#338, Tucson, AZ
Staggering up and down 4th Street in a hundred degree heat, past the tattoo parlor and the Dairy Queen, past the Jimi Hendrix mural and the hookah bar, looking only for air conditioning and a place to kill an hour before sound check. Back at the tiki bar it was what you'd expect: a jolly roger hanging over the stage and a grass skirt circumnavigating the bar, plastic palm trees stuck in fruity drinks and one dude in a cabaña hat talking to himself. I had to get out.
Tucson and I have that oil-and-water thing going on. Heat destroys me. It bloats my brain and saps my life force. Arid climates are dead zones to me, and it's in these places that a city or town is truly an oasis, the only sign that I'm not in a nightmare post-apocalyptic landscape. If I want to feel like I'm in a Cormac McCarthy book, I'll read one. Just don't make me get out of a van or airplane anywhere near one of those deserts. Five minutes in and I'm unscrewing my industrial sized water bottle. Ten minutes in, I'm hallucinating cow skulls.
One thing that did charm me about Tucson was the effort everyone put into brightening up their buildings. Maybe enough exposure to heat convinces you that a life-sized Jimi Hendrix is just what the town needs. Adobe huts painted bright blue or brick red lined the main drag. Ceramic numbers decorated the walls of cafés. This weirded-out 338 hung above a smoke shop. Bright green trolley cars lurked behind a chain-link fence, waiting to come out and play. It was almost enough to convince you that the place was life-sustaining.
Later on, when we were wandering back up and down that main drag with guitar and accordion and horns and toy piano, drumming up civic interest in our show over at yonder tiki bar, when we were standing outside that Dairy Queen, playing "Love to Love You" to bewildered and bemused natives scooping up peanut butter parfaits and Oreo Blizzards, it was almost like a real place and not just a whistle stop on a bad vision quest.
Of course, one adrenaline-infused gig (my accordion's reeds actually went haywire that night, it was so hot) and two tall frosty drinks later (an alcohol-soaked concoction know to Tucsonians as "The Fat Man," or, for the smaller version, "Fat Man on a Diet"), the room was spinning and the playing field was leveled once more. And doggone it, if that dude in the cabaña hat wasn't still at the bar, talking to himself four hours later.