Baked Apple Pie

Tucson Is The Armpit Of The Nation-Pass It On.

By Jeff Smith

AT THE TOP of my short list of things that would make Tucson a better place to live and fart around, here's what you won't find:

Smith Make a big impression on East Coast urbanites who have spent more money on tickets to Cats than I've invested in my home and pickup truck, so they will move here and spend the profits from the sale of their Central Park West co-ops hiring lawyers to sue me for playing my Jerry Lee Lewis records too loud.

Matter of fact, you won't find this anywhere on my list, long or short. Nor, for that matter, will you find anything about attracting more Californians, or anybody from Jackson's Hole, Wyoming. You'll see me smearing my body in cowshit and sitting outside to draw flies before that happens.

As a man who was born here and has lived here most of my life, traveled the country left to right and up and down and diagonally except for Washington and Florida, and survived better than half-a-hundred years, I have drawn my own conclusions about what makes anyplace a place worth hanging around, and this particular place the place I, personally, prefer to hang around. (I use the term "around" in the Western construction, which takes in more territory than the aforementioned eastern city dwellers are accustomed. My radius of around extends from the corner of Stone and Congress to Milepost 27 on State Highway 82, between Sonoita and Patagonia.)

The operative point here is that life and bitter experience have taught me what improves a living/farting-around environment, and what degrades it, and almost invariably, that which increases the population of a community beyond numbers of people whose names you know, or are right on the tip of your tongue--or with whom you would, within five minutes of small talk at the coffee shop, discover a mutual friend or distant kin--tends to diminish what we refer to as quality-of-life issues.

Face it: Until Tucson reaches five million population we aren't going to have any of those things Mayor George Miller, the real-estate racket, and those precious scribes who write for the eastern literary establishment tell us are the amenities of a booming urban environment.

And is this what brought you to Tucson in the first place? Probably not.

In my case it was tuberculosis: my Dad's.

In view of the sweet reason of the foregoing, I am at a loss as to an explanation for the shit-fit the community's political and media establishments are throwing over Robert Kaplan's new book, An Empire Wilderness:Travels Into America's Future (excerpted this last summer in The Atlantic Monthly). The one that likened our city to a strip-mall surrounded by a wasteland.

Gee, what a damn shame? Robert Kaplan rides the bus from New York to Tucson, by way of Karachi, Islamabad and Mexico City, and is not impressed. We do not conform to his image of an integrated, culturally progressive, intellectually open and nurturing community. Well, duh. I spent half a day shooting the shit with Kaplan, and my impression of the man is that he's as much a product of his nature/nurture construct as I am. We're from different worlds. My prejudices regarding the teeming metropoli of the eastern seaboard are pungent...and informed by are his regarding this place and its indigenous species.

Viva la difference!

And thank the muse of journalism (whose name I disremember; pardon) that Kaplan didn't write some chamber-of-commerce paean to the bucolic delights of the Sonoran Desert, or the oddly narcotic magnetism of this homely desert oasis we call The Old Pueblo. (And as a personal aside, I think anybody who calls Tucson The Baked Apple ought to be bitch-slapped and run out of town.)

Are we so shallow, so vain, so self-absorbed...SO STUPID....that we dote on smarmy words of flattery, even while we must recognize that all they get us is more pilgrims moving here to waste our water hosing off their driveways, clog up our streets, make longer lines at the DMV, and bitch about everything that isn't the way they do it back in New York?

What they hell do we want with more New Yorkers? Or more Californians? Hey: New York and New Yorkers, California and Californians are swell. In their place. Which is not here. Not until or unless enough of them move here and recreate our beloved Tucson in their own, dare I say, funhouse mirror image, of a western American community. And that's what will happen if we start getting a lot of laudatory press from guys like Robert Kaplan.

But maybe George Miller and the staff of The Arizona Daily Star are smarter than I am. Maybe pigs will fly out of my ass. But perhaps they're being clever enough to work a little reverse psychology. Maybe this class-nine hissy-fit they've pitched is calculated to convince the world that Tucson is populated and operated by whiners. Nobody likes a whiner, not even other whiners.

Intentional or not, the predominant local response to Kaplan's not-entirely-misguided missive certainly will serve only to reinforce the image of our community as a ship of fools, sinking where only the most determined suicide can find a lung full of water.

And for this the rest of us should be abidingly grateful. TW

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