Saturday, September 10, 2011

A study in contrasts: Revisiting Tucson

Greetings from the downtown Tucson public library. This place reminds me of recent comments by Jimmy Kimmel about the Republican candidate presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA. Kimmel said, and I'm paraphrasing, that it was nice to see a library used for something other than homeless people on the Internet and using the bathroom sink to wash their feet.

This is the Tucson library, where there is a palpable funk in the air here at the Internet stations. It seems every grunged out meth head and desert rat has shown up to get online. I am not a germ freak, but am conscientiously refraining from touching my face while typing and am heading straight for the Purel station or washroom when this session is over with.

I am enjoying my time in Tucson. My truck broke down right outside of town Thursday afternoon. It wouldn't go faster than 45 MPH. I was at least able to drive it to a Freightliner mechanic about 10 miles away. I'm not making much money (about $50 a day breakdown pay), but my company is putting me up in a hotel and I should be rolling again Monday.

In the meantime, I get to poke around Tucson, a place I've visited twice before, in 2006 and 2007. I spent the morning walking the Presidio Trail, along the way stopping to see the opening of a rock photography exhibit at the Etherton Gallery and the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum. After de-grunging myself, I am heading to the University of Arizona to visit the Center for Creative Photography and the ars Bohemia of the 4th Avenue district. Around dusk I will hike out of downtown to the top of Sentinel Peak, the "A" mountain, just off of downtown.

Why this itinerary? Because everything is free. The only money I've spent today is on a $3.50 day pass for the bus system, which means I can ride any route anywhere in the city until midnight.

This visit to Tucson reminds of how different a state of mind I am in now than the first time I visited here. It makes me feel good to recognize all the positive improvements in my life from now to then, but also reminds me of what a low place I was when I first came here. The last time I was here, December 2006, I was hiking the Arizona Trail, on a winter break from graduate studies at Northern Illinois University. I was going through a divorce and feeling stressed out from the pressures of my studies. It was winter. And I was depressed. Very depressed. I came to the desert to try and escape this depression, but the black cloud followed me out here and only intensified in isolation.

Now there is still a loneliness. It would be nice to have someone to share the day with. But I'm not depressed. Tucson is a tough town. I've never seen so many derelicts. And it's a typical spread out strip mall megalopolis, made worse by the knowledge that this desert environment could never naturally support such a population. It's an unsustainable situation seemingly filled with lost souls unable to sustain themselves. It was a perfect place for me to come in my depression.

This visit I see it in a different light, focusing on the pinnacles of beauty it has to offer, its art and culture. I won't end up in a lesbian dive bar pouring my woes out to a kind couple who listened to me and gave me a hug when I needed it most. That's a story for another time. Heck, I may go back in there for nostalgia's sake when I'm back on 4th Ave. But there will be no tears this time.

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