Tiki Testimonial: Hukilau Festival a Hit

(published in the Society For Commercial Archaeology newsletter, Road Notes, winter 2015)

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Aloha, SCA Villagers!

Even though this year’s Hukilau celebration officially ended June 14th, it’s hard not to have the Hukilau spirit stay with you long after the last Tiki torch light dims and the final Mai Tai disappears.

 

There is much about the Hukilau, billed as the World’s Most Authentic Tiki Event, which connects to SCA interests, from the Polynesian kitsch to the commercial wonders of the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 tower built in 1965 and the iconic Mai Kai Polynesian Restaurant of Ft, Lauderdale, Florida.  Just added to the National Register of Historic Places, the restaurant will soon celebrate its 60th year in business.  Its authentic Polynesian Island Revue transports everyone to another place and time.

“There is nothing like that back home,” exclaims Oahu native Alika Lyman, lead singer and guitar player for the Alika Lyman Group.

alika 2

And there is nothing here quite like Alika, the great nephew of legendary Exotica and jazz musician, Arthur Lyman. Alika, who performs 4 to 7 gigs a week in and around Waikiki but only 1 or 2 mainland shows a year, was embraced by the Hukilau Villagers during performances at the Mai Kai’s famous Malokai Bar and at the Friday Night Opening Event in the Pier 66 Panorama Ballroom.

“It was great.  The audience was very appreciative and it made the experience on stage so that all the goodness came out.”

That goodness tended to spill over the five day event as well as Villagers attended a variety of nostalgic Tiki themed events.  There were sessions covering the history of Walt Disney’s original Polynesian resort, the sad story of Tiki Gardens “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”…as a Florida local, that one hurt a lot…the rise and fall of Los Angeles’ Space Age Nautical Pier, Chinese American Nightclubs from 1936-1970, and more.  If that wasn’t enough, there was a Tiki Tower Takeover of the Pier Top Lounge and a three hour tour cruise on the intercoastal waterway with none other than Dawn Wells, a.k.a. Mary Ann, from Gilligan’s Island.

Ms. Wells was amazingly gracious, signing autographs, overseeing a costume contest…my favorite was a dead ringer for Thurston Howell the third, complete with colorful ascot…and finally, chatting with each passenger who wanted a photo with her.  No, I was not in costume, but I am thrilled that she thought with my red hair that I should have dressed up as Ginger.  As I said, she was amazingly gracious.

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Even amidst all this Hukilau Madness, an unexpected example of SCA appeared in the bustling Tiki Treasure Bazaar.  Surrounded by booths overflowing with vintage Polynesian fashion, Tiki kitsch and mid-century furnishings, there it was, Harold Golen’s creative tribute to the Holiday Inn signs of the past, complete with one missing light, a testament to its very authenticity.  Harold, a Miami native, owns the Harold Golen Gallery in the Wynwood Art District in Miami.  The gallery features pop surrealist art, an art form, conceivably appealing, intrinsically and aesthetically, to many SCA members. His booth featured a fascinating variety of paintings and creations by well-known artists of the genre.

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“It is the X-generation, more or less, their interpretation of mid-century to current pop culture and then they take it to a fine art level,” Harold explains. “They take all the ephemeral type art and trendy art…velvet paintings, paint by numbers, comic book art, vintage toy art, 60’s graphic art…what some would consider trash, disposable art and take it to this higher level,” Harold explains. “Isabel Samaras, a quintessential pop surrealist, for example, will do a portrait of Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie with Larry Hagman as Major Nelson and put them in a classical painting.” Now, that’s neoclassic cool!

Though not an SCA member yet, Harold has intuitively connected his gallery and surrealist pop art to commercial archaeology and the vintage hotel chain and its beckoning arrow which both he and SCA’ers appreciate.

