Scottsdale / Montrose
July 2002
Day 6


Wednesday July 4th, 2002
Start: Scottsdale, Arizona
End: Scottsdale, Arizona
102 Miles

View of courtyard from the front entry.
Resort Suites
Waking up in a resort hotel is a strange experience for me. Our room is upstairs. Each room has a recessed entry, and also a recessed balcony out back shaded by mesquite. Though hot outside, the air conditioner quietly keeps it cool inside. We have a kitchen, and two TVs. Thick walls. Thick carpet. And visible out front is the courtyard with swimming pool and a fake waterfall...

I make some phone calls to Motorcycle Mechanics Institute and Kelly's Kawasaki. I attended MMI, and used to work at Kelly's Kawasaki, and would sure like to get the petcock and the steering bearings taken care of. The running problems have disappeared since removing the aftermarket fuel filter, so I'll leave that alone.

MMI no longer works on customer's bikes, and Kelly's recording simply lists store hours. It is a holiday, after all...

We shower, and then head over to the Mensa Annual Gathering at the Scottsdale Princess. It's just a short walk through the courtyard of our complex, cross the street, through a very ornate and pretentious lobby in a Southwestern motif, through another courtyard, into the main hall area.

However... the walk bothers me a bit. Why? Water...

There are four pools in four courtyards in our smaller complex, each pool complete with landscaped artificial waterfalls dropping into them. Four! Then after crossing the lobby of the larger hotel, there's a large waterworks or water sculpture - I don't know what else to call it. It's a cross between a pyramid (reminiscent of pyramids in South America), and a waterfall. Water flows from a fountain at the top, dribbles and splashes over the various blocks and rocks, and provides wet eye candy for the guests.

It is pretty, I guess. But it bothers me - a lot. Collectively, we've spent billions of dollars diverting water from the Colorado River into a big ditch that flows across the desert into the Phoenix valley - for this? If you're not going to drink the water, why? My opinion is that the water looked perfectly good in it's original riverbed, and that it's arrogant to think the water would look better coursing through a man-made fountain than what it looked at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

I tell myself that it shouldn't bother me, that it's just water, that back home water is so common as to be taken for granted. And there's the problem - out here water isn't common. I'm not sure how ethical it is to drain a river so that people can have fountains and golf courses in the desert. Rivers are alive, fountains are sterile. I truly don't consider myself an environmentalist, but this simply feels wrong. It's probably best that I don't visit Las Vegas anytime soon.

Shifting gears - ever wonder what goes on at a Mensa Annual Gathering? Me too, this is my first, and I don't know what to expect. I keep my mouth shut and simply tag along with Sharon, and it reminds me of any other convention or rally. Sign in here, fill out this form, you pre-registered right? OK, here's your packet - glad you're here, have fun!

We wander into the Hospitality area, which is another way of saying snacks and tables and people talking. There's a crystal chandelier, tables all over, and every kind of person you can imagine. Tall and short, thin and thick, both genders, most colors, all ages, and every style of clothing imaginable. Most are dressed in business casual, but some are dressed as if to go to church while others are dressed as though they're living out their fantasies and fetishes. I guess conventions breed some strange behaviors....

We grab a table, and go through our packet. The packet consists of a bag of stuff: info on things to do in Phoenix, some foam visors, miscellaneous trinkets, and a program on the AG itself. Ah, the program... that's the good stuff.

Opening the program, and the AG is basically a list of seminars and lectures, dances and breakfasts and dinners and social get-togethers. There are also guided bus tours for adults (I think we'll skip the bus tours....), field trips for kids, as well as kids' activities at the AG itself.

The seminars are extremely varied, but here's a very small slice from memory:

Psychology and types of mental illness.
Are vaccines safe?
Spirit vs. Intellect.
How to write for money.
The Lunar Prospector

We each highlight a few that sound interesting, eat a few snacks, and then head into the main hallway to browse the vendors.

The hallway is full of vendors, each with some unique product that would appeal to Mensans. There are books on gifted children, Mensa bumper stickers, puzzles, T-shirts... Again the parallels with a BMW national rally stand out. This is no different than the folks selling gloves and books and tires at Bulow during Bike Week. Just a bunch of people sharing a common interest.

I leaf through some books by Richard Lederer. A self-described "verbivore", Lederer writes books of puns and fun with words. The one title that is firmly stuck in my memory is "Those Cunning Linguists". The man sitting at the table introduces himself as Richard Lederer, and we shake hands. He asks if I've read any of his books, I reply that I haven't. He tells me I should because they're good, that his seminar is in a couple hours, and I should attend. He's confident and likable, he sounds interesting, so... OK. I'm in; I'll be there.

But first, a talk on the Lunar Prospector by a man that did a bunch of the software work on the project.

