Guest Commentary

Chin up, Tucsonans; there is a lot to smile about

This can be a trying time to live in and love Tucson.

The state treats us like a red-headed stepchild; the FBI is called in on the Rio Nuevo debacle; no one's really interested in running for mayor; months after our beloved congresswoman and other wonderful denizens get shot, we have to fret about college kids packing heat, and the commensurate brain-drain that could have led to (but we dodged that one; thanks, Jan). And this doesn't even factor in the challenge of living within this state, with its rogue legislation that makes Arizona the focus of the nation—for all the wrong reasons.

Did I mention our county has put secession on the table?

Alas, as I wind down my first decade of living in Ye Olde Pueblo, I find more to love now than ever before. Been to downtown's Hub Restaurant and Creamery yet? Been downtown, period? You may feel like you're witnessing a revival of the first order—and you are. This isn't some civic mandate or an urban-planned vision. It is the workings of small businesses and right-minded developers coming together. The gravy is in the maneuvers being made by the UA to offer student housing and bring academic departments downtown. The light rail that will connect these two vibrant points is looking less like a folly and more like an essential link.

I've met a plethora of good souls in this desert patch, some who have made exodus for greener pastures, some who have stayed to grow roots here. The trees are now bearing fruits of those who remained planted in Tucson. Kudos.

It's nice to remind myself of all the little things that add up in this calculus of contentment, from the amazing bands I've seen at our incredible venues to the motorbike rides into the desert sunsets, or the times I've hunkered down during a monster monsoon, torched up my wood stove during chilly winter nights, commuted on my fixed-gear in 100-plus-degree weather, or almost hugged a saguaro on any number of gorgeous hikes.

What I haven't done is sit in traffic—and I don't mean waiting two cycles for a green light on Grant Road. That's not traffic. (I just got back from a harrowing motorcycle trip to Los Angeles and Oakland; trust me.) I haven't had to deal with four-hour waits at the Motor Vehicle Division; my last visit there was done in 20 minutes, and a woman with a clipboard came to the line to see if she could expedite things. Aside from rural towns, where does that happen these days?

I haven't had to do many things that one does in big cities—and therein lies the tradeoff that forms the balance. It's only when you strip away the urge to compare Tucson to a San Francisco, when you view Tucson on its own terms, that the shine really turns on. We may not have the sizable creative class of Austin, but we have a damn creative community of musicians, artists, writers and thinkers. We have badass motorcycle riders who escort their wounded congresswoman to the airport. Selfless citizens who would protect the funeral procession of a young girl by spreading wings. Bells that hang on trees, cashiers at Trader Joe's who know me by name and an emergency-room doctor who called me to check up on me after my discharge. (Thanks, Keith; I'm doing great.)

Yes, I heart this big small town, and the more people who confess their love, the more Tucson will soar in the face of tough times. This year's young basketball team and coach is a perfect metaphor: You'd have been a lunatic to suggest an Elite Eight run at the season's outset, yet by flying under the radar and focusing on fundamental teamwork, magic happened. The same thing may be happening in this Sonoran settlement as a whole.