Day 11

Saturday January 22, 2011

We had a perfectly perfunctory stay at the Tucson Fairfield. We stayed as far east of town as possible thinking we’d go to the Suguaro National Park at sunrise to take pictures. If the sun rose at 9AM our plan would have worked. We looked at the atlas over breakfast to find a route west other than interstate 10. Within two seconds we had a plan.

easy enough

Yow. Not many choices. HWY 86 it is. We drove towards what we thought looked like the center of town to do an informal flag count. Even though the period of observance had ended a week ago, we were curious if the flags would still be at half-staff in Tucson. We didn’t even see that many flags, but the count was 2 half-staff, 4 full. We wondered where the Safeway was and tried to find the address online. After a few failed attempts, we deliberated whether it was tacky to go there –like rubber-necking at a bad highway accident or stalking celebrity houses in Brentwood (which we totally are planning on doing when we visit Los Angeles). BA felt that it would be really weird to be in Tucson, given the project we’re working on, and not go. We exited the beltline at HWY 19 which leads to 86 to fill the tank and the first person BA asked told us exactly how to get to the Safeway. It was north and east of the center of Tucson. Chele deferred to  BA’s intuition which seemed more clear than her own ambivalence. It had been exactly two weeks since the shooting and Chele predicted (rather cynically) that to avoid further bad press the Safeway would have already removed the flowers and candles that had been placed there after the tragedy. Just before the exit we saw a billboard with no sponsor. It simply said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the many affected in our community.”

The first thing we saw in the shopping mall parking lot:

copycat crime is a huge concern

We parked and quickly realized BA had been right.

the note on the cactus says, "together we thrive"

There were blank ribbons for people to write on and add to the installation.

they have been overwhelmed with support

Giffords was transferred to Houston to begin therapy the previous day

There was a steady stream of people observing and also leaving notes and offerings

People seemed to want to respond in any way that they could. We don’t now what an appropriate balloon for a memorial would look like, but this one stymied Chele so she took a picture of it to show BA so they could think about it later:

a curious choice

When we were sorting pictures for the blog, we noticed something strange. This is the very next photo Chele took:

Hmm…wait a minute…


Here is the truth of the matter. As terrible, frightening, sad, and deplorable as the Safeway shooting is, we must go on. But moving on isn’t about getting back to business as usual; it’s about working together to turn the tide of animosity that compelled someone to murder and maim people at a grocery store. The woman in this picture is as buoyant as she looks. Her name is Valerie Miller and she is holding a a document entitled, ‘A Call to America for Civility.’ She and other citizens are taking action to address something that is so far out of check that we can barely find a place from which to begin a dialogue. This cascade of insanity, afterall, is inextricably linked to the power of words. How we express ourselves is a responsibility each of us bear. Please take a moment and read their document. After talking to Valerie, we felt enormously better. The energy at this site is hard to describe. There were people saying prayers, people lugging grocery bags, people who swung wide and people who zeroed in. No matter whether one wants to avoid the memorial or engage with it; the charge is palpable. We were changed by the experience and grateful to have taken part.

If we return to Tucson, we will stay at a place Valerie told us about; The Arizona Inn on Elm Street. It was founded in 1930 by Arizona’s first congresswoman Isabella Greenway. To this day it is the go-to place for  conferences, meetings, and events that involve women and Arizona politics.

We headed back to HWY 19 and as we exited west onto HWY 86, two border patrol trucks pulled up next to us. We started a tally.

Within moments, a third truck pulled up behind us, then cut us off in order to get behind the other two:

BP #3

After about ten or fifteen miles, they signaled and turned south on HWY 286. Still stinging from being cut-off, we decided to tail them.

heading south

Once they were on this road, they instantly stopped observing the 55mph speed limit and at 85mph we were losing them.

hwy 286, mile marker 35 and counting down

We passed a fleet of three  Border Patrol trucks (all identical white Chevy pick-ups) that were heading north. We had already followed the southbound guys 15 miles when we decided that this adventure could only reach one conclusion which was that we’d have to turn around in precisely 35 miles and double all the way back. Oh well. It was a good effort. We did a U-turn and headed back to 86.

It was really empty out there. And yet, someone is getting mail:

Yes, we counted. Ninety-one boxes of mail on the posts...

We pulled back onto 86 west, and guess what?

We decided that in addition to just keeping a tally, we would document every BP we ended up following.

