creative writing

Overturned in the Desert: An Unconventional Review of the AF Short Story

Driving from San Diego to Phoenix takes six hours along I-8, and can be very scenic depending on the weather. On this occasion, it rained the whole way. The horizon, however, was streaked with alternating bands of blue and graphite, suggesting it would clear up by the time I arrived home. I settled in to enjoy my ride.

An hour in, Kumeyaay Highway twists toward a pass. On either side, yellow granite boulders the size of Buicks cover the earth. If the ancient poet, Homer, were somehow transported to this bewildering landscape, he mighty readily mythologize it to be the Titans' graveyard. An equally surreal structure perches on the summit. This bizarre sentinel of the California badlands is the Desert View Tower, which serves as the gathering place for a motley group of alien enthusiasts who build UFO models.

I decided to pick up a cigar along the way to stave off drowsiness. The nearest city with a decent cigar shop was Yuma, the often overlooked town straddling the State border. In reality, Yuma is home to several worthy attractions. For instance, adventurous eaters can dine at Monster Taco, a make-do Mexican bungalow where off-color menu typos tempt guests to discover “bacon raped hot dogs” and roasted “pappers.” The city also hosts Debbie’s Freedom Tobacco. Debbie's selection is narrow—mostly hookah and pipe tobacco–but she stocks all the reputable brands. Prices are competitive, certainly the best in Yuma. My haul included the Fuente Rothschild, 8-5-8 Maduro, and Short Story. 

The Short Story, part of Arturo Fuente’s acclaimed Hemingway line, was the cigar that taught me just how good small vitolas can be. At just four inches, this diminutive Dominican burns 45 minutes, but does so with consistent, mellow favors and a creamy pleroma of sumptuous white vapors. I set a snack-size Pringles can in the console cup holder (a perfect travel ashtray complete with lid) and cracked the windows to clear air without letting the downpour in. The cigar was dead simple to light and pleasurable throughout. Burn began even enough and the flavors never became acrid. I headed back to the highway.

An inch into the Hemingway, a rainbow formed over the eastern mountains. Meanwhile, striking cobalt stormclouds plotted above the Gray dunes to the south. On the shoulder of the highway, I watched silvery reflections form in the potholes, slick puddles of water mixed with motor oil, shimmering bellies of river bass. Perhaps it was just the namesake cigar making its literary impression?

As I finished the cigar, red and blue lights pulsed in the distance. I slowed to observe an overturned family wagon. Camping gear was strewn among cholla cactus and crushed glass. A single Patrol officer stood nearby surveying the wreck, but no one else was visible. Here in this overturned vehicle was a visceral reminder of the brevity of good things. Like the Short Story burning in my hand, life and health come in a variety of vitolas. Since I have relatively little control over the length of my human experience, I will focus on savoring its goodness while I can. 

With that, I snuffed the nub and placed the lid on the Pringles can.