Tag Archives: Arizona

Mural on the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum

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In the spring of 2016, I lived briefly in Mesa, Arizona while working nearby. One afternoon after my money job was over for the day, I went downtown to explore the public art. I saw art depicting a Big Pink Chair, a girl reading a book, and a toddler feeding ducks. I really appreciate public art and the way it levels the playing field by allowing everyone from all socio-economic levels to experience and enjoy what others have created.

As I passed the Mesa Arts Center, I saw a huge mural on the wall of the Center’s Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. I didn’t realize at the time that the mural was brand spanking new.

When I did some research on the mural, I got a lot of information about it from a Phoenix New Times article by Lynn Trimble called “El Mac on His New Two-Story Mural at Mesa Arts Center, Inspiration, and Collaboration.”

  • The mural was painted by El Mac, “one of the world’s most noted street artists” who has ties to the Phoenix area but now lives in LA.
  • The woman depicted in the mural is an old friend of the artist.
  • “The mural was done completely with aerosol enamel paint, and a specific type of cap that helps give his work its characteristic pattern of circles and lines” and was completed in March of 2016.

I love the gentle beauty of this mural and the way the color of the rose pops against the dark contours of the woman’s features. I love seeing a woman of color (the model is originally from Guatamala) looming larger-than-life over museum patrons. It’s a lovely piece, and I think it adds some street cred to a part of town which could easily be mistaken to be primarily for white folks.

I took the photos in this post.

 

Random Art in Downtown Mesa, AZ

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Our day in Mesa started at Lost Dutchman Cafe (12 N. Center Street ) where we met a friend of mine who was living in the area. As we left the coffeeshop, Nolagirl spotted two brightly decorated electrical boxes. You know it’s a pretty cool part of town when even the utility hardware is turned into works of art.

I’d been on a self-guided art tour of downtown Mesa in the spring of 2016, and now Nolagirl and I were walking around on Main Street in March of 2018. We’d just left the Sparks! event at the Arts Center, and we were looking for the Big Pink Chair. I love the Big Pink Chair, and I was hoping Nolagirl could take some photos of me sitting in it. During our walk up and down (or was that down and up?) Main Street, we saw several pieces of public art, some I’d seen in 2016 and some brand new.

As we headed to the Arts Center early in the day,  I noticed this Mesa mural painted in the style of an old-school postcard. I particularly like the saguaro and mountain scene painted in the “M.” This mural is across the street from Milano Music Center, and I took some photos while I was standing in front of the music store, but they didn’t look so good. I took this photo in the afternoon when I ened up right in front of the mural.

The artist is Ericka Jaynes, and you can find her on Facebook.

Down the street, we saw another mural I’d admired inthe past. This one is called Mesa Mural.

The way the sun hits it on spring afternoons makes it very difficult to photograph because the lighting is uneven. If I were a better photographer, I’d probably know how to even out the shadows and light. Nolagirl and I decided the best time to capture the mural is probably in the morning, during the golden hour, before the sun and surrounding buildings work together to cast shadows on it.

I’ll go ahead and share my 2016 photo of the mural, even though it’s not perfect.

According to the Waymarking website, the mural is located at 63 W Main Street and the artist is Lauren Lee. Lee’s website says,

This mural was completed in August 2015, commissioned by the City of Mesa and Downtown Mesa Association.

That Sunday afternoon was a good day for murals. Near where Downtown Mesa’s Permanent Sculpture Collection ends, we saw this mural decorating the side of a building. (The mural actually wraps around to the front too.)

I like the wavy, funhouse mirror quality of the scene. Is the fantasy building going to fall down? Will it quiver but continue to stand? Did the building do psychedelics or is it the viewer who’s chemically altered? Maybe the artist was on drugs or maybe the idea for this building came from a fever vision. In any case, I think it’s a fun mural.

An October 2012 article in the East Valley Tribune answers many questions about the mural. The building it graces was once the Eclectic Monkey Emporium, a second-hand clothing store. No drugs were involved in the idea for the mural; the building in the painting is supposed to be melting, as in from the heat. The artists who created this hot but cool mural are R.E. Wall and Margaret Dewar.

Outside the Smith-O-Lator cookie shop (124 West Main Street), two pieces of art decorate two columns in front of the store.

The first was created by public participation during an art event in downtown Mesa. Used 16 oz. plastic water bottles were cut open, painted, then attached close together to look like a patch of flowers growing out of the building. I love the texture (how cool that old plastic bottles can look fluffy!), and I was impressed by how well the color has held up to the Arizona sun and heat.

Next to the installation of water bottle flowers is a painting of a mermaid, or more accurately, half a mermaid.  She is delightful, although I don’t know who painted her or under what circumstances. (When I enlarge the photo, I can see see what appears to be the remnants of letters on the bottom of the painting, but they’re too faint for me to read them.) How does she fit into the landscape of downtown Mesa? Maybe the artist longed for the sea while being stuck in the desert.

Not far down the sidewalk is a painted scene that is a better fit for a desert town. I love that big saguaro reaching up to the cloudy sky and the purple mountains in the background. I also love the sense of anticipation I get from this piece. Is there a storm brewing? Will there be rain?

I can’t tell if the names in the white paint on the bottom right of the piece is the artist’s signature or ramdom tagging. Can anyone solve the mystery of who created this bit of urban art?

The last piece of art I saw as we continued walking on Main Street was an old favorite. I’d first seen it in 2016, which is when I took this photo.

 

The creator of this piece is Kyllan Maney. Her artist statement says

[t]he visual foundation of Kyllan’s work is rooted in scientific illustrations, religious icons, human relationships and inspiration from past and current artists.

