I was enjoying our weekend until I saw the article.
At the time, my bride and I were sharing breakfast on the porch of the Copper Queen hotel, planet Bisbee’s grand old mother ship.
Here’s something you should know about Bisbee, the town too hip to die. It’s located southeast of Tombstone and a block west of the intersection of Haight and Ashbury.
In the last century, Bisbee boomed thanks to copper. In this century, Bisbee gets by on a hemp- and granola-based economy where two Birkenstocks and a vial of patchouli oil can get you a room for the night.
I love Bisbee because it embraces eccentrics, iconoclasts and, if I weren’t hallucinating on our way to the blues fest, one Doberman wearing a pink tutu. I’ve never seen so many silver ponytails held in place with orthopedic hair bands before, and that’s because when the magic bus left Woodstock it stopped here in Bisbee and never left.
Literally cooler than Tucson, Bisbee features the funkiest gilded-age architecture and finger-snapping atomic-age kitsch south of Bobby Darin’s halo. It’s a post-apocalyptic Bong Island where the love and peace lattes are served in a communal lava lamp goblet shared by vintage hipsters, vets, hippies and hip-replacement candidates who all somehow “get by.” And the art of “getting by” is the subject of Bisbee’s sermon for all to see and hear.
And this is where I return to our breakfast at the Copper Queen.
I had just finished my organic, cruelty free granola and sipped my herbal free-range tea when the magazine blurb about economist Tyler Cowen caught my eye. In his book “Average Is Over,” Cowen argues the rich will get richer. And the middle class will thin out like Gollum’s hair.
The only upward mobility our youth will enjoy is hopping on the escalator up to the Apple Store and only after working a double shift serving Starbucks to we old bones and crones who will desperately cling to our jobs and our prosperity well past dementia. Only the exceptional youth, Cowen argues, will break through to economic Elysium.
Cowen wrote: “Imagine a very large bohemian class of the sort that, say, lives in parts of Brooklyn. … It will be culturally upper or upper-middle class, but there will be the income of lower-middle class. They may have lives that are quite happy and rewarding, but they may not have a lot of savings. There will be a certain fragility to this existence.”
And here we were in Bisbee, the culturally upper-class patchwork-opolis of bohemians and junkyard recyclers Cowen describes. The future is here in these Wile E. Coyote canyons.
How many of we “middle-class” muddlers already scavenge dollar stores and thrift shops, creatively improvising the appearance of prosperity? I do. How many of us find our contentment and happiness in the immaterial like the karma seekers of old Bisbee? I try.
On Saturday, Cowen’s prophecies tagged along as we biked to the farmers market in nearby Warren. Home gardeners hawked Eden’s cornucopia as we walked among a beautiful blend of refugees from the ’68 Chicago riots and the cast of “The Milagro Beanfield War.” I overheard the words “sustainable” and downed a spiritual shot glass of community interdependence.
Back on Main Street, I saw an artist’s six-cylinder junker, sprouting doll heads on the hood and a bumper sticker that summed up the place:
“Bisbee: Mayberry on acid.”
Was that Floyd, the barber, I saw sporting a ponytail? I definitely saw Aunt Bee peddling aromatherapy candles and yes, that was Opie hustling lunch money by channeling Bob Dylan in front of the bookstore. Mayberry’s middle class was long gone. Sheriff Andy Taylor took the post-war glory days with him to the grave.
It’s not a bad existence in Bis-bohemia. Thuy’s Noodle Shop is the best Vietnamese restaurant east of Da Nang, Cafe Roka is the finest five-star restaurant west of Sardi’s, and nothing beats chilling in your vintage trailer at the Shady Dell watching Lucy and Ricky on an antique TV while listening to 1953 piped in over your radio live.
If you’re out of luck, there’s always room in somebody’s shoulder-length dreadlocks where a self-described “middle-class” family of four can chill, craft wind chimes out of fine china shards and roll smokes out of old Wall Street Journals. In an “average is over” world Bisbee, is an above-average refuge.
Saturday afternoon, on our way out, we wandered up into the hills, past luminous murals, a stunning art deco courthouse and into beautiful St. Patrick’s. In the basement of the old church a choir practiced while we basked in the stained light of the exquisite windows.
I eavesdropped on a lone penitent reciting his prayers below the Blessed Virgin. I lighted a candle and prayed for my kids.