My husband and I were vacationing in Arizona when we encountered a ghost town.
It wasn’t the ordinary sort of ghost town, neither the kind with re-created western storefronts and actors playing at gunfights and saloons that serve sarsaparilla nor the kind that are abandoned towns of the 1930s or 50s that sport completely empty streets, dilapidated houses, decrepit main streets, and sand-filled parks and parking lots.
This was something else again.
We were in Arizona for the silliest of reasons. We had decided to visit the small town of Benson, based entirely on the name of the theme song of the little-known sci-fi movie Dark Star. It’s a charming little country-and-western number on the topic of special relativity. Here’s the best recording of it I could find: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2F0dHVZAm8
It turned out to be a swell vacation. Very relaxing. The nearest city of any size was Tucson, Benson was surrounded by scenic mountains, there were an excellent restaurant and a great diner (also a noted barbecue joint, but it was closed because the chef had cut himself), and not a great deal else.
But Benson was a good jumping-off point for assorted day trips. One of the best was to Kartchner Cavern (http://azstateparks.com/Parks/KACA/), which was the most accessible and best-preserved cave I’ve ever seen, but also a delight because the tour guide actually used the word “adit,” which is usually encountered only in crossword puzzles.
On this particular day we were visiting the copper-mining town of Bisbee. Noted for its historical significance and its artist-colony vibe, Bisbee was a delightful town to explore. There was a bicycle race going through town that day, which provided some very intriguing sights of the buff-guys-in-skintight-shorts variety. I also indulged my fondness for semiprecious stones. They are available all over the southeastern Arizona area, but Bisbee’s shops provided some of the most attractive examples. I bought an iolite bracelet at one. (A little bluer than amethyst, iolite is lovely set in silver http://www.minerals.net/gemstone/iolite_gemstone.aspx.)
At some point during our ramble around Bisbee, I had picked up a real estate paper, and read in it about a restaurant/bar/orchard for sale, complete with liquor, as the owners had abandoned it. It sounded unusual and interesting, and on the way out of town we passed what had to be the same property.
It inspired us. We started daydreaming about how we could buy the property with our friends Sandy and Hugh. Sandy and I could run the bar while Dan and Hugh tended the pecan orchard and baked pies. Or Dan and I could run the restaurant while Hugh and Sandy set up stables for boarding horses. Or we could all drink up the liquor and abandon the place as the previous owners had.
Our next destination that day was Chiricahua National Monument, a place of spectacular formations that looked like God had played Jenga with rocks. We were chatting and driving merrily along when I noticed the gas gauge. It was at zero. Not near zero. Not approaching zero. The needle was actually on the red line.
We looked at our map. Nothing. No thing. Not a thing between us and Chiricahua. Not even a symbol that indicated food, gas, and lodging.
Actually, there was something between us and Chiricahua. Miles and miles of nothing.
It’s pretty well known that when the needle hits the red line, there is still actually some small amount of gas left in the car. The thing is, you never know how much or how far it will take you. In our case, it looked like the rental car might take us just a little closer to Absolutely Nothing.
As couples will, Dan and I began to bicker. Who should have reminded whom to get gas on the way out of Bisbee? Would driving faster or slower conserve more fuel? Could we arrange to run out of gas on a downhill slope so the car would be easier to push? What were the odds of getting a cell phone signal? Why were we so stupid, and unlucky, and screwed?
Then, ahead in the not-too-distant distance, a smudge appeared on the horizon. As we crept nearer, the smudge resolved into a few lonely buildings. We both started humming the Twilight Zone theme.
It was a town. Not much of a town and not on the map, which still indicated that we were nowhere. But it was there, and it was a town with two buildings.
And one of them was a gas station. (The other was a post office, which I can’t imagine was very busy.) So we got gas and a couple of cold drinks and didn’t have to die of heatstroke walking forward to Chiricahua or back to Bisbee. We thanked the attendant (who was not Rod Serling) kindly and went on our way, letting the smudge of a town disappear in our rearview mirror.
I suppose I should have asked the clerk’s name, or the town’s name, but it never occurred to me to do so. We were simply awed and grateful and more than a little amazed.
And we decided that the moral of the story was this: It’s better to be smart, but if you can’t do that, it’s even better to be lucky.