I love that the dove is also a map of Mesa. “YOU ARE HERE” the map says, in a place of love and peace. Mesa can be a place of drugs and crime, heat and desperation, but in this piece Maney reminds us that art can be a kind of sanctuary.

I took all the photos in this post.

Dancing with the Lights

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Nolagirl and I were out and about at night in Phoenix, off to see the art of Aileen Frick at a locally owned hotel called FOUND:RE.

We’d discovered Aileen Frick at the Grand Avenue Festival. Actually, Nolagirl discovered her.

She called me over quietly but urgently. You’ve got to see this, she said with excitement in her voice. I joined her in front of a large-scale painting…but wait! It wasn’t just a painting…it was a collage too, but collage in a way I’d never seen done before. Say the artist wanted a tree in her scene. She wouldn’t go through magazines, find an image of a tree, cut it out, and stick it to her canvan. Oh no, not this artist. This artist found different shades of green in magazines, ripped out green bits by hand, then reassembled the paper into a tree! By reading her bio, we learned that later in the process, she painted over and around the images made of paper to tie together all of the elements of her creation. Her finished results were amazing! It was from the bio that we learned the name of the person who created this collage magic: Aileen Frick.

Frick creates large-scale beautiful cityscapes through which featureless people walk while living their ordinary lives. The cities are recognizable to those in the know, and it’s fun to identify places you’re been, but there’s something dream-like about the landscapes too. They’re based in reality, but they’re not quite real.

Image of A Fresh Spin used with permission of Aileen Frick.

From a distance Frick’s pieces look misleadingly like photographs, but upon closer inspection, the viewer can appreciate the time-consuming tearing and matching of colors that went into the work. In some of her creations, words that match the theme of the piece have been discretely included in the scene.

It may be cliché to say I was moved by Frick’s art, but it’s an easy way to explain how I felt. My heart was moved. My brain was moved. My spirit of creativity was moved. Frick’s technique and her end results left me feeling breathless and giddy. Frick’s art inspired me to create, not by copying her but by getting in touch with my own style. I think I had an immdiate crush on Frick’s collage/painting hybrids.

We came around a corner and there was Aileen Frick in the flesh! She was working on a new creation right there in the gallery.

When we walked up, she was talking with another fan. We waited patiently for our turn.

The other woman walked away, and we stood there with Frick and her easel. I tried to stay coherant as I gushed about how much I was enjoying and appreciating her work. She was so friendly and personable and gracious! I wanted to take her and her art home with me. (Of course, I lived in a van, so I had no room for her or her large-scale art. She probably had her own place anyway.)

A few weeks later, Frick posted on her Facebook page information about an upcoming showing of her work at the FOUND:RE hotel in Phoenix. Can we go? Can we go? I asked Nolagirl. She said we could.

FOUND:RE was full of art that night. We saw a lot of good work, inclduing at least a half dozen pieces by Aileen Frick. As a special treat, we got the see the recently completed piece we’d seen her workig on during the Grand Street Festival.

Frick was there too, and she recognized me and Nolagirl. Maybe she didn’t remember when and where we’d met, but she did remember we were fans. She stopped to talk to us and thank us for coming out on opening night. Once again, she was very gracious and kind. Aileen Frick is not just a fantastic artist; she’s also a friendly and sweet person.

A highlight of the evening (in addition to seeing Frick’s art and telling her hello) was when an art dealer tried to sell me and Nolagirl some art. We were looking at some pop art pieces near the bar when a slick-looking man came up to us and started talking about prices. We expressed scant interest, and he wandered away. We agreed we appreciated being mistaken for people who could afford to buy art.

I think we were on our way out when we walked across the lobby and noticed the colorful patterns projected onto the floor. What are those? I wondered. That’s when the lights moved.

We realized quickly that the patterns were motion activated. Our movements made the light patterns move across the floor, then we reacted to the movment of the lights. Soon Nolagirl and I were dancing, skipping, swooping, whirling, and twilrling across the lobby as we played with the lights. It was interactive fun.

Nolagirls says, “This one would drop confetti when you walked/ran/danced through.” That’s me in the upper left of the photo in my red boots and elephant skirt.

I think the guy at the front desk who controlled the projector was amused by us. I’m sure it’s not every day that a couple of middle aged ladies dance through his lobby and play with the lights on the floor like cats going after the red dot of a lazer pointer. Several times he changed the patterns, telling us each time that we would like the new one. He was never wrong.

Nolagirl says this pattern reminds her of Charlie’s Angels. I’m twirling right out of the photo.

A couple of times, tipsy peoiple leaving the bar saw us having fun and joined in our play. They seemed to enjoy themselves too, but soon wandered off to the next stop of the night. Nolagirl and I must have played with those light patterns for twenty or thirty minutes. Finally, we thanked the front desk worker for indulging us, then we too walked out into the night.

As we exited the building, we took the time to take photos of the neon message on the front of the building. “Find Yourself” it commanded. I think we already had.

Thanks to a kind friend who–when Nolagirl and I told her this story–asked why I hadn’t shared it in a blog post. Also, endless gratitude to Nolagirl who’s always up for an adventure and can talk to anyone from the Queen of England to a dirty trainhopper kid with interest and respect. Nolagirl’s friendship makes me brave.

First two photos courtesy of Nolagirl. The last photo was taken by me. Nolagirl also contributed to some of the writing about Aileen Frick’s art.

