May 26, 2008

Crown King

half-day road trip

After a lazy morning, Saori and I struck out on a road trip around 1 PM. Google Earth had revealed a small town up in the forest topped peaks northwest of Phoenix, and by measuring the distance, I established it was less than 90 miles away from the center of Phoenix. Pine forests, closer than Prescott. So we headed out of town on I-17, took the Crown King exit near Bloody Basin Road, and immediately hit a dirt road. According to the directions, Crown King was 26 miles down this road. What the heck, we were here, the road was not that bad, so we took it. Slow driving, less than 20 miles an hour on an "improved" road, (improved insofar as there were no major boulders in the middle) through rolling desert scrub. It was actually kind of peaceful. Something about a landscape with no asphalt or concrete.

We came first to the town of Cleator, which incidentally is for sale, although it had a great clapboard bar/general store we stopped at for a coke and some chips. The folks on the porch drinking beer and talking looked like they'd been out in this tiny desert town for a long long time. Weatherbeaten faces, long scraggly beards, giant faded hats, and the men were even worse. The barkeeps were friendly though. Didn't give us a hard time about using cards as stupidly, we'd neglected to bring any cash. It's amazing that even when the bathroom is crudely attached to the main building, and the main building is the largest structure in a hundred square miles of desert, they still take visa or mastercard.

Actually we liked Cleator more than Crown King, although it literally comes down to which one had a more personable general store.

We pressed on to Crown King, the road getting steeper, narrower, and more rocky as we went up. Every other vehicle on the road was either a truck or an SUV. I did see a Subaru sports wagon slink by, but it almost seemed embarrassed to be there. The Prius handled surprisingly well, and I wonder if mine might have been the first to make it to Crown King. It took better than an hour from the interstate to the town, and if we were to go again, we would go early in the morning and with a friend who had a high-clearance vehicle.

No mistake, the views were spectacular driving up to the top of the mountain, and each place we passed had its own picturesque quality. Crown King sits on a pine-covered mountain top. The weather was at least 20 degrees colder than Phoenix, and there were a lot of ATV riders out there too. They had a general store with an integrated US post office inside the store, a fire station, and a cafe/bar/hotel. That seemed to be about it for Crown King. I'm glad we went, but don't go expecting Las Vegas.

Driving down went a lot faster. We took an alternative route back to the interstate, which ran us through Bumblebee, a town with the same size as Crown King, all of 7 houses on the main road plus a school. We stopped for a bite to eat at a Denny's outside of Anthem, and finally skirted a major traffic jam coming into the city by way of Cave Creek road. All in all, a seven hour road trip that took us through three towns, and three types of landscapes.
It's been a busy last few days. Tuesday I attempted to help mom and Tay to get a new cat from the humane society, (catch the full scoop on mom's blog), and Wednesday Saori and I went to Awhatukee to see the kitten at home.

Friday night, Saori and I went over to mom's house and ate Mexican talapia with grandma Loretta and great aunt Francis. Afterwards we all played cards for about three hours, which was a lot of fun. Really good margaritas and guac.

Saturday morning we met up with the gang again at Aunt Chilada's Mexican Restaurant for lunch, and from there we went to see some movies at Arizona Mills. The older ladies saw "Baby Lady" the older woman chick flick, and we youngsters went to see "Prince Caspian," the latest over-CG-ified classic novel adaptation. It was exactly what I expected it to be, and I went in with low expectations. After watching the movie which was a big budget battle and fanfare extravaganza, we went out into the mall to find the older women.

I was overstimulated from the movie, and thrust into a crowded mall, which made me feel nauseating trapped and stressed out. I hate Arizona Mills Mall. The stores are generally good, the prices are very good for a mall, but the overall experience leaves me feeling violated. There are huge masses of people slowly ambling through the mall's corridors, where you are trapped in a huge loop. Crushed along by the flow, you are vomited upon by the blaring music from each store you pass, and from the obnoxious, loud music they blast everywhere else in the mall. Normal conversation becomes impossible. Your eyes are grabbed, jarred, and yanked around in your head from flashing lights, garish colors and giant adverting signs and logos everywhere you look so there is no visual respite either. Arizona Mills is a thug assaulting all the senses.

