This is part of a writing I did some time ago about a solo trip I took to Arizona in 2018. Read part 0 here.
My flight is running late, due to the foggy, rainy weather outside. I’m running early out of paranoia for my first solo trip of this degree, and my first time flying alone. I drop my checked bag at the counter. It barely makes it under the weight limit and I breathe a sigh of relief.
My parents have come with to drop me off, and since the flight is running late according to the screens, we sit on some benches to the side and chat for a while. I’m nervous, but excited to get on my way. It looks like the CNRA has been remodeled in the last few years, and on a Monday morning, it’s nearly dead. My flight is probably one of the only ones arriving/leaving. Over the next hour or so the estimate keeps changing. Now it’s only a few minutes late, now it’ll be 40 minutes late. Eventually, it seems to settle on a time, and I decide I’d better get through security just in case anything goes wrong.
Airport security makes me nervous every time, even though I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m just always worried I’ve forgotten to take out something that I shouldn’t have and I’ll be accused of being a terrorist. I know it’s a bit silly. It turns out that I’m worried about nothing though. I pass through security in the tiny airport without a hitch, find my waiting area, and settle in to wait using my phone to pass the time. A few others are already here, and more continue to filter in as we wait. These will be my fellow flyers today.
Finally, as I’m looking out the huge windows behind me overlooking the runways, I see a relatively small plane coming in with the Allegiant Airlines logo painted on the side. That’ll be ours. My boarding group is one of the first the flight attendants call out. I’ve chosen an exit row seat in hopes of scoring some extra leg room for my two and a half hour flight.
While standing in line, I end up next to a young couple with several small children. One is playing with a toy car, zooming it along on the window sills, and I smile watching him. Another is running around and bumps into me and the young parents apologize, but I assure them it’s no trouble, and continue to smile watching the little kids with their wild imaginations. I make a brief bit of small talk with the parents and find out they are going to Phoenix for a few days vacation.
Eventually, we make our way down the jet bridge and I duck my head as I pass through the small doorway. Initially, I can’t find my seat as I can’t find anywhere that the row numbers are listed. As it turns out, they are below the overhead cargo bins and I can’t see them well from my high vantage point. An attendant helps me find my seat. I stuff my carry-on bag into the bin, scoot past a woman sitting in the aisle seat of my row, and plop myself into the window seat with my backpack in front of me. I have loads of leg room, I could slump in my seat without my knees touching the seat in front of me. I take a quick shot out my tiny, raindrop covered window over the wing before turning off my phone for departure. No one is in the seat between the woman on the aisle and me, so I have plenty of space.
After sitting on the runway for what seems like a very long time, an attendant comes by and recites a rapid-fire spiel for my fellow exit row passengers and me detailing what our responsibilities will be in the event of an emergency. I don’t really get why people avoid exit rows. It cost me the same amount as a regular seat, and I have far more leg room. The only requirement is that in the VERY unlikely event of an emergency, you have to pull a lever and remove the ~40 lb door. Anybody can do that, and even if you panic in the moment and can’t do it, somebody else will. But you might be surprised what you can do if you’re in a situation like that. Anyway, I don’t mind, because since the row isn’t full I have even more space.
Finally, we taxi out to our runway. The pilot throttles up and we are quickly off the ground, turning toward Phoenix. I haven’t flown in about four years and I enjoy the experience for the most part. There’s a child crying somewhere behind me and I wonder if it belongs to the young couple in the airport. A flight attendant comes by offering drinks and snacks. Although I’m not hungry or thirsty and it’s not even a long flight, I can’t resist ordering a ginger ale and buying a snack assortment pack to munch on, figuring I may as well get the full flying experience. I take an occasional cliche shot over the wing out my window and spend a lot of time staring at the wing covering my direct view down, looking around and beyond it. Sometimes there’s pure cloud beneath us, closer to home. But as we progress, the clouds disappear. For a time it’s very clear and I get a good view of the changing terrain below.
As my plane is landing at Phoenix Mesa airport, this is the moment when what I've done starts to hit me. I’m in Arizona, 2-3 states away from the only place I’ve ever lived, and I don’t know a single person here.
The thing I find myself very thankful for in this moment is that while the Phoenix Mesa airport is far larger than the CNRA, it’s not Phoenix Sky Harbor, the main airport in Phoenix. This airport doesn’t have jet bridges, so as the plane taxis to a stop, a large staircase is rolled up to it. As the doors are opened and everyone stands, stretching, ready to disembark, I too stand - and immediately smack my head on the underside of the overhead bins. I wasn’t built for small spaces like airplane cabins.
As I file out the door and onto the covered, zigzagging stairway down to the tarmac, I’m hit with a blast of dry Arizona air. The weather is gorgeous, not hot, but not cold either. This won’t be the last time I realize or am told that I’ve picked a perfect time to visit Arizona. Apparently this weather is unusually cool for October, and I’m thankful the weather has cooperated with this journey.
I follow my fellow travelers into the airport, and we all begin milling around near the baggage claim, waiting for it to start up. After what seems like an eternity, it begins its slow rotation and bags start appearing. Finally, mine shows up, and I notice the zippers aren’t where I left them. A quick check inside reveals a card informing me that my bag was selected “at random” for a TSA check. Fortunately, they don’t seem to have found anything they didn’t like, and the bag is still in relatively good order.
