Tunnel… Car Horn… Echo…

It’s a tunnel. The tunnel is fairly non-descript. You know it’s a tunnel with a road through it because of the cars you see and hear around you. You know it’s probably in mountains at lower elevations because it looks dry and barren all around before you enter the tunnel.

This is the Queen Creek Tunnel. It is along Highway 60 in eastern Arizona, between the towns of Miami and Superior. If you are heading west on this road, shortly after you exit the tunnel, you will exit Devil’s Canyon, and the desert floor will lay below you.

Superior to Miami has been probably my most favorite drive in the entire country. The formations through the canyon are a sight to behold. There are so many interesting things to look at. The drive it self is engaging as it twists, turns, and changes elevation. Eventually you pass through the small community of Top Of The World, only then to head back down in to Miami.

One of my more favorite parts of this drive is the Queen Creek Tunnel. I’d love to drive through there with a window down and honk my horn just to listen to the way it echos. It makes me happy.

This is one example of one of the things I would do that was out of the way and didn’t bother people. I didn’t have to worry about what others thought, except for the random other vehicle that would be in the tunnel with me at the same time.

As an autistic person, I don’t always have that luxury. I’m often around people that won’t, and may never understand me. That’s always too bad considering the effort I put in to trying to understand them. So I would mask. Yeeeessssss, everyone masks to some extent, but for me, I’m often taking guesses at what I am doing. It doesn’t feel natural. I don’t understand it, and I learn nothing in the process.

Masking is an exhausting process. There’s no time to be able to turn it off. Our “eccentricities” are not so easily written off by others as they are when it’s a non-autistic person. In the times behaviors aren’t written off, sometimes some nicety is used to communicate the desired change in behavior. It is full of subtext. This subtext is something you’re likely to pick up on if you are a non-autistic. However, for autistic people, those chances are slim. It’s real sapping trying to figure out what someone wants out of us when they won’t tell us.

There is a campaign that has started this week, led by some prominent people in the online autistic community. It’s called “Take The Mask Off”.

The topics and discussions are designed to educate about masking, what it is, and the effect on autistic individuals who must mask in the current society.

Since learning that I am autistic, I have gotten to the point I rarely mask anymore. I’m sure those close to me have seen that. It doesn’t change what I think about people. I just can’t always interact in THEIR desired manner. It’s not healthy for me. I will still make “social adjustments” here and there. However, these actions are by rote, and I still don’t always understand them. But I do understand that these adjustments help make others more comfortable.

Please take in all the content for the #TakeTheMaskOff campaign that you possibly can over the next six weeks.  Maybe it can help you learn more about autistic people, why they are the way they are, and be able to communicate with them a little more on their level. After all, this world is about compromise. A little push. A little pull. We are ALL better off when we meet in the middle.

anniversary

It’s not quite officially my wedding anniversary yet as I start to write this, but it is already in Ohio, Texas, and even New Mexico. That’s good enough for me. Four years of being married. Six years of being a couple. I couldn’t imagine anyone else side-by-side with me.

Our first date, Tara says that when I first laid eyes on her that I just had a blank stare on my face. She didn’t know what to think. What was wrong? Was her fly down? (Her words.) Two mythical creatures came in to existence that evening. The butterfly chicken and the spider pig. We laughed, we talked, and we laughed some more. A year later, we were making a trip through Texas. What I like to call “The Loop”. Hindsight? I guess you can say it was her audition tour with my family. A year later, we were getting married. We whisked off to the Dominican Republic for a week. On our way back home, we saw all the fireworks in the nighttime July 4th sky over Dallas as we came in for a landing at DFW.

The next year, we whisked away to Chicago for a long weekend. It was the paper anniversary. I gave her the paper the plane ticket was printed on. We got to visit with one of my amazing groomsmen who lives in the Chicago area. We were able to stay in an amazing historic hotel right in the heart of downtown. It was kind of fun riding the “L” between O’Hare and downtown. We ate Chicago style deep dish. It is the only time I ever stopped at one piece of pizza ever. We went to the natural history museum, ate at different booths at the annual Taste of Chicago event, had a very wonderful dinner at a Russian restaurant a block from our hotel, and even went to see Blue Man Group. Getting of the “L” to go to that show, it looked like a rough neighborhood. However, once we left the station, the neighborhood was full of revelry from people whom were still in the streets from that day’s annual gay pride parade. (By the way, go see Blue Man in Chicago. The intimate setting of that theatre is just so much more awesome than the huge auditoriums in places like Vegas could ever be.)

