The drive to Tucson from San Diego is seven-hours long over well-maintained highways. The scenery alone is worth the trip. Yellow desert flowers line the road, while majestic windmills with their blades turning leisurely studding the countryside, and miles of solar panels reassure me that we are indeed dealing with the impending climate change. We come across waves of beautiful, pale sand dunes with dune buggy tracks -- reminding me of the Sahara Desert. I once rode in a dune buggy on sand dunes on the way to San Francisco and overturned; they are not that much fun!
The road goes up to 4,000 feet, and the scenery changes from chaparral as far as the eye can see to rugged mountains. Most spectacular are the enormous boulders stacked atop each other in past ice ages forming hills of stone. We pass by long rows of pecan trees and rows of RVs here for the winter. What is startling are the thousands of saguaros dotting the mountains, silhouetted on the top of ridges, with their strange arms jutting from their trunks.
My friend has a house in a gated community at the foothills of the Sabino Mountains. We are going to celebrate his grandson's 18th birthday and visit his daughter, who is a doctor in town. It is 90 degrees, and the house is stifling. We try to turn the air conditioner on; it does not work. The evening comes and so does the night -- it is now in the 40s, and I am shivering. The heater is broken. I sleep in a sweater and socks. The only good weather in Tucson is between 9:45 and 10 am. The TV does not work; the Wi-Fi has been turned off. There is no hot water. The fridge does not produce ice cubes. The phone battery is dead. This is the week of presidential debates and primaries -- so we are ignorant of the results of Super Tuesday. I cannot call nor get email, nor receive any information from the outside world.
After I let go of my expectations and repress my frustration, I start enjoying the adventure. Isolation is not easily obtainable with the constant flow of information of the modern world. I read, uninterrupted by the phone, the swish of incoming emails, and the ring of messages on my smartphone. I am unreachable! I had brought with me a year's accumulation of untouched issues of Psychology Today, which I never seem to have time to read upon their arrival.
The next day -- 90 degrees again -- my friend Eddy takes us to the Desert Museum, an amazing place, a zoo with live local animals (there is a black bear native to this area), as well as rocks, plants, and dioramas. People come from all over the world to visit. We spend a good part of the day there -- with a break for lunch in the air-conditioned restaurant... ah. We end the day celebrating his grandson's birthday at his favorite pizza joint and see his grandson perform in a high school musical production.
The 45 minute trolley ride to Sabino Canyon is a treat. Even in this dry season, there is water on the road; it becomes impassable during rain. Flooding is common as most of the roads seem to have dips which would fill up dangerously.
Tucson is an ancient caldera surrounded by mountains which change color and shape throughout the day as the light of the sun plays upon them. The desert proclaims itself everywhere -- in the sand, the shrubs, the innumerable cacti. It is all very stark and very beautiful. One becomes a different person in such an environment, a more sparse one; that would be a good thing to remember back in my apartment where I live surrounded by too much stuff.
Yet, coming home gave me a different appreciation for the creature comforts taken for granted: air conditioners, heaters, refrigerators, phones, and Wi-Fi. Being without was an adventure I would have enjoyed more in my twenties. However, it reinforced the fact that in my nineties I have become less tolerant of discomfort and disruptions -- which helps me to better understand my cohorts in the retirement community where I live. I hear them grumbling about every change, every new addition or deletion that somehow impacts their well-established routines. I have become more understanding and sympathetic about other's distress with disruptions.
I had always thought of myself as an adventurer. I just changed my mind.