Friday, February 22, 2008

Old Tempe—Only a Place of the Mind (Part 3 of 4—starts Feb. 14 )

I'm back in Tempe, with a Google map route to the road on the north side of the buttes. Clutching my map, with daylight on my side, I'm confident I'll find it this time.

Very little remains of old Tempe. ASU swallowed the barrio in the 1950s, and my great grandfather's home in the 1960s. The ancient canals, first built by native Americans 1000 years ago and re-dug to give life to the nascent agricultural town about 140 years ago, are covered by modern Tempe streets. The church where my family worshipped is now Newman Center on the ASU campus.

The Salt River was finally dammed into non-existence after a huge flood in 1980 took out a bridge and seriously hampered transportation between Phoenix and Tempe. All that remains is Rio Salado Lake at the end of Mill Street, on which my great grandfather's store once stood, but is now boutique stores and restaurants for the college crowd.

The buttes are perhaps the only things I can see that have the same location and shape as in Great Grandfather's time—ignoring, of course, that pesky stadium and hotel in the middle!

I make several 90-degree turns, follow a winding road over a freeway, and pass on-ramps for two freeways. No wonder I couldn't find this in the dark. A valet takes my car on the circle drive between the hotel, restaurants, and spa. There's not much room for a parking lot half way up two tall rocks.

I head for the "Tequila on the Rocks" bar and sit at a table near the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Phoenix. I order a virgin pina colada and a quesadilla and watch the clouds change from pink to blue, then to gray. I see the butte become two-dimensional in the fading light and then turn to a looming dark shape, an absence of light. It probably would have been barely distinguishable from the night sky in Great-Grandfather's time. Today, it is very distinguishable—because the line of lights of the Phoenix airport runs straight into the middle of it.

I sigh happily. I have it—that indefinable sense of connection with old Tempe. I also have a comfy chair and good food. This is my kind of research!

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