“I was in heaven,” he recalls of family vacations to beloved roadside attractions like Silver Springs and Cypress Gardens which often included stays at his favorite hotel. Even though he was from south Florida, there was no pool at home, so the first thing he did was change into swim trunks and jump in the pool.  To this day, he still has vivid memories of the hotel room itself.

“The smell was so distinct…it smelled like Pine Sol and cigarettes and a little bit of Aqua Net!”

The stuff of SCA dreams! Aloha ahiahi until next year!

http://thehukilau.com/

http://Alikalyman.com

Cool Tiki site recommended by Aliki   digitiki.com

http://haroldgolengallery.com/gallery.php

http://maikai.com/

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Five Favs: Florida’s Suncoast

(published in the fall 2013 Road Notes newsletter for the Society for Commercial Archaeology)

Now that I am of a certain age, not unlike much of the commercial archaeology which captures my fancy, I find that connecting to the past, to a sense of place, is increasingly important.  Always drawn to the offbeat, the whimsical, what the unenlightened might call tacky, it does not surprise me that my journey in life has led me to this opportunity to share with others some interesting roadside architecture in my hometown of Clearwater, Florida. Not surprisingly, these are places which conjure up pleasant memories of another time and the people who were with me on that journey.

As a child growing up in Florida, I collected travel guides of intriguing places and worked hard to visit them.  An Arizona brochure from the 1960’s influenced spending my honeymoon in Phoenix. An interest in Mid-century architecture also led me frequently attending the Modern Phoenix Expo. A session on commercial archaeology at this year’s Expo brought these interests together in serendipitous synchronicity.

I struggled with narrowing down many fabulous examples to five favorites.  At one time I had almost 15 places and the list was growing along with the geographical area, thanks to enthusiastic suggestions from friends, colleagues, and family members.  I then decided that the five examples should tell a story, not just my story, but one that would have meaning for others on their journeys as well. The task instantly became easier and the examples practically chose themselves.  Although the stories may differ, the five are likely top contenders for those who plan to attend the Fun in the Sunshine City SCA conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, in April, 2014. Here they are not necessarily in order of preference or chronology:

Wells Fargo

1299 South Missouri Ave, Clearwater, FL

Dad was a self-employed jewelry engraver and watch repairer by trade, and I have fond memories of delivering his work to jewelry stores in downtown Clearwater with my mother.  After our Friday morning delivery, Dad would sometimes deposit his earnings at Clearwater Federal’s Largo branch, which still stands in its original glory now as a Wells Fargo, albeit, with unfortunate Mediterranean colors.  Just seeing it makes me smile and remember.  It also makes Lou Lipscomb, now in her 43rd year in banking; smile too as she recalls the many name changes before and after her arrival in 1985. “First it was a branch of Clearwater Federal, then Grand Western, then First Union, then Wachovia and now Wells Fargo.” Despite the many incarnations, the bank retains its 1960’s cool vibe.

 Wells Fargo with Lou

Grow Financial Federal Credit Union

2600 Dr. Martin Luther King St N #100, St Petersburg, FL

Every month my Dad drove us to St. Petersburg for watch repair parts, and sometimes we returned on Fourth or Ninth Street instead of US Highway 19. Back then, those main city streets were lined with Mom and Pop motels, restaurants and cool tourist destinations like Sunken Gardens.  What particularly caught my eye was the spectacular bank on Ninth Street which currently houses Grow Financial Federal Credit Union on its ground floor. I first became fascinated with its sheer size and one sided ice cream cone shape.  Now that I’ve grown up some, the architecture reminds me of the Guggenheim Museum.  So modernistic, so Frank Lloyd Wright, so ahead of its time – that it must be why it still stands today, impervious to the fickle architectural trends around it.