Year 3 brought some changes for us. We did start it by going to Ohio to visit my sister-in-law and her family. One of my nieces was having a birthday party at the end of that week, and we were invited to come hang out the whole week. On the way up there, we scored a historic Hilton in Bricktown in OKC and got to watch fireworks that they were having nightly the whole week leading up to the 4th. Oh, and there was also severe weather cells with dangerous lightning overhead, too. And we were on top of a parking garage next to the hotel. The next day we explored Joplin just 5 weeks after the devastating EF-5 tornado wiped out a portion of that community. It was a heart-wrenching site. That evening, as we started to pull in to St. Louis, I all of the sudden realized that we would be staying in downtown St. Louis (another historic Hilton, thank you Priceline Name Your Own Price) and would be able to walk a couple of blocks over to watch fireworks under the St. Louis Arch. One of the better unintentional bonuses we’ve run in to. After leaving Ohio, we went out of the way to visit the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, stayed in some funky retro hotel in Nashville, ate Memphis BBQ on Beale Street, and explored the National Cemetery in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

At the end of that summer, I moved to Arizona for a new job. Yes, I said “I”. By the time I obtained the offer, Tara was already starting summer band and did not feel it would be right for her to leave. So she moved out there the day after Christmas. The snow had dropped so heavy between the Texas panhandle and Arizona that we didn’t know if we would make it out the day we were planning. Thank goodness they opened the roads in the eastern half of New Mexico the morning we left Lubbock. They opened the rest of the roads the next morning prior to leaving Alamogordo. Phew.

The next year, we did go up and spend several days with my parents in Ruidoso, NM. Neither of us had seen any family since Christmas, so it was great to see them and spend some time with them among the pine trees and the cooler air. This year, we will be going to downtown Phoenix and eating at a rotating restaurant that sits on the top floor of one of the downtown hotels. My awesome wife even had the idea to book it for right before the sun started setting.

Yes, my wife and I have had some enjoyable times exploring together, but she has also been the most awesome supporter for me, too. She followed me out to Arizona, living many hours away from anyone that can be called family. Even before then, when I left my last job, one that kind of beat me down at times, she supported the fact that I wanted to expand looking for other employment over a wide swath of area in the western part of the country. I went by myself because she still had a couple more commitments to where she couldn’t. But she probably was thinking as well that it would be good if I distanced myself from that job, even if just geographically. I did get a chance to spend a couple of days looking for opportunities around Portland, which was new for me. I got a chance to see a cousin graduate high school in Utah. I also got a chance to see people surfing the well overflowing its banks Colorado River. Yes, I did say surfing. Then, when I got back to Texas, our quasi-adopted feral cat had her kittens. That was the litter M is from.

My darling wife has also been by my side for some of the most extensive medical issues I have ever had. I’ve always had problems with migraine headaches and with some numbness issues in my arms and hands. They progressed a couple of months after the wedding to include pain, too. I know there have been times she has felt helpless because I’ve been miserable and she can’t do anything to make it better. I visited 7 different doctors in two years in Texas. Only one of them might have been on the right track, but would not have been the doctor to treat me. In Arizona, however, I’ve seen five in the last two years. I’ve gotten doctors who have been willing to act, and a handful of surgeries in, about 50% of my problems are cured, including the awful migraines that would lay me out from one to three days at a time. PTL Lord willing, they will be able to take care of the other 50% in the next year or less. My wife, while absolutely hating that I have to be cut open to get things fixed, knows that the Lord’s hand is coming down on these doctors and allowing me to be cured, slowly but surely. All she has ever wanted is for me to feel 100% all the time, not just part of it.

My wife has also supported my want to pursue my Master’s degree. (Why in the world am I doing that again? I’m a horrible student.) Now we will also be embarking on our latest adventure this fall with the arrival of our first child.

