The following article represents five days on the road driving through Arizona, California, and Nevada, listening to everyday people sharing their personal experiences of 2022 and their hopes for the year ahead. For some, the year was one of challenges and tragedy, and for others, it was a time for understanding and healing.
Michael Sponsel’s facial expression was sad yet stoic. You could tell he was hurting inside, alone in Loren Pratt’s Little Chapel in Yuma, Arizona.
Standing at the altar of the one-room sanctuary in the middle of nowhere, Sponsel, of Denver, said a prayer for his late son, Michael “Mikie” Sponsel and signed the guest book.
It had been a painful year of mourning.
Born on Feb. 22, 1977, Mikie was a fit and healthy 44-year-old loving life and family when he suffered a knee injury that developed an unknown blood clot in his calf. He died on Aug. 18, 2021, leaving a wife, three children, and a grieving father.
“Well, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with—losing my son,” Sponsel said as he fought back the tears.
He visits the tiny chapel every chance he gets in the Yuma area. But it never felt as poignant as now or meaningful before Mikie died.
At 69, Sponsel is tall and serious-looking, wearing sunglasses, a denim shirt, and jeans. He keeps his feelings private for the most part—except when talking about his son.
“[Mikie] was a great father and a great guy,” he told The Epoch Times. “He was a big, tough, strong Marine and a good man, [but] the Lord works in mysterious ways.”
‘I Try to Be Positive’
Years ago, Sponsel fell in love with the tool shed-sized chapel, built in 1995 in memory of Pratt’s wife. Today, it boasts six tiny wooden pews and six windows—two glass-stained. It’s so small that a powerful gust blew it over in 2011, and Pratt had to put the church back up.
“I thought it was a quaint little place. You can sit here. Say a little prayer,” Sponsel said.
As for the year ahead without Mikie, “Well—boy. I try to be positive,” Sponsel said, and then it was time to go.
After Sponsel left the church, Joe Kirsh from Pennsylvania stepped in and took a seat in a center pew.
Quietly, he began praying for the dozen of his friends who died in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I just lost a sister-in-law—she had lung cancer. She passed away real quick,” Kirsh said. “They said she had six months. She died in four days.”
His brother, a Catholic priest, recently came down with COVID-19 and, like Kirsh’s sister-in-law, was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Kirsh prayed for a miracle.
“It’s a struggle for many people,” Kirsh said. “Out here, I see many people who don’t have money. It’s sad. People are having some rough times. Same with me.”
Now retired, Kirsh said his Social Security no longer covers his expenses. The price of gasoline and food is constantly increasing.
“It’s scary,” he said.
Although Kirsh doesn’t like talking about politics or religion, he’s decided not to vote in future elections.
“I didn’t like what happened with the last election [in 2020],” he told The Epoch Times.
Still, he hasn’t reached the point of despair or hopelessness.
Quite the opposite.
In hard times Kirsh sees signs of hope in the people he encounters daily. People are increasingly coming together seeking support—”being more friendly.”
Sometimes, going through a shared hardship is what it takes for people to behave more humanely.
Above all, it helps to pray, Kirsh said.
“You have to say a prayer, you know?” he said. “And hope things will get better.”
In Casa Grande, Arizona, 53 miles south of Phoenix by car, multi-generational cotton farmer Nancy Caywood of Caywood Farms prays for rain.
A regional drought brought Tier 2 water restrictions for agriculture, reducing usage by as much as 86 percent. In 1993, a nearby dam that supplies farm water spilled over and had yet to completely refill due to the perennial lack of rain and snowmelt.
“So we went into drought,” Caywood said. “Well, nobody realized it would be to this extent.”
In August 2018, the canals that provide agriculture water shut down, leaving farmers to decide whether to grow crops.
Caywood said things hadn’t been this bad since the family farm began growing cotton in the 1930s.
In 2022, the alfalfa crops started to go dormant.
Without rain, things only got worse. The 255-acre farm hasn’t planted cotton since 2021.
“We couldn’t,” Caywood told The Epoch Times. “So because of [the drought], we planted no cotton, and every bit of alfalfa we had was in dormancy.”
Caywood felt that her prayers yielded results when heavy rains brought temporary relief this past summer and autumn.
“More than anything, we’re thankful because the rain went behind the dam. It built the dam up,” Caywood said. “I’d say [2022 was] a more wet year—that’s what we are so thankful for.”
Farmers began to feel optimistic about the year ahead—and Caywood considers herself an optimist.
“As farmers, you have to be optimistic,” she said. “We’ve been in drought for many years. All of a sudden, we’re getting rain. We know that this rain does not end the drought.
“This has got to be a cyclical change. We know that—but we probably got more rain the last weekend than the last two years.”
