2004-05-26-1944Z


Idyllic. Magical. The ride into Tucson was reminiscent of my amazing night lost in the north end of San Diego some weeks ago. After that sunset climb out of Benson, I could sense something special was going to happen.

Some funny things I noticed about Benson. On the way in, there's a McDonald's billboard, but the sign is torn and fluttering in the breeze. And when you get to the second exit, where the Wendy's was, there's no sign for McD's. As you turn left and go up the hill to Wendy's you see the boarded-up shell of an old McDonald's, with signs on it directing visitors to the Wilcox location, miles away. What gives? Have you ever heard of a town in which McDonald's goes out of business? I can't picture it.

Anyway, on the way out of town I saw what happened. There's a new McDonald's there, along with KFC and a bunch of other places. Except that Wendy's usually has power for laptops, this is the place to stop if you're going through Benson. It's a huge place, well-lit, with hotels and restaurants galore. A sign of vibrant life in an otherwise "nothing but the dead and dying in my little town". And a few miles further, yet another good omen. An Irish pub! I can't remember the name of it, and didn't have any cash left for a pint anyway, but just knowing such a place exists in Arizona gives me a warm feeling.

And then the real world merged with that of dreams. After that, almost no pedaling; I practically coasted all the way into Tucson. It wasn't all downhill by any means; there was no wind that I could see in the trees, but a coolness refreshing my face, but the ride was all but effortless. Mile after mile slipped by. Once a cop pulled a u-turn and I thought he was going to give me a hard time (I still don't have a flashing taillight, but at least now I have one of those large triangular reflectors, about 12" to a side, that I found along the highway) but no, he sped on ahead. As I approached him a mile or so later, a few other SUVs with bubblegums pulled up. Border Patrol. Apparently a bunch of wetbacks being rounded up. Pobrecitos.

At about 12 miles out of town, having gone 34 miles between sundown and 11:30 PM or so, I stopped at a Chevron station. All 3 phone books were missing from the payphones outside, so I bought a coffee inside and asked to peruse their phone book, to which the lady agreed. I took it to a picnic bench outside, of which there were several, drank my coffee, ate some almonds (that pound I bought at Wal-Mart the other day was lasting a long time!) and looked for maps and Kinko's locations. Something wonderful I noticed about almonds and coffee. Chew up a handful of almonds and, without swallowing, take a sip of coffee, allowing the coffee to extract the flavor out of the chewed-up almonds. Heavenly! The two flavors merge to create a "unique taste sensation" (god, what an overworked cliché! But it's what I meant). Someday I have to try adding ground almonds to fresh-ground coffee and brewing them together. Anyway, I found the Kinko's listings and found the primary one on the map, 2220 Ina Road, all the way on the other (Northwest) end of town. I figured that had to be the 24-hour location.

I didn't mention, about this time a few raindrops started spitting out of the sky. Remember that happened in San Diego that night, too. I wanted to start typing this in, but had no place to plug in. I'll probably forget a lot of what was going on in my mind at the time. But one thing that really struck me was the revelation about the Skateboard Superhighway. That's the term I came up with years ago for my idea for a North-South corridor along the East Coast for bicyclists, bladers, and skateboarders to travel unimpeded and safely from city to city. I thought it would never get past "dream" stage because of all the political and logistical problems to be solved. But now I found out it was already there!

You see, all my life I'd been sure bicycles were not allowed on the Interstate. I remember seeing the signs on I-95 in Maine, on the entry ramp, stating that explicitly. But here in NM and AZ, the signs also say that bicycles are permitted to ride on the shoulder! The shoulder being a wide (same as travel lanes, or even wider sometimes, for the most part) paved, smooth area except for the left edge having been made bumpy to wake up sleepy drivers who have drifted onto it (voice of experience!). Since the Interstate system is a Federal project, doesn't that mean bikes and pedestrians everywhere in the U.S. can use the shoulders? Or is that reserved to the states to decide? In any case, here are two states that do allow it. Here is my dream come true, my goal realized. All it would take is some lobbying to get all states to allow the same, if they don't already. I'll have to find out about that. Suddenly the U.S. seems worth saving again, after I'd already written it off to the CFR.

