"Oh, piece of cake!" Darren said about driving down from L.A. to visit me when I told him I'd be in Arizona for two months. "It's only like 5.5 hours, I'd barely even need to take a day off. I can just leave after work Thursday."
As it turned out he also loves Tucson, so I told him that Wolves in the Throne Room would be there October 20th and that I had been seriously considering taking a bus down to see them. He was cool with that, too, even though he'd never heard of them and the genre doesn't really interest him.
Thus, a weekend mini-roadtrip was born!
Darren made crazy good time to my mom's place that Thursday night because he was born and raised in California and has, consequently, been driving there his whole life.
As in like, really fast.
The next morning was Friday the 20th, and the plan was to drive down, snack on something, walk around 4th Avenue, pick up his friend Chris - who's into metal but not this kind of ambient post-black metal but who was interested and wanted to hang out anyway - and go to the show.
I'd only ever been to Tucson once before, as a kid, to see Biosphere 2. It was pretty neat, even though it barely counted as having visited. I think I was in middle school; Sobe was still a thing. The orange carrot one was my favourite. (Side note, I just looked, and it still exists! Hah! Who knew?)
Anyway, I was pretty excited, not only because I'd heard all about how hipstery and cool Arizona's southern city is, but because I really needed to get the fuck out of dodge for a while. You know, this whole thing of how my mom and I found ourselves unable to communicate or to stop fighting and of how the family and financial and stress situations were really bad.
Darren and I have been friends for over a decade, and I needed to get out of Phoenix for a minute just as badly as he needed to get out of L.A. and away from its traffic. We were excited to hang out, but we also understood this aspect of it from both sides.
"Watch out for that filthy hippie," I said of a scraggly-haired guy in a long vest with no shirt wandering across the street as he was parking the car.
It's funny because Darren's a very esoteric, vegan, graphic designer.
We're all hippies here.
The 80's-themed store, Generation Cool, apparently has less than they used to and admittedly looked pretty empty, but the action figure / fast food toy collection and the accompanying cross comprised of them remain. (Side note, The Toys That Made Us on Netflix is definitely worth a watch)
This is the owner of a print shop called Tiny Town Surplus, and I can't recommend it enough. I wished I could have gotten more, but I was on an extremely tight budget (and was down to 0 when we left). At the very least I would have loved to have gotten more of the "Fuck You. -The Desert" postcards to send to people, but I ended up not having enough time anyway.
The paper ephemera, we needs it, Precious!
He lowkey ruined this for me by pointing out, as a good and true pedantic nerd would be compelled to, that the homogeneity of the vegetation is totally inaccurate, which lowkey ruins it for him.
My shoulders slumped slightly. "Aw, goddamn it."
Sent to Hannes, while he was staying mostly at his parents' place;
you can see the front and all the other swag I grabbed at the end.
Tucson Thrift Shop, yet another reason to wish I had more money. I found a great Mexican canteen thingy, too, made of a big glass bottle and wrapped in laced-up and embroidered leather. It was only $8 or $9. How much would something like that fetch in a place like Germany, where people actually have disposable income?! The mind boggles.
"What is this, like, mystical cat closet"
"I.. I don't know.. but I need a picture of it, too"
I was getting pretty hungry, but Darren had it all under control.
He took us to Food Conspiracy Co-op next, also right along the quaint-a-f main drag.
Awwh, wide selection of organic vegan treats, in how many ways do I love thee
(No I didn't have any ( /; w ; \) )
Here it is, real apple cider! I had thought it was extinct.
Look at those prices! I'm sure it will be soon.
What! I had never even seen tri-colour quinoa before.
Try to keep in mind that I was three weeks out of Tokyo at this point and was trying to explain to my friend, with large sweeping gestures, that every single food option we were seeing in this place has never even considered existing in that nightmarish culinary wasteland of artificial, wartime-esque scarcity and unpredictability.
Darren got a bag with as much powder as he could so that he could eat it straight-up
once he was done with the nuts lol
Even a wide selection of tea
And aromatics! Can't shake a stick of palo santo at all the great regional
New Age stuff available in Tucson..
