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

The difference between irrigation canals and storm drains in Phoenix, Arizona


As a former teacher, I know that it's important not to be too terribly fussy about some things, or else everything you say just becomes trivia. For example, here in Phoenix I commonly hear the word "mall" when in reality a particular place is actually a "shopping center". And for legal purposes, this can be important, such as clarifying that the Arrowhead Mall is different from the Arrowhead Towne Center, but in casual conversation, I know what you mean, and there really is no difference.

So when people call storm drains and canals "irrigation canals", I tend to let it go. I know what you mean - it's a thin slice of land that water goes through. If I lived by a canal, or a storm drain, I certainly wouldn't consider it "waterfront property" - in fact, that gives me a chuckle.

But if you really do want to know the difference between canals and storm drains, it's simply that one takes water in, and the other takes water away. That is, the canals of Phoenix bring water into the city, and the storm drains drain it away after it rains.

The water from the canals really is just river water, diverted and channeled in. And yes, there are fish in there. It's the water that's processed that you take a shower with. The canal that's closest to me, here in Glendale, is the Arizona Canal, which goes from the Salt River north of Apache Junction to west of me, emptying out in the Agua Fria, on the other side of the 101 freeway. It's been there since 1885, and I enjoy walking my dog along the banks, hopefully seeing ducks.

Thunderbird Paseo Park, a storm drain. The Diversion Channel north of the Arizona Canal.

Right next to the Arizona Canal is a storm drain, the biggest one in the valley. It's called the Diversion Channel, and if you look at a satellite view you can see how big it is. It's huge! And it drains water away. I like to cross the bridge on 67th Avenue and look down after a rainstorm and see the water flowing. Of course most of the time it's dry - you can walk your dog in there, or play frisbee golf. It's a park most of the time, dry with grass. By contrast the canal always has water in it, except in the rare times that it gets a clean, because that's essentially the Salt River, channeled into Phoenix. I like to call the Phoenix canals the "gentle rivers of Phoenix".

So, no I won't make a fuss if you call everything that carries water a canal. But there is a difference, and when you see it, you see what I see.

Thank you for walking along the canals, and storm drains, of Phoenix with me!

Image at the top of this post: the Arizona Canal in the 1970s, Northern and 7th Street. It still looks pretty much the same nowadays, even the trees are still there.

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Understanding the "Starts near Paradise Valley Mall and goes to the Salt River" Wash, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe, Arizona


If you've ever driven along Hayden Road in Scottsdale, you've seen a greenbelt that parallels it to the west. I've been fascinated by it for years, but I've never really given it a name in my mind. I'm told by people who know that it's the Indian Bend Wash. And I'm still having trouble with that name, as it seems to imply that it's only around Indian Bend Road, you know, just west of the Talking Stick Casino.

To me, the wash extended along Hayden Road to McClintock Ranch, where I had a client in the early eighties that I would visit when I lived in Tempe. And that's kind of way things are to people - they exist for what they know. And I sure didn't know much! And I'm trying to learn more about that wash.

Today I got an email from one of my PhD (Phoenix History Detectives) who is familiar with where it actually starts, which is east of the Phoenix Mountains, at about 32nd Street and Thunderbird. Take a look at a satellite view and you can run your finger along a greenbelt starting there, going southeast, and then south all of the way to the Salt River.

This wash, which I am now calling the "Starts near Paradise Valley Mall, goes through Scottsdale and Tempe and into the Salt River Wash" doesn't even hit Indian Bend Road for several miles. Of course Indian Bend Road is the area that has flooded the most historically, because of the Arizona Canal, and that's where those big cool sculptures of horses are, but the wash itself is much bigger than most people suspect. And like all washes, when it floods it makes a mess.

The cheapest solution to the flooding problem, of course, is to simply pour concrete, like they did in many places of Los Angeles. But this wash flows through some of the most beautiful places in the Valley of the Sun, so that way of thinking isn't considered for a moment. Don't worry about that.

Engineering combined with aesthetics is something that the greater Phoenix area has been doing brilliantly for decades. I often point to things like the Thunderbird Paseo Park, or Tres Rios, and most people just see parkland, not a Diversion Channel, or a Water Treatment plant. Phoenix has hidden its engineering well. The next time you walk along the linear park on 48th Street between Indian School Road and McDowell, consider that you're on top of a storm drain. The park near me, the Sahuaro Ranch, is a cleverly-disguised water drainage basin. There are a lot of places like that in the Phoenix metro area, and if you've never seen them, well, that's the point.

