MONTE DUTTON - PHOENIX REMINDS ME OF ADVENTURE
While watching the NASCAR race at the Desert Mile on the western edge of the Valley of the Sun on TV, I started thinking about my many visits there.
Phoenix, or Avondale, or ISM Raceway (whatever that means) is, in other words, Hell on Wheels. Thank goodness NASCAR doesn’t hold a race there in the summer.
Over the years, when someone mentions a toasty Southern venue, I’ve developed a habit of saying “but it’s a wet heat” in response to all the times I’ve been told “it’s a dry heat” out west.
Among the lessons I learned in two decades of Phoenix visits:
1. Bring Chapstick for “the dry heat.”
2. The Mexican food is tasty, but it’s not the “Tex-Mex” beloved back east. It’s Sonoran because that’s what’s in Mexico south of Arizona. A lot more of the hot sauce is green, but that doesn’t mean it’s less hot. Do not be afraid to order “a burro.” They won’t bring donkey meat.
3. One day a race may be delayed, if not postponed, by a sandstorm. A Southwest Tour event was once run in one. I fictionalized such a scene in my novel Lightning in a Bottle.
4. Media facilities have come a long way, I’m told. The old media center was the only one I’ve known to have scorpions lurking in the corners beneath the tables.
5. If the race gets boring, one can always gaze across the mountains behind the back straight. Once I spent 15 laps or so focusing binoculars at a cowboy astride a horse, high above the track, possibly bemoaning the loss of grazing land below.
6. Over about a 10-year period, I saw Arizona State play football more times than I saw my alma mater. Gatorade, thanks to my friend, the late Ed Shull, often invited me to watch the Sun Devils in the company suite. Once I had a conversation with Hugh Downs across the partition separating me from the next suite, assigned to then Gov. Janet Napolitano.
7. An inordinate number of America’s most beautiful co-eds attend college in Tempe.
8. When the racing is over, and the stories done, one of the best experiences in NASCAR is a steak at T-Bone’s, a place where it is still possible to tie up a horse at the hitching post out front.
9. My one true annual adventure was spending the week between races working my way from Fort Worth to Phoenix, all but once in the company of a colleague. Different routes – usually through El Paso and Tucson, but occasionally through Lubbock or Amarillo, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Flagstaff. I encountered Mormon missionaries in Las Cruces, played “Me and Bobby McGee” near the Sedona shopping district with a woman who’d just gotten off work (I sang it Kristofferson-style; she sang it Joplin-style), visited the ancient home of cliff dwellers and bumped into the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote in the Painted Desert. They just flashed by. It could have been my imagination.
10. In a related lesson, never run low on gas in West Texas, where oil wills are plentiful but gas stations are rare.