Pete Picture of the Week

Pete - the opportunistic pelican waits at the end of the Avalon Pier for someone to bring lunch.
Pete – the opportunistic pelican, waits at the end of the Avalon Pier for someone to bring him lunch.

When you’re on an extended stay at a resort town, there’s only so much time you can shop for T-shirts, scarf down gelato at Scoops, or inhale pastrami hoagies under the umbrellas in front of Antonio’s. You need a break in the routine—we crave adventure. Tour operators know this, and that’s why they do well in high-traffic attractions like Avalon. They’re the carnival rides at the State Fair. Instead of riding grease-stained high-speed Merry-go-rounds, these carnival barkers use gimmicks like parachutes, steel cables, bungee cords, or jump from a perfect airplane to take money from your pocket. Being the big fella I am, I don’t have faith in those contraptions.

When Queen Anne and I planned our week in Avalon, we poured over the adventure packages the town offered. Given our advanced stage of dementia, superior physical fitness, and risk of cardiac arrest, we chose to look at stars through a telescope, ride a boat with a glass bottom, and take a drive in a Hummer. None of those activities involved walking, climbing, or jumping. The only exertion we made was finding a seat.

The stargazing was a bust. The hostess doesn’t offer tours until the warm summer months. That’s because you need clear skies to look at stars, and the cooler months have persistent fog. All that you would see through the telescope would be cloud bottoms.

Garibaldi - the little golden fish doesn't go after the chum. Instead he's protecting his nest from the other fish.
Garibaldi – the little golden fish, doesn’t go after the chum. Instead, he hopelessly tries to protect his nest from the other fish.

The boat was fascinating but less exciting than we had hoped. There are two versions of this tour; the original glass-bottom boats and another they call a submarine. The former is open to the sky and looks down through the hull. In the latter version of the ride, you climb into a tube, sit,  and look through windows along the side. The sub never submerges. Since it’s dark inside the sub, you can see better through the dirty windows. After everyone is loaded, the sub (ours was painted yellow, of course) motors to a small bay south of the main Avalon harbor, where the crew tosses food into the water. The food attracts so many fish that they cover the windows. It’s cool, except their advertisements hint that you might see marine mammals, sharks, or mermaids. Chances are that you’ll only see the locals. We thought it was a fun hour-long boat ride through the kelp forest.

Mike Bison - Our jeep driver, Chief, spotted Mike napping in the grass and drove to where we could take his picture.
Mike Bison – Our jeep driver, Chief, spotted Mike napping in the grass and drove to where we could take his picture.

The ridgeline jeep tour was our only chance to see other parts of the island. On these tours, they load 4 to 8 people in the back of an open Hummer and drive the dirt roads along the mountain ridges. I suppose you could walk or bike around the locked gates, but that’s exercise. It was foggy during our trip, so we didn’t enjoy any grand vistas possible from the mountain tops. There were times when we saw the city below and caught a glimpse of an empty west-coast bay through the damp mist. One of the tricks the guides routinely pull on the unsuspecting tourists is to stop at a steep fire break that crosses the ridgeline. After explaining how firefighters built the gap to slow spreading wildfires, the driver shifts the Hummer into low range and begins to drive up the steep ridge until the passengers all scream for him to stop. But, after riding with Fred in the San Juan Mountains, I’ve done worse. The highlight of our ride was the ‘puppy’ our guide—Chief— spotted napping in the tall golden grass. Chief stopped the Hummer and got him to sit up so we could take Mike’s picture.

Another thing we considered—but ruled out—was hiring a fishing charter. The captains claim that there are some nice fish to be caught off the island’s west side. In Avalon, you’ll see people carrying fishing gear, so there must be some truth to their claims. Some locals will go to the pier’s end in the mornings and fish for shad and other bait fish. Then they head for deeper water in boats and fish for big trophies. That brings us to this week’s picture that I call Pete. Pete was an opportunistic brown pelican perched on the pier railing waiting for one of the anglers to drop their catch. Why plunge into the cold ocean for lunch when someone brings it to you? He must be used to people because he let me get this close-up shot without flinching. He was content sitting there until a young girl tried to touch his feathers. That was a step too far. We watch Pete drop 20 feet to the water and skim along the blue surface. Without flapping his broad wings, he picked up speed, then circled overhead the girl and her father walking hand in hand along the boardwalk, and then he expressed his displeasure—splat.

You can see the larger version of Pete on his Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week to see another Avalon photo and read about our adventure.