I respect the historical name of Indian Bend Wash, and I know that I can't call it the "Starts near Paradise Valley Mall, goes through Scottsdale and Tempe and into the Salt River Wash", but for now I'm going to call it the Scottsdale Wash. It spends most of its time there, anyway.

The track record of the engineers and the designers around Phoenix has been excellent, but of course you'll never please everyone. I'll let you know what I find out.

Image at the top of this post: the "Starts near Paradise Valley Mall, goes through Scottsdale and Tempe and into the Salt River Wash" in South Scottsdale. You're looking east at McDowell and Miller.

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The history of the Walmart Neighborhood Market at Westporte Village, Glendale, Arizona


As a history adventurer, I'm fascinated with the growth of cities. I live in Glendale, Arizona, which is a suburb of Phoenix, and I'm especially interested in rebirth. It's been the story of Phoenix since it began, it grows and builds on top of itself. Underneath the Walmart Neighborhood Market at Westporte Village, at 67th Avenue and Peoria, is the history of this tiny part of the Sonoran Desert, going back to the Hohokams, and the beginning of the desert, over 10,000 years ago, when the last Ice Age ended.

Let's start with today. I bought the crackers and cheese that I'm eating as I write this at my local Walmart Neighborhood Market. The little shopping center is called "Westporte Village", although I've never heard anyone refer to it by that name. In fact, I've never heard anyone refer to any of the names of the shopping centers in my neighborhood, like Peoria Station, or my favorite, Ted's Plaza, which is on Olive and 47th Avenue. But that's what the sign says. I watched the Neighborhood Market being built, over ten years ago. They leveled the old building, which was from the 1980s, and put this one up on top of the remains.

But let's time-travel way back to before the 1980s, when this was the northwest corner of the Sahuaro Ranch, which was a square mile going from Peoria Avenue to Olive, and from 67th Avenue to 59th Avenue (640 acres). We've now travelled back to the 1890s.

The Sahuaro Ranch in 1899

Water is supplied both by wells and by a lateral from the newly-completed Arizona Canal. This part of the ranch is just the edge of grazing land, with really nothing growing but creosote, and an occasional mesquite. One of the ranch hands might ride out here to bring in a stray goat, or chicken, but that's all. Jackrabbits lived here, not much more.

Going back farther in time, to many hundreds of years ago, this is the land of the People of the Stone Hoe, often called the Hohokam people. No one knows for sure if their bare feet touched this soil exactly here, but we know that they lived along New River, and left their artifacts there. Frank Midvale studied the settlements in what is now called Peoria.

Prehistoric ruins along New River at Weir Wash in Peoria, Arizona, 74th Avenue between Happy Valley and Jomax Road. Frank Midvale map, 1969.

Ten thousand years ago, the desert was just beginning. The creosote was starting, and this area was was about to get much hotter. As you go farther back in time the mountains surrounding the valley are still active volcanos. The animals that lived here are about the same as the ones that you see at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

When I stand on the sidewalk of my local Walmart Neighborhood Market, I see all of this. So when you see me there looking towards the White Tanks or the Bradshaws, you know what I'm seeing.

Thank you for history adventuring with me.

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Understanding the Scottsdale Wash


If you're like most normal grownups in the Phoenix area, as you drive around, you pay attention to the signs, the traffic signals, that sort of thing. If you want to get somewhere, you may look at a map, or use your GPS, following the roads. If, however, you're like me, you look at the mountains, the rivers, the canals, and the washes. Thankfully I've never had to drive all that much! If I told you that I live south of Skunk Creek, not far from the Agua Fria River, it would probably make no sense to you. I used to live along the Cave Creek Wash, south of the Arizona Canal, back in the early 90s.

If that makes sense to you, you're kinda weird. And so talking about the Scottsdale Wash appeals to my weirdness, and makes a lot of people go "huh?" I'll see if I can explain what I see.

Take a look at a map and strip away all of the streets, seeing only the geography. If you're looking at Scottsdale, you'll see a very prominent feature, which is a wash (a usually dry small river bed) that runs parallel to Scottsdale Road, between it and Pima Road. If you've never seen it, or paid attention to it, it's not surprising, it's like all of the washes, rivers, and canals in the Phoenix area, you just cross over it on a bridge that just looks like any other part of the road.

