Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Superman Never Made Any Money

Little Canyon is Grand

Back in 1993, my wife and I used to carpool to work together. We worked in different, distant parts of the Phoenix metro area, so she would pick me up after driving about 30 miles from her office. I don't think we got cell phones until a few years after this, so our communication relied on landlines, and our carpool coordination relied on predicting how long a delay the freeway traffic between her office and mine would cause. We got pretty good at it, but of course the results were variable and unpredictable. I ended up sitting around waiting quite a while sometimes. Sometimes this resulted in disagreements.

On our way into work in the morning, at least we were able to find a radio station we could agree on: the morning show with Mary McCann "the Bone Mama" and Ted Simons on KZON. They played decent music for drive-time, adult album oriented rock it might have been called. Ted and Mary seemed to lean toward the folk side a bit. I'm listening to "KZON Collectibles Vol.1 from that year right now. It included The Boomers "Art of Living", Cruel Shoes "Where are the Angels", Crash Test Dummies "Superman's Song", Leo Kottke "Pepe Hush", and a bunch of other good stuff. We bought those collectible CDs every year, I think. We own volumes 1 thru 7. I guess we did collect them.

Anyway, one night I waited and waited. I think it was toward the end of summer, and I started to feel that something must have gone wrong with my wife's drive. It happened once in a while, with large backups and even detours, so I wasn't panic red-alert alarmed yet, but when it got dark and she still hadn't arrived, I could see red-alert off in the distance. Just as I was formulating my Plan B (OK it was about the fourth Plan B of the evening), she pulled up. Our vehicle, an SUV, looked pretty jacked up, but I was only worried about her at first, so I jumped in and asked her what had happened.

She was shaking. I could tell that she had been holding it in to make the drive to my office, and that she really needed to let it out. So I held onto her, which opened the floodgates. A car had plowed into her back-end on the freeway when she slammed on the brakes in reaction to the cars stopping in front of her. She stopped in time, but the small car behind her did not. She said the small car was totaled--front end all smashed in, smoke and steam hissing out, fluids dripping onto the asphalt, although the driver seemed OK, saved by a very good air bag, apparently.

After I listened to what had happened, and reassured her that I wasn't mad about someone else smashing into the back of our somewhat new vehicle, we just sat there a few minutes in the parking lot. I think I told her I was actually a little happy, since one of the main reasons I had pushed for a bigger car with a good safety rating was that I knew she would be driving many freeway miles every day, and I wanted her to be safe. This accident that she drove away from, caused by a driver following too close to stop in time (citation issued), seemed to prove my point. Plus, she had stopped in time to avoid running into the car in front of her. That made her feel a little better, but still, I felt that she wasn't quite ready to hit the road again for the drive back to our apartment, so I turned on the radio, still tuned to KZON, just to listen to music for a bit, until she was ready.

Ted was on. Maybe because the evening DJ didn't show up, maybe for some other reason, maybe my memory is faulty. Sometimes they played snippets of the morning show later in the day. As I remember it, though, I turned on the radio, and "Superman's Song" was playing. We sat there listening to Brad Roberts' beautiful, deep voice singing a requiem for a superhero. I'm sure I sang along. At the end, Ted's voice announced that it was by Crash Test Dummies, and we had a good laugh, one that we needed.

Thanks, JRA, but what's that 1993 drive down memory lane with tortured sheet metal got to do with art/bicycles/OSG? Well, backin 2010, Ted Simons has moved on in his career to television and other gigs, including awards show announcer. He's good at it, but still, when I see him, I think back to the KZON days, our commute by car, and sometimes to the night of the Crash (Test Dummies). So, recently, when I was flipping through channels and saw what looked like Ted announcing an awards ceremony for public art, or landscape designs, on the public City of Phoenix cable channel, I stopped to watch. It turned out to be more entertaining that I imagined.

It wasn't actually an awards show. It was, in fact, the mayor and members of the city council viewing highlights of an awards show. Which some of them had attended in the first place. Except, in the interest of time, I guess, all the parts between the award announcements had been edited out, save for one or two short montages to show the art getting the award. So, it was just a string of Ted Simons announcing award winners. It got surreal fast, because a few of the designs won more than one award, but since all the middle parts were cut out, it just sounded like Ted had a weird forgetful streak, since he announced the same design, with just slightly different color commentary, but with exactly equal enthusiasm, and with a little extra speed to try to fit them all into the allotted time, which no longer seemed like an issue with all the fluff cut out. Add in the double-audience factor, since the mayor and city council could be heard reacting to the audience reactions on the original awards ceremony, and it was unintentionally hilarious. To me, anyway. Pepe, hush: don't make so much noise.