 

 

 

Little Free Library in Mesa, AZ

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Sometimes I go looking for Little Free Libraries, and sometimes they surprise me. The Little Free Library Nolagirl and I found one Sunday afternoon in Mesa, AZ was a complete surprise.

We were in town for the Spark! event at the Mesa Arts Center. We weren’t surprised to find all the parking spots close to the Arts Center taken, so we had to venture farther to find a place to put the car. Nolagirl settled on the free lot behind the Milano Music Center.

This piano was on the Main Street edge of the pocket park last time I was there.

We can walk through the park with the blocks, she said as we gathered our things and locked the car doors.

I didn’t know what she was talking about until we walked up to the pocket park in the narrow area between two buildings.

Oh, I’ve been here! I said. There was a Play Me, I’m Yours piano the last time I was here.

The piano was gone (all of the Play Me, I’m Yours pianos seem to be gone from Mesa), but the artificial turf and the large, colorful blocks were still there.

Is this grass fake? I asked. Nolagirl said it was, and we both laughed. Why put down fake grass in a pocket park in an alley? Oh, the mysteries of Mesa.

Little Free Library in a pocket park off Main Street in downtown Mesa

I don’t remember who spotted the Little Free Library first, but we were both happy to see it. We’ve gone Little Free Library hunting together; we both think the gift economy of books they facilitate is great.

This Little Free Library in Taos, NM is made from an old newspaper vending machine.

Nolagirl was especially pleased to see this Little Free Library was repurposed from a container that once housed free reading material one often finds in cities. She and her husband are both in the newspaper business, and she said they’ve discussed repurposing discarded metal newspaper boxes into Little Free Libraries. I told her about the Little Free Libraries I’d seen in Taos, NM made from old metal newspaper boxes. Her idea is being implemented!

The Little Free Library in the Mesa pocket park was a renegade. It didn’t have an an official charter sign or charter number. Someone had come up with the the old dispenser and painted “Little Free Library” and “Take a Book or Leave a Book” on it, but hadn’t registered with the Little Free Library organization or paid for a charter sign. I do appreciate the Little Free Library organization, but I also love grassroots efforts done on the cheap, so I love renegadae Little Free Libraries too. It’s not necessary to be registered to get books to the people!

There were several magazines and a few books in this Little Free Library.

(However, registrations does bring benefits, including the option to add the library to the Little Free Library world map which makes it easier for patrons to find and visit the library.)

There were a few book in the library, as well as some back issues of Sports Illustrated. (What a great way to pass on magazines after reading them!) I didn’t need any of the reading material, so I didn’t take anything. I wished I had some books to donate to the library, but all of the books I was ready to part with were in my van. This time my only contribution would be documentation.

I hope the Little Free Library stays in that pocket park for a good long time. I hope folks who find it continue to take books and leave books too.

I took all the photos in this post.

Frida Kahlo Devotionals

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This devotional is called “Frida of the Crown.” I made it from odds and ends given to me or purchased from thrift stores or the Art Resource Center. I didn’t go out and buy anything new (other than glue) for this project. If you love this devotional in a repurposed Altoids tin, it can be yours for only $25, and that includes shipping! (Beware: this piece contains a small amount of added glitter. )

Here’s a Frida Kahlo calendar, NOLAgirl said casually.

The name of this piece is “Frida and the Children.” It’s made from a metal box slightly smaller than an Altoids tin and a litle more square. It costs $25, including shipping.

We were at the Art Resource Center (ARC) in Tempe, AZ. The ARC is a really fantastic nonprofit organization that gets art supplies in the hands of educators. Folks donate any and everything usable by young artists—popsicle sticks, fabric, greeting cards, yogurt containers, busted costume jewelry, yarn, interesting paper—and ARC volunteers give it away to art teachers. Folks who aren’t educators can shop at the ARC too, but folks not involved in teaching young artists pay a small fee or make a donation in exchange for the materials they want to take home to their studios.

Here’s another of the Frida devotionals I made from an Altoids tin and other repurposed materials. You can display this one in your home for only $25, including shipping. This one is called “Frida of the Blues.”

It was our first visit to the ARC, although I’d wanted to go since we’d heard about it at the Practical Arts charity pie night more than a year before. (The ARC is staffed by volunteers, so it has no set hours and is only open when someone is available to unlock the doors.) NOLAgirl humored me while I opened every drawer and poked in every cubby in the place.

This devotional box is called “Frida in the Night.” The tin it’s made with is slightly smaller than an Altoids tin and square. Like all the other Frida Kahlo inspired pieces in this post, all materials used were given to me or acquired at thrift stores or the Art Resource Center. No new materials were purchased for this project. That’s a genuine double-terminated quartz crystal between the two skulls on the bottom right. This lovely little shadow box can be yours for only $25, including shipping.

I got really excited when she handed me the Frida Kahlo calendar. I immediately envisioned cutting out photos of Frida and gluing them into embellished Altoids tines. They’d be like little altars, little shrines. I started thinking of what I wanted to make as “devotionals,” even though Dictionary.com tells me that’s not really what the word means.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I created “Frida (heart) Diego.” It costs only $25, and that includes shipping!

I had a couple of Altoids-style tines, but I knew I’d need more. I put out a call to my friends and posted a request on my Facebook pages. Several people donated tins and a myriad of wonderful small objects (buttons, skulls, jewels) to use for embellishment. At the end of the RTArt Camp, I snagged a bunch of leftover scrapbooking paper that had been donated. The paper was so pretty, but it never would have occurred to me to go out and buy it. Free is such a great price!

This devotional is called “Frida’s Blue House,” and like the others, it costs $25, including shipping.

