Arizona drivers have always been aggressive. That’s why I insist on a six-banger…so I can dart out of the way of my fellow homicidal drivers, or dart around them. But we have exceeded ourselves. We’re no longer merely aggressive: we’re all batsh!t crazy.
On the Arizona Road
Yesterday SDXB and I decided to drive to Tucson. We wanted to revisit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and a couple of art collections on the University of Arizona campus. We’d planned to leave at 7:30, but we got (as usual, with me…) a bit of a late start. It was about 8 by the time we got out the door, headed for State Route 51, therefrom (is that a word?) to connect to the hideous Interstate 10 freeway.
Understand: I personally will not drive on the 10 at all. It is way too dangerous for my taste. Given my choice, I would have taken the slow boat to Tucson via Florence, which crosses the Rez and goes through far more scenic territory and is nowhere near as heavily traveled. But normal people — SDXB, for example — would never dream of adding an extra 40 or 50 minutes to the travel time just to avoid a little lunacy.
So we set out.
Oh, my Lord the traffic was gawdawful! Holy crap. The surface streets were essentially stopped. We got on Main Drag South and didn’t even get a quarter of the way to the 51 before I realized I’d brought the wrong glasses. So had to instruct SDXB on the Native’s back-road access into the ‘hood, so we could circumvent the mess. Starting again from the Funny Farm, we decided on another route, which entailed going across GangBanger’s Way as far as you can go, then heading south and connecting to Main Drag South at a point past the roadblock.
Now we’re merging onto the 51, which is barely moving. And — in a typical Arizona driver stunt, a woman decides we are not going to get on ahead of her, so she speeds up to cut him off. He doesn’t see her because she’s in his blind spot. Instead of braking to avoid a collision, she lays on the horn.
He swerves back into the on ramp. Then, with her out of the way, he gets into the first (outside) lane.
She now slows down to get behind him, pulls into the onramp so she can fly past him on the right. She goes along a ways…this onramp doesn’t go away: it turns into an offramp to the next east-west main drag. Now she merges into the lane ahead of him, and within three seconds swerves back into the on/offramp! Just to show she can do it.
What a woman!
Now SDXB tries to merge into the center lane when he spots a gap in traffic. The guy behind him lays on the gas and speeds up, again to cut him off. You know…when you have 10,000 cars in front of you, what the hell difference does one more make?
Apparently it makes a big difference to a sh!thead.
You never saw such traffic in your life. The freeway was jammed in both directions — SDXB figured we were averaging about 30 to 35 mph. We could have driven down to the I-10 on the surface streets faster than that, without risking our lives.
We’re now in the HOV lane, moving along at this breakneck speed — which is far faster than anyone in the normal commute lanes is going.
Next we come across a feckless semi driver. This poor guy, a big muscular-looking blond dude (very scenic) is pulling a medium-sized trailer whose contents, alas, were not what we could call “secured.” A heavy workman’s wheelbarrow had fallen off his load, crashed into the middle of the freeway, and scattered God only knows how many cinderblocks across four or five lanes of traffic. The cinderblocks shattered into tire-puncturing, fender-denting chunks. Naturally, even the crazies were picking their way slowly through the mess. He had pulled off and stopped in the HOV lane, bringing an abrupt stop to any progress there, and was standing in the road looking stressed and talking into a cell phone.
Can you imagine the conversation?
“All over the 51, boss.”
“Secured? Well, sure I secured the load.”
“Boss. I don’t know what happened. Must have been Jose’s fault.”
Finally moving on, we managed to get onto the I-10 (transit through the spaghetti involves maneuvering not one, not two, not three, but four lanes that disappear within a few hundred feet…get left (no ya don’t, damn ya! HOOOONK!), get left again (die, you bastard!), get left again (I can’t believe I left my .45 at home this morning), and get left again (outa my way, ya crazy fool!).
On the 10, traffic was bumper-to-bumper all the way to Casa Grande, which is effing halfway to Tucson. Traffic westbound into the city was almost stopped, just barely crawling along, from Chandler all the way into the city — and we didn’t see any westbound accidents.
Godlmighty. Imagine having to do that every fuckin’ day of your life, twice a day morning and night. Ugh, ugh, ugh!!!!!!!
Traffic remained very heavy once we got past the bedroom suburbs — not bumper to bumper, but so thick there was no way you could leave enough space ahead of you to stop safely in an emergency. At that point the speed limit jumps to 75 miles an hour. With not enough room to stop safely at 65 mph or even at 55 mph, it’s one long suicide corridor.
Using SDXB’s yapping GPS — those things annoy me so much! — we were directed to an exit different from the one I would normally take. This carried us around the backside of Marana, a farming town just west of Tucson. I’d never taken this route, but we were delighted to find it led us straight through the middle of the Saguaro National Park! Well, naturally, we had to stop in there…
Saguaro National Park
This is a forest of giant saguaro cacti, which grow at specific elevations only in the Sonoran desert. Some years ago I wrote a story for Family Exchange about this attraction. If a gentle breeze is blowing when you’re standing next to one of these amazing plants, you can hear the wind whistling through the spines.
The saguaros were in bloom, mirabilis. They bloom briefly in the spring or early summer, when they feed bats and birds and insects and, once turned to fruit, used to help feed people, too.
It seems as though most flowers in the low desert are yellow. The Sonoran Desert is the richest bee habitat in the world…and interestingly, bees are especially drawn to the color yellow. They dearly love yellow flowers.
