Read Write Retreat - Days 5 - 8
So, yeah…I disappeared. I’m sorry about that, and I’ll try to do better. Here’s a quick overview of my excuses:
On my second day in Bisbee, I started to feel sick.
Despite feeling off, or perhaps because I felt off, I decided to transition into the “birthday getaway” part of the retreat, and not be so productivity focused.
After Bisbee, I returned to Phoenix and immediately had family in town from all over the country for my Dad’s memorial service.
I felt under the weather for the rest of February and most of March.
April has been about catching up.
What follows is my recollection of the last half of my retreat — the Bisbee days. I can reconstruct Tuesday from notes I took on the day. Wednesday through Friday will be recollected from memory and my photo gallery, so I expect they will be less detail-oriented, more impressionistic. Maybe better. Let me know.
As you may recall, I arrived in Bisbee on Monday afternoon. After unpacking, having a quick nap, and showering, I explored Bisbee a bit, then crashed at a reasonable hour (9-ish, if memory serves).
I awoke on Tuesday at 4:30 — my normal time — but I immediately felt the early warning signs of a cold or something worse: sinus congestion, scratchy throat, a sharp pain in that space between my right ear and laryngeal prominence (i.e., Adam’s apple, the dumbest-named body part). Thus enfeebled, I rolled over and went back to sleep.
I awoke again at 7. Whatever my early morning writing plans had been — I don’t recall — they were now out the window. I was hungry and peeved, so I packed my computer into a backpack and walked down Tombstone Canyon to Bisbee Coffee Company for caffeine and a bagel sandwich. As I ate my breakfast, I logged onto the wi-fi and looked up Covid symptoms.
Sufficiently convinced that I might have Covid, I walked back to my hideaway to get my car, then drove 30 minutes to the nearest town large enough to have a drug store — Sierra Vista — and bought a rapid test. I drove through a car wash to get that Tombstone dust off, then headed back to Bisbee, swabbed my nostrils, and waited the requisite 15 minutes. The test was negative.
So I didn’t need to quarantine, but I also didn’t feel much like working, so I made some lunch and ate it while I listened to a long and entertaining Donald Barthelme lecture from 1983. (If you don’t know Barthelme, check him out. He’s a masterful 20th century postmodern writer.) I napped. I hiked around the neighborhood a bit. I came back and sat in my cool hideaway and read some more of The Nix. I showered and headed out for dinner.
After looking in at a few restaurant options — some closed because it was a weekday, some crowded because everything else was closed, some surrounded by sketchy-looking characters lolling about on the sidewalk — I opted for the Bisbee Grand, a hotel on Main Street with an inviting restaurant and bar. The place was uncrowded, the bartender was assertively promoting samples from their extensive beer selection, and the food looked better than standard bar fare, so I settled in for the evening.
I enjoyed a cheeseburger and fries, talked a bit with some tourists who were intent on finding the Olympic hockey match on TV so one of them could watch his grandson play. The place was uncrowded when I arrived and thinned out from there until I was one of only 3 or 4 patrons, so I struck up conversations with the delightful bartender, Corelle (sp?), and the quiet and surprisingly young owner of the hotel, Steve. Have I mentioned I’m an extrovert?
Anyway, I closed the place down Tuesday night and had a slow, inebriated stroll back up the canyon to my hideaway. Screw you, fake Covid. I’m on vacation.
Wednesday - Friday
Here comes the impressionistic part, at the point where my notes ceased. All of the following is reconstructed from memory and photos.
I went on a tour of the Queen Mine, which was the most active underground mine in the area (I think) for decades, until bigger and more powerful mining machines and trucks made open pit mining more economical. (See the previous post about the Lavender Pit.) The tour is great — you don a coat and helmet and ride a little worker train through a big metal door in the side of the mountain and a quarter of a mile back along a horizontal tunnel (I think it’s called an adit), then you get off and walk around with a guide — a retired hard rock miner — who tells you about the mine history and drilling and placing explosives and mucking out ore. I highly recommend the tour.
