0584 A Different sort of American City (USA 103—revisit)

Tucson Travel Blog

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For all of my youth, Tucson both enticed my and terrified me. 


See, being an American living in Northwest Mexico, I always knew in the back of my mind that at any given moment, I could catch a bus of across the border, find a job, find a place to live, and slowly get sucked into the typical American life. Tuscon would be the most logical destination as it was close, I knew people there and jobs were plentiful.  That thought scared me, because just living to make money sounded like the most depressing lifestyle in the world--  and it was my impression that if I moved to the USA, that’s all that I would do.


And yet, as I struggled in Mexico to try to find ways to earn a decent living… that magnet of the “easy life” up north was strong.

  But resist I did, and other that short trips and summer jobs up north, I managed to make my life outside the USA.  It wasn’t until the age of 26, burned out from travels and adventures abroad that I finally felt I needed to spend a big chunk of time in my own country and do the typical American thing for a while. So I moved to Pennsylvania--  which, compared to Tucson, is a gold mine of culture and history, so it actually turned out to be quite an interesting experience.


Anyways, back to Tucson


There were some hilights from the visits I made to Tucson during my youth… Going to explore a cave up behind Mt Lemon… exploring the planetarium at U of A… getting my driver’s license… stocking up on maps and gear at the second hand stores on 4th Avenue… and of course, how can I forget?  All You Can Eat Buffets…


But the memories that stick in my mind the most are memories of walking down streets with no signs of life to them, along identical looking boulevards, past strip malls with all the exact same corporate franchises on them… feeling like I was in some sort of futuristic world where humans never step outdoors.

  Instead they are  preprogrammed to go from house to car, car to indoor job, indoor job to department store, and back home again.


I know this sounds very biased--  I know that there are plenty of folks in Tucson who lived exciting, adventurous lives and appreciate the outdoors… but this was the impression I had, and it was this impression that kept me from ever moving here permanently, no matter how rough things got down in Mexico.


And now, 10 years since my last visit, I’m back again.


Now, of course, the fear of getting trapped here is gone… So I should be able to look at this city with a new set of eyes.  This is just another city to discover.  Another city that I’m sure has something unique about it and a culture that I can appreciate.

  So I block out all those prejudices from my mind and set out to discover the city.


The Long Hike to Tucson


I could just catch a bus from the airport to the center of town, but that would be to easy.  I want this to be a conquest, an adventure… so I’m going to hike all the way from the airport to the city. “Southside neighborhoods of Tucson are super boring…” a voice from my past tells me, but I block it out.  I’m neutral now… no biases…


Right in front of the airport terminal, a couple of Asian tourist are excitedly taking pictures of each other in front of a cactus.  Of course… if you’ve never seen a desert before or a saguaro cactus, I guess this place probably looks pretty amazing.

  The air is clean, the sky clear, and rugged desert mountains line the horizon.  There is definitely a beauty to this place.


I continue on north, past the typical car rental lots and hotels, on through a section of scrub with an occasional warehouse or industrial building.  Even way out here, the streets are in a perfect grid like pattern, with dirt roads going out at perfect perpendicular angles.  It almost seems like the plan is to ultimately turn the entire state of Arizona into one perfect grid, with a main boulevard every half a mile.


I finally reach a residential development, which is completely walled in.  Why?  Are they really in danger of thieves and burglars way out here?  After my hike through South L.A., where nobody walls off their house, this seems a bit ridiculous--  and a bit of an insult to the urban hiker…


This stretches on for a couple of miles.  I head west for a bit to see if the next boulevard over is any more interesting.  Off in the middle of a barren field, I see a little portable taco stand with a couple of tables around.  I’m tempted, but I decide I need to wait until Mexico to enjoy tacos properly.  Instead I head into a dollar store on one of the strip malls just to grab a snack.  An older salesperson takes a look at me and says, “We also have cans of tunafish…”


Maybe I look scruffier than I thought…


Finally I reach a non walled off neighbourhood where I get a good glimpse of a typical Tucsonian home. 


After living in the Northeast US for 8 years, the contrast couldn’t be more stark:  in the Northeast, if you don’t have a lawn it’s like not wearing clothes--  unthinkable… Here the “yard” is just… well… dirt and rock… absolutely nothing done to try to make it more attractive or useful.  And the house?  It’s the most basic structure you can imagine.  Cinderblock walls, door, windows and a flat roof.  No excess, no frills, no waste.  Out East, the roof triangles high above the ceiling, creating a huge space that is used for… nothing…


I’m actually intrigued by this new “culture” I’ve discovered.  A culture where no one is trying to impress their neighbors and where--  at least in terms of lodging--  people are perfectly content with the absolute basics… This is a whole new side of America. 


Now, I’m sure there there are very fancy neighborhoods here in Tucson, and places where people do take pride in their yard’s appearance.  But this “no frills” attitude seems to be a theme here…


I pass one house where the owner takes it to a whole new level--  he actually uses all his miscellaneous household junk as a sort of modern art display--   arranging and hanging it “artistically” all around his front yard…


I’m actually starting to like this city a little bit.


I pass a grassy, pleasant family park with a bit of activity going on--  but I decide to pass it up… I really want to find a place to take my video clip before dusk, just in case this is my only day touring Tucson.


I continue on north past the rodeo grounds and up through a Mexican themed neighbourhood with some brightly colored shops… But even here there are just clusters of shops in between huge barren fields.  Technically I’ve been hiking through the “city” for several hours, and yet, it never really feels like “city”


Here there are a bunch of shuttle van businesses, offering a quick ride to Nogales on the Mexican border.  I’m half tempted to go ahead and hop on a van… but no, I’ve got more city to explore before I call it a day…


I cross Ajo Way, and past the huge Veteran’s Hospital complex.  The main building is a beautiful southwest style structure surrounded by desert landscape, and an American flag.  I figure it’s a good spot for a clip as it’s probably one of the most beautiful “desert themed” spots in the city…


Not much farther, I cross Interstate 10, the main artery that connects Florida with California… and into a whole different city, South Tucson


… This ends up being the end of my Tucson tour, as tonight I’ll head down to Mexico, and on my way back I’ll stay up in the north suburbs.  I realize that I’ve missed some of the main highlights of the city--  downtown, University of Arizona campus, etc… but I figure with my hike from the airport to the city, I’ve discovered the city sufficiently in my own way… but hopefully I will be back…


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photo by: walterman9999