I ended up getting about $3.50 (!!!) worth of veggie goodness from the hot food and salad bar: BBQ tempeh with chiles, roasted sweet potatoes, black pepper peas and corn, and a few bits of feta and artichoke hearts.
Darren shared his vegan sweets. Those on the right are dates rolled in shredded coconut,
and these vanilla bites were divine!
I got that Blue Sky natural cola, too, feeling nostalgic for the Sprouts grocery store I used to visit with my mom maybe once every couple of months when I was a teenager (when we could afford it), but I could barely stomach it. After years away from American junk food, I can't drink a whole soda anymore, unless it's full of rum or vodka I guess.
But regardless: oh co-op, you are so beautiful.
We popped into the Surly Wench Pub, too, because I thought it seemed really cool, and I was right. It might be the Titty Twister in From Dusk Til Dawn, I'm not sure.
Getting aggressively carded right at or outside the door of every bar I went to was so weird. It's one of those nasty everyday Puritanical tendencies representative of why I have no interest in living in the States. Anyway, it was still daylight, as you can see, and Darren doesn't drink alcohol or caffeine, so.. we moved on! (Let's be real, another drink was probably the last thing I needed anyway.)
At Creative Ventures, a charming emporium of kitschy ceramic, hojalata, and
wooden decor, as well as jewelry, small toys, and other things.
Not gonna lie, I thought these were pretty neat.
Did anyone actually have a slingshot as a kid, though?
Moderate selfie fail, but Blue Steel (or is that Magnum?) pretty on-point
Ahh! If I had money and a kitchen big enough I'd want all of these!
I want my dishes to also be fossils!
Walking back down 4th Ave..
I guess this Rapa Nui thingy is a local landmark. And look! He was a pirate for Halloween.
Now, there was the small issue of staying in town overnight.
I had browsed Airbnb, nothing. I had browsed Booking.com, meh.
For 50 or 60 bucks a night anywhere near the center of town you could pretty much get a single twin bed in a smoking room. Grody.
A little further outside the main drag and U of A area, there were normal, fairly spacious motel rooms for that price, at recogniseable franchises. I picked the last available room with a bed big enough for both of us (because doubles were just too expensive, and again, mostly smoking) at the Travelodge, reserving it under the assumption that I could just cancel within 24 hours of the booking date if we found something better or someone agreed to let us crash at theirs, because that's what I've experienced as standard for the last several years. So I didn't double check.
Wait, what?! No cancellation policy whatsoever unless you pay the full price of the room?
Unheard-of! Inconceivable! Fuck you, Travelodge! Oh well.
But, errhm.. As it turned out.. Have you ever had "But it looked so much closer on Google Maps!" happen to you? Sigh.
I looked at the map on Booking.com, zoomed in and out a number of times; it was several main roads north of town, just off the I-10. Figured, you know, it's probably like two or three exits, then we go under an overpass and we're there. Again, I didn't think it mattered that much at the time, because most everyone has a 24-hour cancellation policy, Travelodge.
It was a solid 30 minutes outside of town.
We needed to check in and leave our backpacks there, then pick up Darren's friend Chris for the show. But the GPS was like, "At. The. Next. Intersection. End your life. It's. Quicker".
We just kept driving, and driving. It was mostly this one access road, though it wasn't actually an access/frontage road because it wasn't close enough to the highway. We could still see the highway in the distance, mostly, but it just kept getting darker and darker and more desolate.
"Oh my fucking god! I'm so mad about this! I'm so sorry!" I kept saying as we hurtled deeper into the void.
Time and space melted together, and the tall imposing silhouettes of endless stands of saguaro cacti - as it turned out, we were kind of along the fringe of Saguaro National Park - seemed to be gradually closing in.
"It's okay, really. It's not that big of a deal," Darren replied, typically chill and nonplussed.
Not only was this shit in the middle of nowhere, but the only road you can use to get to it, once that godforsaken access/frontage one finally ended, was under construction. It was half dirt and rocks, and even in daylight the crappy way the barricades and everything were laid out was really confusing.
"Okay. Oh my god. Are we going to die out here?"