Supply chain issues are another matter—not to mention the price inflation and the fact that “people don’t want to work.”
Caywood said finding help—and diesel fuel—are potential problems going into 2023.
“We ordered fuel. It took us about six weeks to get it because they didn’t have the workforce to get it out here,” Caywood said. “We had to go into town with a fuel tank because our tractors were empty.”
Caywood Farms hopes to be flush with cotton in 2023.
“We’ll see,” Caywood said.
About 225 miles north, in the historic town of Williams, Arizona—Gateway to the Grand Canyon—the Route 66 Diner crew was busy prepping for the lunchtime crowd. “Five O’Clock World” by the American vocal group The Vogues blared on the jukebox even though it was only 11 a.m.
“I think last year was better [for business],” diner owner Jeff Pruett said. “This year, I’ve seen it decline.”
In 1963, the Route 66 Diner was a thriving Denny’s. Pruett decided to launch the diner 11 years ago, covering its tiled walls with authentic 1950s and 60s memorabilia.
“We see fewer people—especially from what we’re used to seeing in the fall,” head server Angelina Howe said.
“The summer is usually pretty fantastic. We get a lot of locals and a lot of foreigners who love the Americana. It’s all original. The only thing keeping this town going is tourism.”
While the pandemic proved challenging, Pruett said things have mostly returned to normal.
He has taken all the plexiglass guards down, a sign that the worst of COVID-19 is over.
“I make a decent living. Most of my people have been with me for quite a while,” Pruett said.
The challenge now is inflation and finding good help.
“The prices of food have gone through the roof—if you can find those items,” Pruett told The Epoch Times.
“[Coffee] creamers are a big issue. The price of eggs is just out of this world. Meats have gone up. It’s a little bit of everything. For a while, it was, ‘Can you get this? Can you get that?’”
Faced with these problems, Pruett smiles at the prospects of 2023, hopeful that things can and will get better.
“You can’t be all doom and gloom,” he said.
Coming Age of Enlightenment
Indeed, it helps to tap into a higher power and see into the future, according to Charley Lamson, a psychic at the Center for the New Age in Sedona, Arizona, located 90 miles south.
Under the almost full moon’s gaze, the center’s exterior lighting glowed pink and purple at 5:30 p.m.
A strong aroma of incense ran through the center as Lamson, 45, sat with legs crossed behind a glass desk, hands gesturing as he addressed the coming changes in 2023.
“This is a great time on Earth,” he said. “But we’re also going through the great shaking up. So it’s a time for people to wake up that some things don’t seem so nice.”
Lamson said global events are beginning to surge like an electrical current that will reveal many truths.
“I think you’re just going to see a lot more awakening—rejuvenating—younger kids breaking away from agendas, being sovereign,” he said. “Thinking for themselves again.”
Lamson said to look at it as a necessary turn of the wheel, a change in the frequency of electrons circling atoms—light working with light—not with darkness.
“What’s inspiring is that a lot of people—while not getting into a lot of politics—are starting to come together,” he said.
For this reason, Lamson said that in 2023, people would begin to intuitively sense that the “truths” they learned were mainly lies.
While 2022 was a year of tribulation for many people, he sees a coming age of enlightenment—”like it or not.”
Working at a slow but steady pace wins the race for old-time cobbler Felipe Torres, proprietor of The Big Shoe shoe repair shop in Bakersfield, California, since 2002.
A Shoe-Shaped Shoe Repair Business
Five days a week, 12 hours a day, Torres has been working at the shop shaped like a giant shoe.
“People travel north and south to see it. A lot of people from everywhere,” said Torres, putting on his leather work apron.
What’s it like to work in a shoe-shaped store?
“Remember ‘The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe?’” Torres said.
“Now it’s the old man who works in a shoe.”
And the shoe business has been good for Torres since the pandemic’s end. People’s leather shoes still need fixing—despite China’s proliferation of synthetic materials.
“Because [of] the market, now there’s a lot of synthetic stuff—vinyl, not leather. With leather, if you take care of it, it lasts many years. Vinyl has a time of life. Once it gets dry, it starts cracking. It lasts months,” he said.
“Not everything China makes is leather. The [shoe] bottom is leather but is the cheapest, covered with vinyl.”
Torres said the shoe business keeps him going because “I have to do it.”
“There’s no other way to cover my expenses,” he said. “Overall, it’s good.”
Working long hours using vintage machines, Torres laments that shoe repair is a dying art, a skill his father taught him growing up in central Mexico.
“This has been my life since I was a kid,” he said. “My dad was a shoemaker. I got it from him.”
Torres’s outlook for his shoe repair business in 2023 is that hopefully, it will be better than it was during the pandemic.