Our guy did a U-turn here and parked. This is a checkpoint, but we weren’t stopped.

We entered the  Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation and came across this trading post.

it looks like a movie set

They were selling traditional crafts from a number of different tribes; plus gas, snacks & chilis. They were also making these:

we're not sure what they are.

Thank you Wiki, for the following information about the Tohono O’odham:

Though the 2000 census states that there are 10,000 people in the TO nation, their own tally is 25,000 enrolled members. The Tohono O’odham Nation gains most of its income from its three Desert Diamond casinos. This source of income is just over a decade old. About every 2 years, each adult gets a cut of the casino profits- approx. $2,000/ea. The casinos have paid for the tribe’s first fire department, but cannot cover tribal members’ numerous basic needs. Housing, emergency services, medical, and educational needs require expensive infrastructure, including transportation, personnel, education, and technology. The physical isolation of the Nation has always been a handicap to its economic development.

When the Mexico border was drawn in 1853, part of the nation ended up south of the border. The TO used to be able to travel freely across the border because thousands of their people live in Sonora. This is impossible now (witness the swarms of BP). For the past decade, numerous bills have been introduced to congress to allow the TO dual citizenship, but all have been rejected. This creates a problem, for instance,  when TO born in Mexico want to work (or be with family) on TO land that lies in the US. By granting dual-citizenship the “one people–two nations” problem has been addressed for aboriginal people whose land straddles the Canadian border. But not so with the TO on the Mexican border. Go figure.

We got to Sells, the capital of the reservation, and Chele espied a yard sale sign. Yard sale on the rez? We had to check it out. The mostly cinderblock houses are built for the people by the TO nation and the winding streets and neatly spaced units had the feel of an army base. Breaking the order and monotone palette was this inflatable jumpy cube.

We found the yard sale. The family was hanging out on the front stoop. We were the only shoppers; and clearly, awkwardly, outsiders. It was too late to back out, and there was no getting around, so we followed some sage advice we got before heading out on this trip– when faced with conflict, head straight into it. The conflict, in this case, was our own inner-conflict.  The cliché “white guilt” is something that gets bandied about and made light of, not because there isn’t plenty to feel guilty about but because it is so conceptually complex that one squirms under its weight. What were we doing here– looking for bargains in an impoverished and subsidized neighborhood? Actually, no. We were trying to meet people. But  from their lack of interest in our presence we sensed exactly how the situation must appear. If it weren’t for the puppies, we might have never gotten to talk to them. Have we mentioned lately how much we love dogs?

A teenaged boy was playing with a puppy that was a few months old. Chele walked over and asked if the puppy was part of the yard sale. The boy grinned and replied that for one thousand dollars, he could be ours. Just then another dog walked over and absurdity and laughter came to the rescue:

We love you, eyebrow dog.

And that did it. We talked to them for the next half hour. We asked about the crazy eye brows and they told us that they weren’t sure what was going on. With regularity, it seems, he  goes out into the neighborhood and when he comes back, someone has drawn eye brows on him. They told us we should visit Kitt Peak Observatory (it is on land leased from the TO nation and is home to the most diverse range of telescopes anywhere in the world) and asked us about our trip. We asked them to be part of the camera project and had them pose for a family portrait:

When we asked for a picture, the grandmother whispered something to the younger girl and she disappeared into the house and returned with baby Ariel. Adorable!

Just as we were leaving, one of the girls came out of the house with a tortilla for us. When Veronica (far right) realized she’d only wrapped up one, she sent her back for another.

they told us the O'odham word for tortilla, but we didn't write it down fast enough

(update! The Tohon O’odham word for tortilla is ‘cemit.’ Thanks RVG3!)

They were delicious. Home-made and cooked over an open fire in the back yard. This gesture, simple yet intimate, left us almost speechless. We promised to send a print of the family portrait and we are looking forward to getting their photos. We wished that we could have stayed longer…

the best yard sale ever

we headed out of the neighborhood and turned west on 86. Guess what?!

honest. it was crazy.

He pulled into a Shell station:

then got right back on the road behind us. WTF?

Then another BP blew past us and once again, we were following.

This land is incredibly harsh. But also beautiful.

the saguaro are everywhere

this looks so

the fence followed the entire length of the highway on both sides, but where were the animals?

At the moment we saw two forlorn and emaciated cows in the distance, it occurred to us that we hadn’t seen any cattle since we entered the reservation. We saw more BP heading east, and then came upon a cemetery. The colors exploded in this otherwise brown and dull green landscape.