"Are we literally staying at the fucking Bates Motel?"
-well-earned dramatic repose-
(And I think 'Yes' was a good answer, when we eventually reached it;
we were literally staying at the heckin' Bates Motel)
The guy at the counter of the Travelodge was Italian or something; he was only about as tall as me, but bizarrely good-looking. Like, weirdly classically handsome.
How do people end up in these kinds of situations? What life choices led you here, paisano?
Anyway, getting back to the highway was slightly easier than speeding toward our own doom, so we made it to Chris's house and then found a free parking place downtown.
With the exception of the big open dirt construction area that thankfully had a gap in its chain-link fence on the opposite side, the venue wasn't far, and walking to it was easy.
What is it with Darren's Russian Roulette GPS, anyway?
"In. Five, hundred, dark, spooky, metres. There, is probably a way, through, the fence. If not. ... Then, not. Don't, get murdered."
So, here's the venue,
aaaaaaaand right when I walked in the door my ex was standing there.
My first ex. Who I cut off contact with completely when we finally broke up. Hadn't seen him or talked to him in almost 9 years, assumed I never would again. Clearly I had assumed wrongly. He doesn't even live in Tucson as far as I know; what are the chances that he would also travel down for this specific show? ("Damn shared taste in music," Darren said later.)
I genuinely believe that I maintained a poker face after my eyes darted straight back to the floor, but he stared like a goon. I could tell. Darren's friend noticed.
"Chris, let me tell you a story really quick," I said, leading Chris back toward the door and facing the other direction. Darren had gone to the bathroom. The discomfort was strong. The instinct to flee was stronger.
"Oh my god. Yeah, he's.. staring. That's, wow, that's like, ancient history.. What do you want to do?"
We still had some time before Pillorian, the first band, and I decided I needed a drink afterall. We talked about how we'd noticed a couple minutes earlier that the venue only had $6 bottles of beer, canned wine (dafuq?), and Red Bull. But no vodka.
"Who the fuck made that executive decision, to sell Red Bull without vodka? I guess they don't have a liquor license, but still.""I know right? That's really stupid. Um.. Let's see what else is around here.."
Having gotten so used to conbini life in Korea and Japan, that was my first plan.
"Okay, the nearest 7-11 is- oh, that one's closed. Umm.. the nearest 7-11 is a twenty minute walk from here.."
"And there are open container laws.. Even if we went we couldn't just walk back with our drinks.."
Thankfully 191 Toole is right in the centre of town, and at this point Darren came back from the bathroom. We filled him in. Even more thankfully, neither he nor Chris had any problem with peacing right the fuck back out of there to some bar down the street. Our great escape!
The weird thing was, that morning before we left, Darren and I talked about past relationships that make us cringe and wonder what we were thinking. Not an uncommon topic, granted, but this was the first and most impressive example of the high degree of synchronicity that he apparently experiences on a regular basis; we kept talking about specific things that didn't just come up as fleeting reminders later, the way items fresh in your mind tend to do, but were more like obnoxiously blatant beacons.
Anyway, I had told him in a nutshell all about this past relationship, specifically, which had unusual complications that made the whole thing even more of a mess.
Like, aborted gender transition complications.
Yeah, it was a lot. So we fled.
We escaped to Hotel Congress, where I decided to spend my money for the next day on "an Adios Motherfucker, because I need(ed) to get gone," and a double shot of crappy vodka. That seemed like just enough to calm down, and it was also the limit of what I could afford.
Chris - who I was just meeting for the first time that night, and who I apologised to for all the drama - was nice enough to offer to buy my drinks, but I declined. He does manual work in the hot sun, and even though I was broke I knew I was headed to a very cushy situation in Germany in a few weeks, so it wouldn't have been right.
Slight non sequitur, the Halloween decorations in that old hotel were completely awesome.
This really was the most reasonable course of action considering the circumstances, trust me
All of the art on the walls was great, too - damn it!
Of all the times to decide not to bring my camera..
We actually had a really good time hanging out in that lobby, though Chris doesn't go out and drink very often and was pretty snowplowed after being coaxed into a false sense of security by the sweetness of my signature cocktail. Oops. I told him to drink it slowly, but he didn't listen.