Tara has taken on the role of my wife willingly and with gusto. She is always there to support me (and even poke me in the ribs when necessary). I thank the Lord every day for her being in my life. She has been the perfect companion. I learn more about her every day, whether I realize it or not…and I love her more every day! Happy 4th, babydoll. Here’s to 40 more…and then some!

kitchen nightmares meltdown

The Meltdown Continues…Even On The New Facebook Page

This one is short and sweet from me. I am a fan of this show. I have seen restaurants personally that probably should have a spot on this show. That means I can believe that what you see on this show is real reactions. (Plus, I think Gordon Ramsey would have already been outed if it wasn’t real.)

So, if you saw this episode with Amy’s Bakery in Scottsdale, then read things from the local news here like what’s in the link at the top of this post, all I can say is if they want to prove themselves that they may have to go to a different town and change their names. Even then, I don’t know how long they would last.

The Original Meltdown

Grand Re-Opening Event

The Full Episode (according to Fox’s website, it should unlock for viewing on Saturday 5-18)

the road to home, pt2

1.gif (344x398 pixels)
 
In our last installment, I was starting to tell you about my new road home. Point A to Point B is about an hour and a half worth of a drive. We talked about how everyone has at least heard of Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tucson, and the Grand Canyon, but not much else.
 
2.gif (460x376 pixels)
 
Point A is Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. To me, the name has always invoked memories of the Mos Eisley Spaceport on the planet Tatooine out of the Star Wars universe.
 
MosEisley-BFRS.jpg (800x524 pixels)
 
Don’t ask me why. It just does.
 
But now that we have gotten to the point where Highway 60 stops going due east, it’s time to look at another stretch of this road home. We’re heading from Apache Junction to Superior.
 
Before we get going down that road, I want to point out something…
 
4.gif (450x392 pixels)
 
Do you see the discrepency that I do?
 
3.gif (450x392 pixels)
 
That’s right! Why didn’t they just keep building this highway due east?
 
Ok, I guess it must be said…RANT WARNING!!!
 
I detest the idea that my drive in to Phoenix is 30 minutes longer than it has to be. That’s being generous!!! Do you see where the highway turns southeast towards Gold Canyon all the way to where it turns back east/northeast heading to Superior? That stretch of road is 30 minutes to travel at the posted legal speed limit. This isn’t even counting going out of the way to get to that spot in the first place!!!
 
Ok, the rant is over. I just had to get that out. Before I got to this point of my writing, I hadn’t really looked at the history of these roads anyway. I found a pretty informative web page detailing the original path of highway 60 between Globe and Apache Junction. All I can say is “wow”. I’ll let you read it for yourself by clicking here. I don’t feel as bad knowing what I would have had to go through driving the road in the 1930s.
 
Now I’ve heard talk that highway 60 would be rerouted. I even read an article on one of the local newspaper websites. However, I can’t pull it up right now because it’s out of range for not being subscribed. (Copper Country & Arizona Silver Belt) However, I remember the article talking about citizens of Globe being concerned about what would happen to the town if US 60 was rerouted to where it essentially came out the opposite side of Globe! I believe the spot they made mention was a couple of miles north of the current terminus of US 70 where highway 60 comes in from Show Low. The thing I found interesting about the article is that they cited several towns in Texas that have died out when bypassed by highways.
 
There’s also a movement in the area known as Top Of The World to get US 60 rerouted. Note, I said area. I did not say town. When you go through this area, official signage posted says something about “Business Area” and marks it as 45 mph. The sign is the same type as you would see indicating twists and turns coming up on a mountain road with a recommended safe speed to travel. I’ve only seen a run-down beef jerkey stand open once. If all the residences and other buildings in the area were another 1000 feet off the highway, you’d be hard pressed to know anyone was around there. I’ve been through similar areas in the Texas hill country that were marked 70 mph all the way.
 
The movement that people in this area started for the US 60 reroute seems to be tuckered out. The only way I hear about it is if I’m driving through and see signs that say things like “Don’t build through an existing problem”. It then publicized a URL to save Top Of The World. That link is dead. Of note though, is who is listed as the URL owner. It is a man who owns an archery shop in Chandler.
 
