Most everyone can understand why I would want to leave the great Pacific Northwest after putting in 17 soggy years. What I am being asked is "Why Bisbee?" Why, when I could go pretty much anywhere I want, am I enthusiastically choosing Bisbee, Arizona, population 6,700?
It started exactly 21 days ago in Costa Rica when I was having dinner with a couple of expatriots I had met on line. One of the men stated that he was no longer enchanted with Costa Rica and had rented a house in Bisbee, Arizona. I pictured a rambler in a gated senior community or someplace where old people who are eerily similar drive RV's and park for the winter next to some river. It didn't sound good.
"It's not what you would expect," my friend informed me. "Look it up on the internet when you get home."
He was right. It wasn't at all what I thought. Bisbee is as far from Mesa or Yuma as Berkeley is from Salt Lake City. "Utne Reader" has named Bisbee the most enlightened city in Arizona; Bisbee doesn't merely celebrate diversity, everyone in this old mining town seems to be on a mission to win their village the title of "most tolerant place in the whole United States if not the world." Individuality is honored. Materialism is discouraged. Patience is evident everywhere, from the lines in the grocery store (true, they are not long lines) to the crawling traffic (wouldn't want to hit one of the ever-present well-loved and conscientiously-leashed dogs). No brow furrows, no toe taps, no audible sighs escape from those who wait. Residents greet strangers with the same sincere smiles with which they greet their friends. Look lost and someone will stop and ask if he or she can help you. I was there for four days and didn't hear even one horn honk.
Yes, I read about it and then had to immediately see this Southwest Shangri-La for myself. I flew to Tucson, rented a car, and drove the 90-some miles until I entered the longest tunnel in Arizona and emerged, reborn, at an altitude of about 5,800 feet overlooking a movie-perfect picturesque valley with little houses clinging to the cliffs, blue skies, and colorful rock faces. Even the remains of the mining--mountains of tailings and unbelieveably deep open pits--did not detract from the charm. Distracted, I missed my turn and ended up a little lost down the road. I asked for help and was led, not merely directed, to my destination.
But I am jumping ahead of myself. There is a little more to "Why Bisbee."
I had looked online and read with interest about this great little liberal town in a largely conservative state. I had thoroughly read the Chamber of Commerce site and Nancy Weaver's A Slice o' Bisbee. I'd even talked to a realtor. It all sounded great, but the thought of moving was daunting plus I had never been to Bisbee and knew no one there.
I left the computer long enough to finish unpacking the borrowed suitcase I had taken to Costa Rica so I could return it. I took along my travel pictures and as I showed my friend the photos, I couldn't help noticing a new shiny copper bracelet that she kept twisting on her wrist. "Let me see that," I said reaching for the bracelet. I put it on and said "Pretty! Where did you get it?"
"My father brought it for me when he visited," she said. "He got it somewhere in Arizona. Brisbee?"
By the time I got back on the plane for Seattle, I had bought a house. I know a sign when I see one.