Run your finger along a satellite view of Scottsdale and you'll see it as a swath of green, with parks, golf courses, lakes, just like the old washes in Phoenix are. Start just south of the Scottsdale Airport, and go south to the Salt River, which also a mostly dry river bed, it's just a whole lot bigger and water was diverted out of it starting in the 1870s. When it rains, the water from the Scottsdale Wash flows south and empties in the Salt River. All of the water in the Phoenix area flows southwest, and the Salt River empties in to the Gila River, just south of where I'm writing this now, on down to Yuma, and empties out at the Gulf of California. So, yes, all water in Phoenix flows to the ocean. I like to watch raindrops on my window here in Glendale and picture them ending up in the Pacific Ocean, which they will.

The dilemma with the Scottsdale Wash is how to control the flooding and not make it an eyesore, which they've done a lot of in Los Angeles. When I tell people that they're looking at a river in LA, when they see miles of poured concrete, most people don't believe me. The Los Angeles River has been completely controlled for so long that no one really gives it a thought. It isn't as if the river (it's actually just a wash) is going to flood, it's channeled to the ocean. And it works well and is so ugly that it's absolutely repulsive. The next time you're in LA, as a local to take you down to walk along the river and they'll just laugh at you. It's nothing but concrete and ugliness.

The most effective and cheapest way to control the flooding in the Scottsdale Wash is to do exactly the same thing Los Angeles did - pour concrete and create a channel. And this would satisfy people whose only interest is efficiency and low cost. But Scottsdale is not a utilitarian place, it's a place of beauty, a place that tourists come from all over the world to see. So turning the wash into an eyesore isn't something that really gets serious thought from the City of Scottsdale. Instead they're making an effort to make it beautiful. And it won't satisfy either extreme, but I agree with what they're doing.

I'm just starting to learn about the Scottsdale Wash, in fact I'm not really sure what to call it. I'll let you know what I find out.

Image at the top of this post: Looking east just south of McDowell Road and east of Miller, Scottsdale, Arizona.

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The history of Firehouse Subs, Northern Crossing, Glendale, Arizona


Time-travel with me to a time when Firehouse Subs at Northern Crossing, 59th Avenue and Northern in Glendale, was new. That is, yesterday.

Yes, I'm trying to be funny here (hopefully) but I also want to share with you what I see everywhere I go, both in real life and in cyberspace. I see history. And I don't draw an imaginary line in time, to me time flows like a river, which has always been and always will be.

Yesterday, while I was enjoying a delicious sub sandwich, I spoke to the young woman who is the owner of the franchise. As always in situations like this, the conversation started with just talking about the food, and since I'm interested in the history I asked how long the business had been there. I've lived in Glendale for over twenty years, and I had never seen it, or even the building. The building had been built last October. It was all of three months old. Pretty recent history!

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If you're a Glendale history fan, you know that area as just across from where Minn's farm was. It's also just west of the Manistee Ranch (the main house is at 51st Avenue and Northern). If your interest in history only goes back to 1965, it's a few blocks east of Parson's Restaurant (originally Big Sam's). It's about two miles south of the Sahuaro Ranch. I could go on and on about my perspective, and I probably will, but that's what I see.

I like to time-travel in my imagination and picture myself talking to the owners of Big Sam's, or the Manistee Ranch. Of course, I was born too late to do that, but there are things that I can do. I can talk to the owner of the franchise of the Firehouse Subs at Northern Crossing. And I just love these stories. They're always stories of what I call "unrealistic optimism", the kind of stories that have been building Phoenix since 1870, and will continue to do so.

I suggest that when you go to the Firehouse Subs at Northern Crossing, you take the time to say hello to the owner, who often works there behind the counter. Like people have always done, she's invested in her business, and has confidence about the future. And when you go there, also say hello to her son, who will taking over the business at one point, and will remember the "good old days" the way that every generation does. The good old days will be before everything changed, when life was more simple, when people were more friendly. So if you've ever had any doubt about when the good old days were, they're whenever you make them. I choose now, and for as long as I can.

Thank you for history adventuring with me!

