Monday, November 26, 2007
SUNDAY BRUNCH - MY STYLE
Fettit woke up in a good mood yesterday. Well known for being a hermit and creature of habit, he rarely likes to go anywhere, so when he asked if I was interested in taking a road-trip to Tucson, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to get out of town.
The differences between Phoenix and Tucson are vast. The 115 miles between the two cities allow each of them their own distinctive personality.
In Phoenix, in an attempt to appear more tropical than we really are, we have green lawns and imported trees and flowers, where as Tucson celebrates the uniqueness of the desert.
The mountains that circle Tucson are breathtaking, especially the Santa Catalina Mountains to the north, and the desert around Tucson is much more diverse, lush and greener than ours in Phoenix.
I always welcome an opportunity to get out of Phoenix. Although I love living here I enjoy traveling, even if it is only a road trip, and Tucson holds many precious memories of my grandparents, and my life when I went to college.
Fettit said it would be fun to take a drive and then go to one of the many authentic Mexican restaurants I had told him about - My mind instantly flashed to the Crossroads, a place I went nearly every Thursday with my friend Adela. He reminded me that due to an unfortunate circumstance, our current boarder, Rich, hadn’t seen much of Arizona so he also saw it as an opportunity to show Rich some of the state.
The plan was vague, but we decided that after he returned from pumping his organ at church we would take a leisurely drive.
My imagination, and my fingers on the keyboard, went to work immediately as I started to plan our trip. I can’t stop myself sometimes. I had to find a different way of going to Tucson because driving the freeway is a bore and life was meant to be experienced on the back roads. I saw this as an opportunity to see some off-the-beaten-path locales.
In my head I saw a margarita tour. I envisioned us driving 45 minutes or so and stopping in a random little dirt town at a quaint little Mexican restaurant, the kind with authentic, homemade food and drinks where the help barely speaks English. We would load back in the car and drive another 30 or 40 minutes, find another margarita and tortilla chips and repeat.
On my computer I pulled up Mapquest and quickly found the route I wanted. The direct route being 115 miles I thought that an extra 65 or so miles wouldn’t be that big of a deal since we would be having fun along the way and seeing new places.
The route set, Rich and I showered and patiently awaited Fettit’s return from church. He was late and Rich and I were impatient. We were ready to start our adventure.
While getting into the car I told them of my margarita tour plans. Fettit’s was in a good mood and said he was up for anything, as was Rich.
We drove the interstate 50 miles or so south to Casa Grande and I turned west towards San Diego. From looking at the map I knew Chuichu Road was within a few miles from our last turn-off so I started looking for it – and don’t see it. I continued to drive and past several exits and still didn’t see it. I asked Fettit and Rich to start combing the car for an Arizona road map but they don’t have any luck. I have fifteen maps in the car and not one is for the state of Arizona.
There are few exits and the ones there are have not businesses or people. They are just endless roads leading to no where.
At this point I was waiting for short-fused Fettit to burst and start yelling at me – it’s what we do – but he didn’t say a word.
After close to 20 miles I give up and turn around. As I re-approach Casa Grande I look up at an exit-less overpass and I see Chuichu Road. We have now driven 40 miles out of our way and I still have to find a way back this road.
I took the next exit and worked my way over the Chuichu Road, leading us to Indian Highway 15. As I turned south I recalled the names of the towns on this part of the trip - Santa Rosa, Ak Chin, and Sells. All three places fit my fantasy perfectly, and as my stomach growled and my mouth watered, I pictured pulling into each dusty little town and finding the quaint local restaurants filled with friendly, sun-baked locals. I could practically smell the fried chips and fresh-made salsa and taste the tartness of the margarita.
We Had been driving for about an hour and a half and we were all starting to get hungry. Nearly an hour earlier I mentioned starting the margarita tour in Casa Grande but Fettit said he was afraid if we started there he would get tired too early so we continued.
The first town we came to was Santa Rose. My senses were on high alert as we neared and I mentioned to Fettit that I was certain there would be a cute little Mexican café like I envisioned, but boy was I wrong. Santa Rosa was a tiny speck of a town, just off the highway but there was no restaurant, gas station or convenience store. We didn’t even see a resident. There was only a school.
By now Rich was sleeping in the back seat and I looked over at Fettit, waiting for him to hemorrhage from frustration, and he just smiled at me.
The next town was Ak Chin and my hopes were not high that we would find food there because I remembered from the map that the two towns were the same size.
Hell, Ak Chin didn’t even have a school.
Over 30 years previous I had passed through Sells on my way San Diego. I remembered it as a dusty and sleepy desert town and in my mind I saw the businesses and people. I told Fettit with certainty that in 40 miles we would be relaxing with margaritas and tacos. With no hint of dissatisfaction on his face, he nodded.