The Lunar Prospector was a miniature moon probe launched on a shoestring budget, the total cost being about $63,000,000. It sounds more like a rope to me, but to NASA, that's a shoestring - most NASA projects are in the billion-dollar range. When the idea of a small probe was originally proposed, NASA wasn't interested. Then they lost a couple of Mars mega-projects, and the idea of cheap space exploration became attractive. The guy is a fair speaker, but the subject matter is fantastic - he talks a lot about what my engineer co-workers affectionately term "hack-and-slash" engineering, i.e., using "off the shelf" parts to quickly build something that works well enough to do the job effectively and cheaply. There are tons of info on the web on the subject of the Lunar Prospector, so I'm not going to get too detailed here. It's a great story, though.

At the end, the speaker has a limited supply of pamphlets to hand out on the subject, so he explains that those who ask questions will get a pamphlet. I raise my hand, and ask how him how many pamphlets he has... People in the room laugh, but I get my pamphlet.

A URL from that pamphlet, a Brief on NASA Discovery Program which funded the Lunar Prospector:

Next is a little old lady giving a talk on writing for money. Very interesting..! She assumes that each of us can actually write, and so she focuses on selling the work we produce. How to approach editors, what going rates are, how to locate markets, why each of us is unique in our writing, what she writes about and where she submits to, how she got started..... lots of good info. She also stresses that none of us should quit our day job, which is probably very good advice.

And then it's time for Richard Lederer, the "verbivore".

He starts off slow, and steadily picks up steam as his talk progresses. He recites anagrams, sentences that say the same thing spelled forward as well as backward. He talks about where words come from, his education, how he made words his business, his books. Examples of his word plays:

Difference between a Senator and a Centaur? One is half horse's ass, and the other is a creature in mythology.

Won ton? Not now.

Then his historical bloopers - he has a radio talk show and a newspaper column and teachers send in bloopers submitted by their students. The best ones?

"Eat you, Brutus!"

"Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world - with a 100' clipper."

That last one made all the men in the audience wince just a bit....

A web search turned up this page on Richard Lederer:

I'd listen to him again, even if it was the same talk. The man was hilarious! And he was simply delivering these word plays in rapid-fire, the audience not recovering from the last 5-10 phrases before the next 5-10 are incoming....

Sharon and I meet again, and we attend a talk on the Monahan meteor together. Quite a tale, and the meteor is sitting there in a glass case, its owner a thick-bodied slow talking Texan with a gentle drawl and a good story. Seems there was a group of seven Hispanic kids shooting hoops in Monahan Texas in the early 1990s, when a meteor dropped into their front yard, scaring them and leaving a big dent in the lawn. Police and firemen were called, and nobody knew exactly what to do with it so it was taken into custody by the city. A piece was broken off for testing by NASA, and the press came and interviewed the seven boys. The meteor wasn't radioactive or poisonous, and was declared safe for the boys to have.

About the time the press's interest was waning, NASA found water in the piece of the meteor they were testing. Water had never been found in a meteor before, so the Monahan meteor was suddenly very unique.

Also about that time, the city manager decided that the meteor had financial value and that it had landed on city property in the easement, and not in the boys' front yard. The boys contacted the press, and the press swarmed on this new development in the story. The city decided that the city manager was wrong, the meteor had landed in the boys' front yard after all, and the city manager found a job in another city.

The boys held an auction on the Net with little or no fanfare, and the speaker placed 2 bids - one at opening and one just before closing. The meteor went for a fraction of its appraised value, but even so each boy ended up with several thousand dollars. All parties came away from the table happy.

I've said it before, a Mensa event if it's good can be a mental buffet. Each of the four speakers above had a great story to tell, and each story got me to thinking and daydreaming and wondering... A meteor in the front yard - what kid doesn't dream of that?

After a leisurely day at the Gathering, we check with the concierge about fireworks. It is the 4th of July, after all... We'd planned on watching the fireworks at Rawhide, a nearby western theme park. But a lot of places have cancelled their fireworks, due to the extreme threat of fire. The concierge checks, and Rawhide has cancelled their fireworks too. How about a scenic ride through Phoenix?

Secretly, I've been chomping at that bit all day. I can't wait to zip around my favorite town, visit old hangouts, just soak in a hot July 4th night in the Phoenix valley. We hop on the bike and head south on the freeway looking for fireworks and whatever else we might find.

It's just after sunset, and as we travel south I recognize various mountains scattered across the valley. Phoenix is odd in that although it's called a valley, it's more like a large plain surrounded by mountains with a river running through the middle. Random large mountains jut up from the desert floor within the city limits. So, although I may not recognize any of the new roads and homes around the mountains' bases, I sure do recognize the mountains themselves. They haven't changed a bit, they're mountains after all, and I'm glad to see they're in the exact same shape as when I left the valley in 1984. New homes have only advanced a short ways up the mountains at best - I'm glad to see the tops are still wild and unsettled.

We start to see some fireworks at various locations scattered around the valley, we're both looking this way and that hoping for a glimpse of another bunch of explosions in the valley. This is pretty cool - although long distance, we don't have to deal with the crowds. We'll just take our fireworks as we go, from our seats on the bike.

