Ken's Second Act
Prescott lost one of its 'local color'
American cities, big, small and in between, are home to characters who make living in them more interesting. They are what people in my former profession call “local color.”
They set themselves apart by the way they look, dress or behave, or combinations thereof. They stand out. They are not bland and boring. If you meet or observe them, you won’t forget them.
They include gadflies who harangue city councils or county supervisors, and are occasionally ejected from podiums because they exceed their three- or five-minute time limits.
I have met, observed or both representatives of local color over the years. When I attended College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., in 1970s, a man in his fifties or older named Joe made his presence known regularly. I recall one person telling me Joe had been a physicist; it made sense because he spoke in abstract terms. Joe was either lonely or enjoyed hanging around college students. However, times have changed. If I were to hang out at the local community college with no purpose (such as to take a class) and approach female students young enough to be my granddaughter, I could expect a complaint, prompting a security or campus police officer to approach me and ask me to leave.
While living in Grass Valley in Northern California a decade later, I remember a little, old man who sat, sullen-faced, on downtown benches, I drove by but never spoke to him. Another older man, with a gaunt face and long white hair, rode his bike around town and yelled incoherently.
In Longview, Texas, where I lived from 2016-2020, a heavyset preacher in his 60s caught my eyes—or my ears—as he bellowed from the downtown plaza. At least once, he looked at me as he preached while I walked by. I recognized him shopping at Wal-Mart once and we exchanged words, but I never learned his name or his story.
I now call Prescott, Arizona, home, and have seen plenty of local color. They have included:
A short, middle-aged man with the beatnik appearance who walked downtown with a guitar case strapped to his back.
Hamas Man driving around in a van that had antisemitic messages. Two sources told me somebody beat him up.
Banjo Man, singing with a raspy voice for tips at vendor fairs at the courthouse plaza.
Hoax Man, who drives around in a pickup with the message “NASA is a hoax” with a link to a website.
Another standout: a woman with a face resembling Olive Oyl in a long skirt and a droopy cap making daily laps around the courthouse plaza.
A representative of local color who likely made the biggest and best impression is the late John Wayne Hopkins, better known as “Hoppy.” I first spotted the diminutive man more than a decade ago in a downtown bar. My first impression was that he looked scary with his wild hair, bandana and beard, someone whom I might try to
avoid. However, what Machiavelli said about appearances vs. reality proved to be true. I was wrong. Hoppy turned out to be soft-spoken, good-natured and gentle.
We greeted each other whenever I arrived at a downtown bar. If I accidentally walked by without acknowledging him, he’d grab my arm to say hello. I’d tease him about his mandolin, which he carried around like Linus with his blanket. He called the instrument “Mandy” and referred to it as his girlfriend. He gladly posed for photos.
Hoppy was a man of few words and a good laugh. On his Facebook page, he showed his sense of humor by posting he studied at “Screwball.”
I left the area for six years and returned in November 2020 after retiring. I readily encountered Hoppy at his home away from home at the Birdcage Saloon on Whiskey Row. It was like old times, but I could tell his health had deteriorated. His voice sounded weaker. Months ago, he fell on his head and was taken to the hospital. After recovering, he showed me a big bump on his head. Things got worse. He suffered a stroke and was taken to a hospice. I visited him two days before he died Feb. 2, just 23 days shy of his 77th birthday.
Bill Norton, a retired social worker and Vietnam War veteran, looked after Hoppy, an Army veteran, as his health declined and posted updates on Facebook. An outpouring of love followed.
Rachel Mae Hall, who is married to musician Drew Hall, expressed the views of many when she posted:
“Sweet Hoppy, my beautiful sunshine person in my life… you could make a bad day better just by seeing you walking down the street carrying your beloved Mandy. And you could make my heart soar when I got to give you a hug and chat with you for a while. I’m going to miss you so much.
“Prescott will never be the same… you are the heart and soul of downtown and it was my honor to know and love you. Thank you for being you. For your smile, your laugh, your hugs, your music, your quick wit, and your loving eyes… everyone loves you.
“Rest easy my sunshine friend… and say hi to dad for me. Maybe you two can jam together. He’d like that. ”
Several people posted photos of themselves with Hoppy, as if he were a celebrity. Tommy Anderson wrote a mandolin song to honor Hoppy. My contribution: a photo of Hoppy to decorate a commemorative mug. Prescott businessman Barry Weintraub made a mug that he gave to Hoppy’s sister. Plans for additional mugs fell through.
Friends plan a celebration of life for Hoppy starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Birdcage. Singer/guitarist Llory McDonald, leader of Combo Deluxe, said Friday she expects
20 singers to perform. “Just have a Hoppy good time,” she said.
I have a previous engagement as an usher for a movie premiere at Yavapai College, so I hope the celebration is still going on after 9 p.m. I’d hate to be late, especially for my own funeral. Maybe I should follow the advice on Hoppy’s mug: “Don’t worry be Hoppy.”