Guest Commentary

Don't fret the season's consumerism; take a walk and shop at local businesses

My partner and I recently moved into the Samos neighborhood, a leafy patch of Tucson near the perpetually pulsing intersection of Grant Road and Campbell Avenue. We escaped a soulless, claustrophobic condo for a real house with windows and a yard, surrounded by things a bit more animate than gravel and concrete.

Our newfound riot of vegetation notwithstanding, we were stunned when we saw two different coyotes walking down our street in the space of three early December days. Excitable boy that I am, I tend to take such events as the fourth sign of the apocalypse, but the partner assured me that coyotes have made their way into our neighborhood before, according to longtime residents. So instead, I took it as a sign to go on walkabout.

In the city, this concept doesn't mean quite what it did in those old Crocodile Dundee movies, but the spirit is the same.

I decided to kill two stones with one bird: It was time to check out the new hood and hunt for Christmas treasure. I'm not big on Christmas shopping (yeah, I have Left-Wing Holiday Conflict Syndrome, I admit it), and malls scare the bejeezus out of me, but I figured a walk around the hood was a palatable alternative to "normal" pre-Christmas behavior.

I was already familiar with what lies to the northwest: Salpointe Catholic High School, orbited by marauding packs of shiny SUVs being piloted at dangerous speeds by harried parents. I had been dodging them on my ride to work for some weeks already, so no need to head that way. Instead, I walked out the front door, empty pack on my back, and headed east toward the beehive of businesses along Campbell Avenue. I had made this area a destination many times before, but now I wanted to scout it on foot, the better to inspect every hole in every wall.

I started at the Raging Sage with a chai latte. A glance at the food case convinced me that it's never too early in the day for currant teacake flavored with whiskey and frosted with glaze. Wow. Dundee never had rations like these.

Then it was over to Bookmans. After a couple of hours of wandering, wondering and wallowing about the place, I walked out with an armload of crap that included everything from Simpsons trivia to government reports to erotic fiction. I got a weird look from the cashier, but it strikes me that--especially this time of year--I'm not the only one walking out of there with eclectic armloads of crap. (Hell, in the Clinton years, government reports were erotic fiction.)

But one man's crap is someone else's Christmas present, so I crammed it all into my pack and set off north up Campbell. By now, it was lunchtime already, and I was feeling particularly investigative, so after browsing for a block or two, I picked a very tiny hole in a very cluttered wall: Bob's Deli. Five short minutes after I walked in (three of which were spent gazing at the menu), Bob himself plunked down a bowl of cheese soup with chewy bits of bacon in it and a half braunsweiger on onion roll. And all I had to do was part with one wrinkled fiver.

I walked up the avenue, ducking into Jasmine's Market for various jars of tasty things from countries that do not use our alphabet. The remarkably attractive cashier told me to come back tomorrow for more new treats due to be delivered. I walked out smiling into the afternoon sunshine, feeling more and more like Skinny Claus with my bulging pack and braunsweiger belly.

As I made my rounds, I counted nearly 100 storefronts along Campbell Avenue between Grant Road and Glenn Street, the vast majority of which are small businesses. And I would guess the products they sell come from almost as many countries: rugs, musical instruments, exotic coffees, polyglot books, Scandinavian spirits and an incredible array of foods. You can sell things, buy things, fix things or clean things.

Trudging back to the homestead, I reconsidered my reasons for cringing at the season. I decided rampant consumerism isn't so bad if you leave your car at home and throw your dollars at real people rather than godless corporations. So this Christmas, give your money to Bob, or Jasmine, or whomever else hangs up a shingle in your hood. I'm sure the holy hippie himself would be proud.

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