green financial comp

Belleair Village Motel

1025 Clearwater Largo Road, Largo, FL

Clearwater Largo Road was mysterious to me as a kid, as my parents never ventured to that side of town. After I got my license, I took the road often to visit my best friend, Leslie, in Belleair and that’s when I first saw the Belleair Village Motel.  Even as a teenager, I noticed the spinning Sputnik-inspired sphere of lights.  Although the sphere is still there, seven years ago the City of Largo required the owners, Atul and Jani Jobanputra, to lower the sign and subdue its glorious flashiness.   With pride, “Mrs. Jani” shows me a collage made by a frequent guest which shows the sign in its glory days.  “Our guests love the sign and like to take pictures of it,” she explains.  When new guests call, they often ask her if the motel is the one with the cool sign. For now, the sign in its altered state is still there although the city is again requesting that it be lowered further.  Also under siege are the original shuffleboard courts, two of which the city cut in half in order to plant shrubs along the sidewalk.  Despite, the challenges, the Jobanputra’s continue to work on improvements on the property, realizing that the motel is a special place full of memories for its returning guests.

belleair village motel sign

Thunderbird Beach Resort

10700 Gulf Blvd, Treasure Island, FL

Leslie, my longtime best friend, and I took a nostalgic journey to photograph St. Petersburg’s commercial archeology.  We did a circuitous route, cruising by El Cap, the Sandman Motel, and the West Central Shopping Center before crossing the bridge to the mecca of all things cool:  the Thunderbird Beach Resort.  We were not disappointed.  Despite additions and renovations, its iconic 1957 retro sign still serves as a beacon to those from the mainland.  For my friend Leslie, it represented the exotic and forbidden.  Although her dad personified the iconic 60’s “madman,” he had a weakness for Dixieland jazz, featured next door at the Bilmar Resort where her family would stay when visiting from Gainesville. But the allure of the much more hip Thunderbird proved too great for three adolescent girls.  Leslie recalls being led across property lines by an older adventurous sister in order to swim in its namesake emblazoned pool.

Automotive Engineering

13500 U.S. Highway 19 North, Clearwater, FL

Sometimes you don’t miss something until it’s gone but sometimes, if you’re lucky, you catch it just in time.  When I first started my list of possibilities for this assignment, I immediately thought of the Automotive Engineering sign on US Highway 19 near Ulmerton Road.  In my mind I could see how the sign lit up the sky with its round stoplight-style lights racing down the center but then I tried to remember the last time I had really seen it lit up.  Could it be gone?

The next day I drove to the business and there was the sign! But speaking to business owner, Leonard Borman, worry again set in. As much as he loved the sign built in 1967, it needed expensive repairs and he was unsure whether to fix it or sell it to an out-of-state sign collector. This was the moment when the “Five Fav’s” article became less of an assignment and more of a mission.

I shared my fond memories of the sign as a kid and rambled on about its unique design and lighting effects until Mr. Borman patiently explained to me how “the giant connecting rod represented the Christmas tree which is the starting line for races.”  Well, of course, it is… I knew that….

We soon arranged a date and time to turn on the sign for nostalgia and a photographic opportunity.  “I’d like to see it again myself,” he admitted.  Later that week, as I exited off the highway at dusk with lightning and storm clouds to my back, nothing prepared me for the rush I felt seeing the sign blinking and racing in full glory just ahead of me.  I think the beloved Mr. Rogers probably summed up my feelings best when he observed, “The child is in me still….and sometimes not so still.”

Despite threatening skies and awesome Florida summertime lightning, both Mr. Borman and I admired and photographed the even more awesome sign for a long time. “Now that I know it still works pretty well, I think I will turn it for an hour or so every evening in the summer.”  Lucky us, and, I think, lucky for those of you coming to the conference as I believe the sign is not going anywhere anytime soon.

July 9 2013 113 - Copy

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Bill Johnson’s Big Apple Restaurant

(edited version published in Road Notes, the Society for Commercial  Archaeology’s fall 2015 newsletter)

The family feud over the fate of Bill Johnson’s Big Apple restaurant in Phoenix may not have ended in a wild west shoot-out between kin, but when the dust finally settles, all that will remain of this historic landmark will be just another hot lifeless parking lot in the Valley of the Sun.

