Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bryce Hervert: Several Reservations

Unlike Anthony Bourdain, I go places less than desirable. I've poked fun a time or two at rough areas but this one really stands in a league of its own. The cause for this intensity of badness is complex, a solution is tough to work out. It comes down to being a victim of happenstance on several occasions. I am of course referring to Indian Reservations.
Generations of poverty hasn't been kind to this group of people but it is not a simple fix. Gambling and the sales of crafts in roadside three sided shacks can only go so far, and the farther you get from civilization, the more depressing things get. The land is about as useless as land gets with no water and temperatures soaring well over 100 degrees. A short drive reveals an incredible difference in lifestyle between the planned communities of Casa Grande and the simple dirt streets of Sacaton.
How the US Government treated the Native Americans in the past was certainly horrific but in many ways they haven't done themselves any favors. The capital city of the Gila River Indian Community is a prime example of mismanaged finances. The showcase of the small community is the municipal complex featuring a luxurious city hall and municipal building, there is a massive new jail and a sprawling juvenile detention center. The stores and high school is crumbling with no public parks to speak of. I ran into some of the nicest people you'll ever meet, just stuck in a unfortunate situation on some pretty unusable land. They could sure use help, an actual solution instead of some quick fix. Down the road a new liquor store is opening, perpetuating stereotypes and prolonging the cycle of poverty. I have heard suggestions of misappropriated funds but had never seen the areas personally. It looks like those in charge must not spend a lot of time in the village.
A days drive to the North and the situation at the Navajo city of Kabitio was much worse. Hours away from the nearest Interstate Highway the village was a dusty patch of ground with sick looking horses running loose and a dead puppy getting stepped over in the middle of a parking lot. People seemed to be less friendly and borderline hostile. People would turn away if I asked a question, cut in front of me in line at the small grocery store... Seemed to be a bit of tension as I tried to survey the village.
I get the fact I was an outsider and that my job makes me look incredibly conspicuous, but why the attitude. I'm just doing my job, sure would be nice if someone would lead by example, put an address on your house and for christ sake bury that dog.

response time surely wasn't to blaime

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Flagstaff: The Anti Arizona

As I've made my way across Arizona I have seen a landscape largely homogenized in the middle and expanding outward in all directions. A suburban sprawl of planned communities, big box retailers and a severe lack of character. There is simply no way I would settle to live in a community planned around the golf cart.
Flagstaff impressed me for several reasons I'll go into later, but I have come to realize that the high altitude is to thank. Flagstaff is situated up in the mountains North of Phoenix and Southeast of the Grand Canyon. At this high altitude winters involve snow and temperatures keep to a reasonable level. This normalcy keeps the retirees at bay. Happily the streets were clear of the Grand Marquis, beige Camry and Buick crowds that choose to spend their golden years in gated communities of isolation.
Flagstaff's streets happened to be filled with Subarus and a wide variety of aging European cars. I find this method of judging especially effective as it takes a solid amount of character and dedication to deal with a 20+ year old Volvo on a daily basis. They are people who value being different strongly enough to put up with constant electrical gremlins and impossible to find parts. Flagstaff's streets were also lined with stores and restaurants that seemed to make a conscious effort to be different.
The city is predates the planned community, it was largely influenced by its location along old Route 66 as well as along the Santa Fe Railroad. Both shaped the way the down evolved over time, especially in the downtown area. Some areas have a strong "time warp" feel, others seem more like Colorado or Portland than Arizona.
It also boils down to the simple fact that liberal leaning places are nice. Putting politics aside, an area happens to be a college town with quirky bars and environmental types walking around eating whole grains is fairly pleasant. I've never happened across a place that was overtly conservative and been like "what a breath of fresh air." Military bases, Dallas suburbs and NRA meetings don't put me at ease.
Flagstaff had everything from $5 a night hostels to free independent newspapers with irreverent columns. In this economy thats tough to beat. It made for a nice change but before long I'll be back to work, and this time... back on the reservation.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Night Shift To Kingman

The drive from Wickenburg, AZ to Kingman cuts through the Joshua Tree National Forest on Route 93.  A 128 mile stretch of blacktop that until very recently was known as one of the most deadly stretches of highway in America.  Heading Northwest out of Wickenburg the GPS put arriving in Kingman in a little over 2.5 hours.  The gas was between a half and quarter tank and I was doing fine.

Only in Arizona are gas stations spaced out in distances of nearly a full tank range.  Only in the Impala is the last quarter of a tank an optimistic measure of fuel.  There wasn't enough to go back to Wickenburg up the 6% grade, Wickieup was potentially out of range.  Wickieup might have had a gas station.  While the GPS listed one in Bagdad its phone number was out of service.  It became the decision between going farther than the cars range hoping the downhill would outnumber the uphill to hopefully find gas, or to drive a half hour through open range cattle on a small county road to find a gas station that was potentially out of business.  

Open range driving on curvy rural canyon roads while stressed, fatigued and running on fumes is not advisable.  After nearly taking out several head of cattle and bottoming out on washed out roads I arrived in one of Arizona's few remaining company towns.  Bagdad isn't a pretty town, but neither is sleeping along the side of a dark desert road.  

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Living the Dream

From the rain soaked skies of Schaumburg, IL to Phoenix's oppressive heat this has been just one banner day.  But first a shout out to my man Calvin at All-Star cab for getting everything off to a great start.  See, the folks at All-Star accept all major credit cards.  Calvin can't accept cards of any kind until his girlfriend gets paid on the 19th, then he can get shit fixed.  So at 11:15 this morning Calvin and I were driving the streets of Elk Grove Village looking for a Chase ATM.

Now if you were looking for a Chase and were on the corner of Higgins and N. Arlington Heights Road you'd be in luck.  But I'm down on my luck and from the looks of Calvin he's no stranger to hard times.  As the aging Crown Victoria pulls up to the ATM I step out only to hear a ear splitting burst of sirens and beeping.  Apparently the good people at Brinks don't let civilians near the ATMs during resupplying.  Never mind the fact it was 3 lanes over, those Brinks guys aren't gonna chance anything.  So it was back to circling the area for an ATM, because if Calvin's boss knew that he still hasn't fixed the card reader... he'd be out of the fleet.
It wasn't long before I switched to American Airlines version of the 1995 Ford Crown Victoria, the McDonnell Douglas MD-80.  This version looked to be from the first Bush's administration and smelled like blue toilet water and kerosene.  I'd expect nothing less from a product that went by the initials MD.
With such a fine craft and a major corporation footing the bill one would suspect first class accommodations.  Unfortunately I was wedged in the airline version of steerage.  To my immediate left was a disagreeable frenchman.
To my right, a Pratt & Whitney JT8D thundering less than two feet from my head.  
After the day I've had, I'm off to bed.  In the Fairfield Inn situated between an Interstate and 4 strip clubs, in a room with a legitimate ant problem. 

Top Notch