“First, I hope my health gets better,” he said, still battling long COVID. “The flu—whatever.
“I hope the economy gets better and everybody goes back to work. As far as my health? Up and down. But the way I see it, you’re a winner every day you wake up.”
Clean and Sober
A&A Towing driver Roger Sunderland in Carson City, Nevada, certainly would agree.
He’s been “clean and sober” for the past 600 days and counting.
“I’ve had a great year. I’ve had my ups and downs, but I have the Christmas spirit, my family in Sacramento, my daughters,” said Sunderland, 59.
“Everything is good. I love this area. I just moved up here a couple of years ago. I like it.”
Sunderland hopes to keep moving in the right direction in 2023 “because everything now is clear and beautiful.”
About 15 miles northeast of Carson City lies Virginia City, Nevada, an old silver mining town on the snow-glazed eastern slope of the Virginia Range.
The uphill driving was slick and treacherous, heading into town in a snowstorm. But the sense of wonder and excitement was like hitting the mother lode.
The downtown appeared much as it did more than 150 years ago, with vintage western storefronts now housing shops selling antiques, cafes, restaurants, clothing stores, and saloons.
Virginia City, population 787, evolved as an authentic boomtown with the 1859 discovery of silver in what would become known as the Comstock Lode. In 1883, American journalist and author Samuel Clemens started working as a reporter at the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in the Silver Queen Saloon.
“In February 1863, while covering the Territorial Legislature, Clemens signed his dispatch Mark Twain for the very first time,” a historical post reads.
“Clemens died in Redding, Connecticut in 1910, but Mark Twain was born on this site 150 years ago.”
Michael Molisani can identify with Mark Twain, strolling along the Virginia City boardwalk decked out in 1873 period costume with his wife, Tora Engle-Molisani.
A Year of Challenges
The couple, both historical reenactors, were on their way to the Silverland Inn and Suites for the Silent Writers group’s annual Christmas party.
“We dress up like this and walk the town,” Molisani said. “We are here to provide ambiance and historical information to tourists. So if a tourist wants to know, ‘Hey, what’s this?’ we help them.”
On a personal level, 2022 has been a year of challenges for the couple.
“No matter how hard you tried to get on top of it—unexpected expenses,” Engle-Molisani said.
“Part of our garage blew over. My old job got phased out.”
That wasn’t good. But she persevered and found a new job working in the human resources department at Tesla.
“I haven’t met Elon Musk yet. I’ve got my fingers crossed for 2023,” Engle-Molisani said.
On the other hand, her husband contracted a sinus infection that lasted six months.
“That sucked,” Molisani said, grateful for the antibiotics and steroids that cleared up his condition.
Working in labor, he said he’s no fan of the economy at present.
“But I also know we aren’t going into a depression,” Molisani said. “We still don’t have enough people for all the jobs.”
And there are many things that the couple has to look forward to in 2023, such as adopting a sixth cat.
Aside from that, “the world is garbage,” Molisani told The Epoch Times.
“But you know what? I don’t care because I can’t fix it. And I only have so many years on Earth. So I’m not going to lie. I’m going to dance.”
At the Silver Queen Hotel Saloon, further down the wooden boardwalk, bartender Charlie Seaton talked about spirits—and not the kind you drink.
Tourist lore is that spirits haunt the old saloon and 28-room hotel, built in 1876.
“There are limitless stories,” said Seaton, who’s had a few ghostly encounters of his own.
“Nothing sinister. Just different energies and experiences.”
Now that the Christmas spirit is upon Virginia City, Seaton said 2023 should be an excellent year for business. This year certainly was.
“The area’s growth has been remarkable,” Seaton told The Epoch Times. “It’s been a great year up here. The pandemic spurred the growth. Everyone wants the small-town USA, right?”
Silver Queen co-owner Constance Carlson said there should be no shortage of tourists in 2023 if 2022 is any guide.
“I’m so busy because people want to escape reality when they come here. It’s been my busiest month in 33 years,” Carlson said. “Too busy—and not enough help.”
At the Silver Dollar Saloon across the street, Brian Staples, of Virginia City, was enjoying a beer with his wife at the bar.
Staples’s outlook for 2023?
“I have no idea,” he said. “I want to read the terms and conditions first.”
Sadly, the year-end road trip across three southwestern states was over no sooner than it began.
But there would be many miles to go before any sleep.
Driving back to Arizona, the night came on like a giant eyelid slowly closing. One by one, the stars came out of hiding. Yet something was calming and soulful, listening to the hypnotic drone of radial tires rolling—moving forward along the desert Highway 95, away from the madness of city traffic.
There would be plenty of time to think, take stock of things, and reflect on the year ahead.