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A tree that grows naturally in Phoenix, Arizona, and always has - mesquite


Since I like trees, and live in Phoenix, Arizona, people often ask me what grows naturally there, and I point to a mesquite. You see them everywhere in Phoenix, and if you just walk past them, I understand. I've even heard of them referred to as "parking lot trees". I took that pic up there yesterday while I was sitting outside drinking coffee, and while it's a beautiful specimen of a mesquite I was aware that it seemed as if I were taking a photo of "nothing".

Mesquite trees were in the Sonoran Desert long before anyone lived there. Long before the Hohokam, long before the pioneers of Phoenix. For about 10,000 years, which is when the last ice age ended, and the area became the desert that we know today.

But really, they're not trees, just big bushes. When you see them around the modern streets of Phoenix you're just seeing carefully trimmed gigantic bushes. Left to grow naturally, they sprawl and stay low to the ground. To make them look more treelike, the lower branches needed to be trimmed off.

Mesquite is a wonderful tree for shade in Phoenix, and they use precious little water. They have incredibly long taproots, and once they're established they don't need regular water, although giving them some makes them look a little better.

Mesquites are evergreen. That is, they don't lose their leaves in the fall, so they look pretty much the same in the summer as in the winter. But like all trees, they shed. Deciduous trees shed all of their leaves all at one in time in the fall, and mesquites shed a little all year long. So they're a poor choice around swimming pools, or anywhere that needs to be kept constantly swept.

The Phoenix townsite - Van Buren to Harrison, and 7th Avenue to 7th Street.

Mesquites are as tough as nails, and are never bothered by the most extremes of heat and cold that Phoenix has. Before downtown Phoenix was built, back before 1870, much of that area was a dense forest of mesquite. In fact, the mesquite had to be removed in order for streets and buildings to be started. And that means that downtown Phoenix was a riparian area, which just means an area that naturally got some flood water every once in a while. Mesquite is tough, but it needs water to get going and to stay healthy. That's why you see them growing naturally in washes, but not on the side of hills, like a cactus can do.

If you live in the desert, and are pondering planting a tree, I recommend mesquite. If you live in the Phoenix area and are wondering what they look like, just look everywhere.

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The January classic car auctions of Scottsdale, Arizona


Every January the car shows transform Scottsdale, Arizona into a wonderland of classic cars. If you like classic cars, like I do, it can be great fun. If you have more money than I do, you can get a bargain - that's the whole point of auctions.

By far the most famous and popular classic car auction is the Barrett-Jackson, which began in 1971, and is held at WestWorld, on the polo grounds, just south of Bell Road, east of the 101. If you've never been to one of these car shows, this is the place to start. And if you're like me, you won't go to the auctions, you'll just go look at the cars. I'll tell you how it works.

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Several days before the auction the cars are set out for inspection. You can wander around and look at them at your leisure. No, you can't drive them around, or kick the tires, but you can do a careful inspection. Usually the sellers are there all week so you can talk to them, and there are other things to see, you know, booths that sell stuff, posters, etc. It takes a bit of walking, but it's great fun. And yes, you'll see the "rich and famous" - and if you recognize celebrities better than I do, you'll see a lot of famous people.

I'm lucky because I have a friend who restores and sells some of the most amazing cars you've ever seen. So I get to tag along. He started selling many years ago at the Barrett-Jackson and has now moved up to one of the more exclusive auctions, called the Gooding and Company. It's also in Scottsdale, but it's much smaller, and way more expensive, and just blows my mind. It's held in a tent in the parking lot next to the parking garage at the Scottsdale Galleria. No, I won't tell you who my friend is, I don't do that, but if you see a very tall man in his late fifties with a shaved head and sunglasses with a beautiful fluffy white dog, that's him.

Like I say, if you're a spectator, like I am, it's great fun. The reality of buying and selling cars like this at auction is actually pretty awful, unless you have nerves of steel, and I don't. A crazy amount of money goes back and forth, and went the auctioneer says "sold!" that's it. The most common question I hear from people is how much a car is worth, and I've learned that it's only worth what someone is willing to pay.

I have a lot of friends who do this, and I've been opening up my house to "the car guys" every year for a long time now. They bring excitement and glamor into my quiet life. They get nothing from me except a roof over their head, and they're fine with that. Sometimes I tag along, sometimes I just wish them well and watch them drive away. Either way I get to see a lot of cool cars.

