Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Old Cowboy's Excellent Adventure

About a year and a half ago the Phoenix area got it's first commuter rail system, an electrically powered light train. The tracks run from Sycamore and Main in west Mesa to North Phoenix(Montebello), a distance of 20 some miles. There is a big park and ride lot at Main and Sycamore, which is 10-15 minutes from our house. Since it opened we have been riding the train routinely for things that are on or near the line, such as the opera (Symphony Hall is ½ block from the train stop), Phoenix Art Museum, ½ block, meetings I have to attend with the state Medicaid agency, etc. The Diamondbacks ballpark and the Suns arena are also right on the line. This is vastly easier than driving with the attendant traffic and parking hassles. If anyone cares the Sun Dummies (or Scum Devils if you prefer) campus, football and basketball arenas are also right on the line. There is also a stop with a bus connection that runs non-stop to the terminals at Sky Harbor Airport. Way cool if you don't have much luggage. A fun sight along the route is the Tovrea Mansion, built by an Arizona cattle baron a number of years ago. The City of Phoenix now owns it and is supposedly renovating it to make it available to the public. I say supposedly because this has been going on for years with little sign of progress.

All of this lead me to wonder if I could some how ride the train and bus to work. In the central Phoenix area the train runs north and south on Central Avenue. My office is in a state office building on 18th Avenue, 18 blocks west of Central, one block south of Van Buren.. I determined that I could ride the train to the Central Station at Central and Van Buren and then catch a bus on Van Buren that runs west well beyond where I need to go. The bus stops every other block, which means I could get off at 17th or 19th Avenue and walk a block to my office. The bus runs about every 15 minutes and the train about every 11-12 minutes, so I might have a short wait at the connecting point or the bus stop, but probably not too long, except in the heat of summer. Then any wait is too long.

One day while my wife was out of town I decided to ride the rails to work. On the way home I planned to stop at the Phoenix Art Museum to see an Ansel Adams exhibit, then stop at Cafe Istanbul for dinner before coming home. What follows is a blow by blow account of my excellent adventure.

The folks who ride the train are pretty ordinary: a lot of students, ASU, community college, and various other schools, business men and women, people out for a lark, etc .I quickly discovered the first time I rode the bus, that the Van Buren bus denizens are another lot altogether. All I ever carry is my lunch bag. I don' t wear anything flashy and sit right behind the driver if possible.

I drove to the Sycamore and Main park and ride lot in time to catch the 0730 train.

I walked to the station and got my pass validated.

As I was getting on, the train driver got off and we had our picture taken together.

I took a seat up high facing forward at the back of the car, where I like to ride.

Shortly thereafter the train pulled out, soon putting Mesa behind and crossing into Tempe. We went through the ASU campus, passing the basketball arena and Scum Devil stadium.

We passed out of Tempe and came to the Tovrea Mansion on Washington Street in east Phoenix.

By the time we got to Central and turned north a Black man was sitting by me. A few stops before Van Buren a man got on after making some sort of verbal commotion before boarding. One or two stops later he stood up, stopped in front of the Black man and said “Has anyone told you yet this morning that you're beautiful? I hope I'm not the first.” He then got off the train. The beautiful Black man was still laughing when I got off at the next stop.

There were six or eight people waiting for the Van Buren bus at the Central Station.

They seemed to recognize each other. Someone asked a young woman in the group about her cat. She got all excited and said she had delivered a litter of kitties. A guy asked if he could see them and take one. She said sure and gave him a phone number. Then the bus came and we all got on.

The bus was crowded but I managed to find a seat next to a man, probably in his late forties, who was covered with a lovely set of tattoos. As the bus started up, a guy spoke up and said “Where'd you get them tats? You been in the joint?” Tattooed man replied “ I just got out 10 days ago. I was in Perryville, Buckeye, Florence and I think every other prison in Arizona.” “What were you in for?” “I did 10 years for burglary, possession of burglary tools and possession of meth.” Tattooed man then got off at the next stop. I did a mental inventory of all I had brought on the bus; everything seemed to be still with me.

