“But before you can stay here you need to take a shower, I can smell a whiff off of you woooo!” spoke a heavy set older woman in a nightgown at the front door of a hostel in Phoenix.
I just came out of the Tonto Forest after 3 days of working the archaeology and camping. Obviously, I smelled like it.
“There is also a place to wash your clothes around back,” she added. “There are other people sleeping in that room with you and I can’t let you in there smelling like that!”
She was the owner of the hostel, and I really wanted to shower anyway, so I agreed to her terms, paid $20, and handed over my photo ID to be checked. She checked it, and then made a cleverly disguised inquiry about its validity — “How old is this license?” she asked.
I answered correctly. It is my license, though it does not look so much like me anymore. The boy in the picture has a full head of hair, a cleanly shaved face, and a few less strands of old age sinew hanging under his eyes. The boy in the picture also did not have a face full of dirt attached to sunscreen attached to dirt — the hallmark appearance of a traveling archaeologist.
The hostel owner was bold, but she spoke her direct words with a huge smile. Unkind was not a word to define her — rather, she was was the momma-san of this hostel, and all good hostels need a momma-san.
I very rarely have had the opportunity to stay in hostels in my own country. Usually, when I travel around the USA it is for work, and my employer either boots the bill for my room or I camp.
I can remember that on only two occasions have I ever frequented youth hostels in the USA. Once was a weird ball sort of Christian hostel in North Carolina where myself and my girlfriend were the only guest, and the entire place was dark. I think it may have been forbidden to turn the lights on or something like that. The other time that I’ve stayed in an American hostel was when I decided to zip down to Boston on the light rail during a break from an archaeology project in northern Massachusetts. The hostel was over a bar and was more like a storage facility than any place that was suppose to house people.
In point, I always had the impression that hostels in the USA were somehow different than their counterparts abroad.
Then I walked into this hostel in Phoenix.
It was a hostel and stood up to all international standards on the definition of such. Posters of desert places hung in every direction, brochures for other regional hostels sat in a rack by the front door, little gadgets and curios hung from the ceiling, and one wall was full of postcards from round-the-way travelers who glanced back at Phoenix and mailed a note to say that they remember the hostel. There was a large wooden round table that took up half of the common room, a full kitchen for guests to use, a dormitory, and a couple private rooms. All of which was converted out of a standard sized, one story house in downtown Phoenix.
And it was full of people from all over the world who ended up in Phoenix Arizona for some oddball reason: Japan, England, Sweden, and a few stragglers from various parts of the USA.
The best part about this place was the lady who ran it. The old woman, who wears a night gown regardless of the hour of the day, sings beautiful songs as she trudges through the thoroughfares of the hostel looking for some errant guest behavior to set straight. Sometimes her songs are interrupted by a sour scowl and a loud, “Whoever did not do their dishes is going to be banned from the kitchen!”
Sometimes she would try to get the guests off of their laptop computers and convince them that they should go see “some local culture” at a bar around the corner. “There is live music tonight, you should go see some local culture.”
(get off your computer, get drunk, and enjoy Phoenix!)
Or she would say to me, “Don’t you feel better now that you showered?”
I would reply in the affirmative.
“Do your boots stink?” she would then inquire with a bold smile.
“Not any more than any other pair of boots, I suppose.”
“Well I have a super sensitive sense of smell, so if they do stink throw them out on the back porch.”
She then hinted at a smile which was to let me know that her bold words were to be taken seriously, but not rudely.
Then she would go back to her operetta, which would carry through the entire hostel, given the place the feel that a hostel should have — the feeling that you are not at home anymore — that you have traveled and arrived, that you are somewhere where women in nightgowns bellow beautiful operas as you eat your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at a large wooden round table with travelers from Japan eating noodles, a photographer from Cincinnati doing business at his laptop, and a girl from England talking about how backwards American culture is.
Sometimes she would play a piano to accompany her singing, and I would think about how much I like this place, the people here, America.
Then a coo-coo clock would scream the hour with a hideous song, and everyone, together, would stop what they were doing look up at it, apparently thinking the same thing:
That clock is f’cking annoying.
Vagabond Journey Phoenix Series