As we approached Sells, the three of us started to laugh about our little trip and how it really hadn’t turned out as planned. We had been on the road for what seemed like an eternity and each of us was ravenous, but I assured them that Sells was the answer to all of our thirst and hunger needs.
The speed limit changed from 65 to 55 and 55 to 45 then 45 to 35 as we entered Sells. In my head I qualified that since we had to reduce speed then we had definitely found our oasis. One of the first buildings we found had a sign that read “Career Center.” Bingo - a career center meant people and businesses and both of those meant Mexican restaurant to me and then to my left there was a Basha’s grocery store, we have them in Phoenix, so our margaritas were just around the corner.
The road curved and we saw buildings ahead and I felt my vindication at hand, but I was wrong. Sadly, the buildings were mostly in disrepair, and each was surrounded with six foot chain linked fences. I couldn’t figure out if they were meant to keep outsiders at bay or the inhabitants captive.
I continued driving and on the right hand side of the road is saw a sign that read “Business District – Turn Right” so I followed the instructions and still didn’t see a restaurant. I didn’t see a gas station. I didn’t see a post office. I didn’t see people. All I saw was poverty and fenced-in non-descript beige buildings that all looked like they were about to implode.
Fettit’s humor continued to remain intact. I was amazed. He was starting to rattle off jokes and much to my surprise they weren’t aimed at me.
Three hours into our journey and we remained margarita less and our empty stomachs were shouting to be filled. For an instant I saw a buzzard circling over my malnourished body, waiting to attack, but then I realized it was a border patrol helicopter hovering over what I suspected to be a group of Mexican nationals trying to make it north. Every tenth car I passed on the highway was a border patrol vehicle en route to the site of the helicopter suspended over its prey.
An additional forty-five minutes passed and our arrival into Tucson was imminent. I remembered that I had packed my cameras for the trip and had planned to visit Saguaro National Monument, just west of Tucson to capture its beauty, but I soon realized because of my missteps hunger and thirst took priority.
I drove us to South Tucson, a tiny municipality surrounded by the city of Tucson - the heart of authentic margaritas and Mexican food. Looking for the Crossroads, we stumbled upon a local legend, Minidito. Secretly fearing the long lines, and Fettit’s wrath, I apprehensively agreed to make this our destination. I had kept them hungrily locked in the car long enough.
Once inside the host told us the wait would be 25 minutes at which point I was certain Fettit would blow his cork, but he was fine. While we waited we had a margarita that did not disappoint. After a nearly 15 year absence from Tucson’s Mexican restaurants I had forgotten the taste of a traditional margarita.
But we were hungry and the room full of people didn’t seem to be moving toward the dining room so I suggested we try to find the Crossroads. Much to my amazement Fettit’s good mood continued to remain intact and after paying for the drinks we were back in the car.
Any typical Sunday Fettit and I go out for margaritas. Our favorite place is 15 minute away in Scottsdale, but Fettit often complains about the drive so we usually end up someplace closer; therefore, I was dumbfounded that after four hours in the car, for a trip that should have taken one and a half, he wasn’t screaming at me.
As we turned the corner I saw the Crossroads restaurant and could see it wasn’t busy. At first I feared they had gone out of the business and this would be the end of Fettit’s pleasant demeanor, but the restaurant was open and we got a parking spot right in front.
When I embarked on our journey, I was seeking a traditional Mexican restaurant, staffed with waitresses with limited English speaking and comprehension skills, serving a homemade, full-bodied, somewhat sweet and deliciously tart margarita, and food that was authentic and el fresco. Four hours later I had arrived where I should have planned to go all along.
While we were still in the restaurant Fettit told me he wanted to go to a casino and play some video poker. Ah Ha - The reason for his good mood. As I suspected, he had an agenda all along, but I didn’t care. His humor never left him all day. After our delicious margaritas, amazing chips and salsa, hand made tacos and chimichangas we drove through Tucson towards home. With each turn that took us deeper into the city, he never complained. I wanted to see a little of the place that had once been my home, and although he was most assuredly ready to go gambling, he allowed me to meander the city streets before entering the crowed freeway to make out way north.
We decided we would stop at one of the casinos on our way into Phoenix and just as the freeway traffic started to slow with our approach, Fettit instructed me to get off the freeway and where to turn.
I lost $40, Rich won $200, and I do not want to think how much Fettit lost.
Later, when I told Fettit that I had been waiting all day for him to blow up at me he laughed and said that he hadn’t minded at all. He enjoyed seeing the different landscape and experiencing new places, even if it was from within the confines of the car.
I’m hoping he’ll be game for a road trip again soon. I found the “Salsa Trail,” about 200 miles southeast of Phoenix which is four towns, all within a few miles of each other, with twenty-something award winning Mexican restaurants, tortilla factories, and salsa shops – each known for their margaritas, chips and salsa and Mexican food.
Posted by Gpawilli at 11:54 AM