Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Open Mic Night Musician and .... Rocks

Before I went away, I asked Jess if there was anything she wanted me to bring her back from the "super desert."

"Rocks," she answered. Jess wanted rocks. Sure. I'll bring you rocks.

Everywhere I went, the cool road up to Mount Lemmon, the Hill with the Cross at the San Xavier Mission, side of the road overlook as we adventured on Road 42 to Portal, City of Rocks... everywhere. I picked her up some rocks.

Along the way, there were plenty of opportunities to buy shiny polished rocks - bags of them for $10, or so. But I figured those were not nearly as authentic or personal.

On the last night of the trip when we went out to dinner, there was an open mic taking place in the joint. There was a guy who played guitar and sang, I didn't recognize a single song he sang, nor could I understand the words because the sound system was just no good.

Then, there was this guy. Thin, lank, tall, wearing a fur hat of some sort. He played guitar and banjo. He played a piece of hard-sided luggage with a drum kick pedal facing backwards with his right foot. With his left foot, he had a boot with some tambourine disks on it. And he had a harmonica holder with a kazoo in it.

The songs he sang were kind of 1800s folk style from the west. But he threw in a Charles Manson cover song.

A girl sang with him on some of the songs. She really wasn't that great, but ... he kind of was.  They put on a decent show. At least I could understand words when he sang, unlike the other guy earlier.

It got to be the end of the show, he came out onto the floor and sang a song that required stomping and hand clapping. The audience was enthusiastic and adoring. He must be a local guy. And these are his people.

I felt like I didn't belong there, as much  as I kind of enjoyed the overall presentation, this was kind of alien to me. Even as someone who does enjoy folk music. At the end, as Doug was waiting outside for me, I went over to put a 5 dollar bill into his tip vase, he turned around and smiled at me.

"You were really great," I told him. "That was some of the best luggage drumming I've heard in many years." Not a lie.

He beamed at me and said thanks, and then turned around and picked up a white box off the stage.

"Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Have some rocks!"

And in the box, were a ton of those polished, perfect, multi-colored rocks that I'd passed on buying during the whole trip.

How funny is that.

"My daughter asked me to bring her rocks from the desert!" I told him, happily. "Can I take more than one?"

"Take as many as you need!" he smiled. I grabbed a big handful and pulled the bottom of my shirt up a bit to pouch and filled it with the rocks.

I came outside, and Doug just looked at me with the "what did you do this time?" kind of expression.

"I got Jess some rocks," I told him, and lifted one up and showed it to him.

"You got some rocks alright," he replied.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Arizoning Out, part 6: Gila Cliffs and the Race to PHX

The last day of our vacation. I felt like we needed two more days. Damn. WE NEED TWO MORE DAYS!

We got up early and organized our stuff so it would be ready to check in at the airport. Everything organized. Everything ready.

Grabbing a quick drive-through meal, I truly regretted not having one more day. I would have liked to have found another great Breakfast Burrito in the region instead of the convenience and speed of the drive through.

We headed up to Pinos Altos, which was supposed to be a ghost town. Two of the four buildings are actually in use as a restaurant now, so not much of a real ghost town. The visitor's center was supposed to be open but was not.

I suppose this is a good thing, because we headed on with our day, up towards the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Driving on another scenic drive, this time the Trail of the Mountain Spirits, we headed north out of Pinos Altos on Rte 15. The drive was fantastic, lots of twists and turns, and the bartender was spot on that in certain places, even if you know this road you stand the chance of making a mistake at too high a speed.

Doug made jokes about "Thelma and Louise" as he hooted driving around the switchbacks, as I prayed silent confessions of my sins and for forgiveness and acceptance into the sweet loving arms of Jesus should we catapult off into thin air.

So let me tell you, if you're looking for a beautiful place to end your life by car, this is the road for you. Forget I said that. NO. Don't do that.

The geology of the area is outstanding. There information at a rest overlook of the Copperas Creek volcano and how this entire area was formed. Oh, if you love Geology, go read about it.  Otherwise, I took pictures.

There had been a fire up there about 20 years ago, and it was amazing to see how the Ponderosa Pine protected itself with its bark, and kept the tree alive and it wasn't consumed. The squares all over the trunks were the burned and charred but the trees still were flourishing. Really cool stuff.

We got to the ranger station and got instructions on what to do, headed over to the trail head. It was a half mile hike to the actual cliff dwellings. I was feeling fat and out of shape, and still having an issue with the elevation.

