Guest Commentary

An artist's guide to beating the cash crash with a penny-pinching downtown romp

Unless you've been hibernating in a giant tiki head, you know the economy sucks. For those of us in the "creative economy"--artists, writers, musicians, coffee-ground clairvoyants--this comes as no surprise. When exactly was the bull market for the arts, anyway? The Italian Renaissance?

Being one of those creative types who nonetheless has a degree in economics (yes, it's a small club), I'll begin with this expert encapsulation of the situation: Basically, we've all been living one step higher on the hog than we can afford. The super-rich, who normally eat choice pork chops, have been eating the choicest pork chops, tenderized by a thousand geisha sandals and sprinkled with diamond dust. Folks who should have been eating sausage were eating pork chops; folks who should have been eating hot dogs were eating sausage; folk who should have been eating hooves were eating hot dogs; and folks who should have been eating dirt were eating hooves.

Yeah, we pigged out. Now we all have to eat hooves for a while, which is actually good news for the folks who should have been eating dirt.

Here's more good news: We live in Tucson, where there are plenty of entertaining things to do for free, or almost free.

First: Get downtown! Now's the time to relish the potential, because when it's finally swank, you'll have to pay $20 just to hear the train. In the meantime, take the trolley! Its current short run is still fun, and I like to pretend I'm in that old Rice-a-Roni commercial. Anyway, it's only 25 cents.

What?! You don't even have 25 cents? If you can't raise a quarter somehow on Fourth Avenue, then you need a better street act. May I suggest studying up on early-20th-century French Surrealist performance art? Because, if you affect an emperor penguin and scream at a bicycle seat long enough, someone's bound to throw a quarter at you. And where exactly does one go to study up on early-20th-century French Surrealist performance art? The public library!

Our downtown library has a groovy underground parking lot where the first hour's free. You can pretend the eerily lit subterranean garage is a set in a Terminator movie; I do. Speaking of movies, the library has 'em. I'd recommend Hands on a Hard Body, a documentary in which people--sad, pathetic people--compete to win a "hard body" pickup by trying to keep their hands on it the longest. Wow. Book-wise, one of my latest free finds is Rock Star 101: A Rock Star's Guide to Survival and Success in the Music Business, by Marc Ferrari. Totally deadpan, totally serious, totally hilarious!

Just walking around downtown is a trip, and window-shopping is always free. Sure, some windows still frame views of dusty vacancies, but you can imagine you're looking at post-apocalyptic dioramas. High on my list: the guitar-shaped toilet seats in the Chicago Music Store window. I'm not sure if you can take one home for a free test drive, but you can always ask. Their Web site advertises them with the catchy slogan, "Be the king you've always wanted to be." Delicious.

My favorite place downtown to freely frolic is La Placita Village, which isn't a village, and I'm not sure it's a placita, either. The stairs and mezzanines and elevators, however, create a three-dimensional maze that's fun to explore. And that paint job! I like to pretend I'm a secret agent (or maybe Julian Sands), a behavior which has puzzled many a hapless security guard. I walk up and down, back and forth, until they're sure I must have nefarious motives. All for free!

Or just watch the sunset, because it really doesn't get any better than that. My downtown balcony nightly affords me a free-of-charge twilit masterpiece. The other night, I saw this crazy purple smudge of a cloud that looked as if the sky were trying to erase a mistake on that kind of paper you used to get in school that would disintegrate if your eraser even touched it. Poetry!

If none of this sounds fun to you, then just pay your cable bill with your credit card, wish you were an American Idol and cry on your own remote, because stimulus or no stimulus, the hooves are coming home to roost.