We saw the last bit of Pillorian's set, which made me sad because it was good, so I went ahead and bought one of their patches because I felt guilty for missing it. I also ended up getting the last Thrice Woven (most recent album/current Wolves in the Throne Room tour) patch for my vest in the design I wanted. Yaaaass
This is really not their strongest album in my opinion nor is it my favourite, but their set was great. It was thunder and mist. They smudge the stage with white sage before and halfway through. Their whole theme is the forested Pacific Northwest from whence they hail, and I think they evoke it well.
Not knowing how energetic the crowd would be or whether or not a black metal band in this region would attract random violent skinheads (Dir en Grey did when they came through Phoenix in 2006, it was weird), yes friends, in case you missed this detail, I left the camera in the Bates Motel room. I regret that so much. The crowd was hipstery, reverent, possibly under the influence of genuine hypnosis, and nearly motionless. Goddamnit.
Well, as far as crummy phone pictures go, though, I kind of like this one..
These Celtic knot designs were regional animals - it might be kind of hard to tell from this pic, but this one's a salmon.
There's also video, but hardly any, because once again, I had forgotten to take all the concert videos from September off my phone. Like I said in the Friday the 13th post, I had 100% run out of space that night, the week before.
Might as well just leave this here, too, since I just barely got them getting started:
It turned out this kind of show was a bit too much for Darren, and we ended up arguing about music for several minutes outside afterward.
He didn't like the way everyone was entranced and still and found the whole thing extremely pretentious, which he was saying, doesn't make this genre better than others or their fans more sophisticated or mature.
I was on edge anyway because we were standing there waiting for whoever Chris was waiting for, and I was worried that my ex would walk by at any moment and maybe (gasp) try to talk to me or something. Throughout the whole show, in this big crowd, he was standing directly parallel to me on my left, and there was really no way through the people on the other side to get out of his line of sight. They told me he kept looking over, while I maintained my tense but determined forward-facing stoicism and tried to enjoy the damn show. No one had any weed or anything, it was honestly a little bit terrible when the drinks shortly wore off.
Anyway, Chris ended up going home with the friend who finally came by, and then we were waiting for a wannabe YouTuber acquaintance of Darren's to respond about meeting up, as he'd just gotten off work, when we wandered around the corner and looked at some murals.
Also on 191 E. Toole is a place called Skrappy's Tucson Youth Collective, and there's a whole row of murals on the back side of the long brick building that comprises this part of the block. I hadn't been able to appreciate the border fence one in the dark; it was just the very bright evil Pac-Man that caught my eye at the time. But here's another blog post about it, from before the text was added.
Side note, speaking of murals and how downtown Tucson is rich with them, here's another one of the larger and more impressive ones we saw but didn't stop to get a photo of, by Joe Pagac.
lol Grilly McSadFace what are you doing back here?
We ended up meeting that completely outlandish YouTuber guy at IHOP, where I enjoyed an order of home fries with the green Tabasco sauce I really started to miss a few years ago. Even though the guy had an incredibly over-the-top, fake, theatrical personality the way vloggers tend to, I liked him. He's clearly intelligent, and bored, and if nothing else a good storyteller and decent voice actor living a life that's just too small for him. I could relate.
We told him about our night.
"Oh, man, so you guys ended up at Hotel Congress huh, the Dillinger Escape hotel?"
"The.. wait, what?"
Apparently this is common knowledge in AZ and especially among locals: Hotel Congress, built in the early 1900's, is famous for having been the place where John Dillinger and a couple of his accomplices were finally captured by the police for the first time. While the building was on fire.
At the time we had no idea that when we ran into my ancient-history-ex at the venue we then formed and carried out an actual, literal... Dillinger Escape Plan.
"God, this was so stressful, but it's so worth it for the great pun," I said with new enthusiasm.
"That is a pretty good story, isn't it?"
We all agreed.
There was something about these plastic dispensers of sugary cereal and this waffle machine (lol what, right? I guess it dispenses batter that then cooks in front of you..) that I found just as lonely and desolate as the Bates Motel Travelodge itself.