The passing of this 60 year old restaurant will be a loss not just for the valley and commercial archaeologists who cherish glorious 1950’s over the top cowboy campiness, but also a loss for those who have served up the western chow and atmosphere for both locals and tourists like myself.

“I made a good living for my family,” explains Jeanette Muntz, a blond youthful looking old timer–34.7 years with the Johnson restaurants– in her Levi jeans and plaid shirt. Jeanette began working at the Mesa restaurant part-time after the birth of her first of four children.  At one time there were five very successful Johnson family restaurants in the valley.  “We were spoiled by the money, but we worked hard,” she adds with a friendly smile you know she has shared with a million other customers but still makes special for you.

As an unofficial spokesperson and historian for the restaurant, Jeanette speaks fondly of the various Johnson family members and frowns when asked about the restaurant’s imminent closure.  Family disharmony and economic considerations have ultimately resulted in its sale to the growing Gateway Community College next door.  Currently, this first and last of these iconic restaurants is being leased back to the Bill Johnson, Inc. for two short years.

It is a seemingly quick quiet demise for a restaurant begun by a man almost larger than life.  He was, as the restaurant web site proclaims, “an entrepreneur, pilot, actor, stuntman, hypnotist, inventor and cowboy; Bill Johnson’s showmanship was unparalleled.”

Bill broadcasted a radio show featuring local musicians, celebrities and politicians from a makeshift jail cell in the restaurant—now, what Jeanette calls the history room because of all the family photographs.

But the history of the restaurant goes beyond that room and the Johnson family.  It is also the cultural and commercial history of the Valley.  Phoenicians and preservationists need to step up and rally to save this historical commercial property before it has disappeared along with Greasewood Flats, Rawhide, and other iconic western themed commercial properties along Van Buren. Bill Johnson once described the restaurant’s location as “Where the pavement ends and the West begins.”  That has a whole lot better ring to it than “Where the west ends and the pavement begins!”

Bill Johnson's Big Apple Sign

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The Enchanting Fiberglass World of Mark Cline

(edited version published in the fall 2014 Society for Commerical Archaeology newsletter, Road Notes)

The enchantment really begins on the “road less travelled through the Shenandoah Valley,” U.S. Route 11 in Virginia.  From Winchester to Wytheville, the highway, officially dating back to 1918, does not disappoint anyone seeking solitude and a respite from both the frenetic pace and the tedium of the interstate.

But never mind the up close and personal pastoral beauty of the valley, the real allure of Route 11 is the intermittent small towns and the haunting images they afford of a past era that seems not that distant.

Besides a richesse of vintage signage for motels, restaurants and other businesses catering to the weary traveler in the days before the interstate, there are also other unexpected archaeological wonders to be discovered and explored which pay homage to the past and the future.  One such place is the Enchanted Castle Studies, home to the creative genius of Professor Mark Cline.

….

 

First, a couple of warnings:  If you visit the Enchanted Castle Studios web site, you will be bombarded by an infectious tune by educator/entertainer Marla Lewis appropriately titled, “I have the weirdest dreams.”  You will then find it impossible not to find yourself singing this little ditty at various inappropriate moments for the rest of your day.  If you compound this with actually having visited Mark Cline’s Enchanted Castle Studios just south of Lexington, Virginia, as I have, then you will be doomed to have it in your head and on your lips for the rest of your life.  Additionally, those of you who attended Christine Henry’s session on the Enchanted Forest at the SCA conference in St. Petersburg are in the most imminent danger as you have already been partially exposed to Mark’s creative and whimsical talents.

All that being said, a true commercial archaeologist will soldier on and take the risk to learn more about the self- proclaimed “keeper of the flame for tacky roadside attractions.”

