Thursday, February 12, 2009

There are No Answers to the Riddles in the Sand

Have you ever had one of these days? You know, you have nothing planned until a late evening activity, but you get sidetracked and miss it. Maybe it was a date to paint pottery with your girlfriend, perhaps a free pizza meeting with the church’s youth group, or maybe you were just going to catch the latest Spider-man movie with some buddies. Attempting to fill the void in your day gets you involved with various mind-numbing tasks that usually sustain a promoted level of laziness. The monotonous events of the day put you in a stooper. I’m sure you’ve heard the idiom about being “high on life,” well what I’m talking about could be appropriately labeled as a “hangover of boredom.” By the time you snap out of it you realize that too much time has past thus rendering it impossible to make your evening plans.

That’s the day I was expecting to have when I woke up in Phoenix at Shawni’s house. My evening plans you ask: dinner with Buffy and Joe while their kids had their own plans. This was going to be a rare moment to be with my family in which neither of them would be rushing out of the house or doing chores.

Because of the way my family is organized, it’s not often I get to see anyone on my Dad’s side. We made it a point to discuss the last memories of being around each other. It was a good three years since I last saw Buffy and almost eight since I had seen her husband or children. Justin managed to elude me this time, but that’s because he’s at college in Colorado. One shouldn’t go that long without seeing their relatives, but it’s hard when everyone is spread out. Right now my Mom remains in Alabama, Dad and older brother in the D.C. area, and Josh, once he graduates college is likely to venture off like I’m doing. Play darts on a map of the Northeast and Midwest and you have the location of most of my Dad’s family members, while my mom’s family is dotted across the southeast. If I just visited each of them I could see the entire country east of the Mississippi River, and bits of Canada too, eh! Hmm...Orlando to Toronto: possibly my next roadtrip!

Despite looking forward to dinner, I missed it. As an added bonus, my cell phone committed suicide trying to find a signal, leaving me without a way to call ahead and let Buffy know that I wasn’t able to join them for the hot pot cuisine. I employed a miniature phone tree starting with the first phone number I remembered, my mother, and had her relay the message through my brother, who had Buffy’s number. Sometimes my life feels like I’m starring in a sitcom, only I’m the character who always plays the punchline. Like Screech but better looking. My mom always said to us while we were growing up, and it remains true, “it could be worse.”

I do realize that I’m backtracking here. This entry begins to encroach on the previous day’s ending, but I was exhausted after writing and loading all those images of Taliesin West. So bear with me.

I ended up buying a car charger for my cell phone at the Surprise, AZ Wal-Mart. Once the phone had been resuscitated, I was able to call Buffy. She gave me the garage code then told me to scavenge my own food. Such love in this family!

From Phoenix, the drive south on I-10 to Tucson is straight, flat and mundane. I think it might be possible to use a primitive auto-pilot system for most of the roads in the desert. In fact, I’m actually working on a design for one. Remember those anti-theft devices called ‘The Club,’ usually seen on a twelve year Hyundai Accent that has fuzzy dice and three shiny plastic hubcaps you can buy at big-box retailers. Ok, so use one of those. Set it to lock the wheel in the straight position. Then you need to put a gym bag on the pedal. You need to be careful here though, unless you have the luxury of cruise control, which if you are actually considering this then you do not. The gym bag needs to be filled to provide the appropriate weight in response to the pressure of the accelerator pedal. Failure to heed to this step might result in a speeding ticket. Once you covered all the necessary precautions and set the Club in place, take a nap for 110 miles. For life on the desert roadways, this is a great opportunity to catch up on those stray ‘Z’s.

Seriously though, those roads through the desert will make one bob their head if they venture out there without a steady caffeine supply. I found myself downing several sodas, coffees, energy bars, and, God forbid I get salmonella poisoning, lots of peanuts and trail mix. You may have heard of west Texas and the horrifically boring drive to get to the other side, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not just Texas. The entire Wild West is filled with these droning arrow-straight highways. The cities of the west are a traveler’s oasis that fills the windshield like a mirage then disappear once you reach the other side. Take Arizona for example. The state has two cities, the Phoenix metro area and Tucson’s smaller version of a metro. The various scatterings of villages and towns not on the main straight roads are filled with farmers, outcasts, and people who are hiding from the tax man. After passing through the area, it makes perfect sense that a secret government compound could be hidden for years with out detection or interference.

But back to the reason you are here.

Getting back to Tucson after dropping off Jason had me arriving about the time of the should-have-been dessert course. I used that garage code I was armed with and stumbled in, tired, exhausted, and since I hadn’t had a shower yet, a little stinky. To my surprise I find Ellie, my cousin and a senior in high school, and her boyfriend in the kitchen. For the sake of an amazingly funny story and potential parent confidentiality payment, I wish they had been doing something inappropriate. But she is a good girl, and apparently he’s a fairly decent chap himself. Not that it’s needed, but after meeting him, he gets my approval. I sat down with them over leftover lo mien noodles. I joked about how missing dinner signed me up for a babysitting gig. That was until the doorbell went off and the pair’s high school friends marched through the door. Missing dinner apparently made me the chaperone for a teen party. Not a crazy ‘American Pie’ style teen party, these kids just opened some snacks and popped in a movie. I think it’s nice to have a house where everyone can gather, almost uninvited. I even liked how they seemed to have done this so many times before. They raided the pantry like third world refugees showing up at a Western Sizzlin’ buffet.

