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Life In A Small Town On The Middle Fork Of The Hassayampa

It wouldn’t surprise me if outgoing Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura showed up here this winter. It has to be lonely in Minnesota, given the number of Minnesota license plates that have already shown up in Wickenburg and its satellite to the south, the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The winter visitor season is just beginning. By mid-January, the population of greater Wickenburg will double, but it will still be a pleasant small town. Our phone book is barely a quarter of an inch thick. People here are friendly, but not aggressively so.

We are not in the landing pattern of any airline. There are half a dozen good restaurants, or you can buy homemade tamales from a kid who hangs out in front of the post office.

Maybe Jesse Ventura could wrestle some steers, or hang out with Alan Greenspan, Dolly Parton, the gorgeous twins Jennifer and Suzanne Devoid–all the celebrities who hang out here in winter.

During Armistice Day ceremonies, local veterans placed a wreath on the Tomb Of The Unknown Snowbird. It’s not really a tomb, but a large motorhome (Minnesota plates) whose owner disappeared inside in 1998, and has not yet found his way out. He survived Vietnam, but his Holiday Rambler ate him alive.

We do have one traffic bottlneck here, but it pales beside a few minutes spent on Bell Road as it crosses the Phoenix metroplex.

There’s talk of replacing Wickenburg’s two traffic lights with railroad-style crossing gates so your typical snowbird rig can safely pass through: a 40-foot motorhome pulling a horse trailer, which is pulling a 22-foot cabin cruiser, with a Ford Excursion hitched on behind.

I saw some of these rigs in my rearview mirror a few weeks ago. As they passed, I saw that they had Arizona plates. Returning from a summer in Idaho, no doubt. Followed south in a few days by fifth-wheel rigs with Idaho plates.

We survived another summer. Now daytime temperatures are peaking below 80, and the nights are crisp. The leaves are changing on the cottonwood trees along the Middle Fork of the Hassayampa River. Soon it will get pretty chilly for those of us who are indigenous. The river will ice up–dry ice, of course, for most of the river is unsullied by water.

We did have a good rain in mid-October. Coming home from Phoenix one night, driving alongside the Hassayampa, I saw that the lights of oncoming areas were cutting through ground fog. The way to tell whether it’s fog or a dust cloud rising off the river bed is to roll down the car window and smell.

It has occurred to me that The Journal Of Prevarication is a dream come true. When I was a kid, I dreamed of owning a small-town newspaper, or a small-town radio station. I would print only the truth, and my radio station would play only my kind of music. I would play God.

It was fortunate that I could afford to do neither, for such enterprises would have quickly gone broke. I was born to work for other people,
Now I publish The Journal, and for little investment, I can publish what I damn well please. The pay ain’t much, but I’m always employee of the month, and I don’t have to cover school board meetings.

One of my heroes, the late Dick Wick Hall, wrote, “Out here the desert you don’t need much–and you don’t get much either–and after a while you get so’s you don’t want much…”

Hall, a land developer, created the town of Salome, 60 miles west of Wickenburg. He published The Salome Sun, “made with a laugh on a Mimeograph.” Pretty soon national magazines were publishing his stuff.

Salome became two places, the real town, and the make-believe town that Hall wrote about. I wouldn’t do that to Wickenburg, but The Journal does allow me to see things my way.

By the way, I’m old enough to have struggled with a Mimeograph, and the computer is superior in every way.

Winter visitors have a wide choice of accommodations here. For those with a little money, there are fine resort ranches–dude ranches, if you will. There are several different kinds of RV parks, including those with boarding stables for folks who trailer their horses here from Colorado and Montana.

And there are low-rent motels, where folks can sit outside in the sun and visit. They argue sports and politics, and compare farming in South Dakota to farming in Oregon.

The other day I overheard nostalgic snowbirds visiting in a coffee shop. The men were remembering Harry Truman, and the women were recalling the things their mothers used to say.

“Don’t run with that sharp stick in your eye!”

“Don’t eat with your mouth full.”

“Shut the door, don’t you know there are children starving in Armenia?”

“I don’t care what Mike’s mother says. You are not Mike’s mother.”

“I can’t find my teeth. Has anyone seen my teeth?”

“They’re on your head, Grandma.”

I’m reporting from memory, of course. I don’t carry a notebook these days. But if I run into Jesse Ventura, I’ll listen closely and give you a full report.

Finally–and this is more than a footnote– thanks to all of you who have bought Arizona Liar’s Journal. We’re hoping the book will make the list of suspicious volumes that federal spooks look for when they’re checking your reading habits in libraries and bookstores, trying to figure out if you’re patriotic. We’ll let you know what they decide.

Last 5 posts by Jim Cook

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