Doug was patient with me. I am really good for hiking on long flat trails but put some elevation changes going up in front of me and it is a challenge.

We took our time, and got to the top. Worth the trip for sure. We spent a long time up there, soaking it all in and then talking to the volunteer interpreter up at the top, named Alice. She was a riot and we had so much fun talking with her.

And again, no one else was up there. We had the place to ourselves. Alice, the sky, the rocks, the dust, the trails... everything.

Heading back down we realized we had to really make tracks. Getting from where we were to Phoenix in time for our flight might be a challenge. Close to a 6 hour drive, and it was 3pm.

We managed to make really good time, and even stopped to see "The Thing," a "famous" roadside attraction in Benson. Well worth the $1 admission because we had a nice walk to get through the ridiculous maze all the way to see "The Thing" (I won't spoil the surprise for anyone who may ever want to go there) and we got a hot dog at the DQ to boot.

We drove through Tucson again, and waved longingly up at the Catalina Highlands knowing my aunt and uncle were up there.

Our flight was at 11:50, and we pulled into the car rental return at about 9:30. We had plenty of time. Plenty of time! After we got the quick shuttle over to the airport, we figured we'd get through the line and even have time for dinner before getting on the flight. Tequila!

Until we got to the TSA screening line. Which was a mile and a half long. I won't go into detail but let's just say it was as bullshit as any bullshit was ever bullshit.

Best part of it was the woman screaming at us to make sure we didn't have any liquid in our bags. Doug searched his and came up with four beers that he'd stowed in the bag before we went to City of Rocks, in case we wanted to enjoy a beer on the hike.

Not willing to just throw the beer out, he handed me one, and we chugged our beers in line to the amusement of some "bros" nearby.

The flight was uneventful. Four and a half hours later we were home and it was good to fall into my own bed and some sleep.

And that's the wrap-up. The adventure. The whole shebang. The thing that I wish we had more time for was Chaco Canyon up in the northwest part of the state. And that is where we would have been if we didn't spend the extra day in Tucson. But I wouldn't trade that for the world because we had so much fun with my aunt and uncle.

We have something to look forward to if we head back that way, a different route of adventure. Maybe fly into Albuquerque and head west instead.

Congratulations for getting through this whole thing.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Arizoning Out, part 5: Road 42

Unwashed, and feeling gross from sweating all night, I decided that it wasn't worth being mad, or pissing and moaning about the night before. It was a new day, a beautiful morning and it found us looking at a list of a million things we wanted to do in New Mexico, and we hadn't even gotten across the border yet.

After leaving the Murder Hotel, getting some quick eats at a drive through, our ultimate goal was to make it to Silver City, NM to drive out to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. First, was to hit the the Chiricahua National Monument and take the Bonita Canyon scenic drive.

I had a lot of fun with my new camera, playing with settings, depth of fields, and light.

We traveled by Fort Bowie, but we didn't take the hike in. We looked at the landscape, had the whole area to ourselves, a bright, cool and beautiful morning, solitude for as far as the eye could see. A dust trail far in the distance from another car driving along Apache Pass Road.

Driving towards Chiricahua, we met a cow in the road. He was checking out girl cows on either side of the road in a fenced area. Cow didn't want to move. I took a lot of pictures of the cow.  More pictures than I should have.

My inner New Yorker was showing.


We made it to the ranger station at Chiricahua, and found the scenic road closed. The website had said it would be open by the end of February, and (as of this writing still even) it was not. We studied a map and Doug talked to the ranger about driving through another area. The ranger was concerned about us going that way because the road could be muddy or washed out. Another man overheard and told Doug that he just drove here from the other side of that area and the road was fine. The ranger asked what kind of car we had, and Doug said it was a rental SUV.

"Well, as long as you don't have a camper or a trailer you should be okay," said the cautious ranger.

The other guy said he just did the road in a Toyota Corolla, and again echoed his earlier assertion that the road was fine.

"Well, I'm half as smart as you look so we'll take it!" Doug said.

Now, I never really talked much about our car rental aside from telling you we picked the car up at the airport.

Doug had reserved us a convertible Ford Mustang, because he thought it would be badass to barrel through the desert in a fine American automobile. At the counter, he asked about AAA discounts. The kid behind the counter offered to upgrade us to an all wheel drive Cadillac XT5 crossover. With 26 miles on it.

