Spring training journal – day one – March 24, 2004…

The flight to Phoenix was unremarkable. Had I chosen to sit on the opposite side of the plane, it might have been different. Shortly before landing in Ontario [this was, obviously, not a direct flight] the pilot called out attention to a very long airfield runway that is apparently part of Edwards Air Base, and is sometimes used for Space Shuttle landings. The runway is, according to our pilot, seven miles long and is the longest runway in the world. Since I was seated on the opposite side of the plane from where the action was though I missed out. I had to content myself with a pretty view of some rather menacing looking mountains just northeast of Ontario.

I always forget that southern California has mountains, or any geographical features at all. This is what happens, I suppose, to our memories and mental images of places we don’t much like.

On the plane with me was the Cal Berkeley Women’s Water Polo team. For some reason I’ve never quite understood water polo players always have the same vaguely vacant look about them. Of course it doesn’t much help one’s image of individuality to be identically dressed to 20 or so other people, all carrying the same backpacks.

Airport security also failed to be entertaining on the trip down to Phoenix. No individual search, no shoe removal or personal wanding took place. As a matter of fact, all the white-shirted TSA folks looked really, really terrifically bored. Speaking of those tiresome symbols of federal law enforcement, who the heck designed those dreadful and dull uniforms? Honestly, I really don’t like fascist symbols of state power, but I do think that if we’re going to have state police supervising our comings and goings they really need spiffier uniforms. Don’t you agree? If we’re going to be surrounded by jack-booted thugs they should at least look more intimidating than low-rent Good Humor men. How about tasteful black suits combined with black leather overcoats? Leather gloves optional.

Anyway, the most eventful part of today was discovering upon arrival at the hostel that they allow a maximum stay of 3 days. Poop. Double poop. This means I’ll need to check into a motel by the weekend and my lodging costs just doubled. Drat. Double drat. The good news, I guess, is that I’ve located a couple of cheap-looking motels nearby, so I won’t need to completely revise my transportation plans for my daily haul to and from the ballparks.

After stowing my stuff in a locker (must remember to hang onto my quarters the next two days unless I want to risk ending up lockerless) I hung out in the dormitory long enough to meet two of the saddest men I’ve seen in a long while – the sadder of the two had a cart on which he loaded what look to be all his worldly possessions, including a box labeled “emergency respiratory.” After saying hello to everyone I set out on a walk to orient myself to the neighborhood and find out where the grocery and liquor stores were nearby. I also intended to find my way to the Central Station to get some idea how long of a walk I’d have to get there if I wanted to start my daily journeys from there.

I stopped at a Chico’s Tacos stand in the first strip mall I came across. The last time I’d seen a Chico’s was on tour on a stop in El Paso. Chico’s actually serves decent food. It’s like an upscale, franchised version of a taco van on International Blvd. in Oakland. A most yummy chicken taco and some chips were my supper of choice tonight. Stomach filled, I strode forth to find the Central Station. On my way there I came upon the Phoenix Main Library. I wish cities in California would invest the kind of resources Phoenix did in building their libraries. It’s tidy, modern and plenty roomy. The entire ground floor seemed to be filled with video tapes and DVD’s (on later inspection I discovered that most of the popular fiction was also kept on the ground floor). They also had public internet stations with a 15 minute, self-governing time limit on them. Way cool. It keeps the kids from hogging the machines to play games on all day.

I logged onto one of the internet terminals to check to see if I could find any motel or hotel bargains online. Not a one materialized. The thing that really amazed me though was how little I could do on the web in 15 minutes. That chunk of time barely allowed me enough space to visit four travel sites and run brief searches for rooms. No wonder going online is such a huge timesink. To do anything productive at all you would likely have to be jacked in for at least an hour.

I left the library and continued my walk down central Ave. towards the bus terminal. Phoenix is clearly a city that was designed to be best appreciated from behind the wheel of an air conditioned car. Not that the climate is so harsh this time of year (it was actually very pleasant out), it’s just that it looks all rather unkempt, slightly rundown and a bit abandoned from the sidewalk view. Los Angeles is the same way. Driving in LA you get a completely different impression of the place than you do if you walk. Also like LA, the sidewalks are hardly inviting to would-be pedestrians. They’re a bit too narrow for you to feel completely comfortable. You feel as though at any moment you’ll be nudged out into traffic and mashed by a speeding Cadillac.

The woman at the counter in the Central Station may actually have been the nicest transit worker I’ve ever dealt with. Some that could probably be accounted for by the fact that I approached her station about ten minutes before closing time. I was probably her last customer of the day. Still, it was really nice to go into a place where I generally expect rudeness, almost as if it’s part of what I’m paying for, and have someone be really friendly, helpful and nice. I got my ten-ride ticket book and a handy-dandy colorful Spring Training By Bus brochure. At the library I’d already scored a complete Phoenix bus guide. So, armed with my two new bus guides and the Lonely Planet Arizona book I’d brought from home I was ready to find a place to sit down, open my maps and crosscheck all my plans for getting to and from the ballparks.

On the walk back towards the hostel the first place I encountered was a Hooters. Briefly I entertained thoughts of buffalo wings and overpriced beer. To be honest though, one look at the orange, ultra-skin-tight hotpants on the waitresses and I was put off that idea completely. Having said that I’ll now most likely have to surrender my membership card in the heterosexual men of america society. The thing is though that those outfits don’t make those women look attractive at all to me. They look like clowns and bimbos, in that order. Nope, just not my thing. So, I keep walking and find a Starbuck’s where I can get overpriced coffee-like drinks and set to getting out my bus guides and maps.

The guy working the counter couldn’t have looked more out of place. He had the sort of facial topiary that I’d more readily associate with San Francisco or Seattle. His look made me wonder if it’s possible that as soon as they hire you as a barista at Starbuck’s you’re issued your apron and a facial hair stencil so you’ll match their northwest image. I know that regional identity is falling by the wayside rapidly in the U.S. due to the omnipresent popular media that is basically created in one of two places – LA and NYC – and that most everything has gone mass-market, but good grief. Sometimes it’s just sad and simultaneously hilarious to see so little deviation from network standard style regardless of where you are in the U.S. I’d really like to go back to a place like Dothan, Alabama and see how homogenized the kids there have gotten. Back in 1995 the punk rock kids were so quaint, with their blue dyed hair and regulation comic book mohawks. Have they, perhaps, been also swallowed whole by the MTV/Viacom beast?

Alright folks. I don’t do anywhere near enough of this whole writing with pen and paper jazz and I’m beginning to get the mother of all cases of writer’s cramp. Tomorrow I go to my first spring training game! Yippee!

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