But I mean, we didn't get murdered and nothing weird or untoward happened there;
it was fine.
Also for some reason this cleaning cart stood out and made me feel something like a vague, remote sadness that's difficult to articulate.
I guess what the waffle dispenser and Windex were probably saying was that the proletariat needs to rise up and throw off the shackles of the mindless consumer capitalism that leaves us all feeling so ambiguously depressed and unfulfilled, now that it's pretty definitively failed us and is clearly unsustainable.
Or maybe not. Maybe I thought this looked interesting because I'm no longer used to how damn bright and clear it is in the desert.
Speaking of which..
This is the top of Sentinel Peak, or "A" Mountain, one of Darren's favourite Tucson spots. It's easy to drive up to this point near the top with a nice panoramic view of downtown and basically the whole area. We had ourselves a little walk around but didn't go to the tippy top; it was pretty warm (maybe like 31 C?) and, again, really bright, and Darren has a bad habit of leaving his water bottle in the car.
(yes that is a foot)
I was really glad he wanted to come up here and that he brought me, though;
considering its convenience for how scenic it is, it's plain to see why he likes it so much.
More varieties of cactus than you could shake that stick of palo santo at, right?
I'm really fond of this one; the whiteness of the rocks makes it look like some hostile otherwordly landscape, which I guess it is, really.
Not a terrible shot driving back down into town, either, though I certainly wouldn't want to be one of the people who lives right at the base of this particular, popular mountain. I'm sure they get lots of scorpions and unwelcome spiders, too.
The way Darren asked me if I still wanted to go to Tucson Tamale Company was, I think, him being typically chill and nonplussed again, but it had kind of sounded like, "Hm, meh, do you feel like it?"
Um, fuck yeah I feel like it, especially when many of them are not only veggie but vegan.
Tamal is bae.
Actual, genuine excitement over the top-notch menu options and their very reasonable prices
But, okay, here's a nice one of him with his true loves - including a side of soy chorizo - to make up for that goofy one. It seemed to come out like this just because of the sun reflecting off all the brightly-painted surfaces.
Also genuine excitement
And genuine love.
As I said, is bae
Like a beautiful string of flavour planets orbiting a liquid black star with a crunchy corona
This is the veggie curry one, which is vegan.
It might look unattractive at first glance, but try to appreciate the textures here.
This is the chile relleno with cheese, which I saved for when I got home because two of these with black beans and a bunch of chips and salsa is seriously a ton of food. God look at that whole chile though, just ready to come apart when you pull it with a fork. Hrrnnnggg
Well, that was the last of my money, and it was very well-spent. The drinks and the Pillorian patch were never supposed to happen, but that's life, and boy were we living it that glorious weekend. I'd had just enough for lunch, or, well, almost; I think I had to borrow a quarter.
Not really wanting to go back to Phoenix, Darren asked if I wanted to go to the Spanish mission outside town that he'd been to with a friend two or three years before. We did a back-and-forth "Well, if you feel like it, yeah," thing for a minute. I didn't know anything about it but thought it sounded pretty neat and am always glad to see new things, so I said "Sure".
Turns out the San Xavier Mission is really quite a sight, and it's also on the Tohono O'odham reservation of the same name.
Wouldn't you know it, more ritual aromatics, and they also have eagle feathers.
Somewhat spectacularly and totally unbeknownst to me before, this is the oldest European structure in Arizona and is widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture in the United States. A mission was originally built near a church founded here in 1692, but just as spectacularly, that was razed during an Apache raid in 1770.
The mission as it stands today was built between 1783 and 1797.
It was Saturday, and there was some kind of low-key fair or festival going on, with Indian fry bread, face painting, a few Day of the Dead costumes, and things of that nature. Classic cars and non-classic cars were on display, of course.. this is a big thing in AZ.
lol hi random DragonBall car
We watched this man for several minutes.
His family was hanging out in the shade next to this one, which was the better and
more complete of the two he was going back and forth between.
Nearby, I happened to notice that these two were about to mount their horses.