We took it. I'm glad we did because I don't know if a Ford Mustang could have done the things we needed the vehicle to do.

At this point we'd tested the vehicle on all kinds of dirt roads.

We hit the road. And boy did we hit it. Dirt, water, gravel, more dirt, dust! That car was a mess by the time we reached the top of the mountain. We actually met a guy running up the mountain toward us as we were headed down, and he reluctantly waved at us with a look of suspicion and disgust.

Sorry dude.

I imagined what it would be like to park here and have a campout, with dark skies and star gazing and the Milky Way. I imagined how cool it would be to bring the Boy Scout troop here and how it would blow their minds.

We managed to find the way down to an area called Cave Creek Canyon, and took a short hike to a scenic view. Again, we had the place to ourselves, and everything was just perfect. Again, we had the whole place to ourselves.

Heading towards the little town of Portal, where there was nothing really, we then found the road that would take us on to I-10 again, and onward to New Mexico.

That was a fun ride. Probably not like the Bonita Canyon Scenic byway, but heck. We had a great time.

Making it to Silver City, we were super hungry. It was 1pm. Time to eat. Center of town didn't have a lot food-wise going on, but it did have Little Toad Creek brewery/distillery. Perfect.

We settled down at the bar and ordered some beers and burgers. Mike the bartender was super friendly, and we told him about our adventures thus far.

Doug mentioned to him that we were headed to Gila Cliff Dwellings and he shook his head hard.

"Don't go at this hour. Not a good idea."

It was only 1:30, and only 36 miles from where we were,  so we were a little incredulous.

He said we should go in the morning, get an early start. If we left after lunch, we'd get out there and have to turn around and come back, and the road is "dangerous even for those who know it."

Figuring that the bartender at the local familiar would be the wisest judge of what was going on in the world, Doug said that we'd do that.

But what should we do for the rest of the day if we weren't going to go out there...

Mike and the other bartender said "City of Rocks."

"You have to go to City of Rocks, you will love it!" the other bartender cheered with great enthusiasm.

"It is my favorite place on Earth. It's like, you're driving forever and you come in there and rise over the crest and Oh Man! City of Rocks!" Sold. Okay then. City of Rocks, here we come.

Doug looked at Travelocity for a hotel. I told him to choose wisely after the experience the night before at Murder Hotel.

He chose the Murray Hotel, right around the corner. No swimming pool, but the website looked nice, and our car was actually parked in front so. Easy.

The hotel has been in the process of being renovated over the past few years. It was pretty much abandoned in the 1980s after years of great success in this small city out in the middle of nowhere.

The current owners have been moving through floor by floor, room by room and bringing back a nice art deco style to the joint. It used to have a ballroom and concert hall, maybe someday it will again.

In the meantime, we got a nice deal and the girl gave us a very nice room based on Doug's tale of needing to make it right after the last night's hotel... We had a large corner room, with a sofa, love seat, big TV, king sized bed, and a shower.

With shampoo.

We got our stuff stowed away and headed out to City of Rocks.

It was all the bartenders had promised. We hiked around, took pictures, and talked about coming back with a camper or camping equipment and staying a few days here. Within the giant rocks, there were gorgeous little cubbies where you could park a camper or your car, pitch your tent, grill your food, and climb up and around the formations.

It was a most excellent choice for a way to spend some time.

We were going to head back to town, but then decided to check out Faywood Springs. For a reasonable rate, we booked an hour in a private spring all to ourselves.

The water was very hot. And an hour is a long time. Getting in and out of course was recommended, but after about 40 minutes I was super done. The sun started to set. The starts started to come out. But we didn't have any further time to soak in the springs. I wanted to go back to City of Rocks, park up on the overlook and stargaze, but once again - we were hungry. Hungry overrides stargazing.

We went back to Silver City, around 8:30pm. Got cleaned up (I finally got that shower) and then decided we needed dinner. We discovered that all of the restaurants in town closed at 8pm.

Ridiculously uncool, right? Come on, Silver City! 9pm dinner! You're a college town! How do you do this?

Doug wanted a giant burrito, and we were devastated to learn that we couldn't get one anywhere. So we went back to Little Toad Creek, the only thing open.   The bartender that we met earlier that day came in to hang out (again, only thing open so where else is he gonna go?) and saw us sitting in the dining room, beamed a huge smile and came over to ask us if we got to City of Rocks. We thanked him profusely for the recommendation. I could tell he was totally happy about making other people happy.

