Road To Nowhere

Long-Form Follows Function In A Southbound Sedan On S.R. 90.

I SPENT A week in Sierra Vista the other day. This isn't a knock on our neighbor to the southeast. I actually had a very pleasant day in Sierra Vista; all the rest was travel time.

State Route 90 (which runs from I-10 just west of Benson, down to Sierra Vista) is, in the most extreme sense of the term, under construction. Twenty-nine God-forsaken miles of detours, land graders, bulldozers, people in orange vests, drainage pipes, mounds of dirt, Army convoys with the lights on in midday, jackhammers, fast-food places which were apparently assembled elsewhere, airlifted and dropped in the middle of freakin' nowhere; fast drivers, bad drivers, slow drivers, tourists, boors, hitchhikers, cycling enthusiasts, Border Patrol checkpoints, Winnebagos, road kill, Kartchner Caverns, drivers from other states, drivers from other countries, drivers from other planets, school buses, drunks, punks, lunks, and an endless supply of misleading and/or contradictory road signs.

And yet, nary a member of the law-enforcement community. (Unless you count the aforementioned Border Patrol, but I don't want to get into politics.)

I have a soft place in my heart for Sierra Vista. Back in the mid-'70s, when I left L.A. to attend Cochise College, Sierra Vista helped keep me alive. Remote outpost that it is, Cochise is located on U.S. 80, about 100 yards north of the Mexican border, eight miles west of the border town of Douglas, and 14 miles southeast of Bisbee. Word has it that Cochise is the first-ever example of the build-it-elsewhere-airlift-it-then-drop-it-in-the-middle-of-freakin'-nowhere schools of architecture and location.

Having come from the Big City, I had a natural dependence on fast food, including the four major food groups of Pioneer Chicken, In-and-Out Burger, Danny's Chili Dogs, and Shakey's. The latter served pizza, fried chicken, and an ingenious creation known as "mojo potatoes." I used to be a regular at various Shakey's franchises until the health department closed down just about all of them except the one on South Sixth in Tucson. These days, I'm a semi-regular.

Unfortunately, Douglas didn't have any fast-food restaurants back then. Meanwhile, Bisbee, reeling from the closure of the Lavendar Pit (copper) Mine, was in the process of downsizing into a haven for burned-out hippies and people with standards so loose they considered the noises emanating from the Grateful Dead as "music." People like that only eat granola in the daylight hours, and Twinkies in the late night ones.

Most of my teammates were also from large cities, so we had in common a profound lust for, and appreciation of, grease. There were a couple places across the line in Agua Prieta which would fry up some chicken for us, and unlike most people with IQs in the triple digits, the thought of consuming chicken in Mexico concerned me not in the least. Alas, the Copa, our favorite cuchara grasosa (greasy spoon), burned to the ground under circumstances about which I hope never to learn. We had to look elsewhere.

After basketball practice, we'd pile into my Camaro and make the hour-long drive to the Bright Lights of Sierra Vista. Running the length of the town was Fry Boulevard, a magnificent strip which featured enough fast-food places to choke a herd of horses (i.e., satisfy five hungry basketball players). The locals referred to it as French-Fry Boulevard, but it was heaven to us.

Little-known fact: The McDonald's on Fry was the first McDonald's franchise IN THE WORLD to offer drive-thru window service. They even had bumper stickers touting that fact. Just think how that daring advancement has improved your quality of life.

Sierra Vista has grown up around Fort Huachuca, an Army base which has seen several incarnations. It was originally established to protect white settlers in the San Pedro Valley and to serve as a base of operations in the on-again, off-again war with the Apaches. Proving that military intelligence is a discipline which has evolved over the centuries, the U.S. fort is a good 80 miles from the Cochise Stronghold, where the Apaches lived. It would be a two- or three-day ride over or around the mountains if the soldiers wished to engage the hostiles (that is, of course, if the hostiles wished to be engaged at that particular time).

These days Fort Huachuca is one of the biggest centers for Army communications in the entire world, rendering it virtually impervious to attack from Congressional budget cutters. Of course, if the missiles start flying, it'll be like Target 1-A. But you've got to take the bad with the good.

I had made the trip south to watch my daughter play in the 5A-South Tennis Regionals, which were being held at Buena High and the nearby racquet club. It was a beautiful day, although a bit breezy. Oddly, the locals didn't seem to notice the wind at all. It must be windy more than a few days a year down there.

On the way back home, I decided to go through Sonoita. Having lived in these parts for a quarter-century, I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I had never been to Sonoita before. (One of these days I'm going to go to that Mount Lemmon place, too.) Anyway, Sonoita's beautiful! Just don't tell anybody. How that place has managed to evade development is a mystery. Maybe they have a D.E.W. (Diamond Early Warning) system that shrouds the area in fog like Brigadoon. That seems the most logical explanation.

As for S.R. 90, ADOT admits that work is progressing slowly, but hopefully, by the time the summer rains come, it will have ground to a complete halt.

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