Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Parked to catch the sun and watch football

Out of sight for the night

Decision made--go see Bagdad

Bagdad seen from water tank hill

Mr and Miss Miner

A whopper of a liquor dept?

Tin Town, where the mavericks retreat to.

I NEED SUNSHINE-Emotionally and physically to power my lifestyle. So when Prescott turned cloudy and chilly, I'm out of there---driving south on 89 to Yarnell where I paused to engage an unlikely resident: A former Raider linebacker (Logan) who shared his unusual story. After his career he lived his fantasy on a south sea island; the one that Marlon Brando bought near Tahiti. He married an island girl. (showed me her picture–wow!) In three years he ran out of money. They divorced. He returned–took to drink and lost himself in this oddball town. He said it was filled with weird people: artist, hippies, drunks, gays and old cowboys. But this is not one of the two cities I’m reporting. ONWARD (to where the skies are not cloudy all day)

A thrilling 2000 ft downhill drive from Yarnell is Congress–where I paused to enjoy a chili cook off. Congress is not one of the cities either.

I could see clear skies far to the northwest so that's where I headed on hwy 93. I won't stop till I see blue skies. At the Bagdad turnoff I found sunshine; parked crossways to get a good angle on the sun, raised my panels and tuned in my satellite to watch football. Night overtook me and I settled in the desert nearby. (See photo–there are thousands of free beautiful places like this all over the west. I hardly give a thought to where I will spend the night–just glance about me when it is time to camp)

Sunday AM I let the map speak to me--staring at it a long time till at last it suggested the road's- end town of Bagdad, Az., 20 miles north into the desert. An hour later I was there "getting the story" (It's what I do you know and who I am----a story getter--and in good time --a story teller--to you my readers. It's not a grand purpose, I admit, but it will do till I generate a grander vision) Anyway, I learned that Bagdad is a copper mining town of 4,500 souls, clean, prosperous looking and friendly. I wandered around a few hours and began to feel that something important was missing. It nagged at me. And then I got it: Individualism of the fringy sort was missing. I saw nothing and no one "unusual". All and everyone was in good order. Spooky and unnerving. Then suddenly I learned the reason:
No one here owns his house! The COMPANY owns all the houses. These are all “kept” people. To give up ownership is to some extent to give up parts of oneself. To become managable and tame surrendering ones wild side. These are compliant company people; mavericks and misfits are not welcome. The flavoring they bring to a community was noticeably missing.

On a hunch I went to the grocery store and checked out the beer and liquor section: BINGO! It was HUGE big enough to account for surrendered individuality. (note photo)

I learned that when anyone acts up sufficiently, they are out on their ass, bag and baggage. Then---where do they go? Where have all the misfits gone? THEY WENT TO TIN TOWN! A community of perhaps a hundred mavericks living 9 miles away in stark desert on property they OWN. THAT'S where I want to spend the night. So I went there, drove boldly into its heart, displayed a friendly harmlessness, asked the right questions and was soon embraced by the community. A 35 yr old divorcee invited me to camp in her yard. By firelight and starlight I got her story–refugee from San Francisco–now hooked on the peace and pace of the desert. Land here is cheap: $1000 an acre but you have to make your own amenities, like water sewer and electricity. Many live in campers. She knocked on my door at 10 and we chatted till 12. (No, I didn't--what kind of guy do you think I am)


Wandrin said...

Baghdad sounds like a 21st century version of slavery.

Randy said...

I see your point. But it is an odd, voluntary kind of slavery--a perfidious trap baited with comforts and job security and community. I'm asking myself: why is this not a good life? And why does it need so much anesthetizing alcohol. Hopefully someone will give me a good answer.

Anonymous said...

We mock what we don't understand.

The town has pretty good paying jobs, coupled with outstanding price of living - which means people have extra money to buy toys and have fun - or as I like to call it, have freedom. Too bad you didn't spend long enough there to see that most people are pretty happy - something usually not associated with slavery, "modern day" or otherwise.
If being comfortable, happy, well paid, and living in a friendly community is bait for slavery, then chain me up, master!!

Unfortunately I woudn't know about the alcohol- I'm not much of a drinker.

And it's spelled Bagdad.

Anonymous said...

Your obsevations are generally correct...I grew up in Bagdad...while I was living there nothing seemed wrong...once I left and realized there was a whole world of experiences out there...and the longer I have been away, the more it becomes obvious how strange life is there...no reflection on the people...most are good in there intentions but there still remains an isolated feeling...like they are developing their own culture...like isolated tribes in the Amazon...
I know alot of people there...and I visit from time to time, but I can't stay long because I feel out of place now that I have experienced reality outside of Bagdad.
And it is spelled Bagdad

Anonymous said...