Although I got my hands on the calendar before Christmas, I didn’t start working on the Frida devotionals until February. Even when I’m unemployed, finding time to make art can be challenging. Writing takes up a huge portion of my life, as does maintaining relationships. I wish I could stay in the house for an entire month and do nothing but create.

This devotional is one of my favorites! I love that crown I put on Frida’s head! It’s called “Hello, It’s Frida,” and costs only $25, including shipping.

“Young Frida” was the first devotional I made. Frida may be a young woman in this one, but already death is watching over her. I love the yellow color scheme of this one and the heart with the strange protruding arms.

This piece is called “Young Frida.” It’s the first Frida Kahlo-inspired devotionals I made. It costs $25, including shipping.

I’m really proud of the tiny Día De Los Muertos skulls present in many of the devotionals. They’re beads I had from my days of making hemp bracelets. While I was house sitting for NOLAgirl over the winter holidays, I decorated the skulls with extra fine Sharpie markers. My hand is barely steady enough for such fine work, but I think they ended up looking quite good.

This one is called “Young Frida and the Butterflies.” My favorite part is the butterfly that has landed on the head of the Día De Los Muertos skull that was, incidentally, hand-decorated by me. This entire devotional was created by me out of an Altoids tin, an old calendar, and odds and ends from thrift stores and gifts. This one-of-a-kind art piece can grace your desk, shelf, or altar for only $25, including shipping.

Of course, my heritage is not Mexican as Frida’s was. Is it weird that a Cajun woman who wasn’t even born when the artist died is now trying to capture her essence in tiny little boxes? Maybe. But I came to this project hoping to honor Frida Kahlo. Frida drank, smoked, laughed, had sex (with men and women, biographers always seem to point out), and cursed at a time when women were expected to be demure and proper. Frida lived by her own rules, and I respect her greatly for living her life the way she wanted to live it. Learning about Frida Kahlo’s art and her life helped to free me to live my life and create my art.

This one is slightly smaller than an Altoids tin (although made of metal) and more square. It’s called “Diego, Frida, and the Big Man.” It’s for sale for $25, including shipping.

Thank you, Frida. I hope I’ve made you proud.

I call this final devotional “Frida the Surrealist.” It costs $25, including shipping.

 

Update on the 2018 RTR

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It’s just not the same, I heard a variety of people say about the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR).

Well, no, it wasn’t the same.

This year wasn’t the same as the first RTR I attended in 2015. That year, the people who’d been attending since the early days of the gathering were complaining—or at least observing—that the RTR wasn’t like it once was.

The biggest change is always the increase in attendance. In 2015, when maybe 100 people were at the RTR, founders of the event remembered fondly when only 40 people attended and everyone sat around the fire together and shared food at community meals.

The community meals were one of my favorite parts of the RTR in 2015 and 2016, but they were left off the schedule in 2017 because the group had grown too large for anyone not experienced in cooking for crowds to prepare soup or chili for everyone. No one stepped up to the challenge, so that avenue of socializing was no longer available to me and others who used the excuse of food as a good reason to gather and mingle.

I’ve heard varying estimates of how many people attended the 2018 RTR. I’m sure Bob Wells put up a video on his You Tube channel where he names a figure. A New York Times article about this year’s Rendezvous said the BLM estimated the number to be over 3,000. Even without knowing exactly how many people attended over ten days, I can tell you, the 2018 RTR was huge!

The RTR was already huge the day before it officially started.

I was working with my friend Coyote Sue to make the RTArt Camp happen. Unfortunately, Coyote Sue was stuck 20 miles up the road with her broke down Class C, so the task of finding the space set aside for the RTArt Camp fell to me. When Coyote Sue contacted the main RTR organizer to say I’d be arriving first, she was told no space was being held for the art camp because when the organizers arrived, early birds had taken the area that was supposed to be for us. (I have no idea if those early birds were asked to move or even told they were parked in an area intended for a planned RTR activity.)

Because no space had been held for the RTArt Camp, The Man and I were tasked with finding a good spot. It was before noon on the day before the gathering began, and people were already packed in pretty close. There was no space to accommodate several rigs plus several tables anywhere near the main seminar area.

I was growing increasingly stressed. I could handle claiming a spot that had been earmarked for me, but finding and staking out a spot on my own was not an easy task. I was really worried about picking a spot Coyote Sue was going to hate. (I shouldn’t have worried. Coyote Sue is always easygoing and believes things work out the way they’re supposed to. She is a pleasure to work with, and I thoroughly enjoyed assisting her with the art camp.)

Thankfully, The Man talked to a guy who gave us the tip to immediately veer to the left after we pulled onto the music camp road. We took his suggestion and found a roomy spot in an area that wasn’t too crowded. The RTArt Camp was about a five minute walk from the main gathering area, but the necessary crossing of a quite deep wash kept some artsy folks, especially folks with disabilities, away.

Coyote Sue and I went to the seminar on the first official day of the RTR to make an announcement about the activities going on at the art camp. Literally hundreds of people were gathered to learn the basics of the RTR in particular and Quartzsite in general. Instead of letting us make our announcement first, Bob made us wait until sometime in the middle of his presentation. I hadn’t planned to stay for the seminar, but because I was there, I got to hear some of what Bob told the masses.

After asking everyone in the audience to turn off their recording devices, he said he wanted to be the only person recording and posting videos of the seminars online. Then he asked people to request permission from other folks before taking their photo or including them in videos. He pointed out that some people are in situations where it is unsafe for their image to appear online, but then said if keeping one’s image off the internet was a matter of life or death, folks in such a situation should probably leave because their safety could not be guaranteed.

