Going Topless in Prescott
“In the summertime when the weather is fine, You could stretch right up and touch the sky”
– In The Summertime, Mungo Jerry
It’s a beautiful early summer day and a great time to be topless in Prescott. Riding around with the car’s convertible roof down allows me to take in the full view of the sunny day without any blind spots. This weekend is the Prescott Bluegrass Music Festival and a parking space is not to be found. The Prescott Punitive Parking Patrol is working overtime to ticket cars that have exceeded their two-hour limit. Most streets within a few blocks of the courthouse, where the stages are set up, have a two-hour parking restriction. Even the municipal parking garage, normally free, is charging $5.00 for parking. It’s a payday weekend for the City of Prescott.
License plates reflect the diverse crowd attending the festival. In addition to the normal weekend influx of California “aliens,” there is an abnormally large mix of festival goers from New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Texas. Coming to see bands such as the Mars Hillbillies, the Thumb Brutes, and the Sonoran Dogs, the feel good bluegrass-loving crowds even seem to have tempered the biker hordes who descend on Whiskey Row each weekend. I bet the cowboy impersonators haven’t even had to pull their revolvers out once all afternoon.
Everybody seems to be in a Willie Nelson-sort of mood.
It takes me almost fifteen minutes to make my way around a couple block area near the courthouse in my vain attempt to park. I drive the streets, half-heartedly searching for that elusive Holy Grail – the seemingly non-existent on-street parking space. The crowds are overflowing the sidewalks with people trying to determine whether to wait for the next act or go get some pizza. Deciding which bar to go into and toss back a few. Maybe hit the tourist shops plying local made Indian jewelry, cowgirl design aprons, and reproduction spittoons. The serious art galleries aren’t seeing much in the way of foot traffic, but the souvenir shops are having a banner day as the dobro and fiddle aficionados purchase roadrunner refrigerator magnets and baseball caps that prove someone in China knows how to correctly spell Prescott.
Dogs are everywhere. Big dogs. Little dogs. Cute dogs and some of the homeliest dogs in the world. Greyhounds and Labs. Poodles and Chihuahuas. Basset Hounds, Border Collies, and plain old mutts. So many dogs are sporting red or blue bandanas that I’m certain a canine version of a Crips and Bloods rumble is about to break out.
Fortunately, the only thing really rumbling at this point is my stomach. My plan had been to have a coffee and muffin at the Wild Iris, one of my favorite coffee hangouts. Their tiny parking lot quickly has me backing out onto the street, as there is not a single spot available. I head to Old World Bagel, easily the best bagel shop in central Arizona. I spy a parking space, but an aging Jesse Ventura lookalike on a Harley trike and the driver of a big pickup truck are arguing over it. The truck driver looks like a Chuck Norris “Walker, Texas Ranger” acolyte and I wonder if he has a six-shooter on his hip. That standoff doesn’t look like anything I want to be within three miles of. Time to move on.
As I drive past Batterman’s Auction, Guns, and Antiques, I notice rather large crowds near the entrances. I’m wondering if people are stopping by to view the items coming up in their next auction, which, according to their website, includes a framed fossilized palm leaf, a ‘75 Corvette Sting Ray, and a Cape buffalo head ready for hanging over the fireplace of your choice. One of the real show stoppers – and people stoppers – in the auction will be the Dierkman .50 caliber semi-automatic rifle. The round in this weapon is the same size as those used in machine guns on fighter planes. You can be sure a shot fired from this rifle will not just stop an elephant, but the entire herd as well. Another NRA–approved long arm deemed perfect for target shooting – especially if your target is an M1 Abrams tank. With a projected selling price of $35,000, it’s an ammo-sexual’s wet dream.
Not finding a place to perch near any of my favorite java outlets, I settle for the Wal-Mart of coffee shops – Starbucks. Plenty of room in their parking lot for the convertible and plenty of room inside to sit. And, as usual, the parade of characters at Starbucks could well fit a “Seinfeld” episode. The baristas, with their wild eyes, beards, and long hair, resemble a cross between a pair of caffeine-pumped Rasputins and couple of aging philosophy professors. The bicycle rider with the too tight athletic shorts and shirt makes me jealous because I couldn’t wear that outfit without looking like a green and white striped sausage. A very well-dressed woman, who looks as though a small house could be bought with her investment in plastic surgery, is reading the Wall Street Journal. A 40–something guy is trying to start a conversation with a very attractive woman half his age. She is sitting next to him on one of the big leather chairs. The fact he’s wearing a wedding ring might be impeding his progress. A mother and grown daughter seem to be conspiratorially planning the best way to sabotage the relationship between an ex-husband and his new girlfriend.
At a table next to me are a boy and his father, one reading a book and the other on a computer. Typical setting except that the father is on the computer and the boy, who looks to be maybe eight or nine, is reading a book and listening to headphones. Seeing the young man reading a real book strikes me as one of those rare moments when it seems there may actually be a future for the human race.
After finishing my mortgage-payment priced coffee, it’s time to get moving again. As I cross Sheldon and drive up Cortez toward the courthouse, I notice that the crowds have not lessened in the least. The antique shops are doing a brisk business as are the Mexican, Indian and Chinese restaurants. I try to stay out from under the trees surrounding the courthouse. You never know when a bird will decide that an open convertible makes the perfect target. I decide to take one more spin around the block. I am reluctant to end this wonderful top-down voyage on such a beautiful afternoon.
Two blocks past the courthouse, I decide to turn onto a side street and head back home. As I come around the corner, I spot four police cars in a parking lot. No lights are flashing – that’s a good sign. Then I see six or seven police officers standing in a group near the cars. At least four of the officers have automatic weapons slung around their necks. I assume it’s a staging area. With the car roof down, I can see the entire panorama in my rear view mirror as I pass the anticipatory task force. They are just standing around and waiting. Just waiting. In my mind, I’m afraid to ask, “Waiting for what?”
Even in Prescott, the idyllic and peaceful little town that could have been the setting for the Back to the Future movies, there is an underlying fear. Be ready at any time for violence. And be ready at any time to fight that violence with even more violence.
In the past, a concert like this would have a couple police officers patrolling the crowd to arrest the people who drank too much and got rowdy or the potheads who smoked themselves stupid and got caught. Today, feeling secure, even at a bluegrass festival in Prescott, Arizona, which bills itself as “Everyone’s Hometown,” requires a local militia with enough firepower to invade a small country.
I drive home with mixed thoughts after the encounter with Prescott’s anti-terrorism team. It was fun to spend an incredible sunny afternoon riding around topless, seeing everyone enjoying the town, the music, and the great weather. What a shame that the dark cloud of paranoia, though hidden on a side street, had to cast a shadow on such a beautiful summer day.
Welcome to the new reality.