December 13, 2003
Went to one of my favorite Tucson restaurants, La Indita, on 4th Avenue, last night. Fourth Avenue is near the University of Arizona, and is the artsy area of Tucson.
La Indita is a family-owned little hole in the wall place. It hasn’t changed a bit in the eight years I have been going there, although last night I noticed that they had finally ripped off the tattered seat cushions in the booths and just left bare benches.
Their chili rellono is unbeatable, and is served with refried beans and rice, as well as a big tortilla. The tortilla, in this case, could be described as lefse with an attitude. Looks just like lefse, feels like lefse, but you really have to take after it with your teeth to rip it apart.
Members of the staff sit around and talk in Spanish, which allows me to imagine that they are saying much more colorful things than they probably are.
Last night, a guitarist walked around the tiny cafe singing snippets of Spanish songs. He was a nervous sort, though, and never finished a song. He walked back to the kitchen with his guitar several times to yell at the cooks. Finally, they produced a plate of food for him, and he laid his guitar across a table and sat down to eat.
While he was eating, a big bearded Latino man with a chef’s hat and an apron came out from the kitchen and started singing loudly with an exaggerated vibrato. Everybody laughed. It seemed he was making fun of the guitarist, but the guitarist didn’t mind.
A happy place. The Latino restaurants are usually happy places. Lots of singing from the kitchen, lots of laughing, teasing, carrying on.
Earlier in the day, I had the oil changed on my pickup. I was worried about my U-joints, too, since there seemed to be some lurching going on in the drive train. Well, they looked the U-joints over at the oil change place and said nothing was wrong.
But it was a typical Latino approach to service. Very quiet. No con-artistry, no trying to get you to fork out money for transmission flushes and new windshield wipers, no asking for your phone number, no signing you up for a customer-for-life program. Like a small town. Lots of joshing around. The Latino kid who checked out my pickup said goodbye by saying “Don’t work to hard!” I assured him he needn’t worry.
December 12, 2003
Once you leave the Upper Midwest, the attitude towards coffee becomes annoyingly cavalier. At a gas station in western Nebraska, for example, I stopped for a cup of coffee at 1 pm. I needed the boost to stay awake. I asked the clerk if they had coffee, since it was a well-stocked convenience store. "Well, ah don't have any made
," she said, strongly hinting that she would rather not.
Several other gas stations had no coffee at all, or else some brackish stuff clearly left over from morning. At the restaurants in New Mexico, the drink of choice seemed to be iced tea, even when it was near freezing outside. I found myself in a state of near-panic. Don't these people understand the importance of coffee, particularly to a Minnesotan?
Cold, by Tucson standards, that is. High in the sixties today. Brrr. Some clouds. Tucson has an average of 12 cloudy days per year, and this must be one of them.
Tucson's most prevalent convenience store/gas station is the Circle K. There are over 100 of them in the city. I was filling at one today, and a woman screeched in with her van, got out, and announced that she had left her gas cap a few minutes before. Everybody was concerned. I looked in the garbage can. She looked around the pumps. The clerks inside said they hadn't seen one, or had one turned in. After about five minutes of panic, the woman said, "Well, maybe it wasn't this Circle K," jumped in and left.
The hotel where I am staying also houses guest opera soloists for the reknowned Tucson opera. I met a few two years ago. Well, they must be in town. This morning, somebody was singing arias in the shower in a room nearby. The sound carries through the bathroom vents. So, an accapella concert in the bathroom this morning started the day out....right.
It will take a while to get used to Tucson traffic. Last night, it took 40 minutes to reach Mom and Dad's apartment where I went for supper. Mom had a back route which I took back to the hotel. It took only 18 minutes. There is only one freeway in Tucson, and that runs right through the middle. Otherwise, the city is laid out on a grid of main streets one mile apart. Very easy to navigate. However, you aren't allowed to make left turns in the middle of the block. Instead, you go to the main intersection and make a U-turn. U-turns, which are frowned upon in the rest of the country, are a staple of Tucson driving.
December 11, 2003
The home stretch into Tucson
Slept well in my stinky hotel room last night, and awoke to the spicy-sweet smell of mesquite smoke. It makes me sneeze, but I enjoy it.
The stretch of freeway from Albuquerque to Las Cruces, New Mexico, is utterly beautiful. The freeway runs down a wide, wide valley with mountains on either side.
I decided to take the back roads again today, and got off the freeway at Caballo, NM. Nothing at the exit but for Jim and Bev’s RV Park and gas station. I filled up my tank, and went in. Jim was presiding at the till.
