Pat had already gone to her classes the next morning when I got up. As I dressed, I got nervous. Today was the day I was going to be entering a world which, up to that point, had been to me an imaginary world.
The car rental company dropped the car off at the hotel, and the concierge and bell captain gave me some touristy pamphlets and a state map. “You must see Sedona,” they both agreed. “But on the way back,” Manny, the bell captain, added. “It’s more scenic that way.” Knowing I wouldn’t have time for a side trip, I told them I’d try.
First on my agenda, a quick trip to the far western edge of civilization in neighboring Glendale to grab a quick shot of the Arizona Coyotes’ hockey arena for the hockey fans in the family.
After an easy entrance onto the bypass next to the arena, I headed out for I-17, which goes through the northern edge of the beautiful Sonoran Desert, full of cacti varieties ranging from the squat barrel cactus to the majestic saguaros, along with many other unknown types (to this author, at least) of strange trees and bushes, all inspiration for alien flora on my desert-ish planets.
Having memorized the basic how-to-get-to-the-arena-from-the-hotel route (go north then turn left on Northern and go straight on until the end of the world and the bypass is right there), I was well out of town when I discovered I’d left my map of Flagstaff, marked with all the points I wanted to see, back in my hotel room.
Oh well, I can always get a map when I get there.
Along the road heading north, signs declare every 1000 ft rise in elevation. Phoenix is nearly 1100 ft above sea level. Flagstaff, only 140 miles away, is 7000 ft, taking us abruptly through three distinct climatic zones. That makes for some pretty steep grades all along the way. You go up, then down, but never as far down as you had gone up, then repeat as you cross yet another range of mountains. Along one particularly long unbroken stretch, something like 18 miles of going uphill, and of course, downhill coming back, the Highway Department has posted signs along the way, mostly for truckers, saying things like “Only 11 miles to go!”
The ubiquitous saguaro suddenly disappears at around 3000 ft, although there were still other varieties of cacti and other desert flora, such as mesquite trees and flowering brambly bushes.
At 4000 ft, I followed the road around a bend and it became autumn, complete with golden deciduous trees, then at 5000 ft, tall long needle pines (a type of ponderosa pine) and much cooler temperatures.
Then, before I was emotionally prepared, before I realized that I’d put nearly 140 miles behind me, I rounded a corner and saw Devil’s Chair mountain looming in the distance.
Devil’s Chair mountain is north of Flagstaff. Before I could even read the fast approaching green highway signs, I knew I was there.
Between me and that mountain lay Flagstaff, Arizona.
Following the highway into town and keeping on the main road, I saw the Golden Arches. THE Golden Arches where Caleb and Ana had their first ‘non-date,’ where she flirted with the spoon from his sundae and where he lost his heart.
I didn’t need a map. After all, I’d lived in that town for years.
Two doors north of McDs, I saw the Starbucks where Caleb saw—oops, almost spoiled it there! But it’s monumental to the story and for some reason I had to go there first. Okay, I admit it. I’m hooked and was in need of a hot drink by then!
I drove straight to Starbucks and went inside.
I stood there for a moment.
I’ve stepped into the reality of my imagination, half expecting to see Caleb and Ana sitting at a table.
A friendly barista greeted me, asking what I would like. I smiled and told her, “I’ve travelled from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to stand right here in this very Starbucks.” She probably thought I was nuts. Then I laughed and explained briefly about my mission.
I asked if they had any mugs with Flagstaff on them. No, they didn’t. Personally, I think that every Starbucks should have mugs with their city names on them. Or at least the state / province. Oh well, I found a great mug from there anyway. She took my order, then took a second cup and wrote Flagstaff Starbucks on Milton, with my name on it and handed it to me.
The mug I bought has white words on the white cup. It says:
“Fresh brewed inspiration for the day ahead.”
Perfect for me!
On to the McDonalds.
Chronologically, Caleb and Ana went there first, but I wasn’t trying to actually relive the story. But, yes, I ordered a sundae because the scene centers around the sundae.
I sat in a booth near the back, where he sat with Ana, each learning about the other, trying so hard not to let down their guards, and failing miserably.
And so I sat there, drinking in the atmosphere, hearing the sounds they heard, seeing what they saw, feeling the hardness of the booth seat under me but imagining the soft emotions as the scene played through in my imagination, and I slowly ate Caleb’s sundae.
It was truly magical.
Just like Hollywood, I’m breaking this adventure into multiple parts.
Part 3 will reveal more discoveries I made about myself and my characters while immersing myself in their world.