If Phoenix is a hot mess of a beast, Gilbert is the sizzling distant unknown reptile nobody has ever heard of. I’d come in from the south, drove through Coolidge, then finally the long straight boulevard into downtown, the very beating heart of this anonymous gargantuan valley town..
Three lanes in each direction for 20 miles will change how you see a boulevard. All the usual big box suspects were there, then there were all the plus plus plus strip malls.
Back in California up in the Bay Area because of the layout it is hard to run boulevards to this 20 mile length. El Camino Real starts up in San Bruno and terminates in Santa Clara. Over in the East Bay Mission Boulevard gets honking along in Oakland and sputters out just beyond Niles.
Gilbert is on another level. There is no obvious break in city limits. It is one long comprehensive aggregation of something profoundly present yet awakened to a sense of commerce and design that seems almost cruel.
Here is a place where an electric bike helps. On a hot day, and they are all hot days in Gilbert just walking one nearly one third mile long block may be something you will never recover from. Because of the scale of the thing if you don’t drive you don’t exist, or better yet that’s all you can do is exist because you certainly can’t get anywhere.
If you wanted to foment a sense of isolation, a sense of being lost, a sense of feeling that the manmade world surrounding you in some odd way is aimed to dishearten you this would be the place to come see how the discouragment is constructed.
What makes a small place like Patagonia feel so sublime is that it allows none of it in their town limits. You got the local cooperative style grocery store, coffee joint, bakery and gift shop. You want to attend a spiritual function you drink at the Wagon Wheel Saloon where the tequila is intended to help you find your very own personal hangover and God.
Tubac is a bit bigger, Bisbee too. Place such as Jerome is just too dang near Sedona. These better pieces of Arizona are right-sized.
I put down a long unbroken string of appearances at the Tempe Festival of the Arts. My initial appearances sputtered along more failed experiments than rousing successes. Then, about 2000 the festival producer got serious about presenting my kind of act, street theater, and I went on an unbroken twice a year stint, 3 days in December and another 3 days at the end of March that took me through 2012.
The cancer of progress struck Mill Avenue in Tempe where the festival was mounted. All the local mom and pop stores were shutdown replaced with slicker franchise style businesses. Gutted the soul right out of Mill Avenue, you don’t have to take my word, pretty much everyone agrees the place that was has been killed off, a death by a hundred devastating good intentions.
I’m no bean counter, I’d guess the building boom in the surrounding Mill Avenue area has to exceed $1-billion. I can count 20 skyscrapers and there are probably more. Those pesky mid-rise type buildings have given way to genuine twenty plus story honest go gosh big money mosh pits.
Nothing to do I suppose but pick up and move elsewhere, then again where is a good soul to go— Las Vegas is terrifying, forget LA, Tucson has its own issues.
Traveling the last few weeks I’ve had a good shot at seeing what’s become of Pasadena, Redondo Beach and a next to nowhere place like Bagdad, Arizona. One sure thing I know is that it has been more miss than hit out here in the building a place game. I wonder what’s so hard about making place. Not entirely sure but making one that works is a might bit harder than we’re ready to do something about.