Diamondback Rattling - April 7-8, 2000

    After so many travel-less months, at last a real, honest-to-goodness road trip!   The Phoenix excursion went mostly well.  I rented a car, as I had been putting too many hard miles on Gypsy, and a dark car with lots of windows is not something one should drive in hot, sunny climates.  I had been up to 4 or 5am most nights in the couple weeks prior to the trip, so figured I could drive most of the way east before needing to zonk off.  After stopping home on the way for my bags and radios, I hit the road about 1:30am.  Had a scare an hour later, as coming down the pass into the Coachella Valley the winds were gently rocking the car, enough to lull me into deep tiredness.  From my walks around the Palm Springs area, I knew of a couple useful parking areas off I-10.  I pulled in, moved the seat into a comfortable sleeping position (thing had 3 separate electronic/motor controls!), then of course didn’t quite feel so tired!  Was back on the road by 3am, probably the best time to be driving I-10 as there were almost no cars, just trucks…the troubles always seem to start when some goofball cars start weaving in and out between trucks.
    I made it as far as a truck stop just outside of Quartzsite, AZ, around 5am, before I was tired enough to try napping again.  Even with a bright sunrise, I wound up with about 3 hours of shut-eye, and also some good tape of the local radio station.  I had been told KBUX was a long-playlist adult contemporary station, so I was looking forward to hearing it on my ’96 southwest trip, even planning my lunch stop around it.  However, the station was off the air that day.  Was pleasantly surprised to find the station was on the air this time through, though their signal area was limited to about 10 miles along I-10, the town sitting in a deep north-south valley.  The first few tunes heard made the station sound like it was now “easy country”, a weird mutant love-child of “beautiful music” and softer country which was a brief fad in the radio biz around 1973 or 4.  It was probably killed by the fact that about the only name group in the genre was Danny Davis & the Nashville Brass?  Over the course of the 100 minutes or so recorded, I would call KBUX “ez”.
    Driving through Quartzsite on my way back to I-10, I was reminded that there is not much permanent to the town.  RV parks for the snowbirds, who were starting to move out for the season, take up much of the town.  I passed a mobile home housing a bookstore, still not open for the day but they did have a couple of “honor system” booths in front with some wind-blown 25¢ books.
    50 miles or so west of Central Ave., 411th Street is in line with the Phoenix street-numbering system, though still out in mid-desert (for now).  About then, a couple small Air Force jets flew low over the freeway, and a couple more times soon after.  I still have to check the map for any bases near enough for them to be from.  My main thought at the time was, “Gosh, Arizona must REALLY be tough on speeders!”, ha!
    Just as I reached what is currently the edge of the populated area, I spotted a familiar logo in a very unfamiliar place…Snyder’s of Hanover had just a new plant and outlet store, I guess to expand its western pretzel operation.  I would pick up 4 different flavors, $5 for enough snacks to last maybe 2 months.
    I had not picked out a specific motel, not knowing if the less expensive places I knew about were in bad areas?  Most places still had high-season (winter) rates, or close to them.  I aimed first for a TraveLodge northwest of downtown, which was listed in the AZ/NM motel coupon directory.  The area around it was not too appealing, in an industrial area near the I-10 interchange of I-17, but it WAS close enough to downtown, and at least $10 cheaper than any metro Phoenix Motel 6.  Better still, they let me check in at 10:30am, so I could shave, shower and change clothes (almost in that order, ha).  As it happens, this location USED to be a Motel 6, probably selling it a couple years ago rather than put it through a major renovation.
    There was a Furr’s Cafeteria a few miles north on 17, so I chose that for lunch.  Unfortunately, traffic was bad going up, and near impossible coming back.  To catch up on the season just begun, I was reading the BASEBALL WEEKLY while eating.  The busboy stopped by, asking if I was into the fantasy.  I told him no, I did not have the time needed to keep track of all the players enough to be good at it.  I didn’t tell him how I also thought the whole “rotisserie” thing was a bit too obsessive for even me (though at least it’s good to see a lot of people stay interested in baseball with it).  I asked him how the local team was doing, and he said they hadn’t lost yet, but also something about “until tonight” but I didn’t catch the comment until he had already vanished, never to return to the room while I was there.
