Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California.

Taking the High Speed Rail from Phoenix to Los Angeles in the future


As of this writing, Fall of 2016, you can't take a "Bullet Train" from Phoenix to Los Angeles. But I know that it will happen, so I'm planning ahead.

I live in Phoenix, and I love visiting LA, but it's miserable getting there. I've driven it (which is boring and awful), and nowadays I fly (and dealing with airports is miserable and awful). And while the future of high speed transportation when I was a kid was in the air, now it's on the ground.

If you've ever flown on a commercial plane from Phoenix to Los Angeles, you know that you barely have time to eat those delicious honey-roasted peanuts before you hear the pilot saying "We're about to land..." So the time time in the air is short, but the time at the airport is ridiculously long. And that's because it's an old, antiquated, adapted system that took into account the convenience of airplanes, but forgot all about how people move. You have to arrive at an airport an hour or two before the plane takes off, and then stand in line, herded like cattle. I know that they're doing the best they can, but it still sucks.

I'm sure that future generations will wonder what people nowadays were thinking.

In my fairly long lifetime, I've never ridden on a train. I've seen people do it in movies, and I've read about it in books. It works like this, you go to a station, buy a ticket, and get on the train. Actually, I've been on the Light Rail here in Phoenix, and it's just amazing. You just walk on, with your ticket in hand, and the train takes you somewhere. You don't stand in line, you don't have to have a "boarding pass", you don't have to look at what number you're supposed to be, you just go. There are multiple doors that open wide so that a lot of people can get on and off at the same time.

It seems like a wild fantasy for me to imagine getting into a train like that in Phoenix, and riding all of the way to Los Angeles. No boarding passes with the number and section that I need to figure out, no need to arrive two hours before the train arrives (although I'd get there early to get a good seat), no stopping at every little town along the way (like Greyhound busses do - yuk!).

I'm looking forward to riding the train to Los Angeles. I'm practicing here in Phoenix by riding the Light Rail, and the Sky Train.

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Riding the Sky Train, Phoenix, Arizona


I rode the Sky Train at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix yesterday. No, I didn't need to fly anywhere, I just wanted to ride on the Sky Train. It's free, it's fun, and it has the greatest views of my favorite city that I've ever seen. And if you want the sense that Phoenix has finally arrived in the 21st Century, go see the Sky Train. It's amazing.

The Sky Train has been in operation since 2013, but everything is so new and squeaky-clean that it looks like something from a science fiction movie. The main station, which is just south of Washington on 42nd Street, is where cars and busses pick up and drop off people, and it connects with a "people mover" which is right on 44th Street and Washington, which is just a few steps from the Light Rail.

And it's all about steps. If you're like me, and think mostly of cars, and parking, and stuff like that, it takes a completely different way of thinking. Walk with me.

Interior space of the Sky Train Station, Phoenix, Arizona

My impression of the Sky Train Station was that it reminded me of every science fiction movie that I've ever seen where people are walking around, and space ships are flying by outside of a star port. Of course, in science fiction movies, the people just take for granted the space ships flying by, and it was the same yesterday at Sky Harbor Airport. Of course I was gawking at the sky trains, and the airplanes flying by, but for most people it was as ordinary as being in an elevator.

If you haven't ridden on the Sky Train, it may seem like the tracks are going all over the place, in no particular direction, but they're really going east and west from one side of the airport to the other. Of course, they have to go south a bit to get to the middle of things, but ultimately all it's doing is going back and forth, east and west, stopping at the terminals, and the big parking garage that's east of the terminals.

By the way, the Sky Train is for standing. There are a couple of seats there on the ends, but mostly the trip is over so soon that there's really no point in sitting down. The train moves pretty fast, and I found that I had to hold on to the rails (well, I have a weak ankle!), and I saw that most people were very comfortable standing for the few minutes it took for the Sky Train to take them to their destination. Everyone (except me) had their rolling bags (you know, the kind that fit on the overhead bins), and since the Sky Train is like the light rail, when the doors open, the floor is seamless to the building and the train, with no step, so rolling bags are easy to roll.

When the Sky Train gets to terminal 3, it goes back. It doesn't need to turn around - it just backs up. So going west I was in the back of the train, and going east I was in the front. I didn't time exactly how often the trains run, but you really don't wait more than about two minutes. And it took about five minutes to get from the station to terminal 3. Just about long enough for me to gawk at the view, and for my fellow travelers to check their phones.

