We all have pet peeves. It's a universal thing among humans. What is interesting, however, is that so many of us share certain pet peeves.
Sharing is the purpose behind the Weekly's annual rant issue. This is our third such publication, and its ongoing goal is to serve as collective therapy--for both our addled, occasionally unstable writers, and our readers who share our "particular personal vexations."
With that, let's get on with the ranting.
The widening of Campbell Avenue between Elm Street and Grant Road was neither quick nor cheap, but when the city's transportation department completed the work, they'd done a swell job, widening the road to three lanes in each direction, expanding the parallel frontage roads, putting up walls to safeguard the neighborhoods and planting trees and bushes. Fine work all around.
But here's the problem: The three lanes narrow down to two at the Grant Road stoplight. Most drivers who are headed north on Campbell play fair by staying in the center through lanes, even in the evening rush hour when they back up with a couple dozen cars. But what burns my biscuits is that a handful of no-good weasels take advantage of the nearly empty right lane to speed past the decent folks and then cut back into traffic just before they reach the intersection.
That ain't right.
What's worse, anyone--like me, for example--who wants to make a right turn onto Grant ends up stuck behind these toads who are trying to squeeze back into the northbound flow, slowing us down because they needed to screw their fellow commuters.
I'd advocate that cars moving through the intersection lock up bumper to bumper to keep the cheaters from prospering, but that seems likely to prove hazardous. I'd suggest we hurl eggs or fire paint-gun shells at the offenders, but that seems a little extreme. So I guess we'll have to settle for giving them the skunk eye, throwing our hands up in exasperation and sucking down their exhaust.
It's Friday evening, and a single woman walks into a midtown restaurant alone. The door slams behind her, and all eyes turn in her direction. The wait staff moves in slow motion. Diners stop eating and whisper among themselves. The smell of desperation hangs in the air. Will this single diner make it out alive?
OK, dining alone isn't necessarily that dramatic, but sometimes it feels that way.
Hosts and hostesses always seem to flash a look of discomfort and pity as you walk in alone. "Only one?" they ask, as if they're secretly thinking, "You poor thing." But you'll never hear them say, "Only two?" when it's a couple walking in.
Things slide downhill when you are seated. If you're lucky, you're seated at a regular table with two or more chairs. But sometimes, restaurants have weird, single-dining seating. It's like a table that's been sawed in half with one chair attached, making you feel extra pathetic. Note to new restaurant owners: Buy standard seating.
Recently, while traveling on business, I was seated at one of these "special" tables--a sort of mini-booth, one side facing a brick wall and the other facing a table of 10. Hmm. What to choose? I opted to face the wall over the stares of the happy family.
Next, it's time to order. If you aren't neglected for a stretch of time, your wait staff deals with you in a more formal manner. The pleasantries often aren't there.
Once, while dining alone in Florida, the waitress greeted every table with a warm "happy holidays!" except mine. When she reached my table, she simply asked what I wanted to order. Guess she didn't think I needed any holiday cheer.
Another thing that's irritating is what happens while you're actually eating your meal. It's like you're invisible or something.
At a diner in New York, I was dining alone and enjoying my meal. I noticed the waitress began to fill up the ketchup bottles at all the empty tables. She politely skipped over the tables with multiple diners, but when it came to mine, she didn't hesitate to reach over my food, grab the ketchup bottle and do her work. Hello? Do I want to see the glop from the bottle while I'm trying to eat? But hey, it's just me, so I guess I don't count.
It seems like singles are sometimes dismissed by society. You'll find coupons for two or more dinners, special deals for two or more vacationers and reduced rates for families. Single diners and travelers don't apply.
C'mon, business owners. Have you forgotten about single business travelers? Not everyone travels in the family SUV packed with their spouse and kids. Singles do get out in the world and eat and entertain themselves--alone. How about a little respect?
Singles should be valued as consumers, and not cast aside. But until that happens, the drama will continue.
Back at the midtown restaurant on Friday night, the single woman finishes her meal, pays the bill and walks to the door. All eyes turn toward her again. Whispers continue until she leaves the restaurant. She gets into her car and drives to a movie theater. After waiting in line, she arrives at the ticket counter. The clerk looks up with a sad smile and asks, "Only one?"
OK, so it was time for me to do the yearly delightful exercise of renewing my car's registration. It's a 1998 Saturn that's white--and therefore it eternally looks dirty--and I paid too much money for the thing, but whatever. It has a high success rate of getting me from point A to B without exploding.
