Day one, Saturday

Daniel F. Smith in Arizona

Well, there just aren't enough hours in the day. Not only have I been missing sleep all week, but just as it happens, this is day two of the San Jose Relay for Life, a charity event that I'm involved in. It was an 18 hour walk around the track at Oak Grove High School in San Jose, California. I didn't walk---I was counting money in the press box (we made about $52 thousand dollars on the event)---but I still got home at just before 1am and was out there today at 10am for more counting. Things went really well though, even if I did have to run off slightly early.

Relay Tent City: the participants stayed all night at the track. Night walkers: the luminaria light the way for the people on the late-night shift. Closing lap: it's all over, just time for the final communal lap.

That was because I needed to get the house in shape before my house-sitters arrived.

And then I had to get to the airport for a late afternoon flight.

And before that I had to email the money database back to the American Cancer Society because I was going to be away from the net for a week! Did I mention that the food at the Relay event had probably mildly upset my stomach? (It wasn't necessarily the food's fault, but might have just been how I got to eat it---on the go.) It was 2pm.

When I got back home, I started cleaning. Including hosing off the roof because of the rather impressive minor mountain that some nesting birds had made just outside one of the guest bedroom windows. I should probably have named it Mount Guano and stuck a flag in it, but then I'm still houseproud.

I also had to saw some bits of wood to make the bunk bed slats. And move the recently (9am) acquired safe somewhere into the garage. The neighbor who sold it to me had never managed to close it. A good dose of WD-40 and some dainty fingerwork got the latch to open. I hope it doesn't get locked closed by my houseguests while I'm away. Hmm. 3pm.

I haven't called my parents in ages and they left a message a week or two ago asking if I was still alive, and would I please call them. They don't have an answer machine so it's sometimes a bit difficult to contact them. I could try whistling fax tones at their machine but it would probably just come out as some kind of fuzzy blob, which would only make them more worried. ("Send more fuzzy blobs or you will never see your son again" kind of thing.) Their phone was busy, but in the process of trying to make the call, I discovered that I had knocked the upstairs phone off the hook while moving a lamp into the guest room. Maybe that was why I hadn't heard from my house-sitters yet?

Cathy phoned, telling me that she had a house full of family, and they would like to start sitting in my house. They'd be over soon.

I called my parents. The usual parenty conversation ensued. Pilgrim (my cat; he lets me live with him) decided that he'd had enough of making noise (he always makes noise when I'm on the phone, I think it's dial-tone sympathy or something) and came and sat on me. 3:30pm.

Rick, Cathy, Terry, Nancy, Katy, Kaleena and Kieth arrive. They proceed to sit while I continue packing. Cathy, picking up that I'm running out of time, volunteered to do my ironing. Being the gentleman host that I am, I accepted. What a girl! I'm still on the clock: 4:30pm.

I'm packed! We go out to the airport where Nancy buys everyone frozen yoghurt. It was chocolate and much needed. In fact, it was rather more needed that I knew at the time because it was going to be late before I ate again.

Cathy still can't understand what the attraction of Arizona is. Okay, I don't quite know either, but the exploring, discovering and relaxing vacations are my favorite. Apparently it's 110 degrees in Phoenix. Alright! I get on the plane and wave goodbye (not necessarily in that order).

The plane was about half full. I really don't understand how plane fares are calculated. I suspect the FAA has a trained chicken who randomly pecks out prices based on how many times her feet have felt ticklish. My ticket was the same price whatever day I traveled, but today, a Saturday, two thirds of the seats were empty. Who knows, they might have been transporting the cushions to comfort deprived Arizonans. Both front hostesses gave me a cheerful smile as I embarked. The one in the rear where I was sitting gave me a scowl. These people see so many faces that it's a wonder they stay sane at all.

I sat next to a guy whose name I'm not even going to attempt to remember. Not that he wasn't a decent fellow; it was just a tricky name. He was from Iran, moved out to the US eleven years ago. For some reason, none of his family had followed him, and only his parents had visited him on an occasion or two. Although he was born muslim, he really didn't like religion much. He was slightly bothered that he didn't even know how to pray properly. Anyway, he was flying over to San Antonio for some business thing for the auto dealership he worked for (Anderson's on Stevens Creek) and was going to spend another day or two in Houston with some pals. It was quite a coincidence really, I had talked that morning with a guy who's always in the camera store (Wolf on Bernal) and found out that he was also Iranian. (He spotted my British accent: the plane guy said there were lots of Brits in Iran, working for the oilers, and he would have liked to live in Britain only it was too cold.) The camera Iranian however seemed to be very keen on going to church. I pointed out Jubilee as we flew over it (there was a huge painted sign on its roof---they obviously knew they were in the flight path). No interest from the plane Iranian, though I shouldn't have expected any. He eventually found a row of empty seats and snoozed to Phoenix.