Bob went on to talk a lot about how all of us there were part of a tribe and how we should be kind to each other and kind to the earth. He said he was happy to see all of us, whether we’d been on the road for 20 years or if the night before was the first time we’d slept in our car. He said we all needed each other and the most important part of the RTR was meeting people and making friends. It was an inspiring little speech, and I left feeling good, although I was happy enough to get the heck out of there after Coyote Sue and I finally make our announcement.

As in years past, the free pile was a highlight of the RTR for me. This year I was much farther from it than in years past, so I was able to check it less often. Still, I found lots of great stuff, including several bags of mostly glass beads and colorful plastic “jewels.” I took what I wanted and donated the rest to the RTArt Camp. I also got an orange t-shirt, an orange striped cloth tote bag, a bright pair of sneakers, a pair of Minnetonka moccasins (which I immediately lost, never to see again), and an easily rolled up sleeping pad from Land’s End. The Man got a really nice, large backpack (so he left his too-small Kelty backpack in the pile for someone else to enjoy), a Nalgene water bladder backpack, and a warm Carhartt jacket in pretty good condition. Jerico wasn’t left out; we got him a soft bed and a thin blanket so he can sleep comfortably and be covered but not get too hot. I didn’t find as much food as I did in years past, maybe because I was being picky about what I grabbed. (I could have acquired ten pounds of white rice, but I’d rather eat brown.) I did get a hug bag of caramel kettle corn, a can of garbanzo beans, and a jar of vegetable spice.

Privacy did turn out to be a huge concern. For one thing, even in our less densely populated area, there were lots of people. Sometimes after dark it would have been easier to squat outside to pee, but there was too much potential of being seen from the rigs all around. I wasn’t so much shy as concerned with offending people who didn’t want to accidentally see me with my pants down.

About a week into the gathering, an old guy with a drone made camp across a small wash from us. He flew his drone for hours each day. The buzz the device made was irritating, and friends camped nearby reported the man flew the drone right into or hovered over their camps several times. We assumed the drone had a camera, but we didn’t know if he was taking photos or video and if he was, if he then posted the media online.

One evening as I was cooking dinner, a young man walked into our camp with a recording device. Can I record that? he asked as he pointed his device towards the potatoes frying in the cast iron skillet.

Sure, I said, as long as you don’t record me.

I found out later that he did record me. He recorded me saying don’t record me, and put my face up on the internet saying those very words.

He apparently was recording other women too, voicing over disparaging comments about the women, then sharing those videos on the internet. My friends said he was also recording the seminars and posting them online along with his comments, despite Bob’s request that folks not record and post the seminars. When my friend contacted the RTR organizers to let them know what this guy was doing, she was told don’t let it bother you. I understand if the organizers felt there was nothing they could do to stop the guy (although I don’t know if any of the organizers sought him out to discuss his behavior), but the response of don’t let it bother you seemed to me and my friends as if the concerns weren’t being taken seriously.

One afternoon a woman approached the RTArt Camp table with her camera pointed at us. When Coyote Sue told her not everyone sitting there wanted to be in the photo, the woman went on a diatribe about how we were at a public event and we couldn’t expect privacy. She said at a public event, anyone could legally take our photos. She went on to say she understood our concern because someone had tried to film an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting she’d been in at the RTR, and she’d had to shut that down.

The facilitator of the women’s meeting asked that no on record the meeting (video or audio) or take photos of the folks there. Hopefully, no one disregarded her request. She also asked that if and when men approached the group, someone get up and gently explain a women-only meeting was taking place. Instead, the men who approached the group were met with shouts and jeers. They know. They know, women muttered when men approached, believing men where purposely trying to eavesdrop and infringe on our privacy. Maybe that was the case with a few of the handful of men who walked up to our group, but I think most were just clueless. It would have been kinder—and far less disruptive to our group—if, as the facilitator had requested, one woman had quietly stood up, explained to the interloper what was happening, and requested he leave.

The first women’s meeting was huge, by the way. There must have been two or three hundred women there. The facilitator reported it was the first RTR women’s meeting where everyone in attendance did not get the opportunity to speak. Instead, new women introduced themselves, then women with lots of experience introduced themselves.  After an hour of introductions, the large group broke up to give everyone a chance to mingle. I mingled by carrying Lady Nell’s chair back to her camp and then helping some women with disabilities coordinate rides. I’m not very good at mingling with strangers.

So no, the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous is not the same. It will never be what it once was. It was a backyard picnic and now [it’s a] state fair, Auntie M said about the RTR. I think the gathering can still be a good place for people to learn how to live nomadically, and—probably more importantly—meet other nomads. For folks who don’t mind crowds and the possibility of having their faces recorded and shared on the internet at every turn, the RTR can be a great place to learn and network. However, I’m pretty sure my RTR days are over.

Mesa Pioneer Monument

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Pioneers in Mesa’s Pioneer Park

The last time I lived in Mesa, AZ, I visited the city’s Pioneer Park at 26 E Main Street. Near the southern entrance to the park is the Pioneer Monument.

In an article on the website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints titled “Statue Honoring Arizona Pioneers Dedicated,” the history of the statue is told. In the mid-80s, sculptor Claude Pomeroy was in Pioneer Park and heard someone suggest its name be changed to Rose Garden Park. Pomeroy

decided to make sure Mesa’s residents didn’t forget their colorful pioneer heritage.

[T]he four leaders of the First Mesa Company of 1878 [are] depicted by the statue.