The key detail about my car is that it's a 1998 model, which means it needs an emissions test, because it's not a 2001 or newer car. This is all well and good; being a tree-hugging hippie liberal pinko commie leftist alternative newsweekly editor, I don't mind emissions tests. Really. If emissions tests can keep cars that spew noxious fumes off the roads, and if that can keep our air from having the consistency of crunchy soup, I'm down with it, bro. (I also think certain people should have to undergo emissions tests, particularly the people who have right-wing talk-radio shows, but that's something to bring up some other time, preferably when I'm hammered.)
So I got up one morning and headed to the Stocker Drive emissions-test facility, which is just off East 22nd Street, which is not exactly close to my house. I waited in line and watched the testing folks insert wands inside tailpipes and whatnot on the older Chevy Suburban in front of me. They tested this car, man--revved the engine, checked it out closely, everything. Again, all well and good.
Then it was my turn, or more accurately, my Saturn's turn. They asked me to turn it off, and they checked to make sure I had a gas cap. Then, they asked me to start up the car, pull it up a bit, shut it off again and get out of the vehicle. One of the testers looked inside of it, started the car and told me to get back in and drive it up to the yellow line just outside of the testing facility.
"You passed. Congratulations!" one of the testers said.
WHAT THE FAWK DID I PASS, EXACTLY? All they did was make sure the car has a gas cap and that it turns on and shuts off without massive clouds of pollutants spewing forth. Otherwise, they did nothing. No wands inside tailpipes. No revving. Nothing. (I suppose it's possible they did something else when I wasn't looking, but if they did, my goodness, they're stealthy. And while the testers seemed like fine and decent people, they didn't exactly look stealthy.)
For this, I paid $12.25 and drove halfway across town? To examine my freakin' gas cap?! I guess my car was new enough or small enough or something enough for it not to need the full-on probing the Suburban got. OK, then why do I need to go through all this? THIS WAS NOT AN EMISSIONS TEST. THIS WAS A CLINIC FOR GAS-CAP FETISHISTS.
It really irks me that whenever I buy a major appliance, like a television or refrigerator, some sales person wants to hustle a warranty. Huh? What's wrong with the product? Why do we need an insurance policy when the sales person just said that it was the best product money could buy--top-of-the-line crappy crap?
For years, televisions commercials have bragged that Maytag washers and dryers never break down. One commercial in particular shows two repair guys wearing Maytag uniforms sitting around playing solitaire and reading the paper, waiting for the phone to ring. It never rings. With that kind of branding, no one will buy a warranty--which is probably why Maytag decided to expand into other appliances, including refrigerators. When our refrigerator warranty was about to expire, Maytag sent one letter a day for 12 days straight. We opened the first letter and threw the rest in the junk mail pile, to be opened when hell freezes over. Some days, the same piece of mail arrived in triplicate, and once it arrived via Priority Mail. Many a sleepless night was spent lying in bed dreaming about the refrigerator imploding while a robotic voiceover whined, "This is what happens to bad girls who don't buy extended warranties."
The Maytag Dependability Plus warranty costs $63.19 for one year, or $161.13 for three years. What about product dependability from the start? My parents grew up during the Great Depression, and when they bought an appliance, they didn't buy another one. It had to last a lifetime, or close enough. Their Philco refrigerator lasted for at least 25 years. No 21st-century company wants its products to last 25 years--it's anti-American since we've become a disposable society.
Both the manufacturer and the store know the product will probably far outlive the warranty period, or so we can hope. However, they are banking on our fears that the product will fail as soon as the warranty period expires, fears that are compounded when flamed by aggressive measures of postal persistence. This is their last chance to pocket some extra money--easy revenue in exchange for a service that they will most likely never have to provide.
For comic relief, we looked over the letter. "This offer is absolutely RISK-FREE. If you are not completely satisfied within 60 days from sending your payment, give us a call and we'll send you a free refund!*" By the way, your agreement will be mailed to you within 4-6 weeks of the company receiving your payment, so you have about a New York minute to ask for a refund. We can't imagine that would be a walk-in-the-park transaction.
Following the above single asterisk, in the smallest font imaginable, the offer reads, "See terms and conditions on reverse side for more details." The reverse side lists the 19 features of the Maytag extended service plan; No. 11 has 16 sub items. There must be at least 5,000 words on that page, all written in suffocating legalese. Pre-existing conditions are not covered, just like our damned health insurance (another rant for another time). At the bottom of the page, it adds, "Note: This is not your Contract. You will be provided with a complete Agreement containing a comprehensive set of Terms and Conditions upon acceptance of this offer, including specific state provisions."