Then a young guy who had gotten on the same time I did started talking to someone sitting by him. I could hear him, but not the guy to whom he was talking. “They've got me on conspiracy charges. I was working with this guy to get money from some people. They've got cell phone records, conversations and stuff.” We came to my stop and I got off. The bus pulled away and I physically checked all my belongings. Everything was still there—wallet, watch, cell phone, coins, pen, lunch bag, underwear, outer clothes, shoes and socks. UA hat.

I can see the bus stop on the south side of Van Buren from my office window. This is for east bound buses and where I catch the bus to begin my journey home. If I look out and see a bus at the stop, I know I have 10 to 15 minutes to be down to the stop to catch the next one.

I saw a bus at the stop, got myself together and walked over to it. A Navajo man was sitting on the bench. “Sit down,” he said. I sat down. He said “I build skyscrapers but I don't have a job right now.” “Are you an iron worker?” I asked.“Yes,” he said. He said “I think I'll go back to Fort Defiance, too many fights over there,” pointing vaguely south. Then he looked at me a little closer. “Were you in the war?' he asked. “Yes,” I said. He immediately put out his hand and shook mine vigorously. “Thank you!,” he said, “we owe you and the others like you a lot of gratitude. Thank you!” I was stunned. I was on active duty during the Vietnam War, although I never saw any combat. From the day I was discharged until this day, no one had ever said so much as thanks or expressed gratitude in any way. About then the bus came along and I got on. My new Navajo friend remained sitting on the bench. I wonder where he was going and where he is now. I hope he is at peace.

There must be a program for the blind west of my stop because when I got on there were four or five blind people already on the bus and the bus driver was obviously familiar with them. The next stop east of mine a man got on with long dirty hair and beard, raggedy, dirty clothes and a look about him of homelessness or mental illness. He stood by the driver fumbling through his pockets looking for money to pay his fare. The bus driver closed the door and drove on. He stood there a bit more and then sat down. Even the bureaucracy sometimes has a heart.

I caught the train at Central and rode to the Phoenix Art Museum to see the Ansel Adams exhibit.

I spent a couple of hours there in some sort of photographer's paradise. I remember the first time I ever saw an original Adams print—I was awestruck and dumbfounded. Although I have seen many since, they never cease to amaze me.

After feasting on the exhibit I caught the train, passing the Suns arena

and the Diamondbacks ballpark,

stopping across the street from Cafe Istanbul.

I had a wonderful Middle Eastern dinner, caught the train to Sycamore and Main, found my car and went home.

An excellent adventure for an old cowboy.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Superior, Arizona

Superior is a small town about 45 minutes east of Mesa. There are about 3000 people living there. It started life about 1875 with a silver strike and was first known as Pinal. The silver played out and both Pinal and the Silver King Mine were abandoned in 1888. Some of the West's most notorious characters are supposed to have at least passed through, including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. One of Wyatt's common-law wives, Mattie, is buried on a hillside in the area of old Pinal. In about 1902 the mining claims were sold to the Lake Superior and Arizona Mining Co. A new town named Superior was laid out and what became Magma Mining Co started. Magma eventually built a smelter and a railroad to haul ore, etc. In recent years the smelter has closed and the only mining activity is some leaching operations and what looks to be a limestone or some similar substance being mined at a small operation west of town. However, the largest body of copper ore known to exist in North America has been found east of town and plans are underway to begin actual mining operations about 2010.

The World's Oldest Photographer (WOP for short) and the Old Cowboy hopped in Big Red and went over there yesterday for a look around. We were looking for Mattie Earp's grave, unfortunately without success. We did find some other things, shown in the photos below.

The mountain above is called Picketpost Mountain according to the WOP.

We crossed this small stream in our wanderings. Water being a rare sight to desert dwellers we took photos.

This is the limestone, gypsum or whatever it is operation. Picketpost Mountain is in the background.

Superior, like Miami, its neighbor to the east, has many old buildings, bars,and stores in various states of repair. Below are a few.

We'll do Superior again and next time find Mattie's grave.