Monday 12 September
Arriving in Tucson last night my long-time good friend Murray picked me up and drove us the 150k (just down the road here) back to Hereford in Southern Arizona where he and wife Row live.
We are up early and out to the local air force base where Murray is supervising some construction work. I sat in a local diner while Murray went on base to get his workers sorted for the day. Soon he was back and we were on the road south to Naco, a small run down town you enter when crossing into Mexico. There is already a double high fence on the border here.
The border crossing into Mexico is quite simple: just drive through, no passport check. There must be a few US bad guys hiding down in Mexico.
We head south through quite lush looking scrubby country. Most of the year this land is barren and dusty but they have had their annual rain recently. The sealed road is a little narrow and uneven with many small shrines on the roadside, I presume for those who have died in car accidents.
This area in recent years has had a strong Drug Cartel presence. Apparently they have now mostly been driven out of the area. Judging by the state of some signs there is also a bit of a shooting target shortage.
We soon reach the main road to Cananea. There is a new road being built alongside the existing one with seal and road markings looking ready to use. Just one problem no bridges. Yes!! Did someone forget to order them?? One would have to be desperate to drive this road at night as in places the road just ends and you have to swerve across onto the new bit, no cones or signs, just stay alert.
We make it to Cananea. It’s a dusty, pretty run down town supported by a huge open cast mine. The tailing heaps stacked up like large hills go on for miles. Started by a colonel back in the eighteen hundreds it produces copper and gold. After three and a half years of strikes, in mid 2010 three and a half thousand police descended on the town driving striking miners out of the mine.
We found a local restaurant and had a cheap but very tasty lunch. The trip back across the border was a little different than on the way over. As we drove into the booth there must have been 30 cameras facing our vehicle.
A white-haired, grumpy, antique US border guard grilled us as to why we had been to Mexico. “For a look”, we replied. “I don’t know why anyone would want to go there for a look” was the reply. More questions followed including a check in the back of the pick-up before he waved us through.
We headed over to Bisley where Murray pointed out where he had done the reclamation work on the old mine tailing hills there. He was finishing this off when I was here nearly five years ago. Now you wouldn’t know they were there as they blend into the landscape.
During my last visit we went to Tombstone to watch the reenacted gunfight at the OK Corral. This starts in the street with a couple of other shoot outs and leads people into the corral for the grand finale. Apparently last year as they were reenacting this in the street one of the bad guy actors had been to the range that morning and forgot to change his bullets over for the show. He drew his colt and fired his six shots. The marshal dropped hit once, the other bullets ricocheted around the streets, one ending up in a bar hitting the barmaid in the left breast. Apparently the guy doesn’t act that part out anymore.
The evening we spent catching up and recalling old times. Murray and I have known each other since the mid seventies; we met through karate and have stayed in touch ever since.
Tuesday 13 September
After a brew of good coffee and a goodbye to Row we headed for Tucson. I am always intrigued by the size of everything in the US, particularly the interstate roads – at least two wide lanes in each direction with a corridor wide enough to build many more lanes. Generally they go in straight lines with large sweeping corners where they change direction. The first of these were originally built in the 1950s with the specific purpose of moving troops and equipment should there be an attack by the Russians. Interestingly it was quite quickly realised that this infrastructure created huge growth in the economy. They are still administered by the Army Engineer Corps.
At one point along the way there were some 200 locomotives parked on a railway siding; apparently they have been there for months and nobody seems to know why.
Arriving at Tucson we took a drive around the Bone Yard. Apparently one can do a tour but we didn’t have time. This is the place where retired aircraft are parked up and by the look of what we saw sometimes turned to scrap. There are thousands of them here on this huge piece of land.
Murray dropped me off. Airborne it is always interesting to look down on the sheer vastness of the US.
The flight is via Chicago so its late when I arrive in Nashville to meet with Sylvia.
Wednesday 14 September
We are staying at Cool Springs just south of Nashville where Sylvia has meetings. I took a drive to Lake Radnor. Surrounded by a tree clad park with a walking track around it, lots of people were out strolling. At the beginning of the track is a big sign with the rules, some of which were: do not go off the track, do not visit the lake shore, no music or weddings, no picnics, no jogging or running, no pets. Just in case you didn’t remember them thirty meters into the track was a sandwich board with a stop sign on it repeating the rules. I guess when you have big concentrations of people you have to have rule makers and it looks like they love making rules.
On the drive back through Brentwood I was amazed by the number of super large houses with their large, unfenced grounds running to the street.
In the evening we caught up with Earl and Gayle from Kentucky. Sylvia had met Earl on a trip to the Antarctic a few years ago. We enjoyed a good yarn over a meal.
Thursday 15 September
I took a bit of a stroll down to the local Home Depot. Everything is big around here.
Around 1pm we set off on the three hundred plus mile drive to St Louis, heading north west through Kentucky. The interstate along large parts of the journey is bounded by trees but in places it breaks out into large cropping farms.
We stopped at a Subway about half way. This is quite a normal sight in Kentucky and many other states as the laws allow for the open carry of guns.
As we reached the southern side of St Louis the memorial arch stood out in the distance.
Friday 16 September
I dropped Sylvia off for some meetings at the Royal Canin US head office and hit the highway for downtown St Louis. A massive lightening storm was underway and heavy rain drenched the road to the point that the front-wheel drive, underpowered Pontiac went into aquaplane mode several times with the ESP light flashing on the dash board as it did so. The traffic was moving at 50 mph so one can’t slow down.
St Louis is where Captian Lewis and Lieutenant Clark set off to explore the west in 1804. Arriving downtown I headed to the old court house. Completed in 1864 with construction taking over 40 years it’s quite a nice building with a large dome with hallways running off in four directions.
There I bought a poncho for the stroll to the Arch. The idea of a monument to Lewis and Clark originated in 1935 as a tourist attraction but I don’t think in this form. The project dragged on for a while. In the early 50’s the arch concept was conceived. The architects budgeted for 13 people to die during the building process. Thankfully despite having no safety harnesses no one died. The two sides of the arch were built together; when they reached the tipping point a bridge was lifted up and fitted between them.
Theodolite readings were taken at night to insure the accuracy of construction was within 1/64 of an inch. As planned the two sides had to be jacked apart to fit the last piece in.
The ride to the top starts underground. In true US style there are people telling you to stand here, move there etc., but eventually a door opens and in front of me is a barrel shaped car with five seats in it.
In I get up and go alone in the barrel. A small window allows a view of the inside of the structure, cables, trusses, beams and stairs dominate the view. Just below the top the barrel stops, door opens. A few steps up hill and I am at the top 190 meters above the ground.
The view from the top is great, the small windows are sloped forward so you can look strait at the ground. On the south side is the grand Mississippi River.
The arch can handle six thousand visitors a day. I am sure by now they have got a good return on their 13 million dollar investment.
Visit over I picked up Sylvia and we caught a flight to New York. We stayed at the Sherry Netherland hotel on 5th Ave at the southeast corner of Central Park. With its ornate foyer this place still has lift operators. They ride the lifts and push the buttons for you. One of these guys had been working at this hotel for twenty years.
After checking in we took a stroll around the local area. Across the on the corner of the park hundreds of people gathered, all looking eagerly at their phones – a Pokémon hunt was on. The streets were as busy as i remember them from my many visits during the eighties and nineties.
We found a cigar club where people pay to have a locker to keep their cigars and whisky, cognac etc in. Smoking is banned on the streets and parks in NY. I ordered a cigar and a G&T. The cigar was reasonably cheap but the G&T set me back $35 locals plus a charge for the tonic!!!