Who gives any credence to a tourist who breezes into town, gives opinions based on brief observations that can't possibly be based on any concrete knowledge, and decides that because alcohol is sold at the store, the whole town must be alcoholic? I guess everyone, in every city I've lived in are raging alcoholics, doing nothing but anesthetizing because there are grocery stores with large liquor departments, and liquor stores by the dozens. Bagdad doesn't even have a liquor store.
I've spent a lot of time in Bagdad, and I don't drink alcohol more than like 4 times a year, and have never been drunk, I also don't see my friends drinking excessively, even socially.
I also saw no mention of the fact that the town has like 7 churches, and only a couple of establishments that serve liquor.
Doesn't seem like there are many sorrows to drown in a town full of content people who earn a good living and enjoy the company of a lot of good people, and plenty of recreation.
It also seems like the author didn't avail himself of the amenities in town.
Anybody recall playing a round of golf with this guy?
Did he sit with you at church?
Spend any time at any community functions?
As far as isolation...did the author notice any guards posted at the town's exits, blocking people from leaving? Everyone I know in Bagdad has the internet, and functioning vehicles, so the world is indeed wide open to all residents.
So if the idea of being well-paid and living in the company of the caliber of folks I've known in this town is not appealing to the author, then I guess he can keep sucking his sour grapes, and wishing he was being "kept".

thelark said...

I read with interest the critics - favorable and unfavorable. But I enjoy the stories you tell and sense that the intuitive that permeates your interpretation is as valid as the opinion of your critics. Perhaps some are in denial, a rampant malady today. It is after all a matter of perspective - thus, you may all be correct! Go with your gut. After all it is only a snapshot in time, a glimpse of a life the reader may never really know.

Anonymous said...

just a few things I'd like to add...

- You claim that "The COMPANY owns all the houses. These are all “kept” people. To give up ownership is to some extent to give up parts of oneself. To become managable and tame surrendering ones wild side."
And Wandrin says it sounds like slavery.
So by that reasoning, anyone who rents an apartment or a house is a slave? Does this also include anyone renting land like in an RV park? Do you own land or a house? Are you also a slave by this new definition?

Speaking of renting vs owning, and freedom and all... do you have more freedom than anyone else in this town, or any town, for that matter? Living in a tiny mobile trailer, having to find a new place to hide (or "camp") night after night before being kicked out doesn't sound like much freedom to me. You keep talking about "stealth" being an important factor for your trailer... why is that, if you are free to roam wherever you wish?

I wonder if you were not allowed to "camp" overnight in Bagdad, and that's why you wanted to lash out and call the people there a bunch of "kept", "managable", "tame" "drunks".

- As for "tin town", they are not the mavericks you think they are. Most of them still work for the company, they just wanted to buy their own land and houses to fall back on, in case of a mine shutdown/layoffs, etc, or to retire there. So yes, they are still Bagdad people.

- back to the community and your comments on the people there...
What gives you the right to judge a community after a few short minutes in town? Or to make any kind of comments on what a community should or should not be like? After all, you have left communities behind, and are living alone out of your trailer for the last decade or more.

It's a small town, like most small town across America. Some people like living in small towns, some don't. Just like living in cities. Or living on the road. No need to bash on people's living choices just because it isn't the same as what you like to do. Not everyone can be a maverick.
I'm glad not everyone "gets" small town life and likes it like I do. Then it wouldn't be a small town any more. And I'm sure you're glad that everyone's not living on the road, in trailers, taking your good camping spots. To each his own.
There's good and bad in any living arrangement. I've lived in cities and have also lived roaming from place to place. I just prefer the small town life. That doesn't make me a slave or anything else you described in your article.
I'm just a regular joe who enjoys the nice blue skies of Bagdad - at least you got that part of the story right!

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Bagdad as one of those "kept" people your refer to. If "kept" means paying $300 a month for rent, getting paid a good wage and knowing every person of every car that drives past you...I liked being a kept person. I loved going to bed at night with the doors unlocked and the windows open and not having to worry about theft, murder or any of the other problems "them city folk" had to worry about. Have things changed since I grew up...sure they have, but what hasn't? I bet you can't park your mobile CONDO for $3 a night anymore can you? We are not different than anyone else, we wear clothes, go to school just like you did. Where did you grow up? My dad served in Vietnam, I served during Desert Storm and Somalia and my sister just got out of the service. I guess it is partially our fault for you getting the freeedom to vocalize your dumbass judgements from a couple hours of observation. Did you serve your country as many of us "kept" folk have?? If you did, more power to you, at least that means you fought for your right to hold judgemnt. By the way, if you ever drive your mobile castle through Phoenix, Az. Look me up and we can discuss Bagdad a little further face to face. Us "kept" folk are mighty peaceful! My name is Adam McQuillan, I'm in the book.

