Thursday, July 27, 2017

Why I love Monsoons

A rumble in the distance, black clouds rolling in, the smell of rain in the air.  Yep- it’s Monsoon Season in Arizona, what has become my favorite time of year.
It may be old hat to most of you, but where I grew up we didn’t get monsoons. As a matter of fact, growing up in northern California in the 70’s we didn’t even get rain. I remember when I was in elementary school we didn’t get a single drop for almost two years. The folks that keep track of such things list 1976-77 as one of the driest seasons in CA history. The state was put under mandatory water rationing.
No washing cars (Dad didn’t really care, our ’66 Plymouth wagon was pretty much held together by dust and grease), no watering lawns (what? you think someone who drives a 10 year old wagon held together with dirt wants to mow a lawn?), and the topper: put a brick in your toilet tank to save water (mom refused to let us just pee in the yard so I blame her for global warming and the disappearing polar ice caps).
So in 2004 when we packed up and made the trip to AZ, image my surprise when I got stuck in a torrential downpour. See, I was movin’ to the desert. Sunshine 365 days a year, winter baseball, cactus’s…cactuses…cacti…lots of pointy plants and year round heat.
So having bought a house sight unseen on the innerweb (that’s a whole nother story, check back later), I packed up a 26 foot rental truck and headed east to the Grand Canyon State.
Traveling alone, the wife was coming out a few days later after I got everything unpacked (some of it’s still in boxes) I hit the road for what was supposed to be a 12 hour drive. And that’s when it hit. Somewhere between Needles and Kingman I ran into weather that would have had Noah running for higher ground. I slipped and slided as long as I could until I found shore in a combo gas station-strip club to gas and caffeine up (no…I only went into the ‘Gas Station’ side, again, story for another day).  Happy that the big metal box I was sitting in didn’t get zapped by lightning, I headed through the last leg to my final destination of Prescott, AZ.
At sunup I called my brother, a recent CA-to-Prescott transplant, to find out how much longer to his front door, and more importantly, his couch, and he asked “Where are you?”
I don’t know, I’m driving past some lake right now.
“Lake? Oh, you must be really close, already past the airport? We’re just a little farther up Willow Creek Rd.”
Airport? Willow Creek? I haven’t seen an airport, and the only roads I’ve passed have been dirt roads. I’m still on that highway 89.
“But you’re near the lake. The only lake you could have seen is the Willow Cree Res. Where are you?”
A little back and forth arguing later, I come up to the airport, he directs me to his place and yes, I pass Willow Creek Reservoir. When I plop down on his couch he asks “So, what ‘lake’ did you see?”
I don’t know, some lake just before that other town, Chino Valley.
“You’re nuts. There’s no lake between the 40 and here. You must be really, really tired.”
So the next day, we drive out to the yet unseen recently bought home in Paulden, and sure enough, I show him the lake I passed. Or as most people call it, that empty field next to Big Chino Rd.
“Huh. That wasn’t there Saturday” was my brother’s response.
So why do I love Monsoon’s? What’s not to love about something that can make a lake magically appear in the desert, prove my brother a liar, and keep me from putting a brick in my toilet?

It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta’ do it

Summer time in Yavapai County- for many, it’s sunshine, open roads, and big skies. For me that’s my office. At least that’s what I tell my wife.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she asked on a recent and beautiful Friday afternoon as I pulled my motorcycle out of the garage.

I carefully weighed my options. That garden fence I promised to put up to protect that garden I promised to plant still isn’t up or planted.

That leaky garage roof that will surely leak over those boxes I was supposed to throw out before the coming monsoons hasn’t fixed itself yet.

“Oh, didn’t I tell you? I have to work today.” I’m not sure she bought it, but off to work I go. You see, I’m a journalist, a teller of truth, and my truth this fine day is that it’s way too nice out to be fixing some leaky roof. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta’ do it.

So in search of truth, a good story, and while I’m at it some smoked meat, I pull into one of Chino Valley’s hidden treasures, Big Daddy E’s BBQ.

It’s standing room only inside so I move out to the patio for some sweet tea and live music in the sunshine. Friday afternoons at BDE’s you can stuff your face while  listening  to some of the best singer-songwriters around, and this day it was Leslie Earl Lyman and his hair singing songs about coffee, whiskey, and long roads. A small group sat listening, a little girl danced, and I finished my tea. Time to hit the road because remember, I’m still on the clock.

I head south on Highway 89, headed into Prescott, AZ. Tall grass and horses on the left, the Granite Mt. sunset on the right, and a cool breeze flowing through where my hair used to be. Visitors to Prescott’s Whiskey Row can’t help but stop in to The Palace Saloon.

Billed as the oldest frontier saloon in Arizona, The Palace is an even mix of locals and tourists, diners and bar hoppers, all sitting back eating and drinking in a living museum of the Wild West. From the dance hall girl clad bartenders to Uncle Bob and his six-shooter cohorts that line the bar, stepping through the Palace’s swinging saloon doors is like stepping through a time machine. Everywhere you look, there’s a display of guns, cards, or bottles, all reminding you this place doesn’t just look like an old west saloon, it IS an old west saloon.