It recollects cartoons and old television programs where a preteen just showed up and pleaded “can Tommy come out and play?” There is a safe place in a safe environment and parents are comfortable with their child being there. Whether you find it in grammar school, high school, college, or the professional world, these types of environments provide a setting for bonding with other individuals that will pave the way for long lasting friendships, job connections, and possibly even romantic interests. But we’ll let that last one slide; it’s not important right now.

Buffy and Joe got home later in the evening. Dining establishments in Arizona shut down early, and they recounted for us how they had bounced to several different joints only to show up as the lights were being shut off. I could easily picture this as a comedic montage set to really bad music in a B rate movie. I think at one point they showed up at a restaurant as her daughter was leaving the same place. That leaked a few grins from the crowd.

My time in Tucson had been cut short by the car accident and the bonus time Jason and I spent at Taliesin West. I was half way to overall destination and time was moving too fast. I had driven almost 1900 miles in two days, and didn’t have much to show for it. I originally planned on driving straight out to the Northwest. Seeking places to spend extra days was merely so that I wouldn’t do consecutive days driving. If I had to do it again, I would’ve taken my time. That’s why in Arizona, I decided to slow down. I called ahead to my next two stops and pushed the days back so I could spend more time in Arizona. With my eyes being wrapped up in the natural beauty, and knowing that I was headed to the land of rain 250 plus days a year, so I wanted to stay a little while longer. Can you blame me? This also gave me the chance to visit a few firms in Tucson area and spread my work around the Southwest.

I visited two in particular. One was the office of Rick Joy Architects, he doesn’t have much of a website, but if you search him on Google or YouTube you should run across some of his better known works. Rick Joy is a world renowned architect based out of Tucson. He began with work in the Tucson area and now has spread out to various projects in Mexico, South America, and Europe. While business is bustling along just fine for them, they are a relatively small firm. Upon my visit I saw eight people working and they only have a handful more.

The other firm I visited was a local design-build group with their own contractor on staff. They seemed to really like me and my work samples and the atmosphere was one in which I could see myself working efficiently. Bad news though, and he let me down gently, they are a ten person design firm, and with the current economic conditions, they had layoff seven. Now they only have three people, and that includes the firm’s principal.

It’s a bit depressing to hear someone get excited about seeing your work but then shut you down with that kind of overwhelming news. The economic world is crumbling around us, people are being let off by the hoards, and I’m supposed to start a career in this food stamp and welfare battlefield?!

To suppress my sinking ambition I decided to just do what I love to do, photo safari! I drove around the Tucson area to some fairly interesting sites. I wasn’t able to get the camera out while in the car, but as you enter downtown on the main road, a pedestrian crosswalk soars overhead. The chain link enclosure is turned 45 degrees so that it can create the skin pattern of a diamondback rattle snake. The entry towards the city even has the chain link material sculpted into a snake’s head. I took a driving tour around downtown Tucson, which resembles old western cities portrayed in classic films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but modernized. It wasn’t the seemingly safest environment to be whipping out a camera. Not to mention, because it’s an old city, parking was a hassle.

I later found my self on the south side of town, near the Pima Air and Space Museum.

The building for this Museum is the only thing on the road that isn’t a state trooper or chopped up aircraft. It is in the center of a huge boneyard. Traveling on a main road that splits the bone yard in two, it take about 12 minutes to pass through. Before seeing this, I had only seen this type of junkyard in movies and videogames. There is a really neat car racing game where you can jump the wingspan of a listing KC-10. But this wasn’t a mindless scattering of aircraft like those represented in mass media. The planes and helicopters looked like they had been surgically broken down and searched for reusable parts then organized in the field. It was another grim reminder of the world we live in.

Trying to capture photos of the planes began with me sticking the camera out the window to capture the roadside alignment fuselages and cockpits. But due to the highway speed and lighting conditions, all I really got were motion blurs.

I found a turn off road that provided me a place to get out of the car and inspect the field better. Granted the whole thing is surrounded with barbed wire, I only observed from the fence. I think the lot’s attendant was fond of the Grumman planes, he had one next to his trailer that had been stabilized with cables and seemed to have been put back together. I’m fairly certain that it was the same type of plane that Jimmy Buffett used as his Hemisphere Dancer.

There are two photos in particular that I like, one is the alignment of rudders and the other is various cabin sections.
I spent most of my time hanging out with Buffy and her kids, including going to see the horses and the new horse barn and show arena where they keep them. I found myself disgruntled at certain architectural elements. I don’t understand why people like symmetry so much but it’s what they want to spend millions of dollars on, so be it. I was impressed with the high level of quality the facility had, so this one bum detail dumfounded me. Anyway, highlight of the afternoon there, I saw this huge mechanical bull. I thought it was odd that they have it here. Even odder of the arm-sized hole in one end which I investigated with my hand. It was later revealed that it was a breeding facility so I washed up really quickly. The ‘mechanical bull’ was actually a semen collector that male horses mount. I’ll let you use your imagination about the hole. Since it was under construction, I’m betting, no, no, I’m sure that it hasn’t been used yet. And if you can correct me… DON’T! I’m satisfied knowing it hasn’t been test driven yet!


  1. I've been to the Surprise Walmart! My dad lives really close to Surprise! Small world...

  2. Wow, those plane pics are awesome! Cool blog, I'm glad I came across it!