By the way, terminal 2 is in the way of the Sky Train, so they'll have to figure out what to do in order for it to get all of the way to 24th Street, which right now is the plan. Of course, there isn't a terminal 1 anymore, and the most people use terminals 3 and 4, so there's no urgent need to continue construction going west, and it may or may not happen. I'll let you know what I find out.

Thank you for riding on the Sky Train with me!

The Phoenix Sky Train "people mover" bridge over Washington at 44th Street. The Sky Train Station is at left, behind those trees. You're looking west from the Light Rail Station.


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Time-traveling with the murals of Venice, California


My memories of living in Los Angeles in the 1980s are hazy, especially going to the beach, but I must have visited Venice, because I remember the murals.

Yeah, I know that Venice has a lot of murals, but the ones that I'm talking about were glimpses into the past. They were paintings of what the artist was looking at at the time, and all you had to do to time-travel was to look at the mural, and then turn around.

I really have no idea if any of those old murals have survived, and my ten-minute research on Google images has proved inconclusive. I can't imagine that any of them are still there - they were decades old when I saw them, back in the 1980s.

When the artists painted those murals, they were painting the most ordinary stuff they could see - literally what was right in front of them. And over the years those ordinary images became extraordinary. And I believe that the ordinary photos that people are taking right now, and posting on Instagram or Facebook, will become just as extraordinary. And hopefully they will be saved.

Of course, just paintings of old streets aren't all that amazing. What was amazing was to stand there, look at the mural, and turn around. I did some of my best time-traveling in Venice.


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Los Angeles, and the never-ending sound of car alarms in the 1980s


When I lived in Los Angeles in the 1980s, there was the continuous sound of car alarms. Whether they were off in the distance, or nearby, it was 24/7. It never, ever, stopped. Never, ever. Day and night.

When I tell people about the continuous sound of car alarms, they usually imagine that it's a disturbing sound, but it wasn't. It was like the sound of a river that's always flowing, or the sound of waves crashing, or the sound of traffic that stays steady. You hear it at first, you get used to it, then you don't hear it anymore.

Of course, if a car alarm went off in the parking lot of my apartment complex, it would get your attention. Nowadays car alarms stop automatically after a few minutes, but that wasn't the case in the 1980s. I have a distinct memory of standing around with the crowd of people at about three am, looking at a van which had been blaring for hours. Even the police couldn't do anything. We all stood there staring at it. We couldn't talk to each other, it was too loud. After several hours it would wear out the battery, but that was about it. I remember seeing a tough guy kick a nice dent in the door of the van (no, not while the police were there!) and was surprised to find how easily doors dented. I suppose the person who owned the van returned to it to find the battery dead and the door dented, and had no idea what happened!

In a long life, surrounded by cars, I've never seen a car alarm that hadn't been set off by accident. Mine will go off in my garage if I grab my car key fob the wrong way, or if it gets squeezed in my pocket. And thankfully, the old "motion sensor" car alarms (which often went off when it was windy) are long gone. And hopefully the day will come when there won't be the sound of car alarms anymore, and car alarms will be outlawed.

When I left Los Angeles, my goal was to buy a house in a nice quiet suburb of Phoenix, which I did. I'm writing this on a Saturday morning, with all of the windows open, and there isn't a sound of car alarm to be heard. I can hear birds chirping, and it sounds like someone is working on something in their garage, or in their backyard.

Image at the top of this post: Warner Center, Woodland Hills, California in 1989.



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Why Arizona's Indigenous Peoples Day isn't called Native American Day


Although I'm a stickler for facts, I'm inclined to often use the phrase "I know what you mean". That is, I'm not going to argue small details of syntax. So if you describe someone as being a Native American, I know what you mean - it's a person who is descended from the tribes of people who lived in America before the arrival of Columbus.

But in reality, the definition of being a native just means that a person was born somewhere. I'm a native American, because I was born in America. In Minneapolis, to be precise. If I had been born in Italy, I'd be a native Italian. That's really what the word "native" means.

And that's just one of the problems with the word "native". It also carries some historically-unflattering connotations, which as "going native" or "the natives are friendly". OK, I'll stop now, you see what I mean.

So while Native American is OK, Indigenous Peoples is much more dignified. And it applies to anywhere in the world where there is the culture of people who go back to before the time of the discoveries of the 15th Century.