Jim was clearly a reader, as was Bill, a local who was hanging out. In fact, Bill has written seven novels. Bill and Jim talking books when I came in from the gas pump, so I joined in.
Bill hasn’t published any of his novels. One publisher said his first novel was too long at 375,000 words. Bill hasn’t gotten around to cutting it down or submitting any of his others. They are science fiction. In his first novel, he wrote about GPS and death rays and the whole works--long before they were even invented!
I took off west on Highway 152. It quickly turned into hairpins, and ended up more topsy-turvy than yesterday’s mountain trip. Today featured hairpin turns with 10 mph speed limits, not 20 mph like yesterday. Also, some unnerving snowpack. Icy roads take on a new meaning when there is a cliff three feet off your right wheels.
Great views of the valley I had left behind. Once over the pass, the road descended through more snow than before--it snows more on the west side of the mountains due to the rainshadow effect--but the road quickly broke out into open spaces near Silver City, a big mining town.
Drove past a huge open pit mine. Didn’t stop. Ugly. Whizzed through Silver City, and met the freeway again in Lordsburg, NM. Sort of a repeat of yesterday, really. Get off the freeway, take a winding road up and down a mountain, then drive about fifty miles of nice four lane before meeting up with the interstate again.
From Lordsburg, it was a quick 150 miles into Tucson. I drove right to the Extended Stay hotel, where I was given the same room I had two years ago.
But a disturbing change at the hotel: They have removed the incandescent lights in the lamps and replaced them with flourscent! I despise flourescent lights. They make my eyes burn. They look cold and sterile. If they can’t switch them, I will switch hotels. I would switch the bulbs myself, but they are some pretty complicated looking bulbs.
I am not complaining. It is in the 50s tonight!
December 10, 2003
Last night, I found a Japanese restaurant in Castle Rock. Very good, better than the Chinese restaurant earlier in the day. I was the only customer, and the entire staff greeted me in Japanese as if I were a long lost friend.
Tonight, I wanted some New Mexican fare (New Mexico has its own cusine separate from typical Mexican food.) Asked the desk clerk, and he pointed me to the El Sombrero, just across the freeway.
The El Sombrero is clearly a favorite of the locals. Couple after couple came in, and after they were seated they switched to be with friends, confusing the staff, who was good-natured about it since they knew them all.
The food was excellent. I had a combo plate, which featured an excellent chile rellano, sopapillas with honey, many other dishes I couldn’t name, all excellent, with chips and cilantro-laden salsa, all served up by a flaming waiter. Pretty classy for $13.00.
A day spent a mile high or more
Set out before dawn from Castle Rock, CO and headed south on I-25. Watched the sun rise on the snow capped mountains around Colorado Springs.
The border between Colorado and New Mexico is smack dab at the top of a mountain pass. That is usual up north, where the continental divide often forms the border between states, but the border between CO and NM is a straight line, drawn on one of the latitudinal lines--so, its an odd geographical coincidence that the highway should cross the border right at the mountain pass.
Left the freeway just inside New Mexico to take the mountain route over to Taos, a resort town I have always wanted to see.
After about 70 miles of plains, the road snaked up a mountain canyon. For forty miles, it was nothing but hairpin turns with a little ice in the shaded areas. Emerged from the forest at a town called Eagle’s Nest, at 8,500 elevation. Eagle’s nest sits at the edge of a 17,000 acre lake known for its excellent trout fishing.
Signs advised not picking up hitchhikers. Eagle’s Nest is home to something called the New Mexico Reintegration Center, which I suspect means “prison” in English.
Snaked down another wooded canyon and approached Taos. I expected a little ski village, tucked in the forest, and that’s what it looked like Taos would be until a few yards past the city limits, when the road opened up into an enormous plateau surrounded by snowcapped mountains.
Taos has a reputation as a sort of mystical destination for artists. Understandable, given the spectacular surroundings. However, the snowcover made is seem less than mystical to me, and I headed straight to Santa Fe.
My pickup looked like a frosted flake due to the salt on the roads yesterday, so I washed it at a casino between Taos and Santa Fe. I have previously spent some time in Santa Fe, so was familiar there, and decided to get as far south as I could before sunset.
Ended up in Soccoro, NM, in the middle of the state. The Holiday Inn, the only hotel that looked decent, was full, so I ended up with a stinky room at a lesser chain. My nose is slowly getting used to the disinfectant.
But what fun to be in the beautiful Southwest. I love the wide spaces of New Mexico with its mountain ranges spaced about 50 miles apart. Not a cloud in the sky for all nine hours of travel. The sunset was typical of the southwest at high elevations: Bright oranges, deep shadows, cool, clear air.