    I barely had time to walk over to the State Capitol area in time for the 2pm tour.  I normally do not go out of my way for the tours, unlike a couple folks I know who make sure to take one in as many states as possible, but figured I would try in Phoenix, as long as it was conveniently timed.  Turned out to be a very useful tour.  It included a history of the building, an explanation of the sometimes unusual in-state materials used in the construction, and I found out the building is really little more than a museum anymore.  No one building taking over all of the government functions…now all scattered about a campus area nearby.
    In my haste to make the tour, my city map was left at the motel, so I had to guess my way to and from the Capitol building.  Downtown Phoenix is about 2 miles east from there.  I was hoping to find either City Hall or the transit district office, for maps and schedules, and the library for other information and for the Book Fair they were to be holding that day.  I was walking down a street a block north of what appeared to be the main east-west street (I forget both names, both named after former presidents), when at one intersection there was an old terra cotta/red-brick library like building down at the main street.  Well, turned out it USED to be a “Carnegie Library”, only now it was the state hall of fame?!
    City Hall was hardly distinctive (90s-era medium high-rise), but I did happen upon it.  Could not blame someone for mistaking it for a Census Bureau hiring hall, between all the posters and the sign-up room being in the most visible 1st floor corner office.  Phoenix has a “data capture” operation much like where I worked; the only other major one is near Baltimore.  Amazing that they would still be actively seeking workers this late in the game…would be even more surprised by this in comparison to what I would run into when I returned to work on Sunday.
    A small unpeopled info booth had some Valley Metro bus books, so I grabbed one and leafed through it in search of routes I could use to get back to the motel post-game.  Alas, their transit makes Orange County’s OCTA look useful by comparison…most of the routes go to bed by 8pm weeknights, and the only one I found still out at 10pm went straight north on Central Avenue.
    Downtown hardly feels like it serves a city of about 1 million.  By the time the city got big, typical American trends were already deep into decentralized business and shopping districts.  About all downtown Phoenix seems to do well are restaurants and bars, and many of those are clustered around the newish rent-a-name pro sports facilities.  One owned by an area resident is “Alice Cooper’stown”, a baseball oriented BBQ barngrill.  While that spot is across from the basketball/hockey arena, baseball draws larger crowds and for more nights a year.
    Being a hot, sunny day, I got tired of walking around a lot sooner than I otherwise would have.  “Dinner” was an oversized iced tea (with a refill to go) and a soft-serve cone at a McDoofs.  Got to the stadium area a little early, so I bought a program (more like a slick monthly magazine) and took the “Pepsi Challenge” (word to their marketing dep’t…you’ll get better results when the Pepsi One is COLD!) while waiting to get in.  The ticket gate areas were equipped with something I had heard they had at some Phoenix and Palm Springs restaurants, just they are too upscale for my budget or tastes.  A fine mist of water is sprayed down, cooling people within range without getting them wet.  Heck, I was using my best recording Walkbeing without worrying, as the mist evaporated too high up to affect it.
    Ah, the ballpark…really too huge a building for that word, but it is part of the name (the other part being a Borg-like financial company from Indiana).  Actually, it was built as primarily a baseball facility, so long as one does not look up, it feels much more like a ballpark than Skydome or any of the 60s or 70s-era cookie-cutters.  The roof was closed until just before game-time, when it received a ceremonial opening complete with ethereal theme music.  I took a self-guided tour of most of the place, and chatted with one of the ushers for awhile.
    The home team had a slim lead for the first half of the game, but the Pirates were hitting enough fly-ball outs to concern me…yep, eventually they began to fall between fielders, and 1-0 D’backs eventually became 9-5 Pirates.  For all those runs it was still a quick game, as both starters (especially for the Pittsburghers) worked quickly.
    I did walk back to the motel after the game, though my street-smarts sensors were on yellow alert for most of the walk, and on red alert for the last of the 4 miles.  North of downtown, especially along Central Avenue, seemed to nominally be the “hot” area.  I walked past at least 3 small art galleries, two of them fairly crowded…found out later there is a “First Friday” open house for many of the galleries one night a month.  It was up there where I found the main library after all, rather large and new looking with a bunch of tents on the grounds outside for the Book Fair I missed.  A couple blocks west on McDowell, an old house was converted into an interesting looking deli, with live music even!  Lots of fun stuff to check out around there on a future visit.  Also a number of neat renovated old houses out to a bit past N. 7th Ave.