Randy said...

Thank you Adam and Anonymouses for your thoughtful responses. You've made me think a bit more deeply. Let me take your points one by one and admit what must be admitted..
1. My judgments were indeed casual and careless. I don't really know if the people of Bagdad are tame or if they are heavy drinkers.
2. I don't really know if the liquor dept there is disproportionately large.
3. I don't really know what effect living in a company town has on the psyche of its citizens.
4. I did indeed breeze into and out of town and fling some judgments about. I apologize to the people of Bagdad. (interesting experience having my ass nailed to the wall like this--theraputic perhaps--so thanks for the whipping)
5. You're wrong about my not being able to camp there; I found 5 good spots: near Basha's, adjacent the water tank--I went up there for the picture--and 3 nice pullovers just south of there. I,m "invisible"--I can camp anywhere.
6. I'm curious what you make of the guy's comment whose experience confirms my wild guesses. Randy

Anonymous said...


I feel alot better now after reading your last post. Is life in Bagdad different from what you might call a "normal small town" sure it is, the town is Mine owned and the houses are Mine owned, but the people aren't, and in my mind will never be. As far as the person who agreed with your wild guesses, I don't know, I guess that is how that person felt. Just because we are all from Bagdad doesn't mean we all have the same opinions from Bagdad. We all lived in Bagdad, maybe just not the same Bagdad. Things change over time and the Bagdad you saw is not the Bagdad I grew up in, but it is still Bagdad, where I was raised and grew up. It's where I had my first girlfriend and got into my first fight. It was my home and to some extent, no matter where I live, will be my home. I am what I am today because of the life I had in Bagdad. I'm sorry for attacking your opinion, right as it might have been on some points, but it was my home and I will defend it until the day I die.


Anonymous said...

quoting Randy:
6. I'm curious what you make of the guy's comment whose experience confirms my wild guesses.

It's not surprising to see someone agree with some of your comments. Take a couple thousand people, ask them if they are happy where they are (or where they have been), and you'll see quite a variety of replies. In our family of 5 growing up, three of us liked it in Bagdad (of those, 2 of us have moved back after being away for a while), and two of us didn't like it here while growing up. I think you'll find similar "stats" in whatever town or city you ask. Everyone has their own experiences!

However, it's not surprising to see mostly positive comments or comments defending the town posted so far - if you're going to insult an entire community, you can expect that community to stand up and defend themselves.

vexati0n said...

I grew up in Bagdad, and graduated from High School there. And I don't think Randy should be so quick to give up his initial impressions of the place. It is full of tame, manageable people, who are singleminded and not very open to dissent or debate about much of anything.

The only people in Bagdad who display individuality are usually people who have nothing to gain from being "normal" -- teenagers who plan to leave as soon as they're legally allowed to and educators who use Bagdad to get a couple years experience and then move to a respectable district.

I can tell you from first-hand experience that the people of Bagdad don't like people rocking the boat. Less than a month before High School graduation, my friends and I were actually arrested on some trumped-up charges and almost imprisoned, until the Judge in the case realized what was going on and expunged our records and reprimanded the deputies involved. It was clearly a "you're not welcome and you'd better get out of town as soon as you can" message, and that's what we did.

Today, when most people I know look back on their High School careers as among the happiest times in their lives, I look back and almost ten years later I'm still glad I never fit in there.

Randy said...

Thank you vexation for your comment. You may have noticed the other like it. You've added new data for consideration, especially the question of whether an isolated and company town mentality causes the police dept to be overactive and oppressive. Perhaps Adam or one of the others will share their impression. Hyper-vigilant?

Anonymous said...

i would post something about vexation obviously being an above-average trouble maker, but the hyper-vigilant oppressive Bagdad PD won't allow me to.

So what's the deal with Randy? He apologizes for things like this:
"My judgments were indeed casual and careless. I did indeed breeze into and out of town and fling some judgments about."
Then proceeds to toss more casual, careless judgmental trash about in his last post. Stand-up guy we have here. No wonder he's the self-proclaimed "King of Kodgers"

jp said...

Wow, what ignorant people.