We stopped by the Tempe Borders and I got an older Haruki Murakami novel, Dance Dance Dance, which is pretty good so far. We also swung by Zia's and the Japanese convienence store. Later saturday night, we watched a really good movie Sakuran about a Geisha, filmed and directed by a famous photographer. It was, as expected, a really visually compelling film.

Today I picked up coffee and donuts around 9 for a healthful and early start to our day. We relaxed at home for the rest of the morning until I went to go meet Chase and his family for lunch. That was good, and I took Chase back to the apartment where we picked up Saori and headed out to Wildlife World Park out in Glendale.

C- what do you do on a typical day?
A- well, today we were thinking about going to the zoo...
C- lets go to the zoo.
A- sounds good.

But first we stopped at Pink Spot Ice Cream on Thomas, a relatively new place, but one that offers Lapperts Ice Cream, which is pretty hard to beat. They even had Kauaii Pie, which is one my favorite flavors of ice cream. We took the I-10 to the loop 303, which is so far outside of town it's a two lane road with stop signs. We got to Wildlife World Zoo an hour before it closed for the day, so we decided to save the $18 admission cost and drive to the White Tanks.

It's strange out there. Raw desert filled with Saguaro cacti, interrupted with cheap Scottsdale Suburb photocopies. A two lane road through the desert suddenly becomes six lines wide with huge sidewalks and a bike lane, flanked on both sides by massively deep subdivisions of cookie cutter houses and huge American flags. This residential absurdity cointinues for a stretch of perhaps half a mile and just as suddenly reverts back to the two lane desert road on its way to the mountains.

I see suburbia filled with endless fields of identical beige houses, and I feel like the architectural profession has failed. Crude stucco and wood boxes with cheap tile roofs cost nothing and can be built in a day- but I can't hate them more because most Americans seem to like them. A huge segment of the population, the middle to upper class, see it as an Ideal, the huge house, the huge car, the bbq and pool out back, it has become the accepted symbol of arrival. Architecture is about the enrichment of the human experience through the definition of spaces. A typical suburban house out here is mass produced and made as cheap as physically and legally possible. These houses are Styrofoam clamshells, which degrades the families living in them to standardized McDonalds hamburgers. It's not about money. A well-designed house can be built for the same cost as a standardized one, especially if you take out the faked chimneys, redundant decorative columns, fake rock cladding, etc. The architecture industry has failed because people have come to see the developer stick and stucco "tuscan" ranch as the best if not only course to take. After Levittown, architects, instead of remaining in their white towers of abstraction and academia, should have said "how can we use this 'subdivision' and 'prefabrication' methods to make better houses which can be designed to suit each family?"

Anyway, white tanks was fun. Lots of photography at the ragged end of Phoenix. Ate Pho Bang for dinner, and dropped Chase off back at his grandma's house in Scottsdale.

new photos with a new camera

new camera shots

May 18, 2008


Sunday morning at Sal's house, everyone got up around 9 and we started preparations for breakfast, Sal's mom had to run and pick up some more guests, so Saori and Joyce ended up frying the huge batch of French Toast. There were about 20 people who showed up for breakfast, and Saori, Joyce, Sal and I sat at the kitchen table and enjoyed a great breakfast of OJ, French toast, and fresh sliced fruit.

After breakfast and the group had dispersed some, the four of us plus Sal's younger brother went out hiking. It was about a two hour hike, up into the hills near Sal's home and back down through a small narrow canyon where we spotted some cows, and some javelina. It was very warm and by the time we were done we were all covered by a layer of salt and dust.

Back at Sal's we sat down for a great lunch of sal picone and tinga on tortillas. Tinga is a kind of sauteed shredded pork, marinated and soaked in citrus and spices. It was the best lunch I've had in a long time, and I said so. Saori was helping herself to more in the kitchen at the time and when she came back to the table, she also said that it was the best lunch she'd had in a long time.

After lunch we played cards for about an hour before we had to leave. It was sad to go, since it was just such a relaxing mellow atmosphere; I couldn't see myself going to work the next day, it just didn't follow. We left Rio Rico around 4:30, drove straight through Tucson, and only stopped off at the Picacho Peak DQ for blizzards. We finally got home around 8, after fighting bad non-construction traffic outside of town.