A short while into the flight, a bottle flew towards me. I gave it back to the people in the seats in front. A minute or two after that, two small eyes appeared around the side of the seat cushion. They darted back quickly when I spotted them. Could this be the legendary America West amazon who hunts the aisles of 737s, preying on the weak who cannot disembark fast enough once the plane has come to a full and complete stop and the seat belt light has been turned off? This would explain why there is always a rush to the front of the plane when it lands. That or the bathroom.

The eyes appeared again and giggled. We played eye-tag for several minutes. I don't know who won, but there was a lot of giggling and trying to peer around corners that would not normally be considered corners. I hid behind the eyes' seat. More laughter.

I was quietly watching the scenery outside and in solemn contemplation for some time. I had watched us fly down highway 101, with the wriggly green of the Guadalupe River park to our right. I made out the labs where I work (IBM Almaden) and the block where my house is. There was no smoke coming from it---a good sign. By the time we were into the golden part of the Golden State, the Monterey Bay was just a foggy dark patch in the distance.

The eyes reappeared, and shyly disappeared again. I couldn't be hunted like this any more; I felt too exposed to the ravages of the native creatures inhabiting the airplane, so I fashioned myself a crude crocodile defense out of one of those annoying cardboard postcards that one finds in the in-flight magazine. Somehow the card had fallen out and was lying on the seat. Why they can't fall out before the magazine gets to me I don't know. The crocodile elicited more gurgles of delight. The eyes were now toying with me.

It turned out that Sophie, her eyes and her somewhat cheerful though tired mother Gwenn, were on their way to see grandma in Phoenix. I was kind of sad to say goodbye when we eventually got to the airport. The eyes were quite closed by the time we touched down, and Sophie was making it clear that a bed would be very welcome.

The evening flight gave some beautiful shadows. One doesn't properly realize just how flat mountains are when one is below them. From above, the landscape was spread out; a huge unshaped expanse, with occasional craggy peaks. In one or two places the remains of a river, or a salt bed could be seen. The shadows became longer than the mountains as we started approaching human habitation again.

Pinnacles: the spiky desert, as seen from the sky. Lunar flight: we fly over alien landscapes. Desert shadows: not all the desert is flat.

Looking down at the sprawling artificial mass of Phoenix. Picture the winding burbs. Picture the perfect grid that Phoenix is laid down upon. It came out of the desert fire, but left the grating in place. I caught sight of a landscaped lake surrounded by houses and I was reminded of the conversation I had had with Bruce the security guard that morning as we dropped off the last of the cash we'd collected. He was hoping to retire in a few years and sell his business. Then he could get a cabin by a lake, build a small pier, and tour the country in his motor home with his wife for six months out of the year. His wife didn't like rain. He didn't like the heat too much. The docks below all had boats, but the lake was empty. Maybe it was too hot.

I got a lengthy talk from the car rental attendant about how free CDW was a scam (theirs was a trifle at $20 a day), and how their great gas offer was 10 cents below the average cost of gas. (They offered about $1.35 against San Jose's $1.80 and Phoenix's $1.45. I discovered after leaving the airport that gas was $1.28.) Then, as I drove off in my Chevy Tahoe, I noticed a broken wing mirror (I had declined CDW, and I was thankful I spotted it before they charged me for it when I got back.) But it works, and the air conditioning is so good that it even has separate controls for the back. Then the loudspeaker grille fell off. Sigh.

I set out to find stuff. 8:30pm.

The first place I stopped was Fry's in Tempe. I should probably try to cut back on this habit. Of course, the Arizona Fry's is a grocery supermarket, although rather intriguingly the logos and colors were the same as our Silicon Valley Fry's. I almost felt like asking the employees where I could find the chips, but I restrained myself. I did ask them where I could find a motel. The cashier said I could find one on Main Street. I traveled about 15 miles parallel to Main Street before discovering that Main Street was actually one block south of the street I was traveling parallel to it on. I found Main Street. Main Street had motels on almost every block. I found a motel in Mesa. Oh yes, it was on Main Street.

Fry's: ahh, just like home, except with fewer electronic items. Light sculpture: I'm not sure what this is, but it was lit up the road in Tempe. It is probably a power plant of some description.

Wow! $44 a night and a room almost as big as some of the $1200 a month apartments in San Jose. Of course, apartments here are only $300 a month (the street parallel to Main Street had apartments on every block). I swam some laps in the pool and ate some of the delicious bread from Fry's. 10pm. I'm beginning to feel like I can relax now.

My first impressions of Arizona are that it's more like California than Oregon. It's quite warm, but it's a pleasant heat and not overbearing (well, I've only been here in the evening so far). The lack of left turn only green signals mean that drivers are always pulling across front of me, but they go the speed limit and are reasonably courteous. The square grid system here means that the traffic lights are synchronized really well, and that the compass widget embedded in the rear view mirror makes sense.

Now to bed, and to dream about what will happen tomorrow.

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