Dinner was not quite as good as lunch. Cocktails were small, and a little bit disappointing. I should have stuck with the beer.  There was an open mic, and the sound quality was not so awesome. We enjoyed watching a guy play banjo, guitar, and a suitcase with a kick pedal from a drum set. Our experience with him is a whole entry unto itself so I'll save that for later.

We happily were sleeping by 11pm.

Next, our Final Amazing Chapter - Part 6!

Arizoning Out: The Interstitial Cautionary Tale of the Worst Hotel Ever

 Doug started to get really sleepy as we drove East towards Silver City and asked if I could find us a hotel. We were about 120 miles away. I offered to drive, but he really wanted to get off the road and get a hotel. We'd get up early in the morning, get going. See the next things. Yay!

Worst decision ever.

Doug had me look things up on Travelocity, which up to this point had not steered us wrong. He picked the Travelodge, but we got there and there was no Travelodge. There was a Motel 6 in its place, with the sign turned inside out on the pole.

Should have been an instant red flag.


Doug was tired and cranky and pulled into the lot.  He vetoed my complaints that I kind of really wanted to go across the street to the Holiday Inn Express, because this place was lookin', shady-assed.

At the register the sign said "We are no longer a Motel 6. We are the Willcox Inn." And I don't remember if it said "Cash Only" but ... Doug forked out 38 bucks for the room and we got placed in the 2nd exterior room down from the office. The guy at the counter was really nice, and I kind of was happy to stop for the night.

Getting to the room, I had other thoughts.

The room had a tile floor, which usually screams "Murder Hotel" to me because tile is easier to clean than carpeting when a murder takes place. Just mop the brains, guts and blood up and it's like new!

The 4 other rooms rented on our row all had their windows and doors wide open, which I thought was odd. I walked down to get some extra steps on my Fitbit (I was so close to 10k) and there was a man in a room sitting reading, with two dogs sleeping on his bed. There was a mom and dad with two small screaming yelling children and the mom looked exhausted. There was a very athletic man in biker shorts, and I surmised that his vehicle was the one with the four bikes and the Triathlon stickers on the trailer attached to the motorcycle.

We opened our door and windows too, as the room was a million degrees. It was about 50 degrees outside, but ... a million inside.

It should have been thunder storming or snowing in the doorway with the hot and cold air systems crashing into one another.

Eating dinner, drinking some beer, sitting on the uncomfortable bed, I looked at the tissue-thin pillows and walked to the front desk (needing my coat to do so after sitting in the room sweating like I was in a Hot Yoga class...) I asked the guy for a couple more pillows and he looked at me like I was a little crazy. He seemed unsure that there may be more pillows. I was thinking to myself "Oh my God, man. You have 200 un-rented rooms in this complex. There are not two more pillows?"

A guy came in and it was obvious he worked there, so he said he'd go get pillows. About ten minutes later, second guy, smiling and happy, shows up at my door with two more tissue thin pillows for our little heads.

Part of me can't be mad at them because they were so nice, so kind. But this place was just the pits.

We got ready for bed and Doug closed up the window and the door. Immediately I hated him. I tell him to open the window again, but he insists someone will come in the window and kill us and steal our things.

There is no screen on the window, so in theory, yes. A ninja murderer who wants dirty laundry and my camera could indeed come in and kill us. It is, after all, a murder hotel.

I went into the bathroom and wet a hand towel (note: one hand towel, one bath towel, no face cloth. In the morning when I would need to shower, I guessed I'd be going to get more towels from the front desk). I wanted to wet my face and the back of my neck. I considered just taking a shower then, but was just too tired to deal.

Falling into bed, I am baking like a sous vide chicken breast. I tossed and turned until about 2am and finally got up to open the window.

As I was sliding the window along the not-very-willing slider, it fell off the track and began falling towards me. I thought to myself, this giant plate glass slider window is going to fall, shatter, cut me into pieces, and I will bleed to death on this murder hotel floor. Thank God it is a tile floor! Easy cleanup after the lady from Massachusetts dies in here! I managed to hold the window up, and put it back where it needed to be, and doing so, the curtain fell off the rod.

Not giving a shit anymore, I stood on a rickety chair in my underpants and t-shirt to put the curtain back onto the guides, and my hand encountered boiling hot air.

Boiling. No lie. Wavy, hot, boiling air.

I turned and looked over my shoulder and saw there was a heating vent above the bathroom door, and hot air was pumping out of the ventilation system.

