by Natalie Rose
noun ad·just·ment \ə-ˈjəs(t)-mənt\
: a change that makes it possible for a person to do better or work better in a new situation
After living in big cities on the east and west coast, and even in that Jackson Pollack-esque splatter of freeways and tract houses two hours south of here, Flagstaff can sometimes feel like that ambitiously small pair of jeans in the closet that never stretch to my actual size. At just under 70,000 people, it’s the least populated place I’ve ever lived. It is by far the most intimate.
Flagstaff is a web of connectivity, and its connectedness can be an advantage. It takes less than ten minutes to drive across town. Even at the peak of dinner hour on a Friday night, I only have to wait five minutes at that quirky pizza place with pies that transport me back to Brooklyn. Any time I’m walking about town, I see someone I know. When I ask how they’re doing, they reply by gushing about the art they make or the hikes they like or the status of the 1950s telephone booth they purchased.
Before I moved to Flagstaff, I liked my cities big. Big cities allowed me to be unknown. I could walk down the street and no one would say hello or ask me how I was doing. I could go to the bodega at three o’clock in the morning to buy cigarettes, beer, frozen yogurt and toilet paper and the clerk wouldn’t bat an eyelash as long as my money was green. (Speaking of bodegas, in the big cities, they’re open 24/7.) I could engage in questionable behavior with questionable people and not one soul cared. After a childhood of exposure, this anonymity was like fire in the dark – intoxicating.
In contrast, the exposure in Flagstaff makes me re-evaluate almost every public thing I do. Was I fake nice enough to that store clerk who was genuinely nice to me? Was it necessary to bitch out the realtor last summer who screwed us over on a house deal? He had all the decent listings last summer… The other night at aforementioned quirky pizza place, when the hostess sent us to a bar to wait for twenty minutes, then called us back for our table after only five and wouldn’t let us drink our freshly purchased beers there, I almost lost it. As we walked back to the bar to finish up, I fumed, “If this was New York this wouldn’t happen!” I’m sure my fiancé was thinking, “If this was New York we wouldn’t even sit down for another two hours.” We drank our beers and went back for the best pizza I’ve ever had.
No one that I know says, “I have to live in Flagstaff.” It’s not like there’s a wealth of resources here, no booming industry that I can see, unless you count the Purina dog food plant. The largest industry is the university, and that seems like a pretty sweet gig to me. The point is Flagstaff is not a town where you get stuck. It’s a town you fight to be in, and if that requires change, it’s change for the better.
I don’t miss those big-city-living days. They’re for the young and the restless, like Keith Richards or Patti Smith. I’m not quite acclimated to smallish town life (I flipped of a truck the other day that cut me off, calling the driver a reckless, sh*t-eating jellyfish), but I’m adjusting.