Charles I. Robson, George W. Sirrine, Charles Crismon, and the sculptor’s grandfather, Francis Martin Pomeroy, were portrayed holding the tools they labored with: a shovel, a gun, a spirit level, and a map of the townsite.

A woman and a boy, referred to in the article as well as on the plaque on display with the sculpture only as “mother and child” are behind the male settlers. I suppose this means the women and the children present during this time in Mesa’s history are not real pioneers, they’re more of an afterthought, those whose places are behind the real (male) pioneers. I supppose this means only the men and their work were important.

Did the sculptor not know of any real women and children of the time to base his work on? Perhaps he could have used his own grandmother as a pioneer model, as he used his grandfather.

Surely Pomeroy could have included female pioneers in his work if he had chosen to. The women could have been portrayed holding the tools they labored with: a butter churn perhaps, an iron, a spoon and cooking pot, a needle and thread. Women’s work has always been important and it’s terrible that history and artists like Pomeroy have ignored that work.

I apologize to the unnamed pioneer woman pictured here for relegating her to the shadows. My arm placement was rather unfortunate in light of my desire to have the pioneer women of Mesa given their due.

Am I surprised that a piece of public art made by a artist who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and depicting people of the same religion relegate a woman and child to the back of the crowd? Am I surprised that female ancestors are not given the same respect as male ancestors? Am I surprised the ratio of men to women in the statue is 4 to 1? Am I surprised that women and their work are mostly ignored? I’m not surprised by any of those facts, but I am still disappointed.

A second plaque on display with the sculpture does a better job of being inclusive. It states,

This monument is dedicated to the founding men, women, and children of Mesa whose efforts, with others of all races, religions, and cultures, changed a harsh desert land into this vibrant cit of today.

I would like to see another artist come along and get a grant from the city to make a second monument for the park. In the new monument, women would stand tall and proud next to their husbands and sons, fathers and brothers. The new statue could be called Women Were Pioneers Too, and the women depicted could stand with a butter churn, a spoon and cooking pot, a needle and thread, and an iron.

While I’m wishing, I’d also like to see a third piece of art, this one depicting the men and women native to the area, as well as the

others of all races, religions, and cultures, [who] changed a harsh desert land into this vibrant cit of today…

mentioned earlier. It’s time to stop honoring only the white people (usually men) who came into an area and made it their own. If we’re going to honor people, we need to be diverse and inclusive.

I took the photos in this post.

Free Camping Near Kingman, AZ

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I was making the trip from Las Vegas, NV to Phoenix in early December 2016, and I considered an overnight stop somewhere in between. I got on the Free Campsites website to look for a place and found a listing for a spot on Highway 93 east just before Kingman. The listing didn’t say who administered the land. BLM? Forest Service? Department of Transportation? No clue.

I ended up getting an early start the morning I left Vegas. Even with a stop at the Taco Bell in Boulder City for coffee and breakfast burritos, I was still on target to hit Kingman early in the day. I decided I didn’t really want to boondock just for the sake of boondocking. Besides, I was wide awake from the coffee. I knew I could easily make it all the way to Phoenix well before dark.

However, since I was passing right by the free camping spot, I thought I’d stop there and see how it looked.

Just as I’d seen during my Google Maps research, there is a turn lane with giant arrows leading right to the camping area. It’s the only big turn lane with arrows I noticed that wasn’t either in a town or leading to some business. This turn lane must often make drivers wonder, Where the heck does this go?

When I pulled in, I saw a small sign saying the area is a  Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund Project. I saw no signs saying people couldn’t camp there or park overnight.

According to the Arizona Heritage Alliance web page,

Formed in 1992, the Arizona Heritage Alliance is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is guided by a Board of Directors drawn from a broad base of outdoor sports, environmental conservation, and historic preservation organizations that helped pass the 1990 statewide voter initiative creating the Heritage Fund.

Our mission is to preserve and enhance Arizona’s historic, cultural and natural heritage.  We accomplish our mission by actively:

  • Protecting the integrity and voter intent of the Game and Fish Heritage Funds.
  • Monitoring state legislative and agency activity.
  • Pursuing sustainable and dedicated funding sources for Arizona’s historic, cultural and natural initiatives, programs and activities.
  • Educating people of Arizona about the benefits of Arizona’s wildlife, open space, parks and historic and cultural resources.

The area does have a pit toilet in one of those Forest Service style buildings (known as a CXT in the pit toilet business), but I didn’t get out of the van to check on cleanliness and toilet paper availability.

There are no actual campsites in this area. There’s a strip of road to drive on, and it seems people can park their rigs anywhere off the roadway. When I passed through, there was one camper parked to the side of the roadway near the entrance, so yes, people do boondock there.

I don’t remember seeing a water spigot or a trashcan in the area. If I were going to stay in this spot, I would plan to bring water and pack out trash.

This photo shows a view from the camping area.

The area is not super beautiful, but it’s pretty for a desert region right off a highway. Because it is a desert, there aren’t many trees, which means not much shade. This spot would probably be nice in winter, but hot as hell in the summer.

This spot would be good for boondocking if a driver wanted to stop overnight on a trip between Vegas and Phoenix or if someone wanted to explore the Kingman area.

I thought maybe next time I traveled on Highway 93, I’d actually spend the night in this area, but an April 2017 review on the Free Campsites webpage says it is “is soon to be made into day use only.” I’ll check it out next time I pass by, then issue a full report.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

The Water Knife (A Book Review)

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The Water Knife
I first heard of the novel The Water Knife (set in the American Southwest, primarily in Phoenix, AZ from a blurb in Sunset magazine (http://www.sunset.com/). The description intrigued me, and I wanted to read the book. Thanks to a kind BookMooch (http://bookmooch.com/) member, I had my chance.