On Fridays, you can hear a real life cowboy singing real life cowboy songs. Songs about sheriff’s, outlaws, mommas, & horses. This puts me in the mood to saddle up a steel horse, or in my case more like a Japanese bull – 2000 cc’s of leather, black paint, and chrome.

Next stop, El Gato Azul, a quirky little place with a great patio, this Friday it’s standing room only. El Gato features some great food, signature drinks, and highlights some of the greatest music in town. I got there as Doc Garvey’s Remedy was wrapping up a set of their signature blues, folk, and roots music. Listening from the sidewalk (yep, reservations are suggested), I talked with a few friendly faces either coming or going, some just wandering down the street.

El Gato is a very relaxed place with a unique and diverse menu. Looking for a new twist on an old standby? Duck Taquitos or Tequila Scallops. Looking for a wide selection of vegetarian dishes? Eggplant croutons and fried avocado.

I consider myself a diehard “vegetarian by osmosis”, that is, the cows I eat all ate vegetables. Still healthy, right?

And so ends another day at the office. On the cruise home I thought about how the journalist’s life ain’t for everyone. It takes a special someone to go to these lengths to avoid an honest day’s work, but someone’s gotta’ do it.  

Take a Break, See the Sights

I have a confession to make. I am a transplant. A foreign man in a foreign land. I hail from a faraway place to the west, that strange, crowded, confused land mass known as California.

Although I moved to Arizona over a dozen years ago, I still feel like an outsider- a visitor in my own home. Part of this comes from the fact that for many years I worked for local media and the only time I ventured out was for assignments. Go to the park? I was there for work. Go to a sporting event, a party, a concert? Same thing- work, work, and more work.

I came to the realization that I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and I need to experience the sights and sounds as a person, not as an assignment, and what better time to do this than spring in Northern Arizona?  A few weeks ago my son was on Spring Break and we decided to have a boys-week-off. Wild and crazy father-son time.

Now, keep in mind I’m not talking Lake  Havasu, Daytona Beach, or Cancun Spring Break, I’m talking Chino Valley the-kids-in-first-grade kinda Spring Break. So we loaded up on party supplies: a cooler full of water, juice boxes, grapes, and chips (much, much different than the party supplies I used in the olden days) and hit the road.

Last year my neighbor was doing some remodeling and his main project seemed to be decorating the street with dozens of 8-penny nails. I got to know the guy at our local tire shop really well, so our first stop was to good ole’ Jerry for some inner tubes. Properly loaded up on flotation devices it was time for our first adventure, Lake Pleasant.

Enjoying the lake on a warm sunny day is something most everyone else in the county has done several if not hundreds of times, but for me, a self diagnosed workaholic, leisurely days on the lake are not something I’m familiar with. So there we were, father and son and inner tubes and juice boxes. What more could a couple of fella’s want? Well, maybe mommy, but someone gotta pay the bills, right?

Lake Pleasant was just that- pleasant. While we only spent an afternoon floating around, we are definitely retuning soon, maybe even a few days of camping. Who knows, we may even invite Mommy along next time. If she promises to behave.

Day two: new places, new adventures. I’ve heard tales of a swimming hole by the name of the Bull Pen. I wasn’t sure what to expect, maybe some wooden benches? Lots of sun flower seed shells? Maybe a few old guys sitting around on plastic 5-gallon buckets of baseballs, scratching and spitting? And why the baseball theme way out in the middle of the country? All I saw driving out was pastures, some cows, and a few bul… oh. Never mind. I get it now.

The bumpy, dusty ride was more than worth it. The Bull Pen was a great spot to toss some rocks, hike around, and do a little swimming, although the water on this March day was still a bit chilly. We’ll definitely have to go back when the heat ramps up. I’ve heard from a lot of our friends that the popular swimming hole was much better years ago, or that there are way better, out of the way spots, but for me, a guy who spends most of every day working on a computer, the Bull Pen was a little slice of heaven.

Days three and four were spent a little closer to home, kite flying in the park, grabbing burgers at a local drive-thru, and a few hours at the arcade. The last few days before my partner in fun had to go back to the elementary school grind, we crammed as much local sightseeing in as we could, cruised Whiskey Row, popped a lot of corn, and stayed up late playing cards and board games.

So what did I learn over Spring Break? Mainly, slow down, take a break, and see the sights. A quick trip to the Valley, maybe hit the Verde River, or even exploring the hundreds of shops, cafés, or burger joints in the Quad Cities area. It doesn’t cost much, sometimes nothing at all, to enjoy what’s right in our own back yards.

Oh, one more thing- never turn your back on a sticky fingered 7-year old Monopoly Mob Boss. He’ll steal you blind.