Saturday, October 15, 2016
Tequila Sunrise, NAU homecoming morning, Flagstaff, Arizona: an anthropological study
Today is Tequila Sunrise in Flagstaff, Arizona, when the downtown bars open at 6 a.m. for homecoming. My first sight, when I walked out my door at 7:26 a.m., as I took in the bright yellow fall colors of the morning sunlight, was a kid across the street in a black T-shirt and sunglasses, throwing up. Then he took a selfie of himself. Then a black car pulled up in the alley where the party was going on, already thumping before 6 a.m., and about 20 coeds in mini-skirts came out of the vehicle like a clown car. This must all be documented. I might have my only beer of the year at daybreak. The long black clown car, no doubt picking up the girls in the pre-day dark, has its headlights still on, parked in the sunrise.
Down San Francisco Street toward downtown, rivers of people moving with me. Startled even more awake by the blaring of the music at the Southside Tavern. The bouncers all wearing shades, all much older in their babysitting mission. Cops everywhere, four riding bicycles, two running on foot, race across San Francisco ... every train going by, say every 10 minutes, sounds their horn in violation of the usual railroad policy when going through town.
Everyone seems to be energized, but dazed, in "Why am I not sleeping" looks. Already, in my first five minutes, I've seen two arrests. Loaded into a Department of Public Safety vehicle, highway patrol. No selfie. Three blues, one brown. They are out early, in force, for a little duck hunting.
Outside the Green Room, there is a waiting line out the door and down the block. More train horns, a dangerously loud beat of pop music is coming from the bar. ID checked. One guy with a fake, maybe 18, maybe, turned away. I plunge into the cavernous melee with sunglasses on, can't see a thing but the Blue Oyster Cult of stage lights. My shoes come untied as someone bumps into me, then someone steps on my shoelace and that foot is stopped in its tracks as I stumble forward. I almost fall over as I notice the place is way too hot for my morning leather jacket.
In the artificial night of this place, with only daylight coming through the front door, all of the boys and girls are just standing around, and then deeper into the cave, people are dancing, somewhat. Everyone is drinking. Yelling at each other. Every now and then someone does a half-hearted move to the beat. It's been thirty years since I've been able to hear a conversation in a bar.
This is not wild abandon. This is mass conformity.
I go deeper into the crowd, into the swill of pheromones, raging hormones, a little wobbly, slow as a turtle, due to knees injured playing high school football, Should have known then. Should. Have. Known. Guy goes "Woe buddy" like I was one of the drunks. But I keep my distance. Don't want to be associated with this body of humanity, all wired up in the ether of cell phone traffic. Get bumped into again and again as the next generation races through. But I am still standing. My rehabbed knees holding me up, In fact, seems to be one of my better days. Little pain. Must be the beer.
But my first alcohol of the year, and surely the last, doesn't taste any weirder than any other time of the day.
I move even closer to the music. Oh God, the vibration, as people sing to a thumped-up version of "Wonderwall," originally for Oasis, but now turned up for the rave. Usually, by 9 a.m., I would be listening to the softer, acoustic Ryan Adams version. The music's endless bounce causes my groin to buzz, or am I born again?
Must remember not to lean on counters. My leather jacket sticks to these rare surfaces like fly paper.
As each moment passes in the pandemonium, I drink my beer of the year ever more quickly. Living in the moment is impossible here. The energy is immortal and headstrong. I feel the gotta-get-outta here fast urge as a single round bright stage light, 10 times brighter than the moon, ignites a song with the endlessly repeated line, "Lose your mind. Lose your mind. Lose your mind."
I go outside and talk to the smokers, trying to ask questions. But asking a college kid if beer tastes any different at 6 a.m. is like asking a fish how it feels to swim.
So I head back up stream, against the furious flow and increasingly staggering people on the way to the Green Room. The alley is paved, but alleys are great in old style mountain towns, and Flagstaff beats them all with murals painted on the outside of the building walls and a lot of posters up for coming events. I take notes near a garbage can. It's full of empty, ripped open boxes for 100 percent pure beef burgers, Red Bull and Budweiser.
Asked a guy my age about being out and about with people three times our junior. He says the Tequila Sunrise event, a tradition for decades, was "much worse" in 1978, when he graduated from Northern Arizona University. More fights, he says. More trouble. Losing your mind is now apparently more harnessed, more perfected now.
More cops around now, he says.
Must remember not to jaywalk. The dogs are out, feeding. I was warned not to let anybody throw up on me. So far, so good.
At Beaver and Aspen streets, there are barricades for pedestrian traffic. People are milling around, but mostly standing in clusters, while loose singles, guided by smart phones, find their friends and greet them excitedly, like they haven't seen each other for twenty years. There are people smoking and watching from upstory windows overlooking the street. This is all supposed to end at noon, but the stillness of the crowds in the line seems to indicate some kind of mid-morning entropy.
And the soul, at what moment is it reborn? At birth. At death? When you finally get into the latest hot spot to feel of the overwhelming wash of hip-hop amid a mob of people the same age?
Finally, I rest far from the crowds, sitting in a courtyard of shops, boutiques, eateries and bars right off Route 66. There is a guy playing flute for tips along the road. There is peace. A slight wind. Autumn leaves blowing around. Two crab apples fall off a tree. Then there more horn as the train goes by. Then there are cars going by turbulatin' their anxious energies up and down the Mother Road. Then a guy sits nearby, and he's on his phone, saying "I'm too drunk. I can't understand you. I'm at Rooftop Solar. yeah, Rooftop Solar." But there is nothing called Rooftop Solar around, and we are at street level.
Vamped up girls carry each other up and down the street, two drunk for two legs, by weaving wobblies with four. The sun is close to noon height. The inebriated are melting before my eyes. Doesn't the underworld have rules for this?