December 09, 2003
Friend Mark from New Jersey called this afternoon on the cell phone. He was stuck in traffic in Jersey, and I was stuck in traffic in Denver. He had just heard that Everyday Eddie Guardado signed with the Mariners.
Well, Eddie has never been my favorite. When push came to shove, he made things too interesting. I also was really upset with both he and LaTroy Hawkins this summer when they started whining about their contracts. Both of them were under contract at the time for a couple million per year--you'd think they could have kept their mouth shut and just played ball. But no, they go to the newspapers and whine that they aren't wanted, and right then the Twins go into a slide, losing something like 22 of 28 games.
Now they're both gone. Hawkins, despite his whining, would have been nice to have around next year. Love to watch that 95 mph fastball. Eddie? He'll be around the league for a few more years, but his statistics (and thus his salary expectations) were inflated because he was babied by Gardenhire. He wasn't put in many tough situations, and when he was, he made things worse.
It's going to be a different Twins team next year. So far, I like what they've done. Good thing they kept Shannon Stewart. LaTroy and Eddie--time for them to go. AJ? He was a whiner, too. Let's start from scratch. Trade Jacque Jones, while you're at it--and entertain offers for Mientkiewitz.
Rapid City to Castle Rock, CO
What is it about these hotel check-in people--when you ask for a room, they start staring at the computer screen like it is the first time they've ever checked anybody in. Then they tap, tap, tap on the keyboard for fifteen minutes, and act sort of surprised when it all goes through, as if I am supposed to feel fortunate that their system worked.
At the old hotel in Rapid City, I was the only visible guest, but still it took the mousy little girl about ten minutes to get to the point where she needed my credit card. I was astonished, but she didn't seem at all troubled by the delay.
The same girl was at the desk this morning. After watching the Weather Channel, I decided to head south instead of west. I asked, what is the best way to Denver? Well, she was full of information on that. Must have a boyfriend there. Don't take this road, there are 50 cops on that road all the time, take this one, here's a short cut, on and on and on.
I took her advice, and the weather was clear south--but I neglected to find out that they had 10 inches of snow yesterday! Ice pack for 230 miles until I hit the freeway at Kimball, NE. Then it was clear sailing until an accident slowed things to a crawl in downtown Denver. Once I got through the traffic jam, my eyes were tired, so I pulled over here in Castle Rock. I can see the Castle Rock outside my window.
Get me south! I was going to look around Jackson Hole, then go farther west, but good grief, one day of driving on snow pack is enough for me. My eyes are sore. Too much tension. Too many times getting blinded by slush mixed with gravel. And, a new nick on my windshield.
Ate noon dinner in Scott's Bluff NE at a Chinese Restaurant called Wonderful House. I love the name. The food was average. Did you know that the typical meal at a Chinese restaurant has three to four times the fat of a Big Mac? Just thought I would throw that in.
December 08, 2003
Ahem....never mind that Fertile abduction thing
Well, it hasn't hit the web yet, but I called back to Fertile and they had announced on the news there that the Fertile abduction was a hoax. All you can say is: whatever. Good thing it was a hoax, of course, but...wow. I do feel sorry for the girl. I recall how little judgment I had at that age, and I was just plain lucky that I didn't do anything that stupid. I had the imagination for it.
In fact, I might have done something that stupid, but you'll never find out about it.
So, if the story reported on the local news back home is true, and the Fertile abduction was a hoax perpetrated to get attention, or for whatever reason, let's be easy on the girl. For gosh sakes, the embarrassment is going to be punishment enough for her. She's sixteen. Wipe the slate clean.
While channel surfing in the hotel room (funny, I never watch TV at home, even with 200 channels, but put me in a hotel...) I ran across what I thought at first was a typical nature documentary.
It was not. The film mesmerized me for well over an hour. It was only at the conclusion of the film that I found out its title, Winged Migration
. At times during the film, I was so astounded by the camera shots that I assumed it was special effects. I immediately went on the internet after the film ended and read reviews until it was confirmed: there were no special effects used in the film.
Somehow, they flew with birds as they migrated, so close that you could hear the feathers rustle. Not just geese, either. All kinds of birds. In all kinds of scenery, some familiar, most exotic. There was almost no narration, and the music was wonderful. There was humor and sadness, interactions between birds and humans which ranged from the beautiful to the ugly, unbounded natural grace as well as sudden predatory violence.
The film plays again on the STARZ network on Saturday at 11:45 am. It is an absolutely beautiful way to spend 89 minutes.
Just read a story in the Grand Forks Herald
online edition about the abduction in Fertile. The crux of the story was that the county attorney was going to announce some details this afternoon.
