In about three years, the Arizona quarter will be coming out, and we have to determine what will be on the back of the coin. Some of the state quarters are magnificent, while others are unmemorable. Florida's, for example, has the space shuttle up high and then, down at the bottom, there is something that is either a crocodile or vote-stealer Katherine Harris, with or without her makeup.
Some of the quarters have state mottos; others have famous people. Some have natural landmarks, while others go for the esoteric. Virginia has tall ships; Indiana has a race car, and Vermont has trees. It's our duty to make Arizona's special, because we're special, just like Mom said.
First off, no motto. Our state motto blows. It's "Ditat Deus," which could, if you went through a couple translators, come out "Allah Akbar!" Maybe if we decide to invade New Mexico and steal their chiles, we could have the National Guard troops roaring down Interstate 10 by Bowie, screaming "Ditat Deus!" as they passed the fruit-inspection stand. That would certainly be a valid use of the motto, but it stays off the quarter.
Some have suggested putting a famous Arizonan on the coin. I looked in the almanac, and the first three names (in alphabetical order) for Arizona were Cochise, Alice Cooper and Geronimo. That about sums it up: Two native warriors and a freakboy who went insane growing up in Phoenix.
I read recently that somebody suggested John Wesley Powell. That would be fine, except for the fact that the Civil War veteran from Illinois wasn't an Arizonan, per se, and 99.992 percent of all Arizonans have no idea who he was. (While exploring the Grand Canyon area back in 1869, he became best known for inadvertently starting the white-water rafting craze in the Colorado River, but wasn't smart enough to stick around long enough to make any money off it.)
We've had some interesting politicians. I remember when Lyndon Johnson would be making a speech in front of Congress, there was this old, white-haired guy over the president's left shoulder, just sitting there, staring out into space,. I asked my dad who that was, and he said, "That's Carl Hayden. He's been representing Arizona since it became a state."
I did the math in my head, then gasped. I looked at him again and wondered if maybe he had died and nobody told him.
Despite being a lifelong Democrat, I wouldn't mind if they put Barry Goldwater on the quarter, although I'd prefer Mo Udall. Both represent the independent Arizona that is fading fast, having been pushed aside by tract homes and chain restaurants.
If you went with the most famous living native Arizonan, that would be Linda Ronstadt. But that might cause a problem in Las Vegas. You'd probably have redneck red staters gumming up the slot machines. The casino employee would say, "Sir, you have to stop spitting on the quarters for luck," to which the reply would be, "Luck's got nothing to do with it."
So, it looks like it's natural wonders (and that would include Barbara Eden, who was born in Tucson, apparently without a navel). Obviously, the Grand Canyon should be on the coin. They should use an old photo of the place, because if you took an aerial view today, you'd have to airbrush all the Japanese tourists out.
While I like the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, Window Rock and the Meteor Crater, my favorite is Monument Valley. Unfortunately, part of Monument Valley is in Utah, and they might complain about it. So first, I think we should trade Colorado City (the fundamentalist Mormon polygamist community) for Monument Valley. They both straddle the Utah-Arizona state line, so it would be a zero-sum deal. I can't imagine anybody in Utah not liking that swap. They get all kinds of aunts and cousins and stuff, while we just get some barren property.
The big battle will probably be over the use of the saguaro cactus. Some will see it as stereotypical and trite, while others will find it indispensable. To be sure, the vast majority of the world's saguaros are in Arizona, and it's certainly one of the most recognizable symbols in the entire country. (Let's all be glad we're past the howling coyote phase of kitsch art.)
I like the traditional, the Grand Canyon and the saguaro. But we could always opt for future Arizona: A bulldozer and a T.G.I. Friday's.