One of the double award-winners that caught my attention was a path prettification project called "Little Canyon" (artist: Laurie Lundquist, landscape architect: Sherman Group). Since I was not familiar with the short stretch of people-friendly pavement, I learned something from the show, and resolved to ride over there to have a look.

Transition, connection: bike path, street, path. Come stroll down the Little Canyon

"Families found multiple ways to live off the land..." I love that part.

I was never a big comic book fan, but the altruistic, selfless portrait of Superman in the Crash Test Dummies song always moved me. I was whistling it, singing it, humming it, all the way there. "And sometimes I despair the world will never see another man like him." In other words, a man who will resist the call to go join crude, uncultured Tarzan out in the jungle.

The circular monuments repeat in the middle, and at each end

South end, at the end of an bleak cul-de-sac, next to a self-storage facility

I want to have a seat here, and have a talk with Superman, or a cup of coffee with Ted Simons.

This little path is both functional and attractive. I saw several people walking down it, some kids riding bikes, and so on. It seems like a useful link between neighborhoods and Camelback Road. Apparently there was a dedication ceremony last month. Just missed it.

To get here, I road along my beloved Arizona Canal, then headed south at the Water Treatment Plant. I mention the route because it was my first bike ride along Dunlap Ave in front of the Water Treatment Plant, and I have to say: WOW THAT IS ONE UGLY STREET. I mean, monumentally, soul-sucking, heart-wrenching, people-you-are-nothing, the automobile-rules-this-world, abandon-all-hope type of ugly. The plant itself presents a security wall to a broad stretch of pavement which is surrounded by gravel and more cement, across from a steel barrier fence in front of the school. It is grim, gruesome, visually disgusting. Here's a small taste, and this looks like a black and white photo, until you see the red, and realize it actually looks like this.


I wouldn't make a big deal about it, except that this wall, and the monumental visual disaster it abuts, is directly across from Cortez High School. Yes, that's correct, the same principles that ran amok at Metrocenter (please see my post for my criticism of that place) have worked to present this vision to our kids as they enter and leave their place of learning. Have a 360 at this:

View Larger Map

"Superman never made any money
Saving the world from Solomon Grundy
And sometimes I despair the world will never see another man like him..."

A young imagination fed a visual diet of W. Dunlap Avenue is starving. It requires a strong dose of the altruism and selflessness of Superman, along with a booster of Little Canyon with a side of locally raised milk and cream, some self-sufficient pecans, some vegetables, canned peaches, plums, and apricots watered with its flowing waters. 

Yikes. I need to take my kids on a picnic, to a green place, with laughter, books, and fresh pecan pie. Get up. Go ride.


  1. I really enjoyed that. That song has been a fav of mine for a long time. You topped it off with pecan pie. Outstanding, unlike that hideous wall.

  2. That wall needs some Bansky lovin.

  3. I love that song- have had it my head all day..
    When I used to live in Utah, you could always tell that a place was loved and cared for because it had trees- trees that required water and tending, but which returned shade and cooling. It only takes a little, but a hard barren concrete place like beside that school doesn't give anything back, doesn't create any room for dreaming or imagination, doesn't really leave space for human. I'm glad to see that Phoenix has so much public art. The light must be so amazing for sculpture.

  4. More trees, fewer walls is what we need. And as limom suggests, where a wall is necessary, let's art it up until it is a pleasure to look at, and not a soul-sucking eyesore. cycler, leaning a bicycle against an old tree to rest a bit in its shade: compare to prop against a security wall in the glaring sun. I'll take shade! RANTWICK there's a place called "The Farm" here that serves pecan pies in the shade of the trees that produced the nuts. To sit there in the shade listening to the birds and eating that pie is a kind of sweet meditation.


Please feel free to comment here, almost anything goes, except for obvious spam or blatantly illegal or objectionable material. Spammers may be subject to public ridicule, scorn, or outright shaming, and the companies represented in spam shall earn disrepute and ire for each occurrence.