Barry grew up in Gilbert, a suburb of Phoenix that was somewhat out in the middle of nowhere at the time (in the '80s and '90s), but that now blends seamlessly into the Phoenix metropolitan area. He lived there until he went away to attend college at U.C. Irvine. I grew up in the Sacramento area and had never been to Arizona in my life, so we had been vaguely talking for a long time about Barry taking me to see the area where he grew up. The trip needed to happen in winter, because it is 120 °F in the Phoenix area in the summer, and we wanted to be able to walk around outside without dying of heatstroke. We had decided sometime early in 2018 that this winter would be the time for such a trip. On Sunday, November 11, as I was leaving Barry's house after a weekend we spent there together, I mentioned to Barry that I had some vacation time to use up before the end of the calendar year and that it would therefore be convenient for me if we could take that Arizona trip before the end of the calendar year - especially so I could save my 2019 vacation time for honeymooning instead.
I mentioned that in Barry's driveway, just minutes before I left. Only one hour later, when I arrived at my own house, there was an email already awaiting me from Barry in which he had already planned out our entire Arizona trip, including plane tickets, hotels, restaurants, hikes . . . he'd already worked out a detailed schedule for everything we would see and do on each day we were there. I was extremely impressed by how quickly he'd managed to plan such a detailed itinerary. Oh, and then there was the fact that his itinerary called for visiting not one, not two, but three different used bookstores in the course of our four-day trip. "They're not just any used bookstores," he insisted. They were Bookmans Entertainment Exchanges, an apparently quite important phenomenon from Barry's childhood, and it was apparently quite important to him for us to visit not only the Phoenix one but also the Mesa one and also the Flagstaff one. Clearly there are reasons why this guy is the right person for my English-major self to marry.
Barry's itinerary also called for making two separate trips to the same botanical garden on the same day - once in daylight and once after dark. Even being as much a gardener as I am, I thought this seemed a bit much. This fiancé of mine can be rather eccentric! But if Barry wanted to spend that much time with the same set of plants, far be it from me to tell him that plants are boring and we should hurry up and go do something else already. So I just told him he was rather strange and then cheerfully agreed to go along with his strange itinerary.
So, on Saturday, December 15, we got up at 5:30 a.m. to head to the airport. It was the first time I had boarded an airplane since I was thirteen . . . 29 years ago. My first taste of the post-9/11 airport experience. And once we were finally in the air, I could see the ground for more of the flight than I remember being able to do when I was thirteen. My memory of flying to Washington, D.C., when I was thirteen, is of being able to see the ground only for a short period just after takeoff and a short period just before landing; I recall the view being obscured by clouds for virtually all the middle of the country. This time, though, the skies were clear for a larger percentage of the trip. And Barry gave me the window seat so I could see as much as possible!
Here is the view from the plane window while we were still sitting on the ground at the Sacramento International Airport.
And here's a view of the Sacramento area shortly after we took off.
And here is the Sierra Nevada properly living up to its name, which means "Snowy Mountains."
One more shot of the Sierra Nevada with the plane wing.
I did not notice any of the decline in leg room and general creature comforts that I have read articles complaining about. I was quite comfortable enough. I got peanuts and orange juice with ice cubes in it. The orange juice was really good. I was happy and had no complaints. I had a window! I spent much of the flight looking out the plane window. Barry showed me an app on his phone that tracked the plane's progress along its flight path, which helped us verify what we were flying over. We saw the Colorado River! We saw canyons! Not the Grand Canyon, but other canyons nearby. We were in Arizona!
I did not take any pictures of Phoenix from the air, but I did look at it. It looked different from Sacramento. The farmland and the cities in the Sacramento area tend to be quite separate; in the Phoenix area, the farmed fields were mixed in more with the urban areas.