If you're going to one of these auctions, and want to look like one of the rich and famous, there are some things that you will need to do. First of all, you have to look as if you don't need to impress anyone, so wear clothes with holes in them, go without shaving for a few days, that sort of thing. Of course to be sure to combine that with your Versace sunglasses - the type that cost more than the mortgage of my house. Whatever you do, don't gawk and take photos - that's for people like me!

See you at the car shows!

Looking inside of a 1954 Ferrari 250 GT Europa. I love looking at these kinds of cars! And the people-watching is fun, too!


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How to live in suburban Phoenix when you can no longer drive


Although I'm still young, I realize that I get older every day. Funny how that happens! And since I live in suburban Phoenix, I often would think about what I would do someday, when that day came, way in the future, when I could no longer drive. Then it came.

No, I didn't suddenly turn 95, I had an accident many years ago that took away that ability (please don't ask). And during my recovery I found a lot of ways to get things done that you would normally need a car for. And I got an insight into how an elderly person who can no longer drive can continue to live in a "world of cars", like suburban Phoenix, without a car.

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If you're pondering this for the first time, I think that I can help. Because that's where you start, in your thoughts. Like most people in suburban Phoenix, I did everything in my car. I didn't quite drive to the end of my driveway in my car, but what I did was close to it. I drove to work, which was four blocks away, I drove to the store, which is two blocks away. If I needed a bottle of shampoo, or a roll of paper towels, I drove somewhere, put them in the trunk of my car, and drove home. Every distance in my mind was calculated in how long it took for me to drive there, my first thought about going somewhere was always about where the most convenient parking was. Can you blame me? This is all I had done, it's all I knew.

Then suddenly I had to figure out other ways to do stuff. Of course I asked friends to drive me, but really, that wasn't what I wanted. I'm a computer guy so I found places that delivered, and delivered for free. I started ordering stuff online and found that the vast majority of what I was getting into my car and walking around stores for was stuff that I could order and have delivered for free. After a while I started to become amazed at people who would take their precious time to go to a store, park in a parking lot, push a cart around, buy shampoo and paper towels, put them in their trunk, and drive home. I started to feel sorry for these people, as this was their life.

I've been working on my fitness, and I decided that walking would be nice. I live in one of the most beautiful climates in the world, where it rarely rains, and the land is completely flat, so I started walking. Then I discovered these big machines that go up and down the main streets every half hour. Then I discovered a Light Rail that would take me from one end of the valley to the other. I also got a nice recumbent trike, just for noodling around, which I use to ride over to the Fitness Center. And then I discovered Uber, and I was fine.

I sold my car last year to a nice young man who was enthusiastic about getting such a creampuff. It was a ten-year-old car with 32,000 miles on it. He got a good price on it, and I got rid of something that had been mostly just taking up space in my garage. It belongs to a friend of mine so I can ask for a ride somewhere if I really need it. So far I haven't needed it. He visits me often and we go get coffee.

So there you go. I will recover and could go back to doing everything with a car, but right now I've lost interest in it. There are so many other things that I want to see than taillights, left turn lanes, and parking lots. There's a great big beautiful world out there, and I've found that other people are happy to drive, and pilots are happy to fly me. I will be fine, and you will be too.

Image at the top of this post: 1913 ad for a Ford automobile, one of them-thar "horseless carriages" - who needs 'em! Get a horse!

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How to be a booster for your town - Phoenix, Arizona


A booster is an old-fashioned term for someone who proudly, and loudly, proclaims the virtues of their town. I like to read old books, and boosters tended to be businessmen who visited other cities, went to conventions, that sort of thing, and always made it a point to talk about how great their town is.

A typical booster would grab you by the lapel and start raving about their town, saying things like, "Say buddy, haven't you ever heard of our town? Well, I declare! Where have you been? It's the fastest-growing place in the tri-county area! Just last year we installed a new water works that will..."

You really don't see many old-fashioned boosters nowadays, but I'm one of them. I just love Phoenix, and I can't wait to tell you how wonderful it. "Say, do you know that it's winter and there isn't a bit of snow out there? Yessiree, you can go play golf anytime you want to, and there are plenty of golf courses!" See what I mean? Sorry if it gets a bit annoying, but I really can't stop it.

