Appraising Arizona: Part I

I’M BACK, GHOSTLINGS!

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Bleacher Bum Selfie from Chase Field in Phoenix.

You’ll notice that this post doesn’t include the “Day” in the title. To be perfectly honest I’ve lost track of what day I’m on. Living on the road combined with being unemployed has disoriented my sense of time; I have to check my watch several times a day just to remind myself what day of the week it is. My appetite has diminished considerably. This morning I was cleaning myself off with baby wipes in the parking lot of a Flagstaff Jack-in-the-Box when I noticed how frighteningly thin I’d gotten. I must have lost five pounds easily in the past three weeks. (Of course, most people who know me remember the bony frame I possessed through most of high school and college; it probably wouldn’t be that shocking to them).

I’m typing this from the first floor of the Albuquerque Public Library, having spent the previous two days in Arizona. Those two days would prove enormously eventful, but my first impression of Phoenix can be succinctly expressed here.

(Granted, the day I arrived it was only 105 degrees, not 111, but still… wow.)

The reality of this ungodly heat hit me when I stopped at a rest station somewhere in Western Arizona. With weather that intense – much like the extreme cold I’ve become accustomed to in Wisconsin – one’s existential reality is heightened; every move you make seems to matter that much more as any careless or unnecessary action undertaken by the body threatens your very survival.

I took a walk in  Margaret T. Hence park in Central Phoenix the morning after my arrival. At 9 AM the temperature had already reached 90 degrees. On an otherwise pleasant Sunday morning there weren’t many visitors besides the homeless, who to my amazement managed to sleep on the grass in such conditions. I have a lot of respect for homeless people who can survive in places like that; it’s too bad our economy can’t reward their advanced survival instinct.

 

My principal adventure in Phoenix was an admittedly bro-hemian escapade: I went to a baseball game. Specifically, the Cubs vs. Diamondbacks game in Chase Field. As anyone who’s spent more than five minutes with me knows, I’m a diehard Chicago Cubs fan with few qualms about the superficial, vicarious tribalism inherent in professional sports fandom. I thought it would be an engrossingly awkward experience to root for my team in enemy territory, but as you can see…

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I was not alone by a longshot. I’d estimate that Cubs fans comprised 50-60% of the audience for that game, which made it much more awkward for the fans who showed up to support the home team.

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My view from the bleachers.

This brings up another odd point about this Tour: the vast majority of my interactions with strangers have revolved around the Cubs. As my hair has gotten more unkempt and brittle (from lack of shower access) I’ve taken to wearing my Cubs hat more and more, which leads to random people approaching me with a smile and a shout of “Go Cubbies!” This has happened to me in virtually every state I’ve been in; it happened three separate times yesterday at the Grand Canyon alone. Part of it is simply numerical probability; Cubs fans exist in large numbers all over the country and have always been fanatically loyal (even before they won the World Series). It’s a strange sort of camaraderie, but perhaps in a world where we’re so divided by race, religion, ideology, etc. any sort of social bonding mechanism – even one as superficial as sports – is a positive force.

Anyway, the game itself was as rewarding as I could have asked for, but I also enjoyed the amenities of the stadium itself, which included a virtual reality booth (which showed recordings of game action from a dugout perspective) and a rescued-puppy shelter sponsored by PetCo.

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Yes! Feast your eyes upon the cuteness…
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…see? This blog has something to offer besides my pretentious road ramblings after all!

And of course, the event provided a golden opportunity for people watching. One fan in particular commanded my attention; a middle-aged Cubs fan who came with his wife and 92-year-old mother. The guy seemed almost determined not to enjoy himself. I evesdropped on a litany of complaints; the section was too crowded, the seats inconvenient, the food overpriced and unsatisfactory.  Every entreaty from his wife was met with grudging reluctance, a weariness born of years of complacency.

I don’t mean to be too hard on the guy – I’m sure he’s decent at his core – but in that moment he seemed to me a picture of everything I don’t want to become in life, the very trappings that inspired me to quit my job and travel around the country like a drifter. I watched him angrily field emails from his workplace and felt truly sorry for him. I know that struggle, that feeling that there’s just no escape from your obligations. It’s happened to me too.

And yet, when Javier Baez blasted a 3-run homer in the top of the 8th, giving the Cubs an ultimately insurmountable lead, as the full force of carpetbagging Cubs fans asserted itself in a fever pitch of applause, I finally saw a glimmer of hope light up the man’s face. I turned to my comrade and gave him a high-five.

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