Curtain returned to place, I walked over to the thermostat, which was set to "Cool" and 63 degrees.

Cool my fat ass. I turned it off. Instantly, the room instantly began to cool down. Doug muttered at me, something about the window shouldn't be open and I told him to shut up. I finally fell asleep, and eventually at some point, pulled the sheet around me because I'd cooled off enough to need it.

Awake in the morning, Doug went in to shower and reported that the shower was actually really nice. The shower head was powerful, and the water hot. He was happy. Stoked. I went in to shower and noted there was no shampoo in the bathroom. There was one small soap rectangle, which Doug had used the night before and just then in the shower.

I re-dressed and unhappily headed to the front desk to ask.

There was a new guy at the desk, he was on a computer with earbuds in, so he didn't see me there at first. He looked up and slowly un-budded his ears and asked me what I needed.

Not nearly as nice as the guys the night before.

"Do you have shampoo? There is none in my room."

He looked around the office area, obviously at the piles of shampoo sitting on the other two empty desks. He said to me, in all sincerity, "No, not really."

"Not really?" I asked with a note of disbelief. "You either do, or you don't. You don't Not Really have shampoo."

My NY bitch was starting to show. A little.

"We have bars of soap," he answered.

I pulled my ponytail straight up off the side of my head and said "Yeah. Bars of soap don't wash hair like this too well."

"Well you can wait until Dollar General opens. I think they open at 8?"

"Thanks, I'll pass. I don't really want to wait 90 minutes for a store to open."

He started to suggest the Circle K gas station up the road and I walked out the door.  Not really, indeed.

I got back to the room, Doug was organizing his things and I put on my pants and found my baseball hat. He asked if I was going to shower and I said "Not really."

I went to wash my face and lifted up the hand towel that I'd used the night before. It didn't stay on the small hook by the sink very well, and had fallen onto the vanity top.

Several small bugs or some variety, I'm not really sure, ran all over the place.

Okay then. Not really. Not really cool.

I came out of the room, picked up all my things, threw them in my bag and backpack and went out to the car. I told Doug I was happy to just go. I told him about all the little weird possible cockroaches or some sort of weird water-seeking desert monster bugs. The bugs that probably all came through the open bedroom window while we were sleeping, or up through the drain of the not bad shower, or out from the heating duct where it was ten thousand degrees.

We hit the road, he had a good night's sleep overall. But he also conceded that I was right - this was a bad idea.

Tile floors, man. Tile floors are the dead give away... Never stay at a motel with tile floors.

Arizoning Out, part 4: Tombstone

Doug and I got up at an early (for us) hour, packed up our things and ate breakfast. We were on the road by 9:30 (our goal was 9) and it was hard to leave in a lot of ways.

I would have loved another day there.

Perhaps a visit down to the Pima Air Museum that day, and a walk around the older part of Tucson which we only got to drive through and I loved it.

We headed south west to Tombstone, because like any good tourist to New England I'd recommend you go to Salem and soak in that whole scene. Even with cheesy period costume attired tour guides all over the place.

So in Arizona... how could we be this close, and not go to Tombstone. I mean, really.

Coming into town the first stop was the famous Boot Hill Graveyard, where the grave markers had been painted and repainted over the years and didn't look very authentic, but the place was really cool overall. It also looks like 1882 was a bad year for that town...

We drove into town and discovered parking and walked over to the few square blocks of restaurants and businesses, and the aforementioned people dressed in period costume welcomed us. Very few people were there, it looked as if the season really had not gotten underway yet, or perhaps, not a lot of people actually come to Tombstone. I wasn't quite sure.

Speaking of period costume, we attended the reenactment of the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, ate a nice sandwich from Brenda's Chuckwagon and ate over at Cerveza's Cantina because one doesn't serve food and the other doesn't serve alcohol. Weird. Then we visited the Tombstone Courthouse museum, got a drink at the Crystal Palace Saloon, just to say we had been there (Since Big Nose Kate's was mobbed) and we also only had one drink because the bartender served us and ignored us, never coming around again to ask us if we wanted anything else.

We ended our day at the Bird Cage, the infamous Bird Cage as all the literature says. Little balcony "cribs line the upstairs and during shows (in fact, 24 hours a day) men would go up to the lady of their choice and have some quality time together. We toured around the building, backstage and downstairs where the world's longest poker game ever played had been conducted.

I could have done without all the creepy mannequins throughout the tour.

