Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Day 152: Out of Phoenix
Phoenix to Goodyear. 19.7 miles/2921.6 total
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
9:30 a.m. I am setting out from Phoenix, at the corner of 16th Ave. and Adams St., in the shadow of the state office buildings behind the capitol, and heading to Goodyear in the western suburbs, a distance of 19.7 miles.
As I did yesterday I’ll be alternating between Van Buren and McDowell Streets, which run parallel to one another a mile apart on either side of I-10. I’m doing this because in a few miles Van Buren is given over to warehouses and light industry, whereas McDowell remains pretty much residential and a bit more interesting.
One of the first things I walk by this morning is the Arizona Department of Revenue, which brings a tear of nostalgia to my eye. Taxation. In the immortal words of Timothy F. Bannon, former Connecticut Commissioner of Revenue Services, “Taxes are the currency with which we finance the Social Contract.” Can I get an Amen from all you current or former public employees out there--state, federal, or local?
Out on Van Buren Street things quickly become dingy and commercial in a very Latin way. The predominant business, it would appear, is the sale of tires and rims. Mexicans--and I say this without a trace of concern that I might be stereotyping--are crazy about fancy tires and wheels. So there are several places in each block advertising Llantas y Rines, with tires and bright chrome rims stacked and arranged out front.
As a matter of fact in April I myself bought the last pair of used tires I put on my car right here in Phoenix, at one of the many llanteras. I’ve always been a believer in buying used tires, on the theory that even new tires become used tires as soon as you drive away on them, and when you’re in the market for tires you’ve probably been driving on extremely used tires for quite some time. So why fight it? There are so many good inexpensive used tires out there, with ten, twenty, even thirty thousand miles left on them. Give them a home!
Anyway, Van Buren is a profusion of tire shops and low-end motels offering weekly rates and places that pay “TOP DOLLAR FOR GOLD,” and such, luring people in with signs in Spanish.
I neglected to mention this yesterday, but there are a number of bums and street people in Phoenix, though not as many as in some cities. Sheriff Joe and the Phoenix police probably see to that, scooping them up and turning them into Soylent Green or something. Yesterday afternoon as I passed the Historic First Presbyterian Church there was a bum sitting on one of the side stoops polishing off the crumbs and dark blue icing from a the cardboard that had been under a large sheet cake, chuckling happily and talking to himself.
I come to a cemetery, Greenwood Memory Lawn. At one time it probably had a more sensible name like Greenwood Cemetery. I go into a section with some graves from the first half of the 20th century. Here’s a double wide, containing Leander Jackson Cox and Vollie Simpson Cox, both of whom died in their late 60s. It’s a little too early to sit down and rest but I have to take a breather to survey and admire this graveyard. It's a very large place, stretching back for a considerable distance to the north of Van Buren, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to commune with some of the dead of Phoenix.
It’s a bit cooler today than it was yesterday, and mostly cloudy. It’ll probably get into the low 70s. I don’t mean to complain, God knows, but it was almost too warm yesterday.
Running north of Van Buren on the side streets are neighborhoods of tiny lower class houses. Just west of 31st Ave. I begin to see more homeless people, and I think I’ve found where many people stay at night. It’s a large vacant lot on the north side of the road. Now in mid morning people congregate in twos and threes, faces puffy and red from the sun and too much booze, looking whipped and out of it, limping, stooping, squatting. They stay close to the beer and liquor stores, chatting and scrounging. Meanwhile a man sells sweet corn out of the back of his truck and another sets up racks of fancy bras in a tiny parking lot.
By 39th Avenue Van Buren has begun to lose its quaint Hispanic commercial charm and is becoming a succession of office buildings, warehouses, auto repair places, and crappy trailer parks.
At 44th Ave., just past the Lazy Daze Mobile Home Community, I turn north and head up to McDowell. I find a penny in a Circle K parking lot, but I’ve found precious little change in Phoenix, probably because the folks on the street aren’t letting anything slip through their fingers.
At 4.4 miles I’m back on McDowell, and once again I’m in the land of apartment complexes and housing developments with their privacy walls, and mesquites and palo verde trees planted between the walls and the sidewalk. I don’t pretend that I’m doing Phoenix any more justice than I did Houston, New Orleans, or Memphis by the route I’m taking, but I do like to walk through what I think might be the heart of a city and sample as much of what the locals have to offer as possible while I pass through.