Being a booster for your town is like being true to your school. It's about a passionate feeling that while other places may be just fine, there's just nothing like your place. You can call it cheering, or promotion. I'm an old advertising guy, and to me it's just PR (Public Relations).

Boosters are typically businesspeople who will profit by having more people know about their town, or move there. But boosters can be anyone who cares about where they live. Boosters can be people who pick up trash blowing down their street, just because they care about their street. Boosters are people who get involved with local politics to see if something can be beautified in their town, or a historic building can be preserved, it doesn't have to be for profit.

So I will continue to boost. I'll try not to grab you by the lapel, but I do want you to know how much I like my town. "And say, did you see the beautiful trees that were recently planted on Grand Avenue?"

Boost for Phoenix!

Image at the top of this post: Valley National Bank President Walter Bimson in the 1940s. He boosted for Phoenix, and got tremendously rich in the process. His eyes are the eyes of a booster.

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Why Phoenix and Los Angeles sprawl


My two favorite cities, Phoenix and Los Angeles, are very often described as "sprawling". And that's part of the reason that so many people want to live there, because everything there is wide-open and spacious. Which, of course, is what "sprawl" means. And it's the opposite of density.

I have a particular horror of density. I grew up in a tiny house with way too many people in it, and too few bathrooms. My neighborhood had houses so close to each other that my mom would say that people could "pass dishes between the windows". Of course, our neighborhood wasn't as dense as some of the neighborhoods, who weren't as lucky as I was, were. We were about in the middle. Some of my friends were living in big houses, down on the Parkway, with large lots that looked as if you could get about five of our houses in the same space. I marveled at that luxury. And some of my friends lived in such crowded conditions that it made the house I lived in look large and spacious. And from that I learned about the luxury of space.

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When I first moved to Los Angeles, recently graduated from college, I squeezed into a typical apartment in a, uh, less-fashionable part of town where the people squashed in as best they could. There was really no empty space, it was always filled, either with people, or cars. I often described it as "someone had to breathe in so I could breathe out". I yearned for the luxury of space.

My last year in Los Angeles I still hadn't made it out of the crush. The apartment complex where I lived was jammed with people, even though the apartments were barely 500 square feet, most of them had families living in them. My neighbors across the way, who helped me moved, had eight guys living there. They slept in shifts on the floor. There was only one space allowed in the parking lot for your car, and if someone took it, you had to drive all over the crowded neighborhood, hoping to find an empty parking spot, then walk back several blocks. This happened quite often to me.

When I moved back to Phoenix I saw the kind of space that I had dreamed of, and knew that I would be able to afford it. I got a good corporate job and bought a house in suburbia. It's on a street that doesn't have an outlet, there's no cross-traffic, there's precious few cars that even park on the street. Every house has a two-car garage and room for two more cars in the driveway. At first I was absolutely overwhelmed by luxury of space. I like it here.

I talk to people who've never lived in crowded conditions, and who fantasize about how nice it would be, you know cheerful neighbors walking by carrying groceries, friends relaxing at coffee shops a few steps away. And I often think that all they've ever seen of crowding is the artist's renderings of how a perfect little space would work. But I've seen people crowded together like sardines, and I didn't like what I saw.

I love Phoenix, and Los Angeles! Give me space!

Image at the top of this post: the freeway in Phoenix in the 1960s, from a postcard

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How the city of Tucson, Arizona got its name


I've always had a fascination with names. Yes, I know that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I'm still a kid, and I always wanted to know "why?" My parents put up with my questions until I was old enough to ride my bike to the library, and I continued my research there. I don't know why I feel this way, but once a question like this hits me it's an itch that I have to scratch. And then about a thousand other questions pop up, so I have to continue to research them, too. I will always be that kid, and I will never have enough to time to learn everything that I want to know, but I'm trying.

What is cool about learning about the name of Tucson is that it really gets me time-traveling. So please come along with me - I could use some help with the two languages we'll need: Spanish and Pima Indian.

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Yes, Tucson is the Old Pueblo, but we have go back much farther in time. We need to travel back to long before the Spanish had seen this area, to the time of the Pima Indians. And no one really knows how many hundreds, or thousands of years that was. We start with the Pima people. Nowadays they're called the Akimel O'odham, which means the River People. But really, where we're going, they're simply the People. The name of all groups of people is the people - only outsiders need to call them anything else.

