Road Trip

The Seven Wonders of Southern Arizona.

These days I'm coaching at Green Fields Country Day School, which I like to think of as a little slice of sanity in a world otherwise gone completely mad. Of course, I also think that the Democrats have a really good chance in 2004. Coaching at a smaller (Class 1A) school affords one the opportunity to see parts of Arizona that most people only hear about in urban legends.

For example, there's Tohono O'odham High School, which is just this side of Why and about 30 miles past Why Am I Here? It's on Highway 86, so people who drive to Rocky Point probably see it and wonder if maybe the Army Corps of Engineers were carrying some pre-fab buildings by helicopter and just decided to drop them by the side of the road. Nice kids and good ballplayers, but the place is so remote, their mascot should be a hermit.

We also play at Ajo, which is even farther away than Tohono O'odham, but at least it has houses and stuff in the vicinity. Oddly enough, I've learned that the best way to get to Ajo is not by taking Ajo Way (the aforementioned Hwy 86). Similarly, you don't take Old Nogales Highway to get to Nogales, and there's also an Old Tucson Road in Nogales.

Anyway, to get to Ajo, you go up I-10, then go across I-8 heading toward California. Then, just as the fear starts mounting that you're going to have to enter Yuma, you see a bunch of Mexican insurance signs and you turn south and follow all the Phoenix people who are heading to Rocky Point and will pass through Ajo on the way. Ajo's a great old town with the view still dominated by the now-dormant copper mine and smelter. It's a testament to a better time when Arizonans were a hardy lot, conquering a hostile land instead of a bunch of SUV-driving suits who live and work inside refrigerated glass buildings and go to pro hockey games at night.

My favorite Ajo story is from a few years back and concerns the Pima County Health Department. I've always loved reading those restaurant inspection stories in the Sunday Star. I'm sorry, but rat droppings and meat stored next to cleaning chemicals are always good for a laugh. Anyway, during these inspections, a restaurant loses points for various infractions. Five points for dirty counters, two points for no hairnets, stuff like that. If they got a score in the low 70s or worse, they'd have to fix all the stuff right away. Most of the really bad scores were in the 65-75 point range.

Well, there was once this Chinese restaurant in Ajo (which, despite being in a different time zone, is still in Pima County). This restaurant scored a 28! 28! Out of a hundred!

My friends and I sat around one day and tried to figure out what they must have done wrong to get a 28. The best we could come up with is that they would bring the food to the table and then relieve themselves on the plates right in front of the customers.

Last week we played at Lourdes Catholic Academy, which is located in a convent up on a hill in East Nogales. Certainly no punchline opportunities there. They had this one kid who might just be the whitest person I've ever seen in my life. I mean, this kid would make Nicole Kidman look Samoan by comparison. Really nice kid, but she spoke Castilian Spanish the entire time. I felt like Tweety Bird ducking Thylvester'th thpray.

After the game, we went to eat. One kid said there was a Wendy's off I-19 in Rio Rico just north of Nogales, so we went there. Folks, I've never been to Rome or Paris or London. And now, I don't have to go to any of those places because I've seen it all.

This place, isn't just a Wendy's. It's a fast-food place, convenience store, gas station, truck stop, electronics mart, video arcade and laundromat all in one. You can buy a hunting knife, a color TV, some Advil, a nifty belt and a money order all at the same time. AND get fries to go with it.

I was absolutely stunned. While the kids ordered their food, I walked around the place and marveled at the wonder located at the three-way intersection of insanity, insomnia and capitalism. Over in one corner of the building, some truckers were doing their laundry and watching CNN on an overhead TV.

I've always admired truckers. Despite a few bad apples (everybody has a horror story about some guy weaving across the line in a big rig), they're the backbone of the American economy. They work brutal hours and are among the most regulated workers in America. (At least the American drivers are, anyway.) And I've always felt bad for them because I think it's in their union bylaws that they have to listen to country music. That should be a matter of choice.

Over in the video game room two guys who looked like Tip O'Neill were beating the living crap out of some electronic beast, obviously lamenting the passing of the pinball game, which back in the day could actually be influenced by inertia and brute force.

As I stood in line to pay for a copy of the Nogales newspaper, I was verbally assaulted by this woman screaming in Spanish into her cell phone in that high-pitched nasal whine that makes one want to reach for a ball-peen hammer (which, by the way, were on sale that day at that particular establishment). The woman behind the counter told me that the place is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, which is good to know, because who among us has not gotten the urge to have a Frosty and/or a spicy chicken sandwich at 3 a.m.?

Next week we go to Patagonia, which, contrary to popular belief, is not at the far tip of South America. It just feels like it is.

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