The story of mankind is one of continuous conquest. After a long time, the edges get blurred. Speaking for myself, I'm sure that my ancestors in Britain would have deeply resented the intrusion of the Romans. And they probably resented being called "Britains", as it was a name given to them by their conquerers. I don't know what they called themselves, but my best guess is that they were "the people."

If you're interested in the story of the tribes in the place now known as Arizona, my recommendation is to read about the Pimas, the Maricopas, and the Apaches. There are books that were written when Geronimo was still alive. It's a very complex story, and if you want to begin to understand, like I'm trying to, you'll invest the time and effort. It's one way of showing respect.

Image at the top of this post: Maricopa Chief Cotoc and his wife in 1916


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Car scale vs. human scale in Phoenix, Arizona


I live in suburban Phoenix, in a neighborhood built in the 1980s designed around cars. Yes, there are sidewalks, but they're an afterthought. I've seen people try to walk on them, and they just look kinda sad. I see children walking, and riding bikes, even people in wheelchairs in my neighborhood but it just looks like they're hugging the edge of a freeway. This is a car neighborhood. But Phoenix is about to change - cars are on their way out, much to the dismay of the old-timers.

Like a lot of men my age, I have a fascination with cars. I describe my life based on the cars I've owned. I've spent a lot of time driving them, a lot of money repairing them. I read Road & Track and Car & Driver. In fact, I bought the house that I'm in mostly because I wanted a garage for my car. Like most of the houses around here, the garage is the most prominent feature. There's a driveway, a garage door, and back there, somewhere, is a house. There's no front porch, and just a bare minimum of front yard. I remember the first time I saw this house and how thrilled I was to have a place for my car.

The first time that I noticed "car scale" as opposed to "human scale" was while I was on a business trip in Southern California. It was some modern 1980s building, I don't remember exactly where, and I excused myself from a meeting to walk over to the McDonald's that I saw across the street. When I walked out of the building, there was nowhere for humans, just a driveway. When I got across the street there was a wall where I wanted to walk. I looked over and saw that the driveway to the entrance was a few hundred feet away, so I climbed over the wall, because the building was just a few feet away from me. Yes, in my dress clothes. I remember feeling so stupid. But it wasn't me that it was stupid, it was the design that was stupid - and ignorant that people are human-sized.

And since then I've watched people struggle with dealing with "car scale", especially in Phoenix. Inside of a car, people are fine. If they can be dropped off in front of a building, it's wonderful. If they need to, or want to, walk, they have to look out for trucks backing towards them, for cars that can't see them.

Cars and people walking don't mix. I've seen people with children walking behind cars that are backing up in parking lots. This isn't an accident waiting to happen, this is an inevitable waiting to happen. We don't need more careful pedestrians, or more alert drivers, we need better design. Human scale.


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The end of Ichabod, the tree, in downtown Phoenix in 1929


I don't have a photo of Ichabod. I don't suppose anyone thought that it was worthwhile to take a photo of an old tree in downtown Phoenix in 1929. And of course it had to go, as progress was marching forward, and Phoenix was booming. But people remember.

Ichabad was an old eucalyptus tree behind the Occidental Boarding House. The Occidental was just across the alley from the Heard Building, which is still there, between Adams and Monroe on Central.

In Uncle Billy Reminisces: The Story Of A Newspaper by J. W. Spear, the alley is described as "Our Alley". It's also been called Melinda's Alley and Adams Alley. And although alleys nowadays are places for garbage bins, in old-time Phoenix, they were places where people lived, and walked.



When the Craig Building, which is still there, was built in 1929, the old Occidental, and Ichabod, had to go. And the alley became what we think of as an alley nowadays, a place where people go only for maintenance of buildings, to put out the trash, that sort of thing. But I like to imagine the time when people would relax under the shade of that tree.

Central Avenue between Adams and Monroe in 1922. That's the Heard Building on the left. If you walked down the alley, you would see Ichabod, behind the Occidental.


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Two girls for every boy in Los Angeles, California


If you're a fan of Jan and Dean, you may remember their 1960s song called "Surf City". It's a catchy tune, and the refrain includes the phrase "two girls for every boy", which indicated how wonderful Surf City was to them. The song was written by Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys.

Brian lived in the Los Angeles area, and aside from the cheerfulness of the song, there's a sinister note that for girls interested in romance, they were going to have a lot of competition. Good for the boys, not so good for the girls!

I moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s, and it was still Surf City. You know, two girls for every boy, probably even more. And from what I understand, this imbalance remains to this day.