    That last mile, from near the state fairgrounds west to the motel, was less appealing.  There was little residential right on McDowell, but it looked a bit shady to the north (found out later, up there are a number of “halfway houses” for illegals stuck there until they can work off the fee for being smuggled in from Mexico).  To the west was railroad tracks and light industry, with no sidewalks along the street.  Still, got back safely enough.
    Radio reception is strange in the Phoenix area.  Only 3 or 4 AMs have enough of a signal to even pretend to cover the area at night.  As for the FMs, well they have a high number of what are called “drop-ins”, “rim-shotters”, “80-90 stations”, or (by me) “3-point shots”, as their distance and/or lack of power means they only hit their intended target (the larger city) about 25% of the time.  One of the many bad moves by the FCC over the years was a serious attempt to fill in as many holes (real or merely perceived) as possible on the FM dials in and near larger cities.  “80-90” refers to the docket number of their plan, implemented during the mid-1980s.  Also around that time and since, bigger established stations from outlying cities and towns also began to want a piece of the action in those larger (and often far-off) metros.  The Phoenix area has many examples of both types of stations, on top of the nearly full load of full-powered FMs the metro already had.
[Funny, I do not remember the National Association of Bankers Broadcasters whining to the FCC or to their hip-pocket congress-weasels about interference problems when the Docket 80-90 stations were being planned?  Never mind that the plan (and other FCC bonehead moves since, like allowing signal-extending “translators” to be abused by satellite-fed religious programming) have caused greater problems for previously-existing stations than any 10- or 100-watt low-power community-service facility could ever dream of causing?!]
    So, with a good car radio one could tune in seemingly countless stations, perhaps even finding one of two worth taping to share with traders, but the signals would be too weak for a simple boom-box to pull out of the ether.  One the rental car radio could pick up even near the RF mess of downtown was an ez listening station from way up in Prescott, 102.1.  Unlike other stations sneaking from far-off small towns (Globe, Miami, etc), KAHM had strictly local ads and news for the “Press-kit” and Sedona areas.  No way could I tape this at the motel, but while lunching at the Fazoli’s up by the Peoria spring training complex Saturday, I got just enough of them to roll a couple sides.  Also while waiting out the tapes, I stopped by a Fred Meyer’s department store, something I did not know existed outside the Pacific Northwest?  This stop was only notable for the conversation going on behind me in line, regarding “clean vs. dirty comedy”.  I had just seen a Red Skelton show on KVCR-TV’s Sunday night “I Remember Television” series, and had also just heard the old Bill Cosby album with the “Noah” bits, so I was able to take part in the discussion.
    I had planned lunch way up there expecting to have to take US-60 so I could tape KAHM somewhere around Wickenburg.  Didn’t have to then, and it turned out the street I was on continued out into the desert, eventually curving south to I-10, all much more pleasant than any route I could have taken south while still in the metro area.
    Not much to tell about the rest of the drive, except that it was another hot day while it lasted, and the Diamondbacks of course won their game that afternoon.

4/9 - Mortality Bites...first layoff warning notice posted at the Census Bureau Data Capture Center.  Break-room conversations bounce between "when and where we'll all be looking for the next job", and speculation on who'll be the first to go.

4/10 - First round of cuts was swift.  Amazingly logical, considering how bass-ackward the place could be.  While my department was one of the last down the assembly line of the data processing, so that it would be one of the last to be closed down, they did lay off a number of folks and moved in the better workers from upstream departments.  None of my nearest friends would get axed this round or next, but it didn't stop us from re-doubling our work-search efforts.

Comments?  Travel notes of your own?  Please write!

San Diego trips, June and August '00, follow here.

Back to the travel depot.

Some old travel notes, pictures, etc. are squirreled away here.

Traveler's message board over here.