Mark’s studios are located on Route 11, which runs virtually parallel to Interstate 81 through the Shenandoah Valley, but, fortunately, to an archaeologist’s delight, the highway is a distant world away, providing concrete glimpses of another time and place. In Mark Cline’s world, those glimpses are often constructed in fiberglass.

Indeed, it was the small fiberglass dinosaur perched atop an old pick-up truck outside a sprawling commercial compound that caught our eye first, well, my older sister Donna’s eye as she was riding shotgun. Our parents had frequented this route back in the day prior to the interstate and because we were feeling nostalgic, we were motivated to find reminders of those times.  It was also my sister who insisted we should turnaround and investigate.  We drove by once more slowly spying all kinds of fiberglass creations in various stages of repair and construction just beyond the fortress-like entrance and curiosity compelled us stop.

Bravely entering the grassy compound, we first encountered a young sentinel working on what appeared to be super-sized snowman just outside a shed.  I prattled on about commercial archaeology and the SCA newsletter. He listened politely, and finally said, “Let me see if my boss will talk to you.”

Well, okay.

In a matter of minutes, we were escorted into a large warehouse with all kinds of oversized fantastical critters, cretins and creations of all sizes and dimensions.  We stepped over a not so curious cat into an air conditioned office where we were greeted by Mark looking as though he had just stepped out of an Indiana Jones movie.  And, fortunately, for us, he was a lot friendlier and more talkative than Indiana about his personal life and his artistic talents.

Mark leaning on dinosaur comp

“I’m more of an entertainer who builds props,” he explained from behind his desk. “I totally fell into it by accident partly because I was a slow learner.” He admitted to staying home a lot watching iconic 60’s shows such as Mr. Ed, Green Acres, and Andy Griffith.  It was during this time that he perfected his impressions, such as a dead-on Barnie Fife, (if you don’t believe me, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fi3wHztMLN0), became the class clown, and learned how to make his own props.

“I was passed,” he said, “because they didn’t know what to do with me.”  His web site chronicles his unusual educational odyssey and transformation into a unique artist:  “It began out of desperation to be noticed apart from my brothers, then as a diversion from my academic inadequacies in school.  In fact, I did so poorly in school I was placed in a “special class” called “guidance” but my creative skills excelled and I noticed at an early age my “non-conformity” drew the attention of the media.”

He learned early on that building the Statue of Liberty out of snow rather than a mere snowman like most kids “meant getting my picture in the paper.” And he has the original news clipping online to prove it.

Apologetically, Mark admits that everything “snowballed” from there. From what he describes as his “art of misdirection,” he learned to help others being picked upon and developed compassion, a valued family trait.  “Both my daughters are like that,” he proudly shared.

As a result of his “misdirected” artistic ability, which was encouraged by parents who supported his first venture to open a monster museum when he was just 19, Mark has accrued an impressive array of fiberglass creations and roadside enterprises.  He has built fiberglass figures for films, restaurants and roadside attractions. He has created and/or restored everything from dinosaurs to Elvis and everything imaginable and not imaginable in between.  This in addition to constructing and running his own Old School Roadside attractions like Hunt Bigfoot with a Redneck, leading and starring in “Ghost Tours of Lexington,” and creating elaborate April Fool’s jokes like his Foamhenge exhibit located off Highway 11 up a hill on Natural Bridge property. http://www.enchantedcastlestudios.com/foamhenge.htm

 

In our SCA world, Mark has forever endeared us with his restoration work of iconic inhabitants and structures from the Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City, Maryland. His interest in its restoration began with a personal connection from his childhood. From his web site Mark explains, “I used to play there when I was a small boy. It opened in 1955, the same year as Disneyland. I frolicked with Jack and Jill, the three little pigs, Humpty Dumpty and all the story book characters from a time way before Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. Time had forgotten the Enchanted Forest and it closed in 1988.”

