I've been accused of... okay, maybe "correctly perceived as" is the phrase I'm looking for here... being a wee tad of a cynic. Just a bit. A wee scosh. Maybe I've been a bit down on Tucson in the past. It's taken a while, but the place is beginning to grow on me. Hell, anyone can have a bad decade. So here are things that are pretty cool about Tucson... in fact, things that make it a downright okay place to live. There, I said it. Hey, I'm from Chicago. So sue me.
1. You can play soccer year-round, even if it has to be after sunset in the summertime. Feel free to subsistute your outdoor activity of choice for "soccer," such as "walk the dog" or "go hiking" or "ride your bike."
2. Mountains all around. I grew up in the Midwest. Not too many mountains there, so it still seems a bit exotic to be able to go outside and see mountains ringing the city in all directions. They also provide a nice respite from the summer heat.
3. Vibrant local music scene. How trite a statement is that? How about... Tucson has a bunch of clubs and bars with live music, much of it good, seven nights a week. We don't get too many stadium-rock shows--we get quality music. The Decemberists, Amy Ray, Okkerville River, Calexico, and Iron & Wine have all been through here recently. The Rialto Theatre downtown is newly renovated, Club Congress is tiny but swell, Plush rocks, and hell, even Green Fire Art & Music Collective is pulling in nationally known folk acts. Sweeeeeeeet.
4. Sporting events-a-plenty. If you're a jock or just a spectator-sport aficionado, it's hard to be bored here. The University of Arizona teams play nine months out of the year, and only men's basketball is basically impossible to get tickets for. The football team sucks but can be entertaining, women's basketball promises to get more interesting in the next couple of years, women's soccer is skyrocketing (and the games are still free), and the softball team is a perennial national championship contender. The Icecats (UA club hockey) are up and down, but the games are always a good time, with a great hockey crowd--and, since it's a non-varsity sport playing in an off-campus venue, there's beer! Overpriced beer, but beer nonetheless!. When school's not in session, you can watch minor league baseball and pro softball.
5. Fourth Avenue. The tiny, funky shopping and dining and drinking district just west of the U. Twice-a-year street fairs provide about a hundred craft booths and the best people-watching anywhere.
6. Antigone Books. On the aforementioned Fourth Avenue. One of the last independent bookstores in Tucson (maybe the last by the time you read this), with a feminist/gay-friendly bent on top of a fine selection of literature, philosophy, politics, history, mystery, and religion. Great kids' section, excellent bumper stickers and fridge magnets, killer greeting cards and calendars and candles and... fun salt 'n' pepper sets.
7. All Souls' Procession. Go to the website; my words can't do it justice. A phenomenal sensory experience early every November, to remember the dead and celebrate the living.
8. Food. Food, food, food. Neighborhood joints, upscale dining, hot dog stands. The full spectrum of eating possibilities. There are too many excellent places to be covered in a mere paragraph, so here's a list and a hope for future in-depth explorations: Rocco's Little Chicago. Beyond Bread. Daglio's Cheesesteaks. India Oven. Guadalajara Mexican Grill. Vivace. Grill. Buddy's. Bangkok Cafe. The French Quarter. Yummy, yummy.
9. Laid-back diversity. It's a university town in a stinking hot climate, so you run into a little bit of everything here, and for the most part that everything is wearing shorts and flip-flops. It's hard to be pretentious when it's 105 in the shade. A stroll through...
10. Himmel Park... on a Saturday will net you families with toddlers playing on the swings, a couple of multi-national pickup soccer games, Orthodox kids in yarmulkes shooting hoops, a Turkish family having a barbecue, a handful of gay guys playing volleyball, nuns from the nearby convent taking a walk, kids flying kites, and people cavorting with their dogs. And that was just last weekend.