The only thing I have found about rerouting US 60 that has any backing by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is a stretch of several miles around Gold Canyon. Even that one, while shown to be needed, is still another couple of decades off from being worked on (source: AZ Republic).
 
One thing for sure is that Arizona residents are passionate about their roads. Really passionate. Just take a look at this article.
 
Ok, I did get sidetracked on this part of the story. I promise part 3 will cover Gold Canyon to Superior!!!
 

the road to home

**stand by vtr5**
 
**roll 5**
 
**got speed, take 5**
 
Most of my readers that will likely see this know very little about my new home state. Let me cover this pretty quickly…
 
There’s Interstate 40 that goes in an east-west direction. This is the road that replaced about two-thirds of the old Route 66. In Arizona, it runs through the Navajo Nation, but stays south of the Hopi Nation. It intersects with one of Arizona’s major cities, Flagstaff. Whenever you hear about snow in Arizona, it is often pictures and video from the Flagstaff area that you see.
 
az_snow.jpg (800x600 pixels)
 
You can continue on 40 through Arizona and in to California, or take a couple of turn-offs to major tourist sites, that being Las Vegas & the Grand Canyon.
 
Besides Flagstaff, most people know of Arizona’s other two major cities. Those are Phoenix and Tucson.
 
Since Phoenix is the location of the closest airport to my new home, that is where I will start.
 
Phoenix sits around 1,000 feet in elevation. When most people think about Phoenix and Arizona, they think of hot, boiling temperatures. It’s a place where it is not unheard of to have LOWS in the 90s (at least during the summer).
 
However, Phoenix is a little more diverse than that. The metro area is surrounded by a handful of native sovereign nations that contribute to the vibrant economy. The entire valley area is in the top 10 most populous areas of the entire United States.
 
Right in the heart of the metro lies the Phoenix airport. It is called Sky Harbor. A little bit of a dramatic name, but in my own opinion beats out something like the “Sunport” in Albuquerque. While not entirely up to scale with something like DFW, O’Haire, or JFK, it is a massive complex in its own right. It serves as a western hub for US Airways and Southwest Airlines out of terminal 4. Terminal 3 is the home of the One World Alliance airlines. I’ve not been in terminal 2, but it is the smallest of the public access terminals. Terminal 1, while not called that, is the private jet terminal. Jerry Jones probably arrives and leaves Phoenix from that terminal anytime the Cowboys come this direction to play the Cardinals. Also at Sky Harbor is what might very well be the most expensive on-site parking at a US airport. You do not want to park directly at the terminal for anything longer than about 3 hours. Parking for a whole day in that garage rings up a whopping $25 rate. Adds up if you’re gone multiple days.
 
skyharbor.jpg (425x318 pixels)
 
Phoenix was among one of the first airports to build an off-site consolidated rental car center. It is an impressive structure. The feel inside is like yet another airport terminal (just without those pesky TSA agents).
 
Whether you leave by a rental car or your own car, it can get hairy since you’re in the heart of Phoenix. By the time you find yourself starting to get on to I-10, you can already look up and see the exit sign for your direction, that being US Highway 60 eastbound. The safest idea is to stay in your entrance lane, especially if it is during rush hour. However, if traveling with someone else and not alone, I’d highly recommend getting in the HOV lane as soon as safely possible.
 
Drivers in Arizona are much more courteous on the whole versus in Texas. However, the one law they still love to break on the roads out here is the speed limit.
 
Once you find yourself on US 60 eastbound, you’re on a straight away out of the valley. But remember, the valley is populated across a large swath of land. To finally appear like you’re leaving civilization, you must drive around 30 minutes (at posted speed limits).
 
Along the way, you will pass the interchange with the inner loop, dubbed the 101. Further out, the outer loop, dubbed the 202. Once you clear out of Mesa, you’ll cross out of Maricopa county (the home of Sheriff Joe, infamous for pink inmate uniforms and his tent city in the desert for prisoners) in to Pinal (pronounced pi-NAIL) County. The last city before US 60 abandons its straight line of traverse is Apache Junction. There you will get a good look at the Superstition Mountains.
 
superstition_mountain_side_small.jpg (640x480 pixels)
 
The next installment will cover from the edge of Apache Junction to our next stop, Superior.