I finished most of the synopsis for my novel (and I’ve since completed it and started querying agents).
I wrote the next couple of lessons for my short story course on Substack. (They’ve since been published and now I’m way behind on that, too, so if you’re a subscriber to Story Course, hang in there. The next bits are coming soon.)
I did some (but not much) planning for my next novel. That’s for a future post in the Marginalia section. Remember that Donald Barthelme lecture I mentioned listening to? “The writer,” Barthelme says, “is a man who, embarking on a task, does not know what to do.” (I’m sure the same goes for women.)
I drank a lot of wine, at places including Passion Cellars tasting room, The Quarry, and Bisbee Grand. After a night of cocktails and billiards (more on this below), I ordered and drank a thoroughly unnecessary nightcap beer while bellied up to the bar at St. Elmo, the oldest continuously operating bar in Arizona.
I enjoyed several amazing meals, which was unexpected. I can’t heap enough praise on the food at The Quarry, which presents as a dive bar but which punches well above its weight class. That’s down to their ethos of locally sourced ingredients and an owner/chef who makes everything in house and from scratch. Because it’s small and the meals are hand-crafted, they do run out, so make sure you get there on the early side if you want to try the mind-blowing meatloaf with smashed potatoes, gravy, and caramelized carrots.
Another shocker was Bisbee Breakfast Club, on the south-ish end of town (directions don’t much matter here — it’s down the canyon or up the canyon). I got there early on a weekday morning, and still had to wait 10 or so minutes for a table for 1. That’s how popular the place is, and for good reason. I ordered the special, so I can’t even say for sure now, two months later, what it was — some combination of hash browns, chilies, eggs, and ham, I think — but it was fantastic. If you visit Bisbee, make sure that a dinner at The Quarry and a breakfast at Bisbee Breakfast Club are on your itinerary. (Apparently Café Roka in Bisbee is gourmand-level dining, but they’re only open on Thursday - Saturday nights, so I missed out.)
I walked an average of 12,000 steps a day, including up and/or down as many of the sets of Bisbee’s legendary stairs as I could fit in.
I spent most of one evening at Bisbee Social Club, a classic underground speakeasy behind a red door at the bottom of a short flight of steps that descend into the sidewalk. If you’re lucky and find a night that it’s open — look for the red light above the door to be illuminated — this is a must-visit.
Consider it a bonus if your bartender for the night is the alchemical mixologist Miranda. It’s like stumbling into a forest clearing to discover someone practicing witchcraft, only instead of being turned into a salamander you get to lounge on your bar stool while Miranda invents drinks on the spot based on your tastes and, probably, whatever she can glimpse within your soul. She conjured something delicious for me from absinthe, St George spiced pear liqueur, and Teeling Irish whiskey, and we collaborated on the name: The Fée Rouge.
After I was good and bewitched by multiple alchemical concoctions, I wandered over to the lovely pool table — luxurious felt, rack of balls from the bartender, no cheesy coin-op stuff. A young guy who was clearly the local pool shark — glove, custom cue, you know the look, right? — was doing a solo workout. I asked if he wanted to play a game, and, sniffing an easy mark, he readily agreed.
It took me most of the first game to get to know the speed of the felt, the idiosyncrasies of the table, how unforgiving the pockets were, but I eked out a win. As I quizzed him about Bisbee and its scene, I easily won the next two games, as he grew increasingly but unmenacingly frustrated. Finally he waved over another guy who had been watching us play, and invited this other local shark to take me on. Apparently they’d just come from competing in a pool tournament in a nearby town and were here to wind down. Pool Shark 2, I was assured by Pool Shark 1, was unbeatable.
I beat him three straight games. Then we all walked to St. Elmo for that unnecessary nightcap.
Good night, Bisbee.