Bagdad has no police department. Yavapai County Sheriff's office takes care of the Bagdad area (with their oh so oppressive reach! lol)
So "police" of any kind are pretty rarely found in the Bagdad area.
Most people are well-behaved and so there is not much need of police roving around.

Vexation (appropriate name by the way) was apparently a trouble maker of large proportions to garner such interest from the law. And speaking of trouble makers, what self-respecting community would put up with them? Who wouldn't want them to get out of town? Bagdad has its share though, as any place does. It always will, because it's not an oppressed community. People who get sent to prison lose their jobs here. Sorry, that's just the way it goes. However, once they are out, they are allowed to return if they want, because we realize that everyone has a right to work, even ex-convicts. Again, not a very oppressive attitude.

The only thing that might be even remotely considered oppressive is that you can't really live here unless you work for the mine. And if you get fired from the mine, you do have to leave, so someone else can move in.

It's just a small town like any other, ol' Vex sounds like he just wanted the city life. A lot of kids in Bagdad do. If you like small towns, you'll probably like it here. If you like cities, you won't. Nothing complicated about it. "To each his own", as they say.

I do find it surprising that Randy didn't like it. He seemed like the type who'd like small towns, but apparently had a bad experience. I like small towns, but that doesn't mean I like them all. There are a few that I'd refuse to go back to because of experiences I had there. Again, like it or leave it, no big deal.

It's unfortunate that this little visit of his has caused such controversy. If he would have kept it more professional instead of using all the insults he could find, it might not have been a bad read.
Randy just likes to stir up trouble. Don't mind him.

Randy said...

I've learned stuff from this engagement with Bagdad and those who took the time to comment. I breezed in, flung judgments out of my intuition and touched nerves, pro and con. (I probably will not stop flinging--it often connects me with interesting people, like those above)

I honestly don't know if Bagdad, Az is a Shangrila or a soul stifling work camp or something in between. I suspect, however, that it is unique in America for its "perfect storm" of social factors: 1. Company owned. 2.Remote 3. At roads end. (yes I know there are other company towns--but none with all three factors.)

Now I'm really curious, but frankly afraid to go back. My stealth has evaporated. I would like to know if it has an elected mayor and town council and does either have any real power. Are property taxes paid? To whom? Does the company own the church buildings? The stores? Is there a municipal court? In short, to what extent are the citizens running their town? Someone could do a PHD thesis on this unique society.

And PS I am not self declared King of Kodgers. I was elected 50 to 0 at the first Mobile Codger Rendezvous. (check the early archives)

vexati0n said...

I have to add that I wasn't an above-average troublemaker, in fact I have never been (including the incident I described above) actually charged with any crime other than traffic violations. I was never one to engage in reckless or dangerous activity, or to deface or otherwise vandalize anyone's property.

The thing about us that people in Bagdad hated wasn't that we were disruptive or violent or that we caused damage, because none of that was true. Bagdad, like any homogenized right-wing enclave, simply has a deep-seated distrust of anyone who reminds them that the world is full of people who don't fit the small-town stereotype.

We were targeted not because we were a threat but because we reminded people that the world is moving quickly away from these people's comfort zone; that societies change; and that there's a reason why Norman Rockwell wasn't a photographer.

I would stop short of calling the place a 21st Century version of slavery, because most of the people who live there do so because they choose to, because that's what they want in life. And that's fine.

But it is unfortunate that the town has so little consideration for people who live there because they must, provides so little opportunity for those who might choose to do something else in life, and breeds an extreme Us-vs-Them culture where the Outsider can never be accepted except as a novelty.

Bagdad is in many ways the quintessential American Small Town, and its exports include more than copper -- it is also a rich source of cynicism, cronyism, short-sighted jingoist nationalism, and institutional ignorance.

Randy said...

WOW! Vexation, I'm dazzled! Thanks for a brilliant essay and denouement. Jefferson said of Patrick Henry that he spoke so eloquently that afterward he could hardly remember what he talked about. Your writing had that effect on me....."homogenized right wing enclave"....."breeds an extreme us versus them culture where the outsider can never be accepted except as an outsider"....."exports more than copper...rich source of cynicism, cronyism, short sighted jingoistic nationalism and institutional ignorance." (double wow) But the prize winner--and the best sentence I've read all year is: "societies change...There's a reason Norman Rockwell wasn't a photographer" Brilliant! Your essay has me more interested in you than the Bagdad thing. My e-mail is on the first page of my blog--would you give me a clue how you came to write so well. (it's too much to hope that you're a single female)