Never mind. We'd rather live dangerously.
Gay life in Tucson downright sucks. In a metropolitan area approaching a population of 1 million, I expect a greater diversity of men.
Don't get me wrong; there are some wonderful activist groups in town doing a lot to promote and protect the community. The area is a relatively safe place to live, and the general population is, for the most part, accepting. But sometimes, a guy just wants to go out and schmooze with an all-around stud.
Alas, here in Tucson, the male selection runs the gamut from mediocre to downright ugly, which can easily be broken down into three groups.
First, there's the obnoxious undergrad crowd, which can, in turn, be broken up into three subgroups: There's the "too skittish to even consider doing that" crowd; the "I'm horny and want it now" crowd; and the "I may want to do this, but I'm too scared (insert giggle here)" crowd. All three form a nasty clique--again, not unusual for any gay scene. What makes it so nauseating is the disbursement of eye candy among them. Come on, recruiters; give us something more to look at than gaunt Abercrombie & Fitch-wearing, look-at-me-trying-to-be-cute-but-can't-really-pull-it-off flamers.
The second group is the grad students. I'm all for a comprehensive graduate program, but by the time these guys have the life experience to have a conversation about something other than their academic existence, they're too old to be of any carnal interest. (My personal "sleep partner" is excluded from this statement.)
And third, there is the over-50 crowd, full of people who are just as obnoxious, but don't offer the coveted luscious eye-candy.
Where are the professional gay men, age 28-40? Where are all the guys with the confidence to say, "I'm hot; you're hot; let's go back to my place"? Those of us who are to be found usually form a circle and commiserate among ourselves as the other groups swirl around us. And that's another source of contention--gays in Tucson don't talk outside their own circle. Bar-goers literally form little circles of three to five people and then proceed to point, gossip or lust after the hotties doing the same thing in another group. Here's a novel idea: Mingle outside your clique!
I must be getting old (or too old). It's pretty bad when the hottest bartender at the what-passes-for-a-nightclub bar in town is someone you consider to be like a little brother. When the bartenders do their twist-and-grind dance routine on top of the bar, the only thought running through my head is to pull him down by his arm and say, "Put some clothes on."
If I get felt up by one more guy old enough to be my grandfather, or need to educate a 20-something UA sophomore on the nuances of a hookup, I'm taking a one-way trip to join a monastery. There, at least, I might get an opportunity to be on my knees.
In the mean time, I'll stick with what I know--the few bars in town, and the Internet.
If the bar scene is discouraging, then the Internet is downright repulsive (for the most part). But there I sit, time after time, waiting for something interesting. Don't even get me started on guys online; they're either overly forward about their sexual interests or too skittish to even broach the subject. Of course, there are always the UA students "working" their way through school. But since I'm not old enough or ugly enough to indulge in that particular form of depravity, there I sit ... watching and waiting for that perfect "Mr. Right Now."
I'm just glad that my "Mr. Right" got his claws into me within a few weeks of my landing in Tucson. I couldn't image charting the murky, often dried-up streams of Tucson's gay scene alone. At least there's someone else to share in the misery.
I once had this place, a very special place that embodied all of my tightly clutched memories of sweet and youthful repose.
As destinations go, it was hardly glamorous--just a bumpy stump of road leading to a scruffy ridge on the tumbledown slopes of Gates Pass. But many Friday nights would find me there with one pretty girl, six cold Bohemias and Roxy Music set to continuous-play.
The city lights danced innocently, so awfully far away. But here on my ridge, the land displayed only the sexy, spare choreography of desert shadows--a perfect backdrop for boozy, lusty nocturnes.
The year was 1979, and Tucson had 320,000 residents.
In 1979, this was a town of freewheeling concerts in an overgrown Quonset hut called Splinter Brothers and Sisters Warehouse, and beer-swigging country swing at the Stumble Inn. More exotic tastes were indulged at Daddy Jack's strip club or amidst flashing knives in downtown's rollicking Manhattan bar.
At one southside joint, chubby waitresses hustled frosty pitchers of beer to your car window. Another popular Mexican eatery was BYOB--if you could find room in a restaurant fridge stuffed with chiles and tamales.
Today, most of those funky joints have fallen prey to strip malls, boutique bars or a Famous Sam's. And the Manhattan is now a bus depot.
