asked for my wine recommendations, which I shared, then I bid all a farewell and headed to my car to drive to Coronado.
Coronado’s tasting room is at their vineyard, so that automatically gives it a special vibe. The interior looked great, though I was surprised to see it so empty on a Saturday (though, in fairness, all the other places I’d been had been pretty empty, too). I settled at the bar and ordered a flight of their red estate blends, a cabernet, another red that I don’t recall, and a dry riesling to finish things off (I was already eyeing the limoncello cake for dessert).
I was almost shocked when the wine was served with one of my selections poured in a stemless crystal glass—elegant—and the other four in small plastic condiment cups nestled into circular divots in a wooden serving board—yikes. It looked like I’d ordered a glass of red wine with a side of ketchup, mayo, BBQ sauce, and sweet relish.
Anyway, the wines were tasty and it was approaching 5:30 so I was ready to have a wine-paired dinner. Frustratingly, considering how few customers there were, it took 10 minutes for any of the four servers to wander into view. Once one did, I ordered the jalapeno bacon wrapped shrimp1 with a side of mixed greens. I do not regret this. The food was excellent, it made the wine taste even better, and it made it exceedingly easy for me to acquiesce when the server suggested I might enjoy a slice of the limoncello cake. It was her favorite. It was served with fresh whole raspberries on top.
Driving back through Willcox, pretty sure I’m headed for home at this point, I pass the Big Tex BBQ again and spot the Stumbling Trio out front, with the chatty one trying to climb onto the back of a large plastic steer. I pulled into the parking lot to watch the spectacle and do a “wellness check.” I was seriously amazed they were all still standing.
“Hey, it’s this guy,” one of them said. “You should give us a ride to our hotel.” And with that they started piling into my car. I couldn’t believe how fast they moved. I had to jump out and pull my hiking shoes and the bottles of wine and fast food napkins and my laptop computer off of the seats; they would have sat on anything, like they were the opposites of the princess and the pea.
I asked for directions, and they gestured off across the tracks, as near as I could tell. I set out that way and got two blocks before one of the said, “Where are we going? It’s back that way.” I made a U-turn—the streets of Willcox are preternaturally empty, especially considering it’s a Saturday afternoon in the heart of the wine tasting district. I drove back past Big Tex, then across the main highway toward a building that one of the women in the back seat was pointing to. When we arrived, they all said together, “That’s not it.”
I pulled to the side of the road, parked, and asked which of them actually knew where the hotel was. When one of them spoke up confidently, I asked the other two to agree that I would take directions from the one and only the one. They assented to the plan, and the one had me reverse direction again, turn onto the main highway, and drive two blocks to the Sunset Inn Motel. Easy. As I pulled into the parking lot, the gregarious one slurred out her room number several times, then they all exited the car as quickly as they’d swarmed it and they tottered off on a rapid but staggering course toward their rooms.
I’ve thought about them often over these past 24 hours. Did they make it to breakfast? Did they do more wine tasting today? Did they ever get on top of that plastic steer? Anyway, I hope they’re safe and prospering.
I drove back to the trailer—it took only 30-ish minutes without the missed turns and backtracking. It was long past dark when I got in, and my head was too swirly with wine to do any writing, so I got diagonally into bed, piled on the blankets, and read a short story, The Lady with the Little Dog, by Anton Chekhov.
Lights out by 9.
I slept even later today. Surprised? I climbed out of the bed nook at 7 a.m., slowly, groggily, and set about making a hot breakfast. I whipped up a quick omelet with the fresh eggs provided by my hosts and some of the grilled vegetables left over from Friday night’s dinner, and ate that with a slice of toast and peanut butter. As I washed my dishes, I resolved for this to be a sober day. A day of (minor, mild) penance.
I decided to use pomodoros today, and I sat down at the dinette, with line of sight to the wi fi repeater from the hosts’ house, and started my first 25-minute timer at 9 a.m. I decided to stay with the synopsis work until it’s done or until I crack under the tedium, so off I go: read a little, type a little, read a paragraph, type a sentence.
I did five 25-minute pomodoros, with breaks of 5-10 minutes between them. The fourth pomodoro was cut slightly short by the arrival out my window of the javelina horde. I took some video but I can’t embed it here, so I’ll have to figure out some other way to show you the adorable tiny javelina.
It was a comfortable mid-60s by noon, so I grilled some chicken breasts and ate that with a salad outside on the patio. Here’s an artsy photo of the peel from the orange I ate for dessert.
After lunch, I showered and put on clean clothes and drove into “town” for groceries. I picked wrong, though; instead of going back to Willcox, where there’s a Safeway, I headed south toward Sunsites and something called Mustang Mall, which sounded promising. Sunsites was a bust, as there was nothing but a bar and a Dollar General (well, there’s maybe a couple other things, but if so, I didn’t see them from the highway) so I went on to the Mall.
The Mall consisted of a gas station, propane station, and the kind of general store you didn’t think existed any more, with a few aisles of packaged food and staple items, one very small case of fresh vegetables, no fruit, lots of beer, horse blankets, ropes, bridles, tack, a bunch of cowboy hats (I tried on a tan palm straw in a classic shape, but all hats look dumb on me), some beef jerky, and an extensive selection of wines from the region.
I bought some chips and salsa, a Haagen-Dazs bar, some hot sauce for my eggs, and some ziploc baggies for leftovers. Grapes, almond milk, and pecans went unchecked on my shopping list.
I got back to the trailer, carried a snack of Doritos and salsa out to the patio along with my computer, and started my afternoon pomodoro at 3:30 p.m. I completed three pomodoros of synopsis writing, wrapping up at 5 p.m.
I wrote synopsis for 85 pages of the novel today, bringing the weekend total to 100 and the running total to 230. That leaves 160 pages left to synopsize. I could certainly finish that in two more dedicated days, but do I want to devote more than half of my writing time this week to the boring work of synopsis? I don’t. Starting tomorrow, I think I’ll split the day between synopsis and creative work on the next novel.
After 5, I turned my attention to writing this post. I’d been dropping one-line notes into a doc all weekend, so all I had to do was let my mind run free and expand all the one-liners into long, meandering paragraphs. The moment the sun disappeared behind the mountains, around 6 p.m., the temperature dropped sharply. I put on my fleece jacket and a knit cap and sat outside writing this post, hoping the javelina would come back by for a dusk visit, until I got too chilly to be out there. I came inside, microwaved my leftover steak from Friday and ate that with a large salad for dinner. I finished off the meal with that Mustang Mall ice cream bar, then I wrote the rest of this post with Big Star’s #1 Record playing on the wireless speaker.
And that brings us to now, 8:19 p.m. I’ll add some photos, publish this post, then head for the diagonal bed and another Chekhov story.
Tomorrow I travel.
This phrase, I think, needs between one and three hyphens, but I couldn’t decide how many to use or where to put them, so I leave it to you to fill them in as you see fit.