Sunday, July 27, 2008


Our Arizona odyssey--it began with some confusion. Adam's mom, Donna, and sister Chloe were coming to visit. It's hot here. Donna doesn't sweat. We live in a two-room apartment. Tucson is kinda dead in the summer. Our baby hates the car. Gas prices. We got some food and started driving.

Oracle Road used to be the main route to Phoenix. One day--October 12, 1940--the dashing silent movie star Tom Mix died along this road. His heyday was over. No one talks about why he was bound for Phoenix. I think of him getting into his car, bored and restless, headed for a bar he knew. Maybe play some cards.

In the official version of his death, he gets hit in the head with a suitcase flying out of the back seat of his 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton. Local legend, in the form of our real estate agent Alex, has it that "his spirit left his body," as it says on the memorial marker, while receiving a blow job from a Tucson prostitute. You can have a picnic near the site, out in the middle of a scorched stretch of desert.

In Scottsdale we stopped at the Sugar Bowl for root beer floats and a thing called a Golden Nugget that tasted just like orange sherbet, since orange sherbet was its main ingredient. Shouldn't something called a Golden Nugget be more exciting than that, even though all by itself sherbet suggests to me time travel--travel, to be precise, back to the late 1970s, when my sister and I used to watch "The Brady Bunch," before we became part of a couple of "blended" families ourselves, before all those child actors developed drug problems? It was even hotter in Scottsdale than it was in Tucson.

We sped through traffic and road construction and whatever else lay in our path on our way to Arcosanti, a living experiment north of Phoenix begun by architect Paolo Soleri. He wanted to design a place where ecology and high-concept architecture merged to provide an antidote to the thing Phoenix is, or should be, most known for: sprawl. We stayed in guest cubicles overlooking a peaceful mesa, a group of tiny houses among the trees where a white peacock stalked across garden plots. We vied for vegan brownies with 21st century hippies in the dining hall. Night brought loud opera and interpretive shadow dancing.

Arcosanti supports itself by selling bells made from ceramic and cast bronze. Kind of a jolie-laide thing.

After a night at a motel in Williams, we saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. Actually, that's not true. I've seen it so many times in pictures, it's become impossible to take in the "real" thing. Someone else has theorized this phenomenon, it's not an original thought, but that doesn't make it any easier to get out of my head. I'm standing here, listening to a bunch of European languages, and I just can't see the Grand Canyon, not really. All I can do is fear it.

People do fall in--apparently about six a year. Adam was not one of them.

We all wanted to see Sedona. Chloe told us about the vortexes--vortices--whatever. We went to a Goodwill located in a strip mall beneath a majestic red rock formation. Someone tried to get me to visit a time share at a golf resort. We circumambulated the Amitabha Stupa, offering up prayers for the good of all beings, thereby benefiting ourselves, but I reminded myself that, despite the current strange state of my life, benefiting myself was not the point. Actually, it was pretty uplifting. At the vortex, some life coach was telling a woman she shouldn't feel guilty about how she'd raised her daughter. But we all know how ridiculous that is.

At the cliff dwelling erroneously called Montezuma's Castle, we listened to a pre-recorded voice inviting us to imagine ourselves back in 1300 or so, when the hillside was a warren of human activity. It still was--complete with cheesy voice-over, paved paths, sweaty tourists, and squirrels carrying bubonic plague.

At Taliesin West, we understood why they call Frank Lloyd Wright a genius. "Take care of the luxuries, and let the necessities take care of themselves." Enough said.

Thank you, Donna and Chloe!

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