In 1979, you could have Mount Lemmon nearly to yourself on weekdays, and for free. North of town, the desert was little more than sprawling ranchland. Oro Valley was just a geezer's country club; Catalina's big attraction was the Lariat Lounge, and Oracle could have been on another planet.
Today, Tucson is home to more than 530,000 souls, with nearly that many more scattered around the fringes. Vast cactus forests have become stucco wastelands; endless tile roofs stretch across a bland and monotonous horizon.
Many call this progress. I call it the exact opposite.
Ironically, it's my perspective that keeps cash registers ringing. For years now, development mandarins have brilliantly marketed a lie--or at least a truth that was scraped away long ago.
Case-in-point: One ad for the Dove Mountain hawks fantasy with beautiful, sweeping visions of cactus and pristine mountain ridges. Exclusive home sites there range from $200,000 to more than $1 million. But the development's glossy, full-page spread features nary a house--no stucco, no tile, nothing but virgin mountain and desert, spiked by majestic saguaros.
"Dove Mountain," trumpets the ad. "Now and Forever."
As it happens, I had long ago stopped going to my favorite spot. Afraid of what it had become, I preferred tucking it away as a halcyon memory. But several weeks back, I got a wild hair and decided to return. The bumpy road remained, despite feeble attempts to block it off. I drove in a few yards and crunched to a halt right on the edge of that sweet little ridge.
The city had metastasized all around. I killed the engine and gazed down upon houses rising and falling along slopes now laced with concrete. One massive home squatted within earshot; I could see a guy standing on his patio and hear his cell phone beep. A wind whispered past as I sat there in silence. I closed my eyes and yearned for another time.
The hollering startled me. "No parking!" the guy was yelling as I opened my eyes and sat up. "Private land!" He held his phone high, shaking it in the air as a warning. Point well-taken: Even the cops are closer these days.
I fired up my truck and drove back to town, cursing all the way.
I'm sick to hell of it. And now I am prepared to motor to Phoenix to see the high-and-mighty accidental lawmakers--not legislators and certainly not leaders, as they've been described by one insipid, kiss-ass local columnist--demand the repeal of the decades-old law exclusive to Arizona that requires all drivers to dump whatever the hell it is they are drinking--Big Gulps, some pissy Starbucks decaf, Bud Light--upon arriving at the market, the gas pump, the theater, the record shop, the restaurant ...
You say it's not a real law? Well, as often as it happens, you could have fooled me.
How did all this get started? Where and when was it mandated that we must fill up with some drink in order to drive? Cup holders didn't became standard equipment until a good 30 years after my car rolled off the line in Flint, Mich. Tough auto workers in Flint wouldn't buy a convenience-store cola only to dump it at the next stop, and they wouldn't pour out a beer--they'd drink it. Cup holders should be phased out now, under the ruse, if needed, of increasing gas mileage. It creates too much uneven pressure to the gas pedal, I mean, accelerator, when you are monkeying with the latte.
In Arizona, and Tucson in particular, this dumping out onto the concrete and adding to the filth is fashionable and, by now, unforced and natural. The goo has given rise to a whole white-trash entrepreneurial class of "power washers." They dispatch unfortunate minimum-wage workers to go around spraying the fouled concrete with a mix of detergent and dirty water.
This is not enough. What I want is action. Lift us, oh lawmakers, from this terrible burden of having to dump our drink. I will call. I will write. I will make the pilgrimage. I will suffer you and your staffs who ask if I can hold and then return to the line to inquire: "And what was your name?" Or "What did you say your name was?" When did a hold of 20 seconds or even a minute ensure that I've changed my name?
I'll suffer that. Because I know those geniuses in Phoenix--the unemployables and the hacks, the do-gooders and the thieves, the incompetents and the inheritrix who await the since-birth plan to springboard into Congress--are looking out for me.
It's a quiet Wednesday afternoon. I'm sitting in my apartment, indulging in a bottomless pit of required reading (imposed by sadistic college professors), when all of a sudden, my room is invaded by the all-too-familiar pounding of techno coming through the ceiling.
Gradually the music becomes louder, until I can tell that the song is none other than Gwen Stefani's latest "hit," "What You Waiting For?" Gwen was a member of the band No Doubt until last year, when she became a solo artist, paving the way for my neighbor to delve into a fanatical obsession with two of Gwen's newly released tracks.
The girl upstairs has decided that she is not only infatuated with Gwen, but that she is going to force me to endure the sick-and-twisted, ongoing repetition of two of the most obnoxious songs a solo artist has ever produced.