After a bit of standing around trying to decide what to do first, I decide I should get something to eat, and wander over to a bakery in the terminal for a muffin and a smoothie while I plan my next move. Once seated at a small high-top table, I pull out my phone and open the Uber app which I downloaded ahead of time in an attempt to be on top of things. Upon opening it though, my stomach drops as I see that Uber is not available at the Phoenix Mesa airport. After a bit of panicking at my apparent lack of planning, I finally notice one of the many giant, purple Lyft logos painted all over the airport and realize they must have an exclusivity deal at the airport. So I use some of my precious limited mobile data to download the Lyft app and register for it.
After a bit of fighting and wrestling the app to accept my payment info, I finally have a ride on the way. A few minutes later, I’ve loaded my luggage into Renee’s car and seated myself in the passenger seat for a roughly 40 minute drive to my Airbnb where I’ll be staying for the night. After a bit of backtracking and bumbling around looking for Scot’s place, we finally find it and Renee drops me at the curb.
I crunch across the gravel to a welded steel gate and punch in the code Scot gave me via the Airbnb app and the gate buzzes open. The engineer in me briefly marvels at the design of the locking mechanism. Continuing into the yard, the main house is to my left, and directly ahead I immediately see my lodging for the night: a huge orange shipping container. From the outside, the container looks pretty normal, except of course for the fact that most of one whole side has been removed in favor of a sliding glass door.
As instructed by Scot, I approach and tug on the huge door on the end and it swings open revealing the yawning entrance to my abode for the night. It’s small but cozy. The original wood floor of the container remains, but the walls and ceiling have been drywalled. The ceiling has a large skylight with bars across it. I briefly enjoy the view outside the sliding glass doors, and notice another guest house behind the main house, before closing the curtains for a bit of privacy while I settle in and finish exploring the small space. A small bed covered in throw pillows sits against the wall in the middle of the room. A TV hangs on the wall in the corner, and on the far end wall, a small counter with a couple stools has been installed. I initially get excited when I spot an old style refrigerator on the floor. It turns out to be modern, made to look older with old-fashioned handles. The counter houses a microwave, and a Keurig with an assortment of K-cups. A window air conditioner has been installed in the wall above.
The place is entirely cozy. I love it right away and begin to settle myself in for the next few hours. I shoot Scot a quick message on Airbnb to let him know I got in alright, and ask him if he has any recommendations for local eateries I should try. He suggests a couple, including one called The Taco Guild which I decide to try later.
My appointment with Steve isn’t until 7, so I have a few hours to kill. I open Lyft once again and Michael drives me to the shop I read about online called Curious Nature. Along the way, we chat and laugh about having the same name.
The store is a strange little space brimming with taxidermy, skulls, wet specimens, rocks, minerals, and other natural oddities. Almost immediately I spot two mineral samples that I have wanted for years and snag a sample of each to buy. I also buy a few souvenirs for my girlfriend and some for my friend who is taking care of my house and cat while I’m away. I look at a few skulls and several insects encased in resin, but decide against them after seeing the price tags.
After I’ve seen everything there is to see, I pay for my new finds and head outside to meet Ron, another Lyft driver, who is taking me to the Taco Guild for some dinner. The place is fascinating, an old church that has been remodeled into a gastropub. I seat myself at the bar and order a burrito and beer from the menu and sit down to eat, peering around the room at the locals, the partiers, and the tourists who are taking photos of the restaurant's unique interior.
Dinner takes longer than expected so I’m running late. I text Steve’s assistant Jenna that I’ll be late, but that I will be there as soon as I can and she assures me it is fine. I finish my meal and call for another Lyft to take me to Steve’s studio. As Jeff drops me at the curb in a quiet cul-de-sac I wonder what I’m getting myself into. I’m about to enter a complete stranger’s home, in a strange city, to let him perform experimental, unprofessional (technically, although I'd say it's pretty dang professional) surgery on me in his basement. But it’s too late to turn back now, so I ring the bell, and a few moments later, Steve Haworth answers the door and welcomes me into his home.
I won't go into the full details of the procedure here. I may write about it here some day, but suffice it to say, I do survive. It isn't a pleasant experience, and I pass out briefly (I seem to pass out very easily under a lot of circumstances), but when all is said and done, I have a magnet in my finger. Something I have dreamed about for several years, but never thought would actually happen.
When the procedure is all finished, I am given a bag of accessories to help with the healing process along with some brief instructions. Steve even offers to drive me back to my Airbnb so that I don’t have to call another Lyft. On the ride back in his pickup, we discuss some of the ideas I have for how to use the magnet and he asks me to keep him in the loop if I succeed in any of my creations. He says very few people actually send him updates on the uses they find.
Once back at the Airbnb, I remove the band-aid for a look at the small incision and the single stitch holding it closed. It’s a bit swollen and tender, but not too bad. I spray it with the saline spray I was given and re-bandage it before going to bed. The bed is a bit short for me, more of a futon really, but being my height, I’m quite used to this by this point. I stare through the skylight above me at the stars for a bit before turning on my side and falling asleep quite quickly. After all, it has been a long day of new experiences.
Read part 2 here.