Thursday, April 1, 2010

Toodles Tucson

The Homers were both born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. I followed that with a lovely four-year stint in San Diego and returned. While it wasn’t really my idea or plan to return, I’ve never regretted it. BH spent a shivery four years in Ithaca and a green three in Eugene. Next for BH, as you’ve read, is Portland. However you slice it, we Homers have spent the vast majority of our time on earth as Tucsonans and now I’m leaving; BH has been gone for a while. It’s been great and as the Homers leave Tucson for a yet-to-be-determined amount of time, some nostalgia has bubbled to the surface. A tribute ensues.

AB’s thoughts are in Red. BH’s thoughts are in Blue. In case you were wondering these are indeed UofA colors.

Tucson: The Mountains

I never appreciated their beauty until I left. While San Diego is absurdly beautiful, the stoic Catalinas never look the same twice. Although the sun setting over the ocean is timelessly captivating, the colors of an Tucson sunset are unparalleled. My favorite mountain view is the backside of the Catalinas, on the way to Oro Valley. Here I can see every nook and cranny of the mountains, highlighting the depth, size, colors, and magnificence of the range.
And Sabino Canyon, another place I didn’t learn to appreciate until I’d returned. I discovered the solitary beauty of this subtle canyon while training for a marathon. I’d run to the top of the Canyon – a grueling 3.7 uphill miles – early in the summer mornings. The shade of the eastern ridge was life saving. The monsoon run off over flowed the bridges and would soak my shoes, a mild concern compared to my burning lungs and quads.

My favorite Sabino memory is BH and my hungover hike to Hutch’s Pool. We started far too late, after far too late of a night, after far too much drinking. But we were determined to find water and swim in it. We asked the gate attendant if there was water and he said doubtful. We asked the information center and they said maybe. We took our chances and headed up. The hike was a moderate three miles and we were lucky to have cloud cover. Not knowing where we were headed, things looked grim as we saw only leaky traces of water heading towards our unknown destination. We turned a corner and there it was: a glorious, sparkling (in most parts), cool body of water. An oasis. We jumped in and swam and jumped in again. It was an incredible escape from many things in a special summer. Thanks BH.

I grew up hiking in the mountains behind our home in the foothills. I fondly recall hikes in Pima Canyon with my family on weekend mornings. Often the hike was a quest for the rarest of things in Tucson: water. Going for a hike through a craggy canyon and a forest of cactus and then finding yourself playing in a river of water is magical for a boy growing up in the desert. I didn't realize at the time, but my parents were instilling in me a passion for hiking that would survive to this day. Thanks mom and dad.

Despite my early start I didn't truly appreciate the mountains until I left for college in the east. Out east you find rolling hills and winding roads shrouded by trees. A horizon line of any expanse is a rare sight in the east, unless you find yourself perched on a high peak or sitting on the Atlantic Coast. Rolling hills and an obfuscated horizon line are far different than the endless skylines and wide open expanses of Tucson. In Tucson mountains rise out of the earth and meet the sky in every direction. When the sun sets in the evening the mountains in the west turn a deep shade of purple and cut sharply through the bright red and orange sky. Some people take the sun setting over the ocean, but sunsets in Tucson are beyond comparison.

My favorite hike is the Finger Rock Trail. The hike is difficult, so don't skimp on water, but the views are well worth it. You start at the top of Alvernon Way and shimmy your way up the right side of a small canyon. A little more than half way up you can stop at Linda Vista Saddle and look out over the entire city--from La Paloma to Davis-Monthan. Several miles further you finally summit Kimball Peak. You are now above Finger Rock but you're looking down Romero Canyon on the backside of the Catalina Mountains. You can see Picacho Peak far away in the distance and off to your right you can see Mt. Lemmon looming higher than the rest of the Catalinas. I've been on this hike with friends from home, friends from college, family and girlfriends. I know almost every turn, every rock, and every place to stop. I love it, and love the mountains it takes me through.

Tucson: Growing Up

Manzanita was a great elementary school and I made some good friends in Kindergarten that lasted all the way to today. Pretty cool how that works. I made many other friends along the way, including BH in fourth grade. I even invited him to my birthday party that year for flag football. Evidently my dad yelled at him.
We finished school at Catalina Foothills but I think it might be safe to say we finished at the Foothills Baseball Academy; or at least got diplomas from there, too. It’d be an understatement to say we played a lot of baseball in High School. But ya know what? We were good and it was fun being good. I’ll never forget losing the 2001 State Championship or the overthrow stopped by Jason Pridie’s toe that – had the ball just hopped over his cleat – would have gone into the dugout handing us the State Championship. I’ll also never forget the game winning home run (orwas it game losing for us?) Pridie hit that is still in orbit.

One perk to growing up in Tucson (and you later learn is a downside when you grow up and have to explain that you’re not a cowboy) is Rodeo Break. What is Rodeo Break you’ll ask? Well, Rodeo Break is two or three days off of school for the Rodeo, duh. We take it in place of President’s day. Basically, it’s a chance for Zonies to go skiing or go to Disneyland. I suggest addressing it with your local school board and adopting it.

Now I was once told that it would be impossible for me to have a good childhood because of the lack of grass in Tucson. Not true. Have you ever built a fort in a wash? Played sports year ‘round? Lay poolside in February? How about November for that matter? Tucson is a beautiful, homey, simple place to be raised and a fun place to grow up.

