Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reading #2

Here in the air-conditioned bookstore, the nausea begins to recede. Virginia has endured this year’s hundred-degree May and hundred-degree June, and now the first week of July brings more of the same. Next will come another hundred-degree August and hundred-degree September. Yesterday at the office she blew an hour clicking wistfully through online real estate listings in the Pacific Northwest, where the sun has the decency to leave a person alone. 
She’s a fundraising consultant, specializing in multimillion-dollar capital campaigns for universities and hospitals, but these days she struggles to keep her tiny firm afloat. In this economy, nobody wants to build a new wing. In January she laid off two of her three employees, and yesterday her accountant said she has four weeks’ operating revenue left. The mortgage on their house is thirty days past due.

Head throbbing, she watches traffic through the front windows of the store. For as long as she can remember, the idiots in charge of Tucson have been letting it grow in the least attractive way possible. In 1972, LIFE Magazine named Speedway Boulevard the Ugliest Street in America. Eventually the city fathers planted trees in the medians and passed a sign ordinance, but on Speedway as everywhere else, low-slung stripmalls line the wide boulevards, as do massive parking lots and billboards that block the mountains.

She’d rather be sitting in a café in a truly interesting city, watching a weird diversity of people pass by. She’d rather be stumbling upon a troupe of street performers doing oddball dance maneuvers in a city plaza. She wants to wander down avenues lined with funky gift shops and gelato parlors and used bookstores crammed with dusty merchandise. She wants to puzzle over mysterious public sculpture, consume a designer martini in a boutique hotel lobby bar. She wants a district where art galleries line the blocks like storefronts of creativity. She wants urban schoolyards full of screeching happy children and she wants to ride modern mass transit to work and she wants civil rights activists blocking intersections and she wants lecture series featuring important global thinkers and she wants hip friends with tiny apartments over Cuban-Japanese fusion restaurants and she wants experimental jazz ensembles in the concert halls. She’s been waiting a lifetime for Tucson to deliver her these things, and she hates it for letting her down.  

To watch the video of this reading, click here and forward to 14:45.


  1. I remember going to the Club Congress for breakfast on Saturdays or to funky improvs at the Fox Theatre. I remember having those same hopes for Tucson to really be culturally engaging and hip.

    While it's been awhile since I've lived in Tucson, I think there are pockets of culture, and it takes work to make it happen. The real question is will Virginia find this in her town and within herself...

  2. Indeed that's the question! I do hope it's not so much whether she finds the funky-hip culture and beauty as it is the process of her search that keeps the reader interested. And you're right, John--the story makes a promise here to offer a resolution this (internal/external) struggle.


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