In 2005, Mark randomly discovered the revitalization efforts in 2005 by Martha Clark of Clark’s Elioak Farm.  Ms. Clark made a deal with the property owners to have many of the original pieces transported over to her petting farm two miles away. “I repaired or rebuilt the pieces that were damaged or missing, sometimes using actual photos my mother took of me and my brothers in the 60s playing near or around the figures themselves!”

Mark envisioned himself as a prince or knight returning to save the kingdom.  “After all,” he explains,  “the place had inspired me so much as a child, I even grew up to use the word “enchanted” as part of the name of my studio. It was truly like I had reunited with old friends or family members.”

For me, Mark sums up the appeal of commercial archaeology in his final statement.  Seeing and visiting places like the Enchanted Forest takes us back to pleasant memories, evoking a time and era often shared with loved ones. For my sister and me, our time spent in the Enchanted Castle Studios with “Sir Mark” connected our past with our present.

And, yes, we both have the weirdest dreams!

 

http://www.enchantedcastlestudios.com/index.html

http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/9208

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtOm41ua4FI#t=18

 

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Winter Memories in Florida

When you’ve lived in Florida your entire life, winter memories, the traditional kind you see in Christmas cards just don’t exist, at least, not outside your kitchen window.

But you learn how to compensate and adjust.  There may not be snow in my driveway but there are fluffy white drifts on the unpaved road beside the adobe home in the framed print in the living room.

In the family room, hangs another snowy scene, this time of the Tetons. It is by my own hand but not from my own memory.  It is one, instead, borrowed from a postcard.

If one associates winter with snow and the west, well, then I do have some memories of that combination from visits to Flagstaff in February: slipping on ice in front of Coco’s restaurant, driving very slowly, very silently, on a barely discernable interstate dotted with stranded cars but those are ephemeral moments from journeys not defining ones.

A defining moment is when the unexpected happens. Like snow in Florida.  It’s waking up one morning to a car lightly dusted with snow and watching my young stepsons write their names across the window.  Or flash forward 15 years later when it does everything but snow like it did one December evening when a storm blew in across the gulf with the power of a hurricane.  Startled awake by the sound of the patio umbrella banging fiercely against the French doors, I awoke my now much older adult stepson who wrestled the umbrella down but not before my cherished chiminea became collateral damage in the battle. My much younger daughter and hubby slept through it all, pretty much making it my memory and my stepson’s but he now has his own western winter memories living and working in Golden, Colorado for the past seven years.

And that’s how it works with winter memories. Two years ago, my daughter made one of her own, sliding down ice covered slopes on her college campus in northern west Florida on a makeshift sled, a plastic container lid.  Sort of like the winter memories in a Christmas card…

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George Strait, Tony Geary and my Husband

For many years there were a number of fall traditions I could count on… making travel plans for a late season George Strait concert, counting the days until the return of Tony Geary as Luke on General Hospital and anticipating another work year for the school district.

Well, one by one those traditions are now in a handbasket on their way to a place most of the time I’d rather not think about.

It started with George Strait last June when he decided to hang up his Resistol for good. His retirement from touring prompted a Cowboy Rides Away party complete with a cowboy cake, assorted concert t-shirts for everyone to wear for photo opportunities, and a life sized GS stand-up behind the bar, a treasured promotional item rustled from a past concert. A friend I had not seen for a while came because she thought it was my retirement party. Another, more in tune friend, assured her that that would be the Cowgirl Rides Away party and there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind regarding its purpose.

2014_June_George_Strait_party_011 (1)

So, okay, no George anymore to look forward to, but there was still Tony Geary and General Hospital. Then Tony decided that it was time he and Luke parted ways for good and that a full-time life in the Netherlands was preferable to a part-time one in Port Charles. Not that it wasn’t time. A destructive, over-the-top Luke without the much needed checks and balances of a Laura in his life was fast losing its appeal to most viewers even a loyal one like myself.