After disembarking from the plane and collecting our luggage, we boarded a bus that took us to the car rental place. The bus ride was mildly alarming; the bus was crowded, so we had to stand up, and the bus kept careening wildly around turns and lurching from side to side at high speeds. It was all I could do to keep myself upright when I had a firm grip on a different metal pole with each of my hands. Meanwhile, Barry, who is apparently an expert at staying upright on moving vehicles due to his practice on BART when he lived in Daly City, was just holding on with one hand on the flat horizontal edge of a platform with luggage piled on it, and he seemed to be having much less trouble staying balanced than I was having. Sometimes I'm very jealous of his talent for keeping his balance. I have always been extraordinarily bad at keeping my balance. The new Dr. Who taught me a word for that recently: apparently I am dyspraxic.
Anyway, the bus finally dropped us off, surprisingly unhurt, at the car rental place. We got to take our pick of the cars. We picked out a red Nissan Versa, and we were both quite happy with it. We picked it partly because I own a Nissan, but since Barry ended up doing all the driving (because the car rental was in his name, and because he wanted to maximize my opportunity to look around and observe the landscape), the fact that the car's dashboard was all quite familiar to me wasn't necessarily all that helpful to Barry. He seemed to get the hang of it pretty quickly, though.
We went first to our hotel, La Quinta Inn Phoenix Harbor. Their elevator was broken, which was a little inconvenient since it meant we had to drag our luggage up two flights of stairs to our third-floor room. But the hotel was otherwise serviceable enough. We dropped off some of our stuff in our hotel room and then headed to an Ethiopian restaurant called Cafe Lalibela. It was my first time at an Ethiopian restaurant. Looking at the menu, I picked out two dishes I thought I might not hate, but then we realized that we were looking at a "weekdays only" part of the menu, and it was Saturday. Then Barry talked me into ordering their 2-person platter, which included the two dishes I was interested in along with many others. I ended up being very glad we got the platter, because although I did end up with two dishes I was reasonably happy with, only one of those dishes was one that I had originally wanted. What I had originally wanted was alicha sega wat (mild beef stew) and tikil gomen (cabbage, potatoes, and carrots, supposedly very lightly spiced). But the cabbage ended up comprising a majority of the latter, to the point that it infused the potatoes and carrots with cabbage flavor, and I do not like cabbage - I had intended to pick out the cabbage and just eat the potatoes and carrots. And also it was much too spicy for me to be able to eat it. So the tikil gomen didn't end up working for me at all. Instead, though, I had a pretty good time eating some mysterious yellow stuff. After a while, Barry figured out that the mysterious yellow stuff was yekik alicha (yellow split peas cooked with onion, turmeric, and herbs). Barry was very amused by this because I very much do not like peas nor, indeed, green vegetables of any kind. But these peas were not green! They did not taste like green peas would taste. Their taste was closer to the taste of potatoes. So I was satisfied with eating them. We mostly ate the traditional Ethiopian way, using the injera in lieu of utensils, but I also tried using a fork near the end of the meal.
After that, it was time for our first trip to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. The first of two trips there that day! At the entrance kiosk, we received a map of the trails and fluorescent green, circle-shaped stickers to wear as proof that we had paid the entrance fees. Then we set out to explore the garden.
I was surprised by quite how high a percentage of the plants in the Phoenix area were cacti. Like, I knew in advance that Phoenix would have cacti, but I thought the cacti would just be scattered here and there amongst other things. But it turned out to be more that a few other things were scattered here and there amongst the cacti. Even in the botanical garden, the majority of the plants had sharp spikes. It was not the kind of botanical garden where stepping off the path ever looked like an enticing prospect.
There were pseudo-paper bags (actually made out of hard plastic, but shaped and colored like paper) set out along all the trails in the botanical garden, with candles in them, in preparation for that night's exhibit "Las Noches de las Luminarias." We were going to see this exhibit on our second trip here, after dark. Frankly, what with all the spiky plants everywhere, this botanical garden didn't seem like a very safe place to be wandering around in after dark! I remained skeptical. For now, though, at least I could see the cacti and stay out of their way.
We paused at a gazebo to take pictures of each other. Here is Barry with saguaros!
And here am I with saguaros!