Leaving Tombstone, we headed south to Bisbee, which was a beautiful little town. Go see the website for evidence. Hipsters, hippies, artists, breweries, antiques... we spent a little time walking around and Doug wanted to beat feet to the east to get to New Mexico. I kind of wanted to stay the night there but the goal for that day was to actually make it to Silver City, NM. The road we wanted to take East was closed, so we had to drive all the way back up to Tombstone to get to the road that would take us to I-10.

And now, we have an interstitial post: Christine Hates this Hotel

Arizoning Out, part 3: Tucson Family Time

Woke up only a little fuzzy from too much Mexican Moonshine and shenanigans at the show. In search of a Breakfast Burrito, Doug did some internetting, and found a place to eat called Snooze on the campus (or very near to it) of ASU.

We were literally the oldest people in there until another mom and dad pair and their student/kid came in.

The place was hopping, ping pong table and cornhole games going on at the patio. We sat at an 8 seater high-top table with kids younger than my daughter, probably same age as my son.

And the Breakfast Burrito was outstanding. Way too huge - I had to have Doug help me finish it. The quest for Breakfast Burrito happiness was achieved.

On to my aunt and uncle's house in Tucson.

A long time ago, my dad's sister moved to California with her husband and two kids. We all kind of lost contact. My cousin Deb was always good at keeping in touch, and my aunt came back to visit when my other aunt had cancer and was getting treatment but I think at that point I was already living up here, and rarely connected with much of my dad's family.

In the past couple of years we've kind all reconnected, and I have had the pleasure of getting to know my aunt and uncle all over again.

We got to their house Sunday afternoon and soaked up the scenery from their backyard, looking down from the Catalina Highlands to the city of Tucson in the valley below. My uncle's birthday is February 29th, so we went out for his big "21st!" which was a great time.

We then sat around the living room enjoying some after dinner drinks.

What a great day.

We had planned a couple of things to see while in Tucson. Doug wanted to drive up the Sky Islands Scenic byway to Summerhaven and Mount Lemmon, and he wanted to go to the Pima Air Museum.

My aunt told me if we went there that we should stare into a space that has nothing in it while a crowd is around and yell "Wow! That Stealth Bomber is really cool! You can barely see it!" It's guaranteed to get a laugh, and I think she figured us out pretty quickly that we'd be the type of people to do just that.

We got a slow start out the door that morning and enjoyed our ride up to Mount Lemmon. The elevation change from being at sea level on Thursday to 9100 feet there that afternoon was having an impact on both of our brains.

Doug started to feel it at about 7000 feet and it hit me around 8000 feet. It felt like all I wanted to do was curl up and take a nap. My pace was slow, my brain kind of pulsing but not in pain.

We ate a great lunch at the Iron Door but passed on having a beer with our burgers. Doug took it easy driving, and we had fun driving down the mountain back to feeling normal again.

It was crazy, crazy beautiful, and you should go look at the pictures in Flickr to check it all out.

We didn't make it to the Air Museum. So we drove around a little while and got back to my aunt and uncle's where she had made a lovely dinner. We had initially planned on leaving in the morning but between chatting with my aunt and uncle about all the things we didn't see yet, and the hospitality and joy we were feeling, Doug suggested we stay another day and enjoy Tucson a little more.

So that was our revised plan. My aunt made Cadillac Margaritas and we enjoyed another evening together.

My aunt thought it was funny that Doug liked "stuffed animals," after we told her about Curious Nature in Tempe.

So she suggested we go to the International Wildlife Museum to see more stuffed animals.

Now, Doug isn't really a bona fide fan of trophy taxidermy. Neither of us are. I would say we're both fans of "weird things." Peculiarities, your Oddities style taxidermy. Animals with two heads, you know. That kind of thing. We definitely aren't fans of trophy hunting where an animal is minding its own business somewhere in Safari Land and it gets shot in the head just for being big and there... I mean, it was done for a long time, and the "trophies" that exist, well, they should be well cared for in museums and  the like - so people can see them.

But people who currently go hunt on safari like this? Big game hunters are big losers in my mind. That is a hobby that needs to be retired.

My aunt was so excited to share this with us, that we didn't stop her.

The museum is great - lots of history on taxidermy and how it is done, and then there is a giant lodge style "trophy" room filled with all kinds of animals. None of them are recent animals - these are all donations from collections and some of them are extremely old.

I sat under the bears and thought of Mike Birbiglia and his greatest fear.

