The trek from California through the mountain states towards home landed me in Billings, MT mid-day last week. I stopped for a quick bite to eat, then ordered a souped-up coffee at a local cafe, coffee which was intended to amp me up enough to reach Bismarck, N.D.
The white flakes blowing across the freeway in California's Central Valley looked like snow, but the temperatures were in the 80s. The flakes were petals blowing from thousands of almond trees just finishing their bloom the first week of March. Almond farmers hope the honey bees, some of them brought down from the Red River Valley of the North just to pollinate the almonds, did their job, for the Central Valley provides 70 percent of the world's supply.
The last day in Arizona featured the best and worst of customer service and business management. First, a hotel from the nether regions. I won't name the establishment because I met the sleaze-bag owner and I know he would sue me, even if what I write here is true. What was a comfortable, if dated, hotel when I stayed three years ago has turned into a sleazy den of iniquity. The desk clerk lied from the beginning, saying that if the internet didn't work, it was my computer's fault.
With fifteen major league baseball teams training in the Phoenix area, you would think that a baseball fan would be in heaven, racing from ballfield to ballfield collecting autographs and taking in the atmosphere. On that premise, I looked over the map of stadiums last week and decided to drive to see the Dodgers practice. The Dodgers recently were purchased by former basketball legend Magic Johnson and friends. The group is plush with money and throws it around as if they are the Yankees.
Last week, a neighbor from back home and a fellow snowbird showed me an adventure I have never before experienced. I was invited to go four-wheelin' on the Arizona desert. Three parties met at a remote staging area just north of Florence. We unloaded the four-wheelers and planned the day. I was given a choice. Either I would wear a kerchief over my nose and mouth, or I would wear one of those medical-looking dust masks.
Snowbird luck: I flew back from Arizona to Minnesota for an important meeting only to get snowed in and miss the meeting which suddenly didn't seem important at all! The trip got off on a strange foot when this frail, rail-thin teenage kid sat next to me on the plane in Phoenix and ordered one margarita and two Jack-and-Cokes. "Wait a minute!" the flight attendant said, "We can only do one at a time."
The Super Bowl rendered the usually crowded freeways of Phoenix, Ariz. as quiet as I-29 during a blizzard. Even Christmas can't command such a complete shutdown of the American automobile as the Super Bowl. The highlight of the broadcast for the nomadic agrarians came when the booming voice of the late Paul Harvey echoed through the decades in a tribute to farmers sponsored by Dodge trucks .
As he approached his seventieth year, the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright endured a bout of pneumonia during a Wisconsin winter. "You could add twenty years to his life," his doctor told Wright's wife, "if you could convince Frank to spend winters in the desert." Wright eventually agreed, and in 1937 he and his assistants started work on Taliesin West, a studio, home and a campus for instruction in architecture in the desert north of Scottsdale, Ariz.
On Christmas Day, several new movies hit the big screen. The most notable this year was the latest version of Les Miserables, which opened to critical acclaim. I sat in seat K2 at the 10 a.m. showing in Scottsdale, Ariz., which means I was amongst the first in this nation to see the already-fabled film. "Les Miz" is the shorthand in-group fans use to refer to the show, which is a long-running Broadway musical based loosely on a 1,400-page novel by French author Victor Hugo. The unbridled enthusiasm of "Les Miz" fans led me to believe I had to see this movie if my life was to be complete.