We also found a ponytail palm. Ponytail palms are important to our relationship, because when we exchanged presents on Barry's front porch a month before our first date, he left me a ponytail palm that he had bought for me because I had one of them as a houseplant and was trying unsuccessfully to acquire another one. (It was important to me, when anticipating showing my house to a hot guy for the first time, to try to have some live houseplants in the prominently visible planter at the front door. When trying to make a good first impression on a hot guy, always consider asking for his help in improving the impression you will make on him.) He also got a ponytail palm for himself at the same time, so as to make a better first impression on me. But all our ponytail palms have died since then; we each have a few surviving houseplants, but no surviving ponytail palms.
Anyway! Here is Barry with a very large ponytail palm.
And here am I with the same ponytail palm.
I was very excited to find out that the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix also has a Foundation Plaza named in honor of my cat, Stardust.
Anyway, we finished looking at all the cacti. The garden was closing by then anyway; they were shutting it down for four hours while they set up the exhibits we were returning to see after dark.
The next place we went to see was Barry's old high school. And also his old middle school, since his middle school was attached to his high school. They were both private schools. Private Jesuit schools. Architecturally, the place looked kind of like a castle. I mean, Jesuits are Catholics, and Catholics do have rather a thing for fancy architecture. Meanwhile, there was an ordinary public high school basically right next door to this castle - there was a canal between the two schools, but not much else. I felt rather sorry for the students attending that public high school. Barry didn't remember whether the public high school being there when he attended, but my research indicates that it was there. Anyway, we didn't park or anything, just drove around the school parking lot briefly while Barry commented on how many of the buildings weren't there yet when he attended.
After we pulled out of the private school's parking lot, we only got half a block before Barry spotted a tabletop gaming lounge and immediately pulled into the parking lot. "Imagine if this had been here when I was in high school!" he exclaimed. "I'd have practically lived here!"
The gaming lounge was open, and we went inside. "Well, you still wouldn't have had a girlfriend in high school," I observed.
"Are you commenting on the stereotypical gender distribution of tabletop gaming?" Barry asked.
"I'm observing that I'm the only female in this entire room!" I replied. There were probably three dozen or so males at the tables, mostly teenage, probably mostly from the nearby high schools. "They're wondering how to get you to tell them what the secret is to getting a girlfriend," I whispered.
"It helps to be 37 years old," Barry replied. (Though being 20 years old seems to have been sufficient for him. And it's not as if he had much opportunity for girlfriends at an all-boys high school. The boyfriend-getting odds might have been better, despite Jesuit disapproval.)
We walked around the perimeter of the room so Barry could look at the games stacked on the shelves, and then we returned to our rental car and proceeded to the first of the three used bookstores. Barry had brought a bunch of books with him on the plane to sell to these used bookstores. He successfully sold about two thirds of it to this first store. Some of what he was selling was relationship-advice books he'd bought when his first wife left him. "What if we need it, though?" I asked him. But he was not worried.
I looked at some books in the autobiography section that were all kind of similar - the stereotypical "My parents abused me and wrecked my life" autobiographical genre. The few pages I read from their first chapters were riveting, yet I forcibly tore myself away from them and decided not to buy them because, as I told Barry, they felt too predictable, and no matter how riveting a few pages of them might be, I didn't feel like reading yet another entire book worth of "And then my parents did this horrible thing to me, and then this horrible thing to me, and then this horrible thing to me" was actually going to leave me feeling like my life had been enriched by the book when I finished. Far too often, this genre of books just leads to "And then I did all these horrible things myself because my parents messed me up so badly" in the later chapters, and even when I greatly admire the author's writing ability (Lidia Yuknavitch's The Chronology of Water comes to mind as an example of exquisitely gorgeous prose in this genre), I tend to end up concluding that I very strongly dislike the author as a person. And since the books I was flipping through in the bookstore were merely highly entertaining rather than exquisitely gorgeous prose, I didn't feel like dealing with the risk of this type of outcome. I have a very low tolerance these days for people treating other people badly and blaming it on their parents. (Barry said, "I really like that about you, how you don't put up with that.")