We take one of the Tempe exits, I figure I can find my way around Tempe alright since I used to live there and the surface streets couldn't have changed too much. However, there's a problem. It's the 4th of July... We don't know where the fireworks display is in Tempe, but we do find all the people in cars that are going to see the fireworks. We're right there in traffic with them, cooling fans cycling on and off on my bike and on the cars around us. It's very hot, even at night!

We make some U-turns this way and that, and end up southbound on Rural Ave. heading away from Arizona State University. We take a right on Apache, much of this is familiar.... I want to show Sharon the Arizona State University Music Center, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. And at the corner of Rural and Apache, there used to be some fake concrete teepees that dated from the time when US-60 came down Apache from the desert.

We pass the former site of the teepees, and I have to laugh a little - in an example of fake life imitating real life, the fake teepees are gone. They've been replaced by a fake log cabin, a restaurant. Ironic, really

A mile later I point out the ASU Music Center to Sharon.

We try to head over to my old apartment on Hardy, but it's not easy....traffic is dense on Mill Ave, the main street of Tempe. No problem, a few quick turns through this neighborhood and that neighborhood and we're there.

I don't expect my old apartment to still exist. So much has changed, and these apartments were sort of old and run-down when I lived there. The rent was low-budget, but it was close to work so I lived there quite a while. We cross University, and oh my... they're still there. They've even been repainted!

We pull in, and park the bike exactly where I used to park 20 years ago. There's a stripped down late-70s Honda Hawk with clip-ons and a torn seat and oil leaking everywhere, I can just picture that same bike being parked next to my Kawasaki KZ-650 or GPz-550 way back when. We walk into the courtyard, and I point out my old apartment to Sharon. We walk past the gas grill and the pool, past the palm trees, past the on-site laundry, past the mailboxes, around one block of apartments and back to the bike. It's a very strange feeling, I half expect to bump into my younger self while here, or somebody from way back when. Of course my mind knows better, we were all young adults and most were in college and hopefully all of us have gone on to bigger and better things.

Mostly I feel like Rip Van Winkle, or a time traveler. I'm here, but everybody else is long gone. I'm glad the apartments still exist, though. Cheap off-campus housing for another generation of ASU students...

Back on the bike, and we head north on Hardy, working our way to the south shore of the Salt River. I figure we can go along the dry riverbed and pass under Mill Avenue, back to Rural, jump on the freeway and head over to South Mountain Park.

No such luck , the 20 year old maps in my head let me down again. River Road doesn't go under Mill Avenue anymore, instead we're funneled right into the worst of the Fourth of July traffic mess. We ride past the upside-down glass pyramid that contains the Tempe city offices, then past ASU stadium and through ASU, then finally back to Rural.

We get back on the freeway, and head over to South Mountain Park. But the freeway has changed too, and we end up zooming through a freeway tunnel in central Phoenix before exiting and re-checking the map, and finding out where South Mountain Park really is. Funny - I keep pointing to it for Sharon, we can see it clearly due to the radio and TV towers flashing at the top of South Mountain Park, but getting there isn't as easy as I figured.

Finally, we're on track for South Mountain Park. Riding through south Phoenix, the buildings around us are familiar, and whoa! There's a Phoenix police barricade, what the heck? It turns out South Mountain Park is closed for the 4th of July, they don't want people up there tonight. I tell the police I've come a long way; will South Mountain Park be open tomorrow? Yes... OK, thanks! We turn around, and figure on coming back tomorrow night.

We head east towards Mesa, via Baseline Road. I want to visit Kelly's Kawasaki in Mesa; I used to work there, various positions: parts counter sales, parts manager, service manager... I wonder how the place has changed.

Baseline south of Phoenix used to be citrus groves, but I don't see a single one now. Instead, south Phoenix has become a barrio where some billboards aren't bi-lingual - they're Spanish. Lots of convenience stores and fast food joints and stretches of run-down housing. In the 1980s it was hard to find a really bad area of Phoenix - the city seemed too new to have the kind of rundown areas that Detroit or Toledo have. Now Phoenix is old enough to have some really rough areas itself.

We get back on the freeway, exit at Country Club, and make our way to the new location of Kelly's Kawasaki. There's a sign on the door saying they're closed for the 4th of July, but will be open again on Friday. I'll call in the morning... We grab a drink from the convenience store next door, stretch a bit, and take off.

On the freeway again, headed north, into Scottsdale. Unlike last night, I'm a bit more lucid now. This freeway is brand-new, absolutetly brand-new. A lot of the landscaping is still in progress. The walls, bridges, and even the concrete below looks brand-new, there's not a single oil stain or skid mark or pothole.

Back to our hotel room, and then into bed, and I don't feel very good about what I've seen today. There's been so much change - this isn't the place I remember at all. No more citrus groves, uncontrolled growth, the southern barrios near South Mountain Park.... the Phoenix I remember is gone.

And then I'm out.

Doug Grosjean
Luckey, Ohio