Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Tag: Phoenix

Foodie Heaven

On Saturday, Nikki and I went to the inaugural Food Truck Festival at Park Central in downtown Phoenix. I’d been wanting to try a food truck for a while now; Eat Street makes them look so appealing! I wasn’t sure how Phoenix’s offerings would stack up against those showcased from different cities, but we were both pleasantly surprised.

About twenty food trucks and carts were arranged along the perimeter of the tarmac set aside for the event. We took our time and checked each menu before making any decisions about what we wanted to eat. The trucks sold everything from fry bread (a Native American specialty) to Filipino food. After our first trip around the circle, we had our choiced narrowed down.

We both started with a single street taco from the Carte Blanche Gourmet Tacos cart. Mine had pork carnitas topped with a sweet potato and pineapple chutney. Unbelievably great! Nikki chose the vegetarian option, which featured marinated mushroom pieces. She was equally impressed. If you have a chance to try Carte Blanche, we highly recommend it!

My main course was a pork curry from the Spice It Up truck. It didn’t disappoint either. The curry had just enough kick and the flavor of the coconut really came through. The only problem I encountered was that the hot dish made me even warmer than I already was. Nikki had a fry bread concoction called D$. It had white beans and a mild green chile chicken topped with salad greens. She said it was good, and it must have been — she ate the whole thing! Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of that truck. If you see a bling-y fry-bread truck on a Phoenix road, that’s probably the right one. (I’m pretty sure this is the right one: Emerson Fry Bread.)

For dessert, we bought fruit popcicles from the Paletas Betty cart. Paletas Betty has quite a reputation in Phoenix — I’ve read about them in at least two local magazines. They didn’t disappoint, either. I had the coconut and Nikki had the pineapple. Both of them had plenty of actual fruit in them and were the perfect ending to our foodie indulgence on a hot spring day.

There were only two disappointments. One was the lack of seating provided for the event. There must have been a few hundred people there at any given time, but only a few awnings and tables were provided. The second was that the arts and crafts portion of the event didn’t live up to its potential. Apparently, the organizers were only able to sell space to two or three vendors in that vein. Hopefully, they will learn from their mistakes.

I look forward to attending next year!



They Don’t Put This in the Travel Brochures

Arizona is in the midst of a cold snap. In Phoenix, we are expecting five nights in a row of freezing temperatures for the first time since 1988, which, according to one local news anchor, is “unprecedented.” Apparently, her dictionary has a different definition for that word than mine does. Never mind.

I know what you are thinking if you live anywhere colder: “wusses.” Yeah…we are, when it comes to the cold. However, I’d be willing to bet that we complain a heckavalot less than Northerners when the temperatures hit triple digits.

Like most cities, Phoenix has homeless people. Most often, they can be seen standing near freeway onramps with signs that read everything from “God Bless You” to “Will Work for Food.” Because of our normally temperate weather conditions, I would be willing to bet that most nights,  many of them opt to sleep outside rather than risk the dangers of a homeless shelter. Tonight, the shelter downtown that only sleeps 770 under normal conditions will house as many as they can stuff inside. They will be roused at six o’clock tomorrow morning – before the sun comes up – and fed breakfast, which is probably better than their average Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, at the county jail – popularly referred to as “TentCity” – the inmates (non-violent offenders) will be huddled under thin blankets. Sheriff Joe even said the inmates would receive chicken broth for dinner. Nice. How about a good meal heavy on the carbs instead? That’s what a human being really needs to survive the cold – lots of calories for his or her body to burn through the night! There is no reason that a short two- or three-month stint should become a death sentence.

Needless to say, I will be huddled under my blankets in the warmth of my home…which will probably not be all that warm. You see, when we replaced our air-conditioning unit a few years ago, we chose to switch to a heat pump from the gas heating system we had before. Unfortunately, when the thermometer falls below thirty-five degrees, the heat pump can’t keep up. Luckily, I have plenty of blankets and a heating pad to keep me warm.