From modern-day Mexico up north to the Gila River is where the people lived. And like all people, they had names for things. And the area around what would some day be called Tucson, they had a name that the outsiders, who spoke Spanish, heard as "Tucs├│n. So, if you follow me here, it's kind of a Spanish word, and kind of a Pima Indian word.

Of course, there was no other town anywhere near that town, that was like that town, so, like Los Angeles, it was just called "the town" by the Spanish-speaking people. That's was Pueblo means. But as the population of the area increased, the name of Tucson caught on.

When it became part of the United States, the name remained. Like many places in California, the name was not anglicized (turned into an English word). It went into common usage, and people mostly never gave it a second thought, like San Diego, or San Francisco. But when you speak the word Tucson, and listen carefully, you can hear the echos of the Pima, and the Spanish people.

¡Viva Tucson!

Image at the top of this post: Tucson, Arizona in the 1950s, from a postcard.

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The day I tried to drive out of town in Los Angeles - 1982


I moved to Los Angeles after I got my degree at Arizona State University. My goal back then was to work for an advertising agency, so I got a tiny apartment in a "less than fashionable" part of Hollywood. The only thing I knew about LA is that the advertising agencies were on Wilshire Boulevard, and that's where my job search was conducted.

If you've ever looked for a job, you know that at some point you really need a break. Yes, you can make looking for a job a full-time job, but even though I didn't have much money, I decided one day to drive out of town, by going north around the mountains. I used to do that a lot when I lived in Phoenix, and I had found that just getting away from the crowded city, and driving along some farmland, was calming to my nerves. I was in for a big surprise.

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I expected the city to end on the other side of the mountain, or at least slow down a bit. In the Phoenix area I could drive about ten miles and be away from any hint of tall buildings, or congestion. So I just naturally thought that it would be the same in Los Angeles. For those of you who know the area, I was leaving Hollywood, from about the boulevard and Vine, and going northeast around the mountain. So I drove waaay out east to the 5 freeway and just headed north. And then I saw Glendale.

Glendale is a pretty big city, and has been for a long time. It has skyscrapers. And I just wasn't prepared for how big the metro Los Angeles area was. I kept driving, and driving, and I never left the city, so I went back to my apartment. I think this is when I really started getting the "LA hee-bee-jee-bees". Just the thought that such a gigantic city sprawled out all around me made me feel as if I couldn't escape. Of course I learned later that if you kept on going, then the city would start to fade away, but I didn't have the budget for the gas.

Image at the top of this post: Glendale, Arizona in 1982

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Why the ground is so lumpy at the Arizona Center, and what they're doing about it


If you visited the Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix, which is between Van Buren and Fillmore and 3rd and 5th Streets, anytime after it was built until just recently, as it started more construction, you may have been puzzled as to why there was so much lumpy ground there. The reason is because the original design called for more buildings, that have taken over thirty years now to get started on building. If you never noticed, it's to the credit of the builders who filled in as best they could, and did a great job of it.

The original design for the Arizona Center from 1985, Phoenix, Arizona.

Back in the mid-nineties I often went to the Arizona Center to eat lunch. And since I worked at Bank One, which is now Chase, at Van Buren and Central, I walked over to the Arizona Center and entered the area from the southwest, at 3rd Street and Van Buren. And it was this area that really stood out for me as empty, and lumpy. It's as if another building should have been there, and it should have. When the building was never built, a large area was left blank with a lot of landscaping, and a lot of paving. I used to walk around and look at the rows of Mediterranean palm trees that were planted very closely together, to just kinda fill up the space. The ground around there hadn't even been smoothed out, it was left lumpy. And the Arizona Center had a lot of lumpy land that was landscaped, and had grass. I enjoyed the landscaping and the grass, but I knew that something was missing - buildings.

Phoenix has a lot of missing buildings, and they're usually just empty lots, with chain-link fences around them, and a few weeds. At the Arizona Center, to their credit, they landscaped. It looked so nice that the effect was that it looked intentional, as if all that extra land had been set aside so that there would be open space, and plants.

Now that the construction has been resumed, in 2018, the lumpy ground and the landscaping will go away, and I have to admit that I'll miss it!

Image at the top of this post: The Arizona Center under construction in January of 2018, photo by Mick Welsh.

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