After tearing myself away from the autobiography section, I perused the fiction shelves, trying hard to keep strict limits on how many books I would take home. It's far too easy for me to leave a used bookstore with all the books I can carry, but I knew I had plenty of unread books at home already, and also I didn't want us to have trouble fitting all our books into our luggage on the plane trip home. So although I paused to look with interest at many books, I managed to limit my selections to just two: The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty and The Outsider by Richard Wright. I haven't read The Outsider yet, but the introductory essay about it that I read in the store compared it with Wright's better-known novel Native Son, which I was extremely impressed by. I did read The Optimist's Daughter over the course of our Arizona trip. That one was about a man who optimistically disregards medical advice in regard to a seemingly minor eye surgery he needs and ends up dying from the complications of it. He had previously been widowed, and not long before the eye surgery, he remarried - choosing for his second wife a woman younger than his daughter. After his death, his daughter has to navigate a lot of awkward social situations during the grieving process because of the weirdness of trying to deal with this stepmother who is younger than her and who she hardly knows and who doesn't seem to have many redeeming qualities. It was an interesting novel of the slow, quiet, contemplative variety.
When we'd both had our fill of used books, we got back in our rental car and went to the Mary Coyle ice cream parlor, where we ordered the "Co-Co Fudge 'Some Don't' Bowl" (bananas and vanilla ice cream with hot fudge, coconut, peanuts, and two cherries on top) and shared it, helped along by some Lactaid pills. It was delicious.
Then we returned to the Desert Botanical Garden. It was now dark. The "Las Noches de las Luminarias" exhibit was in full swing.
But the main attraction turned out to be a different exhibit called "Electric Desert." All over the botanical garden, color-changing lights had been projection-mapped onto the cacti and set to techno music. The mapping enabled each individual cactus to change colors separately from its background and the surrounding plants, and setting the lights to music gave an effect rather like what I imagine a hallucinogenic drug trip might be like. Art is the healthy alternative to taking drugs, right? The effect of this exhibit comes across much better in a video than it does in still pictures, and I did make a video of it - stitching together footage that both Barry and I took - but the LiveJournal photostream only hosts still pictures, so I don't have an easy way to post the video here. Hopefully the still pictures will give some sense of the experience.
I'll start with four different pictures of what I guess was our favorite section of the exhibit, since it's the section we photographed the most. Maybe thinking of these as if they're frames of a video will give some sense of the live experience.
And here are three different pictures (albeit from somewhat different angles) of one of the other sections of the exhibit.
And two different views of another section.
Here are a couple of other sections of the exhibit.
The Stardust Foundation Plaza had this infinity mirror set up in it, with lights shooting endlessly around in it.
There were even a couple of electrified people. (Yes, these are live humans, not statues.)
One entire hillside had been projection-mapped, and crowds of people were seated in chairs in front of it, just watching the hillside change colors in time with the music. It was like a crowd at a concert, except that instead of gathering to watch live musicians, they had gathered to watch strobe lights mapped onto the saguaros. We sat down in the crowd for a while to watch, then got up and moved on so we could see everything else.
We joined another crowd at a small theater area to watch a bit of a performance called "Apache Stories and Flutes." Three Apaches were alternating between telling traditional Apache stories, playing Apache songs, and performing Apache dances. We stayed long enough to see at least one of each.
Then we went in search of the buffet dinner that Barry had bought us tickets for in advance. They were serving a Thanksgiving-like feast, and every bit of it was delectable. It was lucky we happened to arrive when we did, because very shortly after we arrived, they declared last call - so we "loaded ourselves up with food like whenever someone in Star Trek discovers the replicator," as Barry put it. Then they put the serving dishes away, but they let us stay and keep eating what we had put on our plates until we were completely stuffed. We didn't manage to finish quite all of what we had taken, so we sneaked a bit of it back to the hotel with us.