Maybe I’ll try to dream about summer tonight…


Arizona (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

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Cowboys Aren’t Really Art Aficionados

Back in the 1930’s, Clare Boothe Luce, a well-known playwright and the wife of magazine king Henry Luce, commissioned Frida Kahlo to paint a portrait of a mutual friend who had recently committed suicide. Kahlo’s portrait, The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, was not exactly what she was expecting. In fact, she so disliked the portrait that she planned to destroy it. However, cooler heads prevailed, and the painting was instead put in storage. Years later, she donated it to the Phoenix Art Museum, reportedly telling others that no one would ever see it there.

When I first read this story – which was hanging next to the painting at the museum – I laughed. I thought that Luce had clearly failed to see how metropolitan Phoenix would eventually become.

Then at lunch with my Beta Sigma Phi sisters last weekend, I realized I may be the one who is deluded. None of my sisters are from Arizona originally, and their perception of the state is considerably different from my own. Apparently, we live in the Wild West. Cowboys still walk the streets – at least as far as much of the rest of the country is concerned. When I mentioned this to my husband, I was surprised to find that he agreed with them. “It’s the Del Webb commercials from the Sixties,” he said. “All those commercials about the Sun City retirement community sold a version of Arizona that relied heavily on the ‘Old West’ perception.”

I never saw those commercials…I lived here, you see. So, here I am, stripped of my delusion at last. It appears that my father-in-law’s perception of me as “pioneer stock” may, in fact, be the way all non-Arizonans see me. My belief that Arizona is as metropolitan as the next major city is not shared by my fellow residents. And, in a state where a striking majority of the population is transplanted from elsewhere, Joe Arpaio suddenly seems like the obvious choice for sheriff – after all, he looks pretty good in a cowboy hat.

I suppose Phoenix’s image isn’t too unappealing, since we still draw a ridiculous number of people from other states. Dan, who is originally from Chicago, tells me it’s not unusual for people to ask him about the corrupt politics and mob activity of his home city. To be fair, though, Chicago politics haven’t changed much in the last hundred years. Phoenix, on the other hand, is nothing like the dusty desert town that existed before air conditioning.

So, for anyone who has never been here, you should know that few, if any, real cowboys roam our streets. While some people go for sunset rides on their horses, I would venture to guess that more people take that twilight cruise on a motorcycle. If you ever do get to Phoenix, I recommend a visit to the art museum, if only to see the Kahlo that Clare Booth Luce tried to hide.

If you want to see an “Old West” town, try Tombstone. Of course, their cowboys are mostly fake too.

Suicide of Dorothy Hale

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Scorpion Queen

I was thirty years old before I ever encountered a live scorpion —  outside of a zoo exhibit, that is. Unfortunately, I found it in my dream apartment: a thousand-square-foot loft-style space overlooking a pool and with a garage underneath.

The scorpion – about two inches long and creepy looking – was brought to my attention by my two pugs, who were both just as freaked out by it as I was. I trapped it under a glass and put a telephone book on top. You never know – that sucker might have been strong enough to turn the glass over! Then I called apartment maintenance to come and remove it, all the while making a wide circle around the glass and warning my dogs to stay away from it.

I thought that would be the end of it – after all, it was just a single bug, right? Wrong. A few days later, I picked up my washcloth and jumped three feet off the ground – a scorpion was soaking up the moisture underneath! Once more, I captured it under a glass and called maintenance.

Now, one scorpion is a fluke. Two are a trend. The next day, I went to the office and asked to be moved to another apartment or released from my lease. I was told there were no other apartments like mine available at that time and that the complex was not responsible for scorpion infestations because they are indigenous to the area. When I pointed out that I, a Phoenix native, had never seen one in any of my various homes, they said I must have been lucky. In an effort to reassure me that the apartment was clear of the poisonous arachnids, they agreed to have it searched via blacklight. They found half a dozen small scorpions – babies. Now, the smaller a scorpion is, the more poisonous. Despite the complex’s effort to exterminate them, I was in full freak-out mode. I shook my shoes every time I went to put them on; I never went barefoot in my apartment; I even shook my clothes and towels with vigor. Scared for my dogs, I asked my grandfather to take them in – leaving me alone in the infested apartment.

I was only six months into a year-long lease. I was irritated, but I didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. However, that didn’t mean I had to be silent. In a move that earned me the nickname of Scorpion Queen from my friends, I made a sign: “Ask me about the scorpions in my apartment at T** T***.” I taped it in the back window of my car. Every afternoon when I gathered my mail, I parked the car right next to the Prospective Residents’ spaces. More than one person asked me about them, even as my friends laughed at me and my sign.

