View over Prescott looking north to Thumb Butte and Granite Mountain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Welcome to the Land of the Limp Pt.1
By Steve Healey
After 60+ years as a Jersey Boy, for the first time I have a drivers’ license from a different state. I moved to Arizona last year and looking at a “foreign” drivers’ license with my name and picture was just the first shock of not being in Jersey anymore.
Living in Prescott, AZ, is nothing like living anywhere in New Jersey. Unless they’ve been here, everyone instantly pictures desert and hot weather when they think of Arizona. While that is true in the southern part of the state, Prescott is up in the mountains of central Arizona. The temperatures run about 20 degrees lower than Phoenix on average and can actually get into the teens and twenties on winter nights. Because Prescott is a mile above sea level, temperatures rarely get above the lower 90’s in the summertime.
As a major retirement and tourist destination, Prescott has many different types of people – artists and their art galleries; bikers and biker bars; cowboys and cowboy bars; tourists and their Mexican and Indian restaurants. Kind of like Haddon Avenue with more cowboys and less gays.
People are very friendly out here. Everyone in Prescott says hello and waves to everyone else. The hardest thing to get used to is that they use all five fingers when they wave instead of just one finger like in Jersey.
In addition to a full arsenal of gift shops, restaurants, bars and galleries, downtown Prescott also comes complete with a court house square that could have been used as a town double in the Back to the Future movies. All that’s missing is a DeLorean and Christopher Lloyd playing a wild-haired crazy professor though there do seem to be a fair number of characters in Prescott who could easily fill that role. The town square features a statue of Bucky O’Neill, a former sheriff and local Roughrider who rode with Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba. Prescott is very proud of its history as a one-time capital of the Arizona territory, for being the last major civilization center before heading north to the Grand Canyon and for being the birthplace of the rodeo which debuted in Prescott in 1888. Most stores have bowls with water set out to support the enormous population of dogs one of which is owned by almost every Prescottonian.
Prescott has a history of being a town of bars and fires. Two major fires almost completely ruined Prescott - one in 1883 and one in 1900. The latter fire completely demolished a large part of Montezuma St – which was and is still known as Whiskey Row - but that did nothing to stop the partying. Patrons “rescued” the alcohol from the burning establishments and carried it across the street to the square. Pianos were also evacuated and within an hour, makeshift bars were erected and serving drinks, gambling tables were set up to continue to fleece the unsuspecting and the piano players were trying to drown each other out in a cacophony of piano renditions of Stephen Foster and John Philip Sousa. The next day twelve of the establishments had set up shop using lumber and nails provided by the town commissioners. The bar inside The Palace, one of the more popular gambling halls and saloons, was built in 1880 and was also carried across the street by patrons. The Palace was rebuilt and the bar is still in use today.
No mention is made as to where the brothels were relocated.
Today, the main bar scene in Prescott is still Whiskey Row. Some of the establishments – The Palace, Jersey Lil’s, The Lone Spur Café and The Bird Cage – seem to harken back to the days of the great Prescott fires. Except for the Lynard Skynard music on the juke box music and neon beer signs in the windows, walking in the door in some of these establishments is almost like a trip back through time.
The Earp brothers and Doc Holliday were patrons of The Palace on an extended layover before heading to Tombstone. Legend has it is that Holiday once won $10,000 playing faro at The Palace. Virgil Earp was a mine owner, farmer, deputy county sheriff and constable at various times in Prescott, but eventually moved on to Tombstone with his brothers and a date with history at the OK Corral. Holliday and his girlfriend, Big Nose Kate, lingered in Prescott for a while after the Earp clan moved on to Tombstone joining them in time for their infamous OK Corral showdown.
There is a huge presence of motorcycle riders in Prescott and, because it is in one of the most beautiful areas in the Southwest, the town is a magnet for crowds of weekend bikers. Pulling into town in their leather jackets and gray hair extensions under paisley bandanas, the streets are lined on Saturday and Sunday with leather and denim armored accountants and HR executives and their spouses, trying their best to look like they just stepped out of a Grandparents of Anarchy video. It’s easy to distinguish them from the real bikers who hang outside the local watering holes, cigarettes in hand, telling each other “war” stories of the last time a cop tried to pull them over.
Being the Home of the Rodeo, the cowboy culture is also still a major component of life in Prescott. Wearing hats the size of a small county in Delaware, the cowboys can be recognized at a distance from their unique silhouettes. Sometimes the hats are so big, they interfere with their rifle racks and completely block out the back window of their pickup trucks. Windshield-mounted rear-view mirrors in these trucks are merely a suggestion. The gift shops are loaded with cowboy hats and accessories, statues of road runners, weathered steer horns and horse shoes shaped into family surnames. Many shops also sell artwork and handicrafts from local Indian artists though most better-quality products are marked up to a level at least equivalent to a mortgage payment on a medium sized house.
The most predominate single group in Prescott, however, is the retirees. During the summer months when free concerts are held on the court house square, the plaza turns into a mobile cotton field. Solid packs of gray, silver and white hair moving as far as the eye can see. The stores are full. The restaurants are full. The streets are full of Q-tip people walking their dogs, carrying their lawn chairs, trying to remember what their neighbors look like because they may end up sitting next to them. Because of this large population of seniors, I’ve begun to refer to Prescott as the Land of the Limp.
Almost everyone limps in the Land of the Limp.