There’s something wrong with these people. That’s what I thought when my husband and I bought a vacation home in Kingman – a land five hours and a world away. First off, they seem unnaturally happy and smile all the time.
How creepy is that?
When you pass someone on the street, they wave and ask, “How are you today?” And they hold doors open for me and call me “ma’am.” This polite deference to my age immediately roused my suspicions.
Their overt niceness had to be an elaborate ruse to dupe interloping Californians into a false sense of security. And when we relaxed our guard, they’d brandish their right-to-carry sidearms and rob us blind – or at least until we needed glasses.
Despite my unease, I soon fell into a routine. Every morning I pour out of bed at sunrise to walk before the sun boiled my brain right through my hat. I’m not normally an early riser, but when that orange globe peeks over the mountains, it screams, “Get up, you lazy bum!” It actually says that.
Kingman is very hilly and combined with its 3,700-foot altitude a good brisk walk really gets the heart pumping.
There, instead of grass, people’s yards are covered with crushed stones, accented by river rocks arranged to simulate a flowing stream. One day, as I walked a particularly tough stretch of frontage road – 7/10 of a mile, all uphill – I noticed that one of these river rocks was in the gutter. And on the opposite side of the road, another stone sat in the gutter. That’s odd, I thought. Those stones are heavy. Even the 30-mile-an-hour winds typical of Kingman’s third season: Windy – the other two are Hot and Cold – couldn’t blow a 10-pound rock into the gutter.
The next day on my walk, I found that the stones had multiplied. Smaller stones had suddenly appeared on top of the large ones.
I wondered if it was some kind of signal. The frontage road sat outside city limits, just past the cattle guard, so a lot of late-night drug-and-alcohol-fueled partying went on beyond the patrol of the local sheriff.
But finally I figured it out. The stones had to be a signal to drug dealers. One stone to place an order; two to pick it up. That had to be it.
An old family friend lives in Kingman, so I told her about the stones. I was about to elaborate on my drug-dealer theory, when she said, “Yeah, people stack rocks in the gutters as stepping stones for the baby quail. They’re too little to jump onto the curb.”
Baby quail! Springtime in Arizona is like “Make Way for Ducklings,” but with quail. Quailings? Boy, I felt stupid. And it got me thinking.
If I was wrong about this, were my other assumptions wrong, too?
Maybe the people of Kingman really are happy and friendly and polite. Maybe they do care about how my day is going.
And maybe, just maybe, this cynical Californian could learn something from them.