The next time I went into the office to pay my rent, the apartment manager took me aside and asked what she could do to help me in my situation (and get me to take the sign out of my car window).

“Let me out of my lease.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Then I guess I’ll be leaving the sign in my car.”

With only four months left on the lease, the agreement we came to was this: she would have an exterminator visit my apartment weekly to check for scorpions. After that, I never found another one in my apartment. In fact, I only saw one more while I lived there: a huge granddaddy of a scorpion that seemed to stare at me through the glass doors leading to my balcony for at least an hour one afternoon. I didn’t have a glass big enough to trap him under – and besides, he was on the wall. There was no way in Hell I was going to knock that sucker down. He was gone before the maintenance guy showed up.

Ten years later, the thought of that apartment still gives me chills. And, by the way, I’ve never seen a scorpion, outside of a zoo, since.

English: Line art drawing of a scorpion

English: Line art drawing of a scorpion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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As American as Prickly Pear Jelly

English: A photo of an a prickly pear cactus, ...

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Fourth of July. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I’m less patriotic than most Americans. I love hamburgers, jello salads, and fireworks as much as most of our populace. Picnics? They are wonderful events…anytime between Labor Day and Memorial Day. And no, I didn’t get that backwards.

The problem with Independence Day is that it occurs at the height of summer: a time that is traditionally better, at least inPhoenix, for frying an egg on the sidewalk than roasting a hotdog on a grill. In addition, the valley is usually pretty dry right around now, adding the potential danger of fireworks displays igniting a firestorm that could take out the entire metropolitan area. “Hey, kids, let’s go cook over a hot grill, get sunstroke, and then tempt fate by sending incendiary devices into the sky over our scorched desert home!” Um…no, thanks.

A year or two ago, the state legislature decided to allow the sale and use of fireworks by the general population. Now, there are restrictions, but I’m not going to bore you with those. What is significant to remember is that either our legislature is largely made up of non-native Arizonans or people with more faith in the intelligence of humanity than humanity deserves. Thankfully, our cities are a little more self-aware: most of them have banned the use of fireworks on private property, in roads, or in public parks. Of course, that won’t stop people from using them anyway, especially since the fireworks are now readily available for purchase, thanks to the legislature.

On the plus side, Phoenix will likely not become a charred hull of itself this Fourth. The skies have opened up and poured down a lovely, soaking rain today that will keep us safe tonight. As for Dan and me, after enjoying a delicious, indoor Rib Fest next door, we will settle down to enjoy A Capitol Fourth on PBS – with no danger whatsoever of sunstroke.

Happy Independence Day!

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This first post was supposed to be about me and Arizona in general — why I live here, what I like, what I don’t like, how people can possibly survive in the ridiculous summer temperatures.

But last Sunday, Duchess died. I’d known her all my life, or at least since my first school field trip. I must have been around five the first time I saw her reddish-brown hair and soulful eyes. She used to sit on her steel-beam perch and watch the crowds who gathered to watch her right back.

Every chance I got, I went to see her. I would linger at her place, watching her stretch out her long arms and as she graceful swung around her enclosure. In later years, my grandfather and I took a myriad of pictures of her and her family. She lived with her daughter Bess, “son-in-law” Michael, and granddaughter Kasih. After my grandfather died, I visited her alone — though I had all but abandoned my photography. I just watched her instead.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Duchess was an orangutan. In fact, she was the oldest living orangutan in captivity until she was put down last Sunday after a weeks-long battle against cancer. She had been at the Phoenix Zoo almost since its opening day back in 1962. I would wager that everyone who attended school in and around Phoenix from the zoo’s opening day until very recently had “met” Duchess. I don’t know how many of them spent as much time as I did watching her, but I’m sure I am not the only human who visited the zoo just to see the orangutans.

The zoo held a memorial for Duchess today. I didn’t go. It’s 111 degrees out today, and I try not to leave the house in the summer. I hope a lot of other people showed up for her, despite the weather. When the heat passes, I’ll go and visit what’s left of the family. Bess, Michael, and Kasih will probably be over the loss of their matriarch by then, but I fear I will always miss Duchess’s soulful gaze.

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