It really was very lovely in the park. I wish we’d selected that as our destination, because the place is full of hiking trails taking you to amazing scenic vistas through a great forest of strange giants. And you know…it’s quiet there. Very, very quiet.
No planes roar overhead. No sirens pierce your hearing. No damned helicopters buzz you and peer down at you. No dogs bark. No cars roar. No damned train honks and bonks its way up the tracks. Just birdsong and the whisper of the wind in your ears.
Please, God. Let me move to Yarnell.
Or to Picture Rock, Arizona. This seems to be an unincorporated worker’s camp out in the middle of freaking nowhere, probably for farm and national park workers. A whole bunch of trailers and shacks squat on the desert, far enough from the 10 and from Marana that you can’t hear the racket, enough out in the desert to make you feel like you’ve found a hive of desert rats. At night, that place would be so dark you could even see the stars.
Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
This place, a great local favorite and still a center of research in geology and biology, has become more of a tourist trap than it used to be. It hasn’t changed significantly since I last visited, 15 or 20 years ago.
By the time we got there, the heat must have been pushing 100 degrees. SDXB, being a Michigander, doesn’t do well at all in the heat. He was beginning to get unhappy.
We took refuge in the shade of a tourist ramada to consume the lunch he’d brought: ham sandwiches, potato chips, and snacks like cinnamon-sugared almonds and Cracker Jacks and sunflower seeds. All of them highly salted: if you weren’t already thirsty in the hot, dry air, you’d be parched by the time you finished that stuff. 😀
Even though it was hot and mid-week, we still shared the space with kids on school excursions, their fried and cranky teachers, and a number of misbegotten tourists. Better than when the place is over-run, but…oh well. At one point we heard two men and two women, all middle-aged imports to Arizona, going on and on in the single stupidest conversation I’ve ever heard in my life, on the subject of how you must kill every rattlesnake and every black widow you see.
The more I get to know people, the better I like my dog…
Among a variety of educational exhibits aimed at the second-grade level, the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum has some first-rate botanical gardens and a few animal exhibits that, not having been visibly updated in decades, now seem cramped and out of date. There was, for example, a kind of zoo enclosure that held a lonely black bear, the poor beast evidently bored stupid.
And a captive blue heron, also apparently alone, trapped in a wire cage. The fake rocks and fake ponds, while awe-inspiring and attractive when we were younger things, no longer seem either humane or convincing here in the 21st century. Strange: I used to think this place was so neat and so top-of-the-line. Now, not so much. As a botanical garden it’s good. As a zoo…maybe it’s time for them to get out of that business.
It still has its spectacular vistas, although those are inexorably being encroached upon by development: what appears to be a sprawling water treatment plant, the tacky structures, the handsome trailers.
Pave paradise, put up a parkin’ lot… Even an area like Southern Arizona, which tends to house people of a more enlightened turn of mind — it’s dominated economically and influenced culturally by the University of Arizona — can’t resist the devastation wreaked by simple population growth. The more people, the more mess.
On the Road Again…
The moreness of the people was very much in evidence when we got back on the 10 to head to lovely Phoenix. Now it was pushing rush hour (which starts at 3:00 p.m. in these parts), and again the road was just mobbed, even more crowded Phoenix-bound at 75 mph.
We began to see the antics of the road warriors as comic. Delirious with heat, maybe?
At one point a guy in an old white truck with an equally run-down old white trailer charged up behind a big, later model pick-up, climbed up the tailpipe, then swerved right into the adjacent lane, passed the pickup (which was going the limit), and swerved back in front of it with maybe three feet to spare.
So it went, gathering drama as we approached town. Through the ugly sprawl of the East Valley, along the border between Third-World South Phoenix and sparkly gentrified downtown Phoenix, around the bend and up toward the ‘hood. Another guy in a pick-up swerves around irrationally. SDXB speculates: Must be on the phone. As we pass him, I glance over and see…yup! He’s yakkin on the phone at 65 mph.
We get off on the surface streets, which are no less crazy. At the parking lot of one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, some guy is trying to get out to turn right onto Conduit of Blight Blvd. But an idiot on Conduit of Blight has decided he must go into the parking lot, and so he has headed in and stopped his car, nose to nose up against the guy who’s trying to get out. Both are blocked, and neither will give way.
The red light changes, thank goodness, before the bullets begin to fly.
So it was good to scurry back into the Funny Farm and shut the door behind us.
In recent months, I’ve felt myself growing more and more reclusive. I hardly go out at all anymore. I don’t go shopping. I don’t go to events. I go only to those places and activities to which I’m already committed or that I can’t escape — like grocery shopping or the dentist. It has occurred to me that something must be wrong with me: maybe it’s a function of age. Early Alzheimer’s? Or a mental problem. Nascent agoraphobia? I used to love to drive around, even in city traffic. Now the very thought gives me a flinch reflex.
Am I losing my marbles?
But no. I don’t think so.
You would have to be crazy to want to go out and do battle with those teeming, rabid, sweaty mobs. To risk your safety on roads best described as homicidal. To rub shoulders with people who need only open their mouths to demonstrate how far an IQ score can fall and still leave its holder ambulatory.
No wonder I don’t want to go out. No wonder I’d rather stay in my house and in my yard and in my pool than engage this Brave New World.
I want the 20th century back…