I once worked in Aradia, an indie bookstore in Flagstaff during the decade of “Oooooooo, the romantic Southwest…let’s build a great big house here and find peace.” One noon, a woman burst through the door. She had large hair, a spotless white Stetson, and hand-painted pink Tony Lamas. “You’ve got to help me,” she gasped. I started to call 911. She held up her hand. “I broke my fingernail! I need a nail salon — close by and right NOW! Do you even have nail salons in this place?”

Photo: moominsean

I debated sending her in the wrong direction, but there was something about her desperation that stopped me.

“Okay,” I said, “I know a place with a nail aesthetician (I’d always hoped I’d have a chance to use that word in normal conversation). Chez Chi Chi. Shall I give them a call?”

“Oh thank god,” the woman said. Two minutes later, she had a walk-in appointment. Her husband, a standard issue silver-haired guy in golf shirt, shorts, sandals, and socks, came in and rolled his eyes at me and they were gone.

Here’s a brief guide to how not to put yourself in their company. Pay attention. While we might not ride you out of town on a rail, we will give you the stankeye — and wrong directions.

1. Don’t…

eat in chain restaurants and complain about how the food all tastes the same.

Do…

take yourself to Los Altenos in the Sherwood Forest mall on Milton and dive into a huge bowl of caldo de pollo with a side of jalapenos, cilantro, and rice.

2. Don’t…

ask us for directions and keep talking on your cell while we answer.

Do…

listen when we tell you what you need to know. You might even smile, and even wilder, say, “Thank you.”

3. Don’t…

act amazed when we tell you we have nail salons and internet cafes and our own theater company.

Do…

leave your urban prejudices back in the big city and learn that bigger isn’t better.

4. Don’t…

take pictures of us locals without asking. The Native Americans hate it — and really, we’re all just living, working, shopping, and hanging out in our home.

Do…

get out of your motel and your routine. Go out to Sunset Crater/Wupatki or Buffalo Park or Fat Man’s Trail. Leave your camera in the car — it’ll be safe — and use your legs, eyes, and ears to take in what is unique to our home.

5. Don’t…

wander our downtown with that look of: Gee, honey, we already saw all this in Durango, Moab, and what was the name of that other cute little town.

Do…

Go into the local shops, galleries, bars, and restaurants. And, when you eat or drink here, tip at least 20%. Flagstaff is an expensive place to live. Most of the service workers live here because they love the mountains, the canyons, the deserts, and wild places.

6. Don’t…

wear your brand-new cowboy hat and boots.

Do…

read up on the gentrification of the real West. If you want to meet a real cowboy, try to visit a working family small ranch. The folks will tell you they are too busy trying to make a living to give tours.

7. Don’t…

get suckered in by the local ski resort — either to ski or ride their lifts up the mountain in the summer.

Do…

stop in at Winter Sun Trading Post on San Francisco Street and ask the staff about the tribal anger and sorrow over the ski resort making fake snow with reclaimed water on the sacred mountains. They’ll fill you in — and educate you about the genuine handmade jewelry, Zuni fetishes, Katsina, dolls and Navajo weaving in the shop.

8. Don’t…

plan to spend one day here and kid yourself that you’ve had a real “Western” experience.

Do…

take the time to talk with the locals and learn the true beauty and value of our town and our region. That way you won’t end up on a dead-end dirt road near the landfill wondering why somebody gave you the wrong directions.