I went to preschool at Tucson Community School (TCS). Both my sisters went there and my mom later became the director of the school. Incidentally, my three-year-old class teacher, Mrs. Lazaroff, was still teaching the threes when my mom worked there two decades later. TCS is where I met my best friend Koren, and as a result our families have become close friends over the years. Our families have vacationed together, shared holidays and countless dinners together, laughter, tears, funerals and musicals. My name is still in the cement foundation of a play structure at TCS--right next to Koren's. It's a unique place that was instrumental in my childhood.

I remember Saturday mornings at Mehl Park. On any Spring morning at Mehl Park you would find little leaguers from tee-ball to Juniors competing for the right to get a soda after the game--win or lose. Sure things got competitive. Dads got thrown out from time to time, kids--myself included--were moved to tears by failure. However, that was where baseball all started for me, and where I met most of the guys I'd be playing baseball with almost every day for the next ten years of my life. Thanks Mike, Charlie, & Jay.

As iterated above by AB and reiterated now by me, high school was defined less by folks in the classrooms than it was by Jason Hisey (see left). We played baseball or prepared for baseball year round. It all began as a little freshman in the fall of 1999 walking wide eyed out to "Iron Con:" the infamous Hisey conditioning program. For several hours we would sprint, jump, jog, run, push up, sit up, stand up and throw up. Iron Con only set the tone for summers, springs, and falls engulfed by baseball. If there's one thing Tucson weather allows for it is year round outdoor sports--we took advantage. I'll never forget the morning after losing to Pueblo (whom we had never lost to before). We woke up well before 5 am and drove to the baseball field. We were there so early the lights had to be turned on. On the way into school I passed my senior classmates getting onto a bus for a senior trip to Disney Land--I was on my way to run my ass off for the next four hours. Thanks Hise.

I grew up playing in the desert: making forts out of saguaro ribs; climbing mesquite tress; taking our dog for walks in the wash; riding bikes around Via Entrada; and playing in the water after a monsoon. It was a good childhood, made possible by my family, my friends, my dog, and by Tucson.

Tucson: Brief Memories/Moments

I love driving down Sunrise Drive early on a Saturday morning in November, December, or January. First off, this is a beautiful drive at the base of the Catalinas. During these months it’s cool but not cold, Tucson’s money months, if you will. It’s this time of year that I realized what people meant when they say air is “crisp”. The desert air is cool and dry, but refreshing. It’s like a by-design splash of cold water to the face: you’re expecting it and you want it, it’s a bit shocking, but good.

I remember my last night in Tucson before going to college. It was growing late and just my closest guys were hanging with me in my back yard. Tucson nights in the summer are warm and mild. The heat has left, but you can still be comfortable in shorts. My parents didn't mind that it was late or that we were drinking some beers. All of us knew life was changing, but none of us knew how. It was the first time I'd shared tears with any of those guys. I still keep in touch with some of them. One lives in Hawaii now, another one lives in NYC. They meant a lot to me during those high school years, even though that night in 2003 seems like a lifetime ago.

I’ll likely never forget walking into the Tucson Convention Center in July 2007 with a handful of shoddy resumes wearing slacks and a collared shirt. I’d done some research on the companies at the job fair and had highlighted and approached the sciencey ones. I sent a text to my buddy Jared, “I’m at a fucking job fair in Tucson, Arizona.” As I’ve said, returning to Tucson was not my ideal or chosen situation, but I don’t regret it. Well two-and-a-half weeks later I got an interview and then an offer and two-and-a-half years later I was still there. Great experience, but all great things must come to an end.

I remember arriving in Tucson after having driven back across the country with my mom and two sisters in our Volkswagon Van. I couldn't have been older than 10 or 11 and my sisters were a few years younger. It was a hot summer day, but the pool that was a hole in the ground when we left earlier that summer was now finished. My sisters and I jumped in with our clothes on. Minutes later my mom came running down the stairs and jumped in with her clothes on. Finally, our new dog Issac got in on the action for the first time in his illustrious swimming career. We all laughed, it's so funny when parents act like kids.

Summer 2009 was a unique one. We’ll sum it up with: transition period. Trudging through shit, BH, our good friend Rachel, and I needed each other. On a Thursday night in July we grilled cheese steaks, watched an epic monsoon roll in, through, and out, shared thoughts and a bottle of Jameson (also some beers and vodka-waters), and dissected life (with some unique and not-so-unique circumstances) at a quarter century. It was the greatest – clothed – three-person party, ever.

I remember talking about life with AB on random nights in the summer of 2009. Scotch-Whiskey and cigars espouse an introspective sensibility. Life was beating at the door that summer, and things that used to seem so certain for both of us were suddenly askew. Relationships were far more complicated than we ever could have anticipated. Tucson felt different than it ever had before. Plans seemed more vague and daunting than they had in the past. I was at once counseling AB on a quarter life crisis while experiencing one of my own. I think we learned more about ourselves and growing up that summer than we realized. I think that summer we learned it was time to say toodles to Tucson--at least for a while.

March 1997. Ditto.

Sports Videos, News, Blogs

Tucson: Wrap Up

I love Tucson and it will always be home. I mean that. No matter where I move and no matter how settled I become, when I visit Tucson I will always say, “I’m on my way home.” Toodles Tucson, I’ll be back.

Tucson is a part of me. I can easily envision my street; I can still smell creosote after a rain; hear cicadas in the summer; and feel the crisp dry air on a winter morning. It's my hometown and the setting for my child hood. I always look forward to going home, but for now, toodles Tucson.

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