So, now with Tony off into the mist, the only tradition left is work. Always a distant third in those fall traditions that I looked forward to most, it has now, by fault, moved up, but it also comes with an expiration date. With my husband having gone the way of George and Tony this past June, it would appear that my time to follow suit is imminent. And that is okay. Well, more than okay.

It’s time to start some new fall traditions with him.

October 12 2015 074

George_and_Cindy
george tipping hat

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Re-entry (from July 2013)

I flew back to Florida from Arizona nearly two weeks ago. The non-stop flight home was much quicker and smoother than the flight out, but the transition from the desert to the tropics has proved to be much less so.
I was able to cope with the usual jet lag/time change issues: the slight disorientation upon arrival (Is that really my husband with all that grey hair?), the hunger pains at 11:00 pm (Where is my chile relleno and margarita?), the inability to sleep, (Maybe, if I watch just one more episode of Law and Order…), but the real problems, related to my senses, were not so easy to address.
As soon as we leave the airport and begin the trek across Tampa Bay, it sinks in that I am really, truly back…if not for good, for long enough. Surrounded by water and a horizon devoid of mountains and saguaro cacti, I begin to feel a constriction in my chest. Once home, I am greeted by a neighborhood shrouded with ancient gnarled oak trees heavy with pollen. My nose begins to twitch. I step outside the car to the mocking shrill of the state bird instead of the haunting call of a nearby crow. Then it strikes me, there is no Painted Desert, no Sedona, as the song goes. Simply put, I ain’t in Arizona anymore.
Okay, I should be used to this feeling by now…that because of some cosmic event beyond my control, I am actually living somebody’s else’s life, going through the daily motions, doing and saying the right things (most of the time) feeling that my real existence is somewhere else altogether. I feel this way when I am driving down local streets I’ve traveled a thousand times, when I’m pulling my computer bag across the palm lined parking lot at work, when I’m hustling around the neighborhood with my pedometer strapped to my waist…anywhere, anytime, I feel it.
The only time I don’t feel it is when I’m in Arizona, or New Mexico, or even the rugged imperfect Texas Hill Country. Then I feel at home, at peace…one with the universe as the cliché goes.
Back in Florida, I learn to deal with it, or as the say in my profession, make accommodations for what one might call my mental and spiritual challenges.
First, I try to alter and adjust my immediate environment. Just inside my front door, I am greeted by a bright framed print of the desert high country and an incredibly life like barrel cactus which can be transformed into the shimmering lights of a Santa Fe sunset at the touch of a switch.
Then on to the living room which boasts an incredibly not-so-life-like saguaro cactus which has become too much a part of the décor to remove. Beside him is a kiva ladder, with Pueblo style pots dangling on thin hemp ropes from its rungs. Beneath the ladder, rest two wayward tumbleweeds, captured while hugging an unforgiving barbed wire fence during a fierce New Mexican wind storm and mailed home in a box so big and light that I felt like a terrorist with a secret as I handed it over to the disinterested postal clerk at the airport.
I feel better in this room, calm, almost content, as I sit down on the oversized conversational couch and rest my feet on my mission style coffee table, my eyes falling on the vintage Arizona Highways and Mexican folk art ash trays from hotels with histories dating back two centuries.
Just outside the nearby French doors is an unassuming 70’s style patio transformed into a simple southwestern retreat, complete with a bubbling cactus fountain, an amazing find at Target, a small succulent/cacti garden fashioned after a page from Phoenix Home and Gardens, and a classic Mexican chiminea filled with real pinyon wood from New Mexico via a local Loew’s.
As much pleasure as these things give me, I understand that they are merely external trappings of the southwest, albeit loaded with symbolism, and not the same as a hike through a stand of saguaros, or the sight of a jackrabbit scurrying through the brush or the dry dusty smell of the desert wind just before sunset, but they help. They help me connect to a sense of place, a place which resides within my heart and my soul. And they help me with the transition just like the words on this page help me make sense of it all.
November 14 2014 tucson 133
saguar cacti comp

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