In author Paolo Bacigalupi’s Phoenix, water is precious and scarce, and society is divided according to who has it and who doesn’t. The rich have water, of course, The rich live in lavish “arcologies” where all waste water is sceientifically filtered clean and reused. The rich have plenty of water to drink, can bathe whenever they want, have their clothes cleaned regularly, and even use flush toilets. The poor have limited water resources. The poor live in squats built from salvaged materials or abandoned houses; neither type of housing has running water. The poor buy their water one gallon at a time from pumps with fluctuating prices. The poor are dusty dirty because they can rarely shower or wash their clothes. Needless to say, there are no flush toilets for the Phoenix poor.

Not every place in this distopia Southwest has the water problems Phoenix does. Things are much worse in Texas, and refugees have poured into Arizona via New Mexico. The good people of New Mexico wanted nothing to do with Texas regugees and sent them on their way, sometimes violently. Life isn’t so hard in California and Nevada, and those states want to keep it that way by limiting who crosses their borders to use their limited resources. In this world, coyotes still guide people across borders, but the borders crossed are into states with water.

The most important thing in this world are water rights, and the water knife of the title makes sure his boss gets the water rights she needs to stay wealthy and priviliged.

There’s a lot of dark action in this book: shooting, torture, murder, death. Young women (called “bangbang girls,” usually Texans) sell their bodies for money and, hopefully, the chance to wash their panties in the sink while the rich man sleeps. A man who controls a neighborhood and demands a percentage of the money the area residents earn uses hyenas as part of his enforcement plan. Dams are blown up and precious water is diverted. People are tortured for answers. This book is so dark, in fact, that I put it aside for four months after reading the first nine chapters. The book was good, but it had me on edge, knowing all the characters were facing terrible fates. When I picked it up the second time, I must have been in a better state of mind, because I was able to enjoy the story without letting the violence get to me.

The action of the novel just keeps coming. I enjoyed the suspense of not knowing what would happen next or who would doublecross whom. I did, however, figure out the story’s key mystery long before the characters did. (Of course, I had a big picture view the characters were lacking.)

I also enjoyed the characters. I was pleased to see two of the three main characters through whose eyes the story is told are women. The women aren’t damsels-in-distress women either, but strong, ass-kicking, gonna do what has to be done women. Even though the book is primarily an action/adventure/mystery story, there is also character development, which I appreciated.

The social problems the book examines are not easy to look at. What happenes when modern life as we know it breaks down? What happens when one of humankind’s most basic, most necessary resources becomes so scare people are willing to kill for it? What happens when the environment changes to the point people may no longer be able to survive on the surface of the earth? The Water Knife raises these questions and offers only bleak answers.

Still, I’m glad I read this novel. It was difficult to get through some parts of it, but those hard parts really made the story ring true. It’s a good book, but maybe not for readers who can’t handle the dark side of humanity.

Traveling Kids in Flagstaff

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We left the Sonoran Desert and headed north on I-17. Three hours and an almost 5,800-foot increase in elevation later, we were in Flagstaff. The 68-degree air sure felt better than the desert heat.

Our plan had been to spend a couple of days in Sedona, spend a couple days in Flagstaff, then go to the Grand Canyon during one fo the weekends when National Park visits were free. I hadn’t seen the Grand Canyon since I was a teenager, and The Man had never visited the natural wonder, so we were both excited.

We ended up bypassing Sedona, itching to get to Flagstaff, but things didn’t turn out quite the way we’d hoped.

When The Man had been in Flagstaff a few months before, he’d stumbled upon the Whole Foods dumpster. He’s been telling me about all the delicious “made fresh daily” food that had been thrown out because the day was over. Sushi–sandwiches–wraps–I’d been salivating over tales of those delicacies since we met.

We’d been at McDonald’s using the free WiFi, and it was dark when we set out for Whole Foods. Several roads came together in a weird way (thanks for that, city planners!), and I missed a turn. We ended up in some dark residential area, and The Man said, Let me drive! so we switched places. But I didn’t know how to use the GPS function on Google Maps, and we ended up switching places again. It was as close as we’d come to having a fight.

For me, it was like so many other nights when I’d gotten me and my ex lost in the dark and my ex yelled at and berated me. Of course, The Man was neither yelling at nor berating me. He was exasperated but not taking it out on me, but tell that to my brain. My brain had gone to a dark place where memory and current reality are all intertwined, and it’s difficult to remember then is not now.

A combination of what The Man remembered from his previous time in Flagstaff and the Google Maps GPS lady guided us into the Whole Foods parking lot. I pulled the van into a space and killed the engine. Here we were!

We looked over at the dumpster, clearly in view on the left side of the store. We were disappointed–nay, dismayed– to find the dumpster was now barricaded behind locked gates. WTF? We knew good food–delicious food!–was going to waste back there.

We walked over to the dumpster area anyway. The Man sized it up. He could step there and jump over the wall…but my heart wasn’t really in it, and I don’t think his was either. By the time we made it back to the van, he was asking if I really wanted to do this.

Maybe we should wait until the store closes, I said.

Maybe we should wait until all the employees go home, he said.

The store wouldn’t be empty for another couple of hours, and frankly, I was just tired. Then The Man muttered, I don’t really want to go to jail over this tonight, and the endeavor was called off as far as I was concerned. When people start worrying about going to jail, all fun’s gone out of an activity for me.

