Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Truth about Tumbleweed

Since I arrived in Arizona on June 9, 2006, I have been on a mission. The mission, which I voluntarily chose to accept, was to find a tumbleweed. One might think that this is an easy task because the Southwest United States is filled with nothing but sand, rock formations, cacti and tumbleweed. Or so the story goes.

But really, the part of Arizona where I am, Scottsdale, is nicely populated by about 150,000 people. If you count all of the Phoenix metropolitan area, the U.S. Government estimates that this number jumps to more than 3.7 million, making it one of the largest and fastest growing cities in our country.

I mention all these numbers to make a point. With all the people, there just isn't room for tumbleweed. And believe me, I've looked. I started by looking along the highways. I was told by locals (which are few and far between because not many people are actually from here. In fact, I haven't met a single one. My locals are really just transplants from the Midwest. Take this as a hint, fellow Midwesterners. LEAVE!) that the highway would be a sure-fire way to see these dry beauties. Well, they lied.

Like in Columbus, Ohio, in Scottsdale, we must often take the highway to get places. It's called the 101 and it loops around Phoenix, meeting up with other highways, such as the 202 and the 303, which take travelers to other suburban areas. So I've spend a lot of time on the highway looking for tumbleweed, all to no avail. It's even getting to be monsoon season (very windy. And it actually rains), which I was also told would be a good time to see tumbleweed, especially on the highway, but still no luck.

One day, I took the aforementioned 101 North until it heads West to a much lesser-developed area. By this I mean there are roads, the beginning of homes and only one Resort-Hotel. I thought for sure I'd be in luck. I was wrong. All I found were three very large, very yellow signs broadcasting the sale of "Luxury Condo's." Idiots. One would think that when trying to attract buyers to your condos, you'd at least learn proper punctuation. Or ask someone who already knows the difference between plural and possessive. Well, that's what I would do, anyway. Must be another "Ohio thing."

Regardless, I was becoming quite distraught about the lack of tumbleweed. To get my mind off the crisis at hand, I drove to San Diego for a couple days last week. It was a lovely time. I continued my travels West, with each mile marking another tiny bit farther away from home than I've ever been. I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. I visited with Casandra. I even went to a Padres game at Petco Park. Fabulous.

I eventually had to make my way back to the scorching place we call Scottsdale. It's about a five-and-a-half hour drive, if you go 10 over the speed limit (which is completely acceptable). I left at 4:44 on Saturday evening, aiming to be home shortly after 10. I made it to Yuma, Arizona, filled up my tank before I got into the boonies of the desert (read: scary! Like "The Hills Have Eyes." Only real.) and was on my merry way. Since this part of Arizona is very close to the Mexican border, there are Border Patrol Checkpoints. Slightly before 8 p.m., I passed through one and took a photo of the pretty sunset through the mountains. Then I drove away, watching the sky grow progressively darker in front of me. In fact, by 8:15, it was damn near black in the direction I was heading. Then I started to notice the lightning. Then the lightning became a lot more frequent. Then I got scared.

I've not been a fan of thunderstorms since I was about 12 and a funnel cloud went over our house, knocking down a large chunk of tree onto our deck, which narrowly missed our house. Now put yourself in a tiny car that weighs no more than a golf cart that is on the highway going 85 miles an hour. All of this is no good in a thunderstorm.

But, you see, it rarely rains here, so it is very dry. Therefore, before the thunderstorm comes something else. At home, it's called wind. It brings with it the fresh smell of wet, pollution-filled rain and we all rush to close windows and put tops up on our cars. In Arizona, this fresh scent is not fresh at all--it's thick, cloudy and full of dust. And everyone here goes inside to get away from the filth. But when you're on the highway in the middle of nowhere, you have no choice but to keep driving.

Meanwhile, I can't see anything in front of, behind or beside me. It's so windy, and there is so much dust and debris in the air that I'm thoroughly convinced I'm about to be sucked up into a tornado, but I can't get a hold of anyone who knows what's going on or can even check the weather. To make matters worse, I couldn't find a radio station that broadcast in English, so even if there was a severe weather bulletin telling all motorists to abandon their cars and head for the nearest shelter (or whatever I should do in a tornado when I'm in a car. I don't even know), I wouldn't have understood it. So I drove on at 35 miles an hour, clutching my steering wheel for dear life and seriously contemplating calling 911 and asking what the hell is going on.

This was about the time when I realized that all the "debris" hitting my car--those "sticks" and such--were tumbleweed. You see, I had in my head this picture of a tumbleweed out of a Tasmanian devil cartoon. It's perfectly round and just rolls lazily along the road. And it's all a big LIE! While tumbleweed may be nice and round and perfect sometimes, really, they're just a dried up weed that blows along in the wind. And I killed about 800 of them but was too busy freaking out to even notice.

So the lesson, my friends, is that tumbleweed aren't cool. They explode into tiny bits when you hit them, they make terrible noises as their brittle parts collide with your paint and windshield at high speeds and they don't even look sweet. I've yet to thoroughly investigate the damage these dried up sticks have probably done to my car because then I will just be angry. I pursued these somersaulting bushes for weeks and this is the repayment I get? The crushing of my media-fed Midwestern fantasy? Psh. I'm over it. If you want to see a tumbleweed, try the Tumbleweeds Cafe inside Chase Field. It seems like it'd be more fun to me.

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