Next Stop: Cornville.

By Michael Kew

Photos: Kew.

CORNVILLE IS A GREAT NAME for Cornville, but I saw no cornfields there. A dusty wash of early-winter rural life, something you’d expect to see in Kansas—or Arizona. Most cars were full-sized American pickups, most folks were missing a few teeth, and I half-expected to hear random mid-day gunfire.

Cornville was originally named Pitchner Place, when it was just a post office and a clutch of tiny homes on the banks of Oak Creek. Later, the name was switched to Cohnville, after a family named Cohn who once lived there. But when the official place-name papers returned from Washington D.C., they listed "Cornville," so the town’s residents accepted the name.

‘Cornville’ sounds better than ‘Cohnville’ anyway, and it is also more appropriate, because the town is full of hicks, and it did remind me of Kansas, not that I’ve been there (yet). I could live in Cornville, a writer’s paradise...if only there was a beach at nearby Cottonwood, instead of chain stores and toxic industry.

“I bet there’s a strip club here,” I said.

Soon Jerome appeared from the mist, a grim and sooty burg on the side of Mingus Mountain. It was late in the day and the sky was dark, augmenting Jerome’s sinister feel, which appeared to be a town of antique shops and historic markers, remaining for tourists, which were few today.

“I feel a very, very bad vibe here,” Kristen said. “It just looks like the houses are going to fall over at any moment. This place has ghosts, for sure.”

I didn’t see any, but I did smell grilled meat floating up from a pub called the Haunted Hamburger, so we walked in and sat at the bar. The bartender was a scrawny, crazy-looking man who grinned constantly and wore yellow-framed glasses. He drank beer while he worked. He was hungover. The pub was festooned with Christmas lights, and there was only sign which read No Sniveling.

“What are you guys doin’?” the bartender asked.

“Hungry,” I said.

We each ordered burgers; I scribbled notes, Kristen yakked with the drinkers. Next to me was an impish Elvis impersonator, who said nothing. Next to Kristen were two fat men from Green Bay, Wisc., and one fat man from Tempe. The Green Bay men were tipsy and chatty.

“Green Bay has the dubious distinction of being the birthplace of the Republican party,” one said.

“Are you a Packers fan?” Kristen asked.

“Oh, you bet. Our whole state shuts down when the Packers play. Even the criminals stop robbing banks.”

“Boy, I don’t want to know how long the waiting list is—”

“I own two shares of the team—”

A man resembling a miner walked in and sat on the empty stool at the end of the bar. He was mustachioed, tall, muscular, wore filthy overalls, a frayed baseball cap, and black work boots. A small button pinned to his overalls read Fuck ‘Em, Then Ask Questions.

With an unsubtle whistle, he summoned the bartender for whiskey.

“I’ll have a quick shot, no Coke.”

He looked at Kristen, the only woman in the room, then at me, since she had her hand on my leg.

“Where are you guys from?”

“California,” I said. “She’s originally from Scottsdale.”

“Oh yeah? What are you doing in Jerome?”

“Just having a look around. We were just in Cornville.”

“Cornville?”

“We drove through in after we went to Montezuma Well,” Kristen said. “I’d been to Cornville and Clarkdale before, years ago.” (Clarkdale is five miles north.)

"You went to Clarkdale but not to Jerome?" he asked.

“I guess I was too scared to drive up the hill.”

Then the jokes began.

“How can you tell someone’s from Cornville?” he asked. “They’ve got less than three teeth. How do you tell a 14-year-old girl from Cornville? When she says, ‘Git off me, daddy, yer crushin’ my smokes.’”

A female bartender walked in and sat next to me, apparently to relieve our bartender of duty. Her T-shirt said Knotty Pine Lounge.

Our bartender said to me, “Any time a girl’s shirt says ‘knotty’ on it, I like it.”

She stood and slapped him; everyone laughed.