As opposed to this being for show or entertainment, they were probably just going home to one of the neighbouring ranches after riding over to check out the festivities for a bit. One of those ranches we drove by was selling homemade mesquite flour (basically the same as the acacia flour Aboriginal Australians make) and some other local produce.
This mission is a Catholic pilgrimage site, visited by thousands of people who journey to it
on foot or horseback every year.
Darren commented at first that these little shade huts didn't look like they'd make a difference at all, but quickly admitted that it was much better to be under them.
Also more aesthetically pleasing
And here it is, the mission itself. It truly is very grand and can be seen from quite a distance across the landscape, its whiteness stark against the similarly intense, cloudless sky.
It was like being back in Europe, and truly rivaled the churches and castles I've seen there
in terms of opulence and ambiance.
Some of the figures were very fine, while others were a bit goofy-looking or disproportionate somehow. I can't imagine building something grand like this in the heat, painting small details and placing small mosaic tiles; the Tohono O'odham people were, of course, the labourers.
The main domed ceiling in particular was very nice. I think I liked looking up at it so much because the natural light coming in up there was bluer, while the rest of the church was dim, woody, and yellowish.
(whatever that little uneven spot is in my hairline bothers me so much whenever I look at this)
Not sure about the bright 3D cube pattern.. So incongruous. Why was this a thing?
Okay this sounds bad no matter how you phrase it
This is actually quite educational despite its vintage classroom look
and the idiotically flippant tone of the opening caption.
This origin myth is nice to read, too.
Until 1854 this was, of course, Mexico.
Favourite photo taken while in Arizona, hands down.
The mission might be a ridiculous medieval institution sitting on thoroughly-disputed land, but I'll be damned if the architecture, history, and a few of the pieces in their small religious museum aren't great.
A kind older woman who sells prayer candles, answers questions, and hands out informational pamphlets if you tell her it's your first time visiting.
Hello educational poster or book of my childhood reincarnate,
no you do not need to be a part of my out-of-control postcard collection
Neither do you, you lazy piece of shit, there are like a million types of prickly pear
and cholla that aren't even on here, booooo
Anyway, just in case you couldn't tell, 10/10 would recommend.
Oh, and this is a, ah, Mayan. Tribute. Jaguar priest. ...
Classy... Airbrushed lowrider mural.
Welp, that's about it for Tucson. It was a lot for two days, right?
There's Picacho Peak again, looming like a rock formation on an alien world.
"Actually, you know what? Do you want to see if we can stop at that ostrich and stingray ranch we saw on the way in?"
(Yes, you read that right, and no, I'm never kidding)
It cost, I think $15 or $20 for admission and feed for all the various animals, including but not limited to the ostriches and stingrays that drew us in. Also mules and donkeys, as you saw, and a huge variety of birds, plus some other things we likely weren't aware of. Obviously we didn't pay it. Or rather, obviously Darren didn't pay it for us both.
The dramatic peak is a State Park, and it's also thick with saguaro cactus, to an extent that even I who grew up with them everywhere once again found impressive and noteworthy. The people who own this quirky ranch also do Jeep tours around the base of the peak, which I think looks legit fun because of the prime scenery. If The Roadtrip Through the Great American West ever happens one day, I want to take Hannes to Tucson, and I want to feed the damn stingrays and do the Jeep tour on the way back.
So let it be written, so let it be done.
A vintage shooting gallery game
Hey birb. U want sum feed?
I really like this shot, too.
Mhmm, mhmm, ostrich eggs for sale, some painted, some both painted and displayed
atop little ostrich-shaped pedestals, mhmm..
A fairly impressively-stuffed javelina
Also on the way back, a train, speeding through that quintessential landscape
Even through the window of a moving car it makes a pretty alright picture, I thought.
Here's that #swag I promised.
This, Thanksgiving, and Zac's motorcycle were really the highlights of my time back home, and I'm extremely thankful to Darren for driving us down there and back. I totally get why people love that town and why the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is so popular. Of course, I wouldn't live there, but as the months roll by I'm less and less hostile toward the idea of visiting again.
And I mean, that's a pretty big deal. Thanks for being awesome, Tucson.