Till Next Time

Jerome, Arizona In Yavapai County

When I first moved to Arizona in 1972, I hung out at a certain Scottsdale Restaurant. It was a trendy steakhouse that had a minimalist décor of white walls with dark wood trim and original oil paintings—on loan from a gallery—decorated the walls. One painting in particular that impressed me was of an eagle emblem with a broken wing positioned over the word Liberty. The design was simple enough to be a graphic poster, but the style was photorealistic and it looked as though it could be a building sign. This was back when we all had long hair and wore bellbottom pants, so I thought it was a political statement when I first saw it.

“Oh no, that’s the Liberty Theater in Jerome,” my waitress corrected.

“Jerome, what’s that?” I asked.

“It’s the ghost town near Sedona. You’ll have to go there sometime.”

Jerome's Liberty Theater
Jerome’s Liberty Theater-My introduction to Jerome came about from a painting of this façade. Back then, part of the eagle and lettering hadn’t fallen off.

So I did, and as I wandered the streets of the old copper mine town, I felt strangely comfortable—like I had always known this place. There was something familiar about its terraced streets lined with white clapboard row-houses. Jerome reminded me of the Pittsburgh neighborhood where my great-grandmother’s—Busha—apartment house was, and where my family lived until I was in the first grade. I remember it was on Bigelow Boulevard—a wide thoroughfare that ran east from downtown up a long grade onto Pollock-Hill—the local slur for the neighborhood. Just like Jerome, laborers built our community on a mountainside on unsuitable plots and walked to work up and down endless staircases. Our apartment at Busha’s was on the second floor if you came through the front entry, but from the backyard, we were on the fourth floor of a five-story building.

Growing up in neighborhoods like these isn’t for the feeble. My preschool playmates and I would test our balance by walking along the top of the retaining wall supporting the boulevard. It was a couple of feet wide, but the sheer drops would have killed us had we fallen. Another example of peril was in our apartment’s backyard. It was paved with bricks and the neighbor’s yard was low enough that we could jump from our fence rail, over a three-foot gap, and onto the neighbor’s wood-shed roof, which—as kids always do—we double-dog dared each other to do. The jump to the roof was easy. Just climb to the top of the railing and leap onto the roof. However, the return flight required clearing the four-foot rail. I mastered the jump several times before I missed and crashed head-on into the guardrail. As gravity drug me down, I saved myself by grabbing and holding onto the railing’s bottom pipe. I hung on for dear life above the abyss and started screaming so loud that my mother could hear me four flights away. I almost lost my grip when she finally came to my rescue and as she started to pull me up, she couldn’t hold on and I became a human pachinko ball as I ricocheted between the concrete retaining wall and the shed siding. I survived the fall but not without a slight scar under my right eye that is only noticeable as a bag under my eye when I’m tired. Then, my eye has a noticeable bag under it. I don’t know what hurt worse, the bloody cut or the beating I got when my dad got home.

Flatiron Building
Flatiron Building – The Flatiron is located below downtown and it is where AZ-89 divides into two one-way streets. In the background is the House of Joy Brothel that was one of Arizona’s best places for dinner.

It’s been more than ten years since we’ve been to Jerome, and a couple of things struck me when Queen Anne and I visited last week. I didn’t understand at first, but there is a sense of openness now. Most of the abandoned homes have been torn down. Jerome was full of decaying houses that had crumbling foundations, sagging roofs, and signs on them that said, “Condemned – Danger – Keep Out.”  Those are gone now. The buildings that remain have been extensively restored and reinforced. There are a few new homes built on the vacant lots, and that’s good to see.

The other big change is disappointing to me. It’s the closing of the House of Joy. The historic brothel was once one of Arizona’s première restaurants but it’s closed now and the building is for sale. Eating at the House of Joy was a big occasion and a good reason for spending a night in Jerome. I’m sad that I missed the chance to dine there. Most of the current eateries are open only for breakfast and lunch, so except for the geezer cover-bands playing at the Spirit Room, evenings in town must be quiet.

Spirit Room
Spirit Room – The bar is in the Connor Hotel building. On weekends, dozens of motorcycles fill the parking spaces while middle-aged professionals are inside having a beer while listening to a geezer cover-band playing classic rock songs.

Jerome is still a great place to spend a day out of the valley. There are plenty of stores on Main Street to buy a tee-shirt, try on jewelry, admire local art, enjoy an ice cream cone, or relax with a cold beer. There are more haunted buildings than ever, and the museums and mine are worth visiting. Jerome, as always, is one of the spots that you take your eastern relatives so they’ll get an idea of Arizona’s history and geographical diversity. It’s just … the old ghost town is more refined now and not the rough and tumble kind of place I first knew.

Until next time – jw

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