Picture a whole generation of kids (like me!) bicycling and windsurfing (yes, on wheels! it's going to be the next generation of home-brew personal transit) city to city, working odd jobs or on-line, paying no taxes to the machine, living on cheap fast food and whatever fruits can be found growing on roadsides and in public places (and planting more, as I mentioned before). Rampant prosumerism, minimal consumerism. The monster will collapse under its own weight. It will start here in the U.S., spread to Canada and Europe, and eventually the world. The end of totalitarian agriculture, the rebirth of tribalism. These are just vignettes, obviously I need to flesh these ideas out more and work out numerous bugs.

In any case, somehow the magic started to die at that point. The first thing to bulldoze into my Arcadia was that, uh, condition I mentioned previously. It's probably something well-known to regular bicycle commuters. Maybe there's even a pet name for it, "biker's butt" perhaps, and an AMA-approved medication. "95 percent of assholes prefer our product over the competition". If I were one of these reptilian-looking creatures with the navy-and-silver spandex with matching helmet, who subscribes to all the bicycling magazines, pedals robotically at 20 MPH or better with his lean, muscular body, maybe I'd know all this stuff. But I'm not, and I don't. It got worse and worse, and I had to stand up more of the time, letting my hands on the handlebars support my weight.

The next problem was the road. All this time, visibility had been pretty good. That problem I had the night before, with not enough traffic in my direction to light my way, and cars going the opposite way blinding me, had not happened nearly as much, and though I had to slow down sometimes to be safe, most of the ride had been great, with the cloud cover reflecting Tucson's lights even from 35 miles away. I think also I had been incredibly lucky not to have hit any major road hazards during low-visibility moments. Now as I was looking at the exit sign, something almost threw me off the bike. I looked back, and I had run over a length of 4-by-4! Damn good thing it was perpendicular to my path. Had it been at an angle, it might have steered me into traffic. Anyway, another shock to wake me out of my reverie. I was leaving the dream world and coming back to reality. Then, worse. Construction. The shoulder narrowed to about a foot, then there was a stretch with no shoulder at all. That scared the hell out of me. Those oncoming 18-wheelers and cars would not be expecting a bike in the travel lanes. I would be dead meat. The construction workers were yelling and whistling too. So I turned around and carefully walked back the way I'd come, until I went up an exit ramp the wrong way and found myself at a well-lit but closed Food City on the south end of 6th Avenue. I wasn't sure where I was or what direction I was going (remember, no stars due to clouds) but instinctively I headed North.

Goddamn, this city is huge. It took me over 4 hours to reach that Kinko's, and it was not the 24-hour one, which is at 2607 East Speedway, wherever that might be. Bummer. I was getting hungry, and I'd passed the only McDonald's miles back. And it was uphill before going back downhill. So I punted. I continued downhill, heading West on Ida Road. Eventually I did reach a McDonalds, where I had my usual Sausage-and-egg McMuffin for a dollar, actually two of them plus coffee. There was no park nearby, so I crashed in a vacant lot near the train tracks and was woken repeatedly by the ground shaking. Eventually I felt rested enough, got up and looked for a laundromat. I ended up using the one at Park Inn, under the I-10 overpass on Ida. Man, it's nice not to stink for a change. Well, at least not as much. Back to McD's for a double cheese, then to Fry's Food and Drug for some baking soda (deodorant), bananas, and sunflower seeds. Down to about $3 for the rest of the day, and it's only about 2PM local time. I guess no Espresso Brownies at Starbucks for me today. I only passed one Starbucks in the whole city so far anyway, and it was combined with Einstein Brother's Bagels. I thought they were competitors?! Anyway, now I'm at Kinko's, feeling somewhat civilized and relaxed, and typing this in.

Remember my hamburger using Portabello mushroom caps as the bun? Well, here's the prickly pear version. I made this at Wilcox after my hellish battle with the winds, what was it, two days ago? I'd better get going, I think someone else wants to use the internet connection and I haven't even checked my email yet.

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