For hours at a time, at any hour of the day, my friendly neighbor blasts "What You Waiting For?" and "Rich Girl" over and over loud enough to make my lamps tremble, until I am at the pinnacle of frustration and rage. And I swear that bitch always turns it off just before I'm about to make the trip upstairs to tell her where to put that CD.
Although "What You Waiting For" is incredibly irritating, I believe toleration of a little loud music comes with the territory of living in a beehive-style apartment two blocks away from one of the biggest party schools in the nation. Even if my neighbor does have her subwoofer pressed firmly against the carpet.
If these two songs were even remotely euphonious, I wouldn't be too pissed off. But they contain nothing shy of mindless lyrical content, such as: "If I was a rich girl, la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la / See, I'd have all the money in the world, if I was a wealthy girl!"
Well, Gwen, if I was a rich girl, you don't want to know what I'd have happen to the girl who lives in that damn apartment.
Other than adding to the endless supply of mindless mainstream music, Gwen has successfully reminded me that there is never a shortage of people who like to blare music so loud that it allows no meaningful thought into the brain.
Anyway, I have been a fan of No Doubt since junior high, and I'm happy for the lovely and talented Gwen, because she's finally pursued her dreams of going solo. But not happy enough to sit back and accept this slow and painful torture, day in and day out.
Note to the Gwen extremist: Either turn it down, or I'll find a way to have you evicted.
In the meantime, UA professors should assign less homework.
When my daughter was still a toddler, riding around town in a car seat, she saw something peculiar one day. It was a man walking along Glenn Street.
Puzzled, she called out from the back seat, "Where's that man's car?"
The answer, of course, is that man was a pedestrian, a species rare enough in this car-mad town to baffle a little kid who was almost a native. It's also a species that's increasingly endangered.
I live in a central neighborhood that first pushed out into the creosote desert in the late 1940s and early 1950s, its modest houses arrayed on quiet streets within biking distance of the university and near a decent bus line. As far as Tucson goes, it's on the walk-able side. There are few paved sidewalks, but most streets at least have a dirt pathway that's safely separated by a curb from the street. But I learned its limits closely in those years that I was a mom pushing a stroller around.
Some of the homeowners took it upon themselves to erect boulders in the public walkway; others strewed un-walkable--and un-strollerable--river rocks on the dirt path, forcing walkers into the street. And I could navigate only a small quadrant of quiet streets before coming up against deadly thoroughfares like Grant Road and Country Club Road. Even quieter Glenn, which has a faint crosswalk near LaMadera Park, is dangerous to traverse. I can probably count on two hands the number of drivers who've stopped to let me cross in the many years I've lived here, even in the days when I had two little kids glommed on to me.
How did the city ever get designed this way in the first place? Tucson's rule is to ring its neighborhoods with ever-wider mini-highways, giant high-speed roads that thwart--or kill--pedestrians. Not too long ago, the voters saved my neighborhood from being freeway-ized. The city was pushing hard for a giant underpass right at Grant and Campbell Avenue to speed drivers along to their homes on the eastside and in the Catalina Foothills. One angry eastside resident declared at a public forum that she had to wait at the intersection for five minutes every morning while she was driving her kids to Salpointe. Her solution? Get up earlier? Put the kids on the bus? No, of course not. For her personal convenience, she wanted to tear up an intact, older neighborhood, and in the process allow a fine collection of independent businesses to rot. No doubt she and her ilk will be back to try again--because in Tucson, the car is king.
Adam Gopnik wrote an article that appeared in The New Yorker this month that sharply criticized the crop of ugly highway signs going up in venerable intersections all over the Big Apple. "The signs are infuriating," he said, "... because they are there for the convenience of cars, and thus violate the first Law of Civilization, which states that nothing must ever be done for the convenience of cars."
Amen, Adam, but your gospel will never be preached here. Tucson does virtually nothing that's not for the convenience of cars. And we're all paying the price. Earlier this month, a 70-year-old man was killed by a red-light runner, at the intersection of Grant and Dodge Boulevard, while walking in a crosswalk. The next week, someone lost his life on Valencia Road. And closer to my house, two flower-bedecked memorials honor two young neighborhood boys who died on our streets. One teen was mowed down while skateboarding along North Country Club Road, where there are no sidewalks. The other was felled in a crosswalk at Grant and Treat Street on his way to school. After this boy's death, the city finally installed a pedestrian-activated red light there. But it was too little, too late. His parents had lost their son, and nearly every day, I pass by his blue wooden cross, a repeated reminder of the carnage in our streets.