For a young man in Los Angeles, of course, this was wonderful for me. Like the song says, "All you gotta do is wink your eye!"

Of course, for the women who who looking to find a good man, the pickings were kinda slim. Before I met my girlfriend, I remember going to a "dance party" that was held every month by one of our female sales reps. She was happily affianced, but she had a lot of girlfriends who just couldn't seem to meet any decent guys. So she (the sales rep) would look for single men (like me) and invite them to the party.

Walking into a roomful of hopeful women may seem like a male fantasy, but for me it's one of the saddest memories of my life. I remember the girls - decent, good-looking girls, and they had long since given up being subtle about what they wanted. They wanted a man, for romance, for love, for commitment, for marriage, for a family, for life.

Los Angeles is a wonderful place, but I know that a lot of women had to settle for what they could find. That's because there were two girls for every boy.

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The history of Phoenix, Arizona, including prostitutes


My interest in the history of Phoenix, Arizona has lately got me thinking about prostitutes. And since a city is made up of all of the people who live there, to fully understand Phoenix, you have to include these people.

Recently, while out history adventuring with a friend of mine, as we drove along looking at historic buildings, I saw someone who looked like a prostitute. Now waitaminute, I'm not saying that she was, but her clothing wasn't exactly typical for a young woman walking around Phoenix. I'm no expert on women's fashions in the 21st Century, but everything from her vinyl-looking miniskirt to a tube top that probably should have been several sizes larger, seemed to express "prostitute".

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As respectable middle-aged guys, of course, we turned our eyes away. Then I looked again. I wondered how old she was? Maybe 20s, maybe 30s? And then I thought that she's someone's daughter, someone who lives in Phoenix, someone who works there.

There have been thousands of people in Phoenix who have been prostitutes. When I first moved to Phoenix, people who mentioned Van Buren were tacitly implying prostitution. I don't know if that's true anymore, but I still hesitate to say Van Buren too loudly out in public.

Female Boarding buildings on Melinda's Alley in 1893. 1st Street (Montezuma) between Monroe and Adams, Phoenix, Arizona. From a Sanborn map.

The original "Red Light District" - which is where the prostitutes were - in Phoenix was Melinda's Alley, which was an alley that ran east and west between Monroe and Adams. The prostitutes were mostly in the area around 1st Street. And there were a lot of them - so many that if you look at old Sanborn fire insurance maps, you will see the buildings described (rather neatly) as "Female Boarding".

So, the next time someone tells you about an area that had prostitutes, you can say, "Yeah, I know, it's part of the history of Phoenix".

Image at the top of this post: Looking northeast over Melinda's Alley in the 1890s, 1st Street just south of Monroe, Phoenix, Arizona. The long L-shaped building is where the prostitutes were.

Why Arizona doesn't have Daylight Saving Time


Like most people, I have no idea what Daylight Saving Time is all about, and what it's for. But I have a special reason for my ignorance - I live in Arizona.

Arizona doesn't do Daylight Saving Time. Well, it's used on the Navajo Res I just read, but otherwise here in Phoenix it's always Mountain Standard Time, spring, summer, winter, or fall. And I just take it for granted, among all of the other things I love about living in Arizona.

I assumed that Arizona just never "got with the program", and was surprised to find that it actually tried it, back in the 1960s. I have a neighbor who remembers it. Apparently it was tried for a couple of years, and failed miserably.

The reason has to do with the fact that it's very hot in Phoenix. There's no need to add additional hours of sunlight in order to conserve energy, which would just be lightbulbs, anyway. Sunlight in Phoenix means that air conditioners are working their hardest. And if you know the Sonoran Desert, you know that the temperature drops off when the sun goes down. In fact, a lot of activities in Phoenix are done at night, like baseball games at the park, that sort of thing.

Oddly enough, this also works out fine for us "Zonies" who go to California in the summer. Because they have Daylight Saving Time, and we don't, it's the same time in Arizona and California in the summer. I don't need to change my watch, or the time on my car's dashboard. And when there's an hour difference, in the winter, I don't go to California. Why should I? It's beautiful in Phoenix in the winter!

So, Arizonans don't need to "fall back" or "spring ahead" (or is it the other way around?). We don't have to worry about losing an hour of sleep, or being late for work, anything like that. And it's just another reason that I love living in Arizona!

Image at the top of this post: Tres Rios Wetlands at sunset, Phoenix, Arizona.

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