For some reason, the I-1o Northbound was reduced to one lane on the shoulder of the road, closed for over 2 miles. The entire length of the closure, there were no workers, no heavy trucks, no damage to the road itself, no construction, or anything that would necessitate the need to block all traffic. I would have assumed that perhaps the striping needed time to dry had it not been for several police cars and street sweepers driving around on it.

I hate being needlessly inconvenienced, like anyone, but my disgust and contempt for Arizona road construction companies has no limit. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have seen road crews block multiple lanes of traffic with traffic cones- and nothing else. No workers, no work, and the cones go away after about 50 yards. In the meanwhile, three lanes of traffic comes to a screeching halt, accidents occur, and Arizona drivers being what we are, have as much driving savvy as a tuna.

Overall, though, it was a great weekend, and Saori and I have decided to swing back to Nogales some weekend soon, since she's never been to Mexico before.

May 13, 2008


After a mostly restful night, I got up early and walked outside to give dad a call, since I hadn't talked to him in a long time. It was a really nice call, I sat outside on the grass in the sunny, cool morning, and after awhile, Saori came out to join me too.

We woke up Cassie and Kevin and all trooped over to Bobo's restaurant, which was even more of a tiny dive than Zarchary's. It was really old, with a breakfast counter in the middle of the room and the place crammed full of people. We actually had about a ten minute wait for a table, how crowded it was. I got a "short stack" of pancakes, and ate half of them. The pancakes were literally a 12"x8" rectangle, each one a half inch thick. Really delicious, with hot coffee.

We started talking about strange happenings that always occur whenever I go visit Tucson. One visit, we ran into a restaurant where people kept breaking out into operatic arias, for example. We were discussing the lack of an anomaly on this trip when the restaurant was pepper-sprayed. There was a slow wave of coughing and sneezing that began by the door, and migrated across the restaurant, as people began to get up and leave. My nose was a little clogged, but it hit us too, I could taste the cayanne in the back of my throat. But we recovered quickly, and continued on with our breakfast.

We split from Tucson around 11 and continued south to Rio Rico. In contrast to the flatlands between Phoenix and Tucson, the road to Rio Rico was filled with mesquite forests, rolling hills and canyons, and other interesting features. Rio Rico is a tiny town about 15 minutes north of Nogales, one high school, 80% Hispanic, and home to retirees, new families to the US, border guard workers, and produce repackers. Off the freeway, its a town that's really far removed from everything, which is really its charm. Old houses, sleepy country lifestyles, one small grocery store which is the main event in town.

Our destination was a brilliantly colored blue and yellow house, the residence of the Patinos, Sal's family. It was everything that a north of the border house could be, shady porches, bold sunny colors, and potted plants and flowers everywhere. Sal and Joyce met us outside and walked us through. The house was filled with old Mexican furniture mixed with old modern furniture, woodcuts and watercolors on the walls, and every room painted in bright yellow, blue, or red. The colored walls were especially beautiful with the many skylights, which bounced the colored light off the walls. We were introduced to the many extended family members, rested for awhile, and then took off on a guided tour of Rio Rico.

We drove through winding mountain residential roads, visited historic Rio Rico high school, and even drove by the infamous "Garrett's IGA Grocery" before heading south to the border. Saori has never seen Mexico before, so it was really interesting for her. For me too, as we cruised a few streets of Nogales, then climbed a beautiful hill full of decaying adobe and stone mansions. Its amazing to see the favelas of Nogales across the border, right up to the wall of America. Through the buildings, we could see the whole town in the distance.

By the time we got back to Rio Rico, the rest of the party had arrived. It was nice, we wandered around, introduced ourselves to people, drank mexican beer and ate really amazing salsas and party foods prepared by Sal's dad's side of the family. The party lasted long into the night, and the end of the party found us chatting in spanish (or really, mostly listening) to Sal's aunts and Uncles as they told stories.

Rio Rico must be approached for what it is: an escape, an open-range slowdown and that's really what Saori and I enjoyed the most about it. After all the partygoers left, we sat down and played cards until we started to fall asleep, and then headed off to bed.

