Wednesday, December 22, 2010
A Christmas Story From Arizona
I live in Tucson, in southern Arizona. Tucson is the anti-Phoenix in many ways -- not that there is anything especially bad about Phoenix except the state politicians and the developers. Tucson has its rapacious developers, but they don't always get their way. Tucson is good on things like water use (it isn't covered with golf courses and a lot of people resist the impulse to plaster the Sonoran desert with grass). Tucson keeps the streetlamps and other outdoor lights down low at night so you can see the stars in the sky.
Tucson still has an Old West feel to it, and retains the best of an old Mexican culture. Basically, people in Tucson are laid-back, friendly, overtly courteous. Men here hold doors in stores ... even for other men. Strangers speak nicely to one another. Except when the snowbirds arrive, drivers are kind. In general, it's the kind of culture where someone might shoot you, but only assuming you actually need shootin'; otherwise, people here generally give others a lot of slack and the benefit of the doubt. Civility is a civic virtue here.
That said, here's the story. Having grown up in a big city (Philadelphia) and having worked for 25 years in another (New York), I remain a little wary of lunatics you might encounter on the street. But you seldom see them in Tucson.
Yesterday, I drove to the library out here in my end of town by the Rincon Mountains. As I was turning off my ignition, I noticed striding across the parking lot a tall man wearing a flowing white gown that came down to his ankles, sandals, and a long white turban. He was carrying a big walking stick and (red-alert for lunatic-sightings), a shopping bag. He was walking with great purpose toward the library building.
This oughta be good, I thought. I waited till he passed before getting out of my car so I could keep my eye on him. I stayed about 30 feet behind him. As I said, you don't see a lot of street-nuts here, but street-nuts are usually harmless. This guy seemed a lot more focused in his stride than your typical street schizophrenic.
It was a warm day here in the desert, so the gown and turban seemed especially excessive. I'm not someone who over-reacts to perceived threats, but I do have an old street-reporter's cop-like sense of potential trouble. This character and his shopping bag seemed to warrant at least some observation.
He passed into the shaded plaza by the library, where there are two drop-bins to return library materials. I came up next to him and as I was sliding my books into the return chute I noticed that he was putting things that were not books into the adjacent bin.
So I turned and gave him a very good look-over that would be considered rude in most places. What he was sliding into the chute were childrens' DVDs. One, I saw, was "Shrek."
The man caught my eye, smiled, and said, "How are ya?"
"Good, how are you?" I replied. Oops, I could now see that he was a perfectly pleasant and decent fellow.
But why the get-up and the big walking stick? He obviously read my mind.
"Oh," he said, "I play one of the three kings every year at the Living Nativity Scene over at the Baptist church. It's my lunch hour and I thought I'd run over to the library and return my kids' movies."
Assumptions dashed, privately chastised, I wished the man a very Merry Christmas. And I say the same to you.