And we noticed that many of the graves were mounded up like Ma Joad had mentioned.

Aha! Mystery solved. The wreathes that we saw at the trading post are for the graves.

a yarn vase

trash collection seems to be a problem- there were piles like this all around

We continued our drive. There isn’t a whole lot going on- no houses, no barns, just miles and miles of arid desert.We passed one of the TO casinos near Why, AZ. It was a curious amalgamation of a gas station, a convenience store and the Desert Diamond casino.

BA wanted to gamble the nest egg, but Chele talked her out of it.

Why indeed.

We pulled over for some snacks in Why.

No drinking, beer for sale. Plus insurance.

We love the idea of Why. Why? It’s obvious.

donation cans for Mr. & Miss sweetheart competition

From Why, you can go south to Lukeville or north to Ajo on 85. HWY 85, 86 and 286. These are the only roads south of the Interstate between Tucson and Yuma. We have traveled them all. Math is not our strong suit. But is it possible that this area of AZ is 15,000 square miles with only 3 roads? We’re throwing out a lifeline to the fact checkers.

BA asked Joe Flores, the owner of the station, about the Mexican insurance and he explained that we should buy it for traveling in MX because our stateside homeowners policy wouldn’t cover calamity south of the border. We’re not sure about that advice, but the cider he recommended was delicious.

Joe wanted a copy of this picture. When we asked for his e-mail he looked at us like we were crazy. USPS only. We like Joe.

Up the road about 40 miles, we pulled into a strange little town called Ajo. It used to be a big mining town but that has died out and now it is an inexpensive place for snowbirds to pass the winter. There are a few unexpected buildings around town like this church:


Another surprise in Ajo:


We were lucky enough to find Ray there and spent over an hour chatting with him

and checking out his collection. He used to have a store up near Phoenix but got burnt out and came to Ajo. Chele was obsessed with the giant pile of old Mexican movie and tele-novella posters (yes, we left with a small selection of them) and BA found a minty green teapot. We checked out the two huge murals painted on either end of the warehouse. One was a fantastical desert scene and he asked if we saw the Javalina (pronounced: Hav-a-lina). Aha! So Javalina isn’t just a cute coffee shop in Silver City. It’s actually a nasty wild pig that lives in the desert. Another mystery solved. If you are ever traveling through Ajo, be sure to stop at Ray’s for amazing must-haves like this:


and this:

better than butter.

What a great way to end our southern Arizona backroads adventure. There’s more from Ray’s (so much more) but we needed to get on the road so will have to document the rest of our haul at a later date. The sun was setting

and we still had to make it to Yuma. We were about 10 miles from Interstate 8 when we had our last Border Patrol encounter.

This gets really wearisome. But once again, with even more crap in the car, we are waved through without question.

Final tally for Border Patrol truck sightings was 23. We don’t think it’s much of a stretch to estimate that one in ten vehicles that we saw on hwy 86 & 85 was a BP. We talked for a long time trying to figure out what this must be costing taxpayers.

We caught the interstate at Gila Bend.

Finally! And yet, this made us a little sad.

Oddly, we had to go east to go west…

Halfway between Gila Bend and Yuma we stopped for gas at a Texaco.

As BA filled the tank, Chele went in search of snacks. We don’t know how to prepare you, dear reader, for the adventure about to unfold, but you should know that nothing delights Chele more than dates. (Of the dried fruit variety, that is) Check this out:

They had nine varieties for sale– plus there were samples everywhere!

There were fancy giftboxes!

date butter! date jam! date syrup!

date steak sauce!

date milkshakes!

sweet Estrellita who was selling dates!

Good lord! Everytime we think the day can’t possibly get any better, something like this happens. And as if crazy date overload wasn’t enough, the truckstop itself was deluxe.

dog treat dispensers!


who cares if they don't match?

Wha? Kohler sinks and a Dyson air blade?! Texaco, you have gone too far!

Oh lone star of Dateland, you will always shine bright in our hearts.

We hit the road giddy with our good fortune and high on date sugar. We listened to The Grapes of Wrath. Even though they are driving an overloaded, piece of crap Hudson ever on the verge of death, the  Joads have made it to California before us. They are looking for the work that was promised on handbills back in Oklahoma, but it was a scam to overpopulate the work force and drive down the cost of labor on the farms and in the orchards. Things are not looking good. The people need to organize.

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