More than a few years back, an old friend of mine from El Paso spent some time in Houston. He was there for tests at MD Anderson hospital. At night, he stayed at his sister's house. She lived in a well-managed, well-manicured, gated community just outside the city. "At first, it was great," he said. "You could set your watch by when the paper hit the porch every morning, or when the street sweepers swooshed by." Yet, by the end of the week, he was nearly crazy. He couldn't wait to get to the hospital every day to get more bad news.
My friend's tale helps me understand the mystery of Bisbee. For some people, Bisbee is a step back in time, a drive through the tunnel to a past that most have forgotten. For others, the charm is in funky Bisbee, the town where you can hang out and reinvent yourself. For others it is weird Bisbee, the town that Charles Manson said he would retire to, if he ever gets out of jail.
These images don't do it for me. For me the image that sums it all up is the cracked cup. I can't remember where I heard it, but the image seems like something Anne Lamott would use. The cracked cup stands for the real and broken world, instead of a fake world that is paved and painted over, with green lawns, golf courses, and BMWs everywhere. This is a world hermetically sealed off from the decaying and moldy stuff, a world made shiny and new by our developer-gurus, intent on shoving all that is not new and recently-bought out of sight.
To the more spiritually awake, all that perfection means certain death. The cracked cup stands for the imperfect, the crooked, the smelly, the truly alive, life that is not filled with death. Only when a little something is wrong, or twisted, or chipped can the spirit or grace worm its way in. To me, that's Bisbee's secret, the source of its elemental spirits.
If our town were a smile it would have a tooth missing. When someone in town fixes a place up, someone else two doors down decides to let her place go a little more. No home delivery for the mail. Restaurants whose hours of operation sometimes remain a dark mystery. (Even Bisbee resident are not amused by this particular show of quirkiness.)
photo by Joanna Yates
A trailer park that has become a national museum for old Air Streams. A huge hole in the ground, as if some giant Star Ship stood off the surface of the earth and fired its laser guns down. And it's not just the artists who discovered the cracked cup; the miners who went down into the bowels of the earth and slept in shacks in shifts around the clock knew a thing or two about the joys of imperfection. (For a photo tour of Bisbee go here.)
All this imperfection is what makes visitors to our town break out into a smile. And, in truth, it causes elected officials some big headaches. Each time we start talking about improving things, from sewers to cell towers, some people in town break out into a big sweat. They wonder if our improvements are going to make the funkiness go away.
As far as I can tell, that's not even remotely possible. Speaking for myself, I just want to get the wastewater system overhauled and state and federal regulators off our backs. I want to pave some streets, get some modern telecommunications going like cable Internet or wireless via cell towers, do some more advertising to help the tourist business. Things like that.