May 12, 2008


It's a very surreal moment. I attended a building information modeling conference with an emphasis on LEED applications, and not once did I feel like I was getting old. I guess not feeling it is a sign of arrival. I was probably one of the youngest people there, but at no time did I ever feel awkward or out of place (other than the usual trade conference awkwardness). We signed in and got our little tote bags, tee shirt, pen, and bouncy-foam globe ball, everything with The Cad Store's logo emblazed on it. Couldn't complain about the food though, fresh coffee, bagels, orange juice, plus lunch was catered BBQ.

The conference actually had some really interesting information, although a lot of it was "why we green" and the second half had a lot of really redundant stuff and showcasing of Revit because the event organizers and lecturers were, incidently, CAD product sales reps. Overall, a good way to spend a day on a project which has dropped down to a crawl pace.

Friday, Saori and I both took off the day to drive to Tucson. In the morning, I changed the oil in the Prius, and Saori went to the UPS store to attempt to pick up a package they were supposedly holding for her. They lied. They put it back on the truck after the second delivery, so even though she made the lady at the customer service counter change the destination, and then called the dispatcher location to make them repeat to her the new destination for the package, of course, they tried to deliver it to the apartment again while we were gone. Additionally, UPS informed her that she was supposed to come to pick it up from the UPS distribution facility instead of delivering it to the second address.

I don't know if its just the Arizona UPS who are all completely incompetent, or if there were just an unlucky series of really stupid, lazy, and whiny employees. I typically prefer DHL or FedEx anyway, but Saori didn't really have a choice from her shipper.

We had a delicious and greasy lunch at Lucky Burger, a tiny burger dive near downtown, and then we took of for Tucson around noon. The drive to Tucson between Phoenix has to be one of the most god-forsaken stretches of wasteland in the entire southwest. At least it goes by in under two hours. Tucson currenly has half of its exits closed along the freeway for construction, so we sat in traffic for a bit until Saori navigated us out to Cassie and Kevin's place. We stopped by a supermarket and picked up balloons and flowers for Cassie's gradution, and Kevin's acceptance to UCDavis grad school.

They keep a little engine of destruction, about a year old, black, white, and compeletely unstoppable feline, extremely rambunctious and super-fast. They call him "Charlie" for the Chaplin-esque little black patch under his pink nose. They're looking for a new home for him, as they're leaving town in a few months for Cali.

We all drove down to the university and hit one of the local coffeeshops. There are immediate and apparent differences between ASU and UofA, all of which become clear entering places near campus. If ASU wishes it was cosmopolitan, UofA wishes it were bohemian. Which is not entirely a bad thing as it leads to great coffeeshops and hole-in-the wall open bar restaurants with great food.

At the UofA memorial union, we attended a small gallery opening of one of our friends from high school, Laura Atchinson. She had filled the space with drawings and paintings inspired from her travels around Europe and New York. There were a few pieces that I really liked, and most of her work I thought was better than the typical First Friday offering. She also baked cookies for the event, which was cool. Actually, there were quite a few of my old schoolmates who showed up whom I'd not seen in years, so it was interesting to catch up with them a little bit and find out how their lives were going.

Someone on Facebook raised the question of a 5 year reunion of our graduating class from Desert Mountain, but other friends of mine raised the point that the people that we really care about and are interested in, we stayed in contact with. There will be no 5 year reunion, guaranteed, because the class of 2003 from Desert Mountain just never shared that much goodwill with each other.

After the show, we walked over to Zachary's Pizza, a surprisingly extensive restaurant and bar which looks a lot smaller from the outside. We split a pitcher of beer and ordered a deep dish pizza of which I ate a slice and was done for the night. By deep, I mean this thing was 2 inches or a hair shy, and so big that the server had to put it on a different TABLE. So we all stuffed ourselves.

Saori and I crashed on the couch once we got back to Cassie's apartment and we quickly passed out, despite being woken up a few times from first the heat, then the cat, and finally the cold of the morning.

May 4, 2008

Photos from home

Alec relaxes on the couch.

Saori's strange "ice robots" designer toys.

Calisthenics with Sal

Tabletop workstation

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to, a more writing-centric website.