However, the story, written by Stephen Lee, hinted very strongly--without saying it--that people now think the girl made up the story. "I believe the girl, not the rumors," said Laura Pierson. The superintendent of schools called a meeting to get people to maintain their vigilance. Wrestling coach Brian Lindberg "reiterated" his story that the girl was bloody and confused when she reached his house on foot. An anonymous woman (I think I know just who she is) said something to the effect that she didn't fear for her safety anymore, and that local law enforcement officials can protect Fertile just fine on their own. Add a harumph here, if it is who I think it is.
Well. A very interesting piece of journalism. While not openly saying that the girl's story was in doubt, it quoted a bunch of people defending her against...rumors. From unnamed people. It seems that this piece is laying the groundwork for a story later tonight that might lay the whole thing to rest.
I wrote yesterday that I-29 from Fargo to Sioux Falls might be the least-used segment of the whole interstate system. I have changed my mind. It is I-90 from Sioux Falls to Rapid City. For much of the drive, I saw nobody in my review mirror.
Three hundred miles, and hundreds upon hundreds of billboards for the upcoming tourist attractions. Most of the signs are shabby and run down. First for the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, then for Wall Drug--one per mile, at least--then for Rushmore Cave, Black Hills Cave, Bethlehem Cave, Crystal Cave--clearly these are competing caves, as they each were the biggest in some category--then for Reptile Gardens, and the Cosmos Spot. Everything but the caves was man-made.
Many billboards for Casey's Restaurant in Chamberlain, SD. So, I decided to stop. The restaurant was smaller than any one of its billboards, but the food was delicious. Pork roast with sauerkraut and carrots, with a great view of the Missouri River to boot.
I am staying at the Alex Johnson Hotel in downtown Rapid City. I have stayed here before. It is a beautiful old hotel, built in the 1920s, and recently refurbished. Comfortable, but with some character. I look forward to looking around for a funky little restaurant here downtown for supper.
It is raining in Rapid City. Much better than snow.
December 07, 2003
SIOUX FALLS, SD: Good to get on I-29 going south of Fargo, probably the least-used stretch of interstate highway in the United States. Sioux Falls is a logical stop before I decide whether to head south to Tucson, or go west to Rapid City for a little scenery.
Fell for a billboard promotion of Microtel Inn and Suites. When I got to the room, I found out why they call it Microtel. It is the smallest room I have seen this side of the Atlantic. All flourescent lights. Polyester pillows. Cheap bedspread.
Seems funny to say this, but Sioux Falls traffic is miserable. I have been here three times in the past six years, and every time I end up frustrated. You see where you want to go, and it may be right across the street, but you can't get there. Last year I put 4 miles on trying to get to the Perkins across the street from my motel. Rather than cut across four lanes of traffic, which never seemed to cease, I turned right--but never could figure out how to make a U-turn.
Ended up at the Empire Mall food court for supper. I like food courts when I am traveling alone. Cheap food, pretty good, with none of the restaurant rituals to endure. Tonight, I had pizza and a cucumber salad. Very good. Went next door to the gyro shop for some dessert--balooorma, spelled with three o's, at least on their sign, a delicacy which consists of pistachio nuts wrapped in filo strands and dipped in honey. Wow.
Well, I don't get out much. There were many things at the Empire Mall I hadn't seen before. The most exotic? An oxygen bar. Yes, a place where you can pull up to a bar, stuff at tube up your nose, and get a little oxygen. Its "refreshing, rejuvenating, replenishing" said the sign. I thought it was crazy when they started selling bottled water. Now they are selling air!
There was a full store front devoted to manicures and pedicures. There were many automatic massage chairs which took dollar bills. Then, of course, the water massage machine, which looks too much like a casket for my taste.
Kiosks everywhere. At one, you could get your name engraved on a grain of rice. At another, entitled "The Identity Store," you could get a t-shirt proclaiming that whoever you are, a mechanic, a teacher, a janitor, a musician--you do it better.
That seems like an old schtick to me.
I managed to take advantage of a shift change at the Hickory Farms kiosk to get two sets of samples of the same thing within ten minutes. Thought I had pulled a fast one until I realized that I still had the toothpicks from the first set of samples in my mouth when I went for the second. Pretty smooth.
Then, I spent a while at the art print store. Terry Redlin is big here. His museum is just up I-29. I passed it today. It is a $15 million dollar brick monstrosity which faces right onto the interstate. I don't find his paintings particularly tasteful. In fact, some of them seem to lack some of the basic perspective skills taught in Art I. But boy do they sell.