There are still lots of people walking on McDowell, which is a sure sign of an urban area. Young and old folks on bicycles pass me in both directions. Mothers and daughters with children in strollers and socially marginal people shuffle along past me. For mile after mile the houses and apartments continue, with gas stations on the corners every mile or two. If you think of cities as lumps of dough, some are high an puffy, like New York or Boston. But in Phoenix it’s as if a great baker has taken a rolling pin and flattened the place out so that it spreads for miles in all directions, with few buildings over two stories tall beyond the downtown section.
There is much to say about the City of Phoenix, and I’ll mention a few things. As with the other places around here, it was once the home of the Hohokam people, whose name means, in the Pima or O’odham language, “those who have vanished.” Kind of like the Fugawi Indians. The Hohokam, as I mentioned before, had this great network of irrigation canals, so this was a city a millennium ago. Modern Phoenix was founded in 1861 and incorporated in 1881, near where the Salt and Gila Rivers come together. The name Phoenix was suggested by one of its founders, Lord Darrell Duppa, to suggest a city built on the ashes of a former civilization. Philip Darrell Duppa was born in England, and when he came over here he styled himself “Lord Duppa,” although he wasn’t really a nobleman. Like Lord Athol Layton, the wrestling announcer in Detroit when we were kids. Jack Swilling, a Civil War veteran, is considered the other major father of Phoenix.
Phoenix is the Maricopa County seat and the capital of Arizona. The invention and perfection of air conditioning was without a doubt the greatest thing that happened to Phoenix, since it is the hottest major city in the country, and summer temperatures can get over 120 degrees (49 centigrade). It is one of the fastest growing cities, currently ranking fifth--with a bullet, as they say.
I finally reach the end of it, though. At 83rd Ave. is the city limit, and I enter Tolleson. As I depart I have a nice conversation with a young man named Marcus, originally from San Bernardino, California, and now living in an apartment about a block from the edge of the city. We meet at an intersection and he comments on my University of Michigan hat, and we walk together for about half a mile. He’s bright and inquisitive. A nice way to spend my last few minutes in Phoenix, talking to someone who, like almost everyone else, isn’t from here originally.
Speaking of my Michigan regalia, earlier today I saw a woman in a bright red Ohio State sweatshirt at another intersection. I sought to engage in a little friendly Big Ten banter, but it became apparent immediately when I spoke to her that she was no co-ed and never had been. It was the puffy but undernourished face on the thin body and the purple acne that matched her purple hair, and the vacant but wary stare that tipped me off to the fact that she’d probably never been closer to Columbus than we were at that moment, and that the only educaton she’d had lately had been in the school of hard knocks. I said to her, jauntily, “So, Ohio State, eh?” She answered dully, “Yeah, I guess,” and hurried to put distance between herself and me. So I gave her a friendly Wolverine tip of the hat and was on my way.
At 91st Ave. I’m walking along an irrigation ditch here on McDowell in Tolleson. McDowell Street was named for Fort McDowell, an army post started near here back in the days of the Indian Wars.
Past the shopping area centered at 99th Ave. McDowell opens up a bit and I begin to see cotton fields. To the northwest are the White Tank Mountains and to the south the Sierra Estrella. I am now in Avondale, the next suburb down. I pass Friendship Park, which has kind of an Asian feel to it.
At 15.4 miles I reach Dysart Road and turn south to go back to Van Buren. This is the commercial center of Avondale, with one of every national chain of stores in America. I pass the entrance to the Walmart where I stayed last night. I don't know much about Avondale except that it has a population of over 87,000.
At about 16.5 miles I’m back on Van Buren heading into Goodyear, the town where I’ll end up today. Lots of cotton fields, for now at least. A decade from now they’ll probably be only a memory, replaced by stuff of all kinds. Interestingly, Goodyear began its existence as a city because of cotton. In 1917, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company purchased 16,000 acres of cotton farms here for use in making tire treads. It officially became a town in 1946 and a city in 1985, and now has over 47,000 people. Recently the Cleveland Indians moved their spring training facility to Goodyear from Winterhaven, Florida.
At Estrella Parkway I reach the end of my walk for today, in the Safeway Plaza next to Blockbuster Video.