I have been in Tucson for two whole days now. I feel that in my time biking around the city, I have achieved a level of understanding that still eludes most locals that grew up here. There are a few key elements that, for me, have shaped my experience in this city and defined Tucson as a strange, mystical/mechanical universe.
The Presence of Wild Shopping Carts That Roam the City
I am not the most-travelled person who ever lived, (I’m looking at you, Magellan!) but I’ve been in a fair number of cities with relatively open eyes and ears. I have never seen anything that compared to the hyper-abundance of rogue shopping carts in Tucson. Shopping carts, like some kind feral metal bears, lay lazily on lawns, seemingly rummage through trash cans, and hibernate under vines. I cannot claim to know why these wild carts are stalking the streets of the city, unmitigated. Have they perhaps been left unattended for too long in unbearable hot desert days and left to seek their fortune in the industrial sector of town? Perhaps many of them washed away during monsoon season, and they grew accustomed to their new, unshackled lives.
This is the sound of assisting a downed cart to it’s feet and wheeling it around for a moment. It was laying helplessly on it’s side in a concrete drainage ditch. A dog barked, cheering us on.
Mike Tames a Rogue Cart
Whatever the story line, these carts are as much a fixture of Tucson in my mind as the Saguaro cactus, or rock lawns. Why this issue isn’t presently being written about by the media or addressed on a Federal level is somewhat beyond me. Here is a smattering of bike-by photos I took, literally within the span of 20 minutes.
The Marriage of Mysticism and Redneck Scrapmetal
I suppose this topic is not entirely new. Surely the droves of people that come to Burning Man probably already have a sense of the mystical properties of the desert, and the weird fusion of said mysticism with a kind of wild-west-junkyardiness. But fear not, I will not address my feelings on Burning Man now. I can’t speak to the whole southwest, which has a long history (that I’m probably only aware of the sort of hollywood version of) of spiritual practice and desert-as-void variety mysticism. But it’s also largely poor and has a lot of conservative thought and rusty bits of metal.
Basically, Tucson feels like a weird core of the highly charged and spiritual desert culture caged within the an abandoned wrought-iron cage made by weathered hands who have no need to seek spirituality because they are living within in.
Once you get away from the candy core that seems to be college kids riding the light-rail around while puking and dancing in the streets because young+free, the fringes start to reveal something more unique. I spent half a day biking around various industrial warehouses, all of which are home to various mechanical activities that:
A: I never even knew existed because I’m a regular, semi-privileged consumer who doesn’t think about rivets, or whatever, and:
B: I would still probably be baffled even if I was looking at the source of the weird clicks and whirrs coming from all the buildings. What is this industrial wonderland?
It’s a fairly interesting place to cruise around as the cheerful cries of college kids fall just short of the mangled interiors of stacks of trolley carcasses and fleets of unused school buses.
Places that wheel-and-deal with the largely unconsidered but highly-necessary features of home and automotive life that most of us take for granted sprawl out in Tucson. The below map sums it up:
…What “Authorized Technical Services” are, is somewhat beyond me. To be honest, I prefer my technical services to be unauthorized anyway, b/c I am loose cannon.
Space: The Final Frontier
The space that contains these vicious shopping carts and the mysterious industrial warehouses that surely must be their origin is literally just that: Spacious. As I trolled the city looking for weird sounds and generally being the first Tucsonian astronaut, I found that there were comparatively few sonic features of the cityscape, probably as an analogue to the desert. Traffic was sparse and had large swaths of time and space to creep up, crest, and fade off. A hammer or bird in the distance had little to compete with for my attention, and the streets afforded me huge, luxurious expanses to swerve around in.
The relatively empty nature of Tucson makes each feature, visually or sonically, worth taking note of. A shopping cart in a field.