We then went over to the Saguaro National Park West (Rincon) District to go see the majestic Cacti. My aunt was telling us about the "So-wahhhhhh-ro" cactus, over and over.  Doug turned to her and said "I think you're saying that wrong, because there is a "g" in there.

She punched him in the arm. Again, I think she totally gets us.

It was beautiful day. We got a short hike in, nothing too big as my aunt and uncle were in the rental car. So many cacti. So, so many.

We went to the San Xavier del Bac Mission, and got there a few minutes after closing time. I got to walk around and take some pictures of the White Dove of the Desert. It was magic hour, the sky was lovely. And it was time for dinner.

Dinner. Because my uncle was turning 21, we also agreed to celebrate again. My aunt told the lady at the front desk of the restaurant about John's birthday and ordered desert in advance. More margaritas, a funny hat, and a lot of laughs.

Another amazing day.

Next stop, part 4! Tombstone!

Arizoning Out, Part 2: Saturday Shenanigans and the Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers/Refreshments concert


Up at a decent hour, slightly hung over and sides hurting, we sat on the porch and talked to Amy's next door neighbor Manny and I played with my camera.

Manny keeps an eye on the neighborhood and Amy keeps an eye on Manny. Makes sure he's eating right, taking care of his health.

He told us about growing up in Pasadena, and how it isn't the place it used to be. We talked a little about politics and the state of the nation. Manny had things to do and people to see, and we needed to get ready for the rest of our day.

Amy chefed up a light breakfast for us, and when Dave arrived we took a trip over to Tempe to the Cornish Pasty Company for lunch.

Dave is a big fan of the hand pies from Australia (and we have a little shop near my office so I'm forever torturing him by posting pictures from KO Pies in South Boston.

So we tucked into some tasty pasty action, followed by his beloved Australian Pavlova desert. Pictured below, the Pavlova "isn't quite as good as home" according to Dave but it was pretty amazing.

Then, we headed over to Curious Nature, a little curiosity shop that Doug thought would be neat. I got Jess a gift, and we had a blast hanging out with the Oddities and Peculiar things for sale.

There were a couple of things I wanted to buy, but I didn't think they'd make the trip home safely.

Amy and Dave hammed it up for me. They are delightful as a pair, and for as many years as I've known Amy it is great to see her full of joy with this crazy Aussie.

Back to Amy's for our goodbyes.

That night we were going to be seeing Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers in Tempe, celebrating 20 years of their debut album  (when they went by The Refreshments) called Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big, and Bouncy.

They were doing a month long weekends residency at a bar they played at all the time "back in the day, as it were.

Arriving towards the end of the second opening act, we tucked ourselves into a corner in the very crowded and exuberant Yucca Tap Room, got a couple beers from the bar, and were happy we could even see the stage.

In the break time between the openers and the main event, a guy turns to me and asks "So, how do you know the band? Did you go to ASU?" (meaning Arizona State University in town there).

We explained that we'd heard the band on the radio when that album's big hit "Banditos" hit the air, and then realized they did the theme song for King of the Hill.

So we liked the band, had planned a vacation and got wind of the residency, so we got tickets.

"Did you plan your vacation around this show?" the guy asked. Nope. Just a lucky break. He asked where we were from and we told him, and he turned and yelled to a lady near the bar, "Dawn! They're from BOSTON!" and she screamed and came running over to hug us.

She was from another  local suburb, and she and her husband had ended up moving to Chandler, near Tempe, for her husband's job. The guy I was just talking to, Brian, was her husband's boss. He had bought tickets for everyone to go see the band - they were a party of ten or so, and they absorbed us in as their own.

Next thing I know, Brian is thrusting a tequila shot into my hand so we can toast to Boston! Roger! Arribaaaaaaa!!!!!!  Tequila in question was Mexican Moonshine, Roger Clyne's own brand.

Doug turns to me and just looks at me like "this happens to you everywhere you go. You just meet the crazy people and they make you their own." True.

And they were crazy, and fun, and lovely, and we had a fantastic time with them.

This was actually some of the most fun I've ever had at a show for anyone. Guster, BNL, whoever. This took the gold medal for funnest night ever. The band was just magnificent, the sound perfect, there was so much love in that room. One of the songs on the album is called "Mekong" and the refrain goes:

"Is it true it's always happy hour here? If it is I'd like to stay a while. 
And as cliche as it sounds I'd like to raise another round, 
If your bottle's empty, help yourself to mine. 
Thank you for your time, and here's to life..."

