Mar 10, 2010

Yuma and Tucson

Sunday 7th & Monday 8th March - Days 28 & 29

We spent our first night in Arizona in a town called Yuma. Damien Jurado has an uncharacteristically cheery song called Yuma. And back in the late 50s Johnny Cash sang the theme song for a TV show called The Rebel, which was about a confederate soldier called Johnny Yuma who wonders the west helping folk. Sort of like Kwai Chang Caine did in Kung Fu, or the dog with no name in The Littlest Hobo. There's also a story by Elmore Leonard called Three-Ten to Yuma which spawned two films, one from the 50s and one from this decade, and Frankie Laine did the theme song to the first one. Plus, if you stick Yuma into the iTunes shop you'll find quite a few other artists you've never heard of who've written a song called Yuma. And I'm really not sure why. Yuma is pretty non-descript. It does have a cool-sounding name and it is pretty much on the border with California making a good stopping place for road trips across the south west. Which may be why it has more than its fare share of neat old fashioned motels. Like this one. Sadly we'd already checked into a crappy budget Travelodge before we saw it. We'd already turned down the chance to spend upwards of $80 to stay at some of the more upmarket chains. Yuma had tons of them too. But we're on a budget. Top tip for future road trippers... don't just go for the motels at the side of the interstate. The other side of town usually has the ones that managed to survive after they built the bypass. That's where the character and value lie.

So because we spent ages driving around town looking for a place to stay, I can say with hand on heart that Yuma looked pretty dull. There's a prison there and Cesar Chavez was born nearby. Who? I'm glad you asked that because I've been asking the same question for years. It seems to me that there are as many streets and avenues and boulevards named after Cesar Chavez as there are named after MLK. The man's birthday is a public holiday in 8 states and Stevie Wonder refers to him in the song 'Black Man' which is on Songs in the Key of Life.

Farm workers rights
Were lifted to new heights
By a brown man

If that's whet your appetite to know more about the man, then here's his wiki page. (I wonder why left-wing American heroes don't have a high profile in Britain's popular knowledge of America?)

The big benefit to Yuma though was Mexican TV. Mexican wrestling is insanely addictive. It makes WWE look like it was scripted by Shakespeare and acted out by Olympian athletes. Mexican Deal Or No Deal was fantastic if only for the sexy banker. (Surely there is something to be learned about a society by how they revamp internationally known TV shows.) But best of all, Spanish language ESPN showed English Premier League football live. So we went to Walmart, bought beer and had a TV party.

We only stayed in Yuma because it was about halfway between L.A. and Tucson. From L.A. we could have gone to Flagstaff, AZ and then on to the Grand Canyon. Or to Phoenix. But we had read so many good things in the travel sections of the broadsheets about Tucson being a really cool little city that we decided we wanted to see it. And in retrospect... I think we should have gone and seen the Canyon.

I have long suspected that I don't share enough in common with Sunday paper travel journalists and Tucson confirmed that for me. Tucson isn't terrible. But it's not that great either. It has this hotel that people rave about called The Congress which is a nice funky boutique hotel but nothing so special. And on 4th Avenue it has an "alternative" neighborhood with hippie shops and food co-ops and bars and the like, but it feels like it hasn't really changed since it got gentrified in the 90s. And about 30% of the shops were closed on the day we visited. It reminded me of visiting a northern English mill town on half day closing back in the 70s.

On the plus side, we did see some Warhols for free at the city art gallery and some original Ansell Adams prints at the University's Center for Creative Photography. Being in the university district made me suspect that the reason the town doesn't feel so energetic is because students have changed. Students seem a lot less radical than they used to be. They seem much more clean cut and focused on careers. Maybe I'm talking crap though. I have nothing to back that up other than the impressions I got from looking at the kids on campus. I'm probably just jealous of their youth and good looks. Part of the problem is that Tucson is really out of the way and overshadowed in size by Phoenix. There is a really nice-looking music venue in town but looking at the listings it seems they get good acts once a month. That's why they can advertise the good acts in street art. It's cool but it also says this town hasn't got enough going on.

Tucson, like Yuma, has more than its fair share of old motels and this time we found a great one.

I'm sure I'm being too hard on Tucson. It's surrounded by amazing landscapes and it did allow us to see Saguaro Cactus. They are the classic ones with protruding arms that animators always put in cartoons set in the west like Deputy Dawg. They only grow in the Sonoran Desert and there are thousands of them alongside I-8. They all look different and can live for up 200 years. It's not as thrilling as seeing an American eagle, but it's as close as plant life gets to giving you that kind of thrill.

The best thing about Tucson though... we stayed in a motel where Elvis once stayed. And it was one of the best motels we've stayed in. Sadly we didn't get to sleep in the King's room. It was already occupied when we checked in. But the Flamingo Motel was just great. I was sold by the history and the sign. But reading the reviews on trip advisor it seems that for some Americans things like that are not a good sign. I guess that's why places like the Holiday Inn Express can charge twice what these old motels charge.

But they can't give you this...

...or a room where Elvis slept.

1 comment:

  1. Tucson is a place where you can't really walk around it's so hot, so everything is geared towards driving. It's a bit nicer towards Saguaro National Park, and the Sonoran Desert north of town is just stunning. Did you at least go to G├╝ero Canelo for food?