We decided to go to Taco Bell.

From there we used the GPS lady to try to find Forest Service land right outside of town where we could stay for free. We got close, but the GPS was a little off and sent us down a private driveway. We ended up pulling off on the side of the highway and switching places again. The Man found the spot, which was little like a campground (no toilets–flush or otherwise, no trashcans, no nothing) and more like wide spots on the side of short, narrow paved areas near a trailhead. The Man parked the van, and we went to bed. I slept poorly, waking up multiple times in the night feeling frustrated and useless, wondering if anything about my life was a good idea.

The view from the windshield of the trees that helped me breathe.

The next morning was a brighter day. The Man and I were tentative with each other, careful, but no one was issuing ultimatums or asking to call off the romance.

The spot where we’d parked was beautiful. We were surrounded by tall, tall evergreen trees, the first I’d seen since I left California six months before. Those trees helped me breathe a little easier.

We went back to McDonald’s to use the internet again to try to figure out our next moves. Nothing was clicking. Nothing seemed right. At some point, we admitted to each other that we both really wanted was to go back to New Mexico.

You realize the Grand Canyon is only 75 miles away? I asked The Man.

The Grand Canyon will always be there, he said. Let’s go home.

We decided to go downtown first, check out the library lawn where traveling kids and others proper society sorts tend to view as riffraff congregate. No one interesting was hanging out there, so we started walking through the “cool” part of town where college kids go at night to drink in bars. We came upon Heritage Square, where some folks were drumming and a man and a woman were sitting out with the kind of cases traveling kids use to carry their handmade jewelry and shiny rocks. Sure enough, when we got up close, we saw each of them making beautiful, intricate pendants from wire and stones. The four of us started talking about shiny rocks and Quartzsite and drugs and traveling and selling handmade jewelry. Either The Man or I mentioned we were soon heading to Northern New Mexico. Within five minutes, the traveling man asked if they could go with us.

They both had gentle, peaceful energy. Neither of them had said a single sketchy thing. I quickly decided I wouldn’t mind having them in my van. The Man and I glanced at each other and silently communicated yes.

Sure, y’all can come with us, one or the other of us said.

We sat there a while more, talked rocks more, listened to more drumming, decided to leave in fifteen minutes, at three o’clock.

The kids had been crisscrossing the Southwest on foot, hitchhiking, driving when they’d had a vehicle. They’d had a car, but they’d traded it. They’d had a van, but the engine had seized. I cried when that happened, the fellow admitted to me.

We’d all been in Quartzsite at the same time, but neither The Man nor I had run into them. They’d made it to Truth or Consequences, and we may have overlapped there too. They’d been riding with a couple of heavy drinkers and had gone to Sedona with them, but the day before they’d decided they were done with the drunken antics and had hitched to Flagstaff. They were enjoying Flagstaff but were excited to go to Northern New Mexico where they had never been.

It was closer to four o’clock by the time we put gas in the tank and headed east on I-40. I drove and drove and drove while The Man and the passengers (mostly the guy) talked. He was 26 (a lot younger than I’d thought) and had gorwn up in foster care. He’d only met his father once.

His best story was how he was kicked out of the Army for “failure to adapt!” Failure to adapt! Sounds like the story of most of my life!

The view when we passed from Arizona into New Mexico was so beautiful in the early evening light. I should have stopped and taken photos, but at the time I was hellbent on getting us home.

It wasn’t quite dark when we got to Gallup. I navigated the strange exit and got us to the Wal-Mart where The Man and I were getting hummus and crackers for dinner, and he was looking for a knife to replace the one he’d lost to the Sonoran Desert. We grabbed the food, and he found a knife he wanted locked in a case in the sporting goods department, but we had to wait an eternity for the one employee in the area to unlock the case and accept our payment. We had a great time waiting in line, dancing to the 80s music playing over the PA system and laughing together. It was as if the struggles of the night before had never happened.

When we finally got out of Wal-Mart, night had fallen. The traveling kids had gotten some dinner at Carl’s Jr. I drank deeply of the iced tea in my bottle, then got us back on the road.

I drove and drove and drove, then had to stop at a casino outside of Albuquerque for a restroom break. I still thought I’d get us north of Santa Fe that night.

I made it through Albuquerque, but the long, dark stretch of Interstate 25  between that town and Santa Fe really took its toll on me. I was tired. I started thinking it would probably be ok for me to close my eyes and rest for just a little while.

I pulled into the casino between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Couldn’t we sleep here for a few hours?

Well, there wasn’t room in the van for all of us to sleep, and while the traveling kids were accustomed to rolling out their sleeping bags and spending the night in the bushes, casinos were not very good places for that. We get kicked out of casino property,  the traveling woman said.

I knew there was a rest area just before we got to Sant Fe. Surely the kids could find some bushes to sleep in there. The problem would be keeping my eyes open.

I powered on, forced myself to stay awake. Just a little further. Just a little further, I told myself.

Finally, there it was–the rest area–our home for the night. We’d made it.

The kids grabbed their packs and tumbled out to find their spot. I brushed my teeth under the harsh parking lot light. Then The Man and I climbed into bed, snuggled, slept.

The Man and I are early risers, so we were up before the kids. They were still dead asleep when I walked over to let them know we were ready to leave. We were on the road again shortly. It was much easier to drive in the daylight.

I drove those kids right out to the Bridge, told them how things worked out there. They said they’d go back to sell their pendants of stoned wrapped in wire.

Back in town, we parted in the supermarket parking lot. I was sad to see them go, but one thing I’ve learned is that a traveling kid can’t be held onto.