To see the crowd raise their shot glasses, cups and bottles, and yell/sing out the line "here's to life!" was outstanding.

Here's to life indeed.

Part 3 Next, when your humble narrator goes to Tucson

Arizoning Out: part 1. The Big Vacation wrap up

I am breaking this monster of a post into small posts, and publishing them individually with pictures. If you only want to see some pictures, click here and go the Flickr album. Enjoy those.

Here is the run down in supreme detail of our Arizona/New Mexico adventures in late February, early March.

Back in November, Doug was sitting on the couch, thinking that if this winter was half as bad as last winter, by March he'd be ready to kill himself.

So he bought 2 plane tickets for us, told me to ask for vacation time, and let Geoff know that he'd be on his own. Jessica had basically moved to her new apartment, so she was covered. Geoff had his driver's license... so he could go to the store and do things on his own.

We knew he'd be all set. Plus our neighbors across the street promised to help him out with his work schedule and dog coverage.

We could travel knowing with deep assurances that everything back here would be okay.

Both of us worked from home, and while working, packed, did laundry, got things organized. Our flight was delayed by 2 hours, so that was good - we were able to be ready "on time" and then have some more time to just relax. And work a little more. We left, relaxed and non-harried. For the first time ever.

We flew into Phoenix and landed at midnight their time (2am our time!), got our rental car,  (sweet assed upgrade!) drove over to the hotel that Doug picked on Travelocity while we were waiting for our flight to take off at Logan. We grabbed some beers at the gas station across the street from the hotel, and stood on the cement outside our room in our bare feet, in the moonlight, enjoying some locally brewed Kilt Lifter Beer, listening to loud birds in the tree.  We slept well.

The morning coffee and breakfast buffet was great, and we hit the road to explore the great Southwest.


Our friend Amy was going to host us that night, but she was at work until 5pm. So what to do, what to do, what to do... Doug always has a plan, and he chose the Musical Instrument Museum.

Beautiful building, beautiful space, and excellent presentations. The continents and countries are all represented with indigenous inventions of instrumental enjoyment, and all sorts of musical styles. We spent about six hours in the museum, and could have spent a bit more.

The highlight of the museum for me was in the South America section. There was a display of instruments made from garbage and trash items from Paraguay, and the Recycled Orchestra.  They showed how the people find items, turn them into violins and flutes and trumpets.... and then show the children learning how to play. They tour the world playing Mozart, Bach, beautiful pieces... everything sounds a touch "off" as it were but when you think about how the items are made of garbage, and the children are taught, trained, learn all this beautiful music... it is chilling and inspiring and it made me cry.

I stood there looking at the clarinet and the upright bass, and the drums and everything - crying. I had to walk away when a woman came over because I didn't want her to see me bawling my ass off.

I was kind of a mess.

Ironically, in the same building there was an exhibit on Stradivarius and his violins and work for an extra charge. We decided to pass on seeing that.

But I have to say, the true treasure was the bottle caps on the flutes and the guitars made from oil cans. In my opinion.

A Stradivarius in the hand of a master musician most likely won't make me cry as much as a tin instrument played by a beautiful young girl.

Anyway. Great place. Twenty thumbs up. If in Phoenix, go.

We got to Amy's and had dinner with her and her boyfriend Dave. Doug had met Dave sometime in the past couple of years when he went out to Phoenix for a conference, but Dave and I hadn't met "IRL" as it were. Facebook friends, connected through Amy.

He's Australian but has been here 35 years. And they've been together about 4.

We had a delicious meal, a laugh riot, drank too much wine, talked about BritComs and music, told hysterical stories and just really enjoyed ourselves.

Part 2, with Pavlova and Roger Clyne and the Arizona Peacemakers as we take over TEMPE!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Daily Dog Update

Geoff has a part-time job where he goes to stores and does inventory. Sometimes it is late at night, and sometimes there they are in the middle of the day.

No matter what, he comes home with at least one "I saw this dog today" story. It's the highlight of his day any day that he gets to see a dog. And he always asks to pet them, and asks all kinds of questions about the beasts.

And then he comes and tells me.

"Today at Lowes there was a lady with two little tiny terriers in her basket, one named Fritz and the other named Joe. And Joe barked and barked and barked, but Fritz wanted to be petted. And then there was a guy with a big golden retriever service dog...."

It never gets old.