Last week a childhood friend and I went down to Tucson for one night for the gem shows taking place. I had not seen her in over two years and was thrilled she could use this occasion to set up a last-minute work/friends trip.
I was adamant about staying in a good location so we could bike everywhere. She’s not really into biking but she does use the City Bike Share System a whole bunch to get around in NYC so I knew she would be able to handle short commuting trips in Tucson. To my surprise the gem shows in Tucson are very popular and people from all over the world head to Arizona for this. I was not expecting all hotels to be booked.
There was one room at the Hotel Congress available and we took it. We were warned.
Hotel Congress is located in the downtown area, and it also seemed pretty eclectic which is a plus. There were no rooms available online but we called the hotel and we were told about the only vacant room. This room was right over the hotel’s club/bar area where they have live music every night. We were warned that not only would we hear the music, we would feel it. It would be very, very loud until 2:30 am. And we booked it…
Unfortunately Tucson’s bike share is not yet up and running so we had to load my bikes on the car and we headed to Tucson the next morning.
We checked into the Hotel Congress. My first impressions of the hotel were good with a few problematic exceptions. First thing was no elevator. Ok this isn’t really a problem at all, but the carpet on the stairs and hallways had this really trippy flower pattern that I knew would cause problems in a few hours. Also the room was tiny and was decorated with pictures of saints… wow.
We rode our bikes to Cafe Poca Cosa which is very close to the hotel. It is possible that my favorite thing about this hotel when booking was its proximity to this restaurant. Ed and I stopped here for an excellent meal and margaritas when we rode our bikes to Mexico. I do have to admit that the margaritas were not as good as I remembered them that day, but I was expecting that since I had ridden over 60 miles and it was hot af then. However, the Pastel de Elote was still oh-so good.
During lunch my friend mentioned that the gem shows are usually more fun while flying a little. It was the perfect time to reveal my surprise. Not only did I bring bikes, I also brought this spray which can turn any food into an edible. Neither of us had ever tried it, but we were game.
We left the restaurant and walked into this shop across the street which sold candy. Turns out we stumbled into a pretty cool head shop. We talked a bit with the guy working the counter and checked out some beautiful but very expensive pieces, bought some sour gummies and left. We sprayed two gummy strips with two sprays each as instructed and giddily ingested the sour, sweet, sticky laced with the bitter liquid. We hopped on our bikes and took off for the first gem show.
Riding through Tucson is fun and very different from riding in Phoenix. Personally I find it much better than Phoenix. The roads don’t have nearly as many potholes, better infrastructure and there are lots of people on bikes. There is still a ton of car traffic unfortunately, but not nearly as aggressive or distracted as Phoenix drivers. There’s also lots of quaint little places you want to stop by.
We walked and walked the tents of gems and we weren’t feeling a fucking thing. How disappointing. It was still great being there and checking out all the incredibly beautiful gems, stones, geodes, minerals etc.
After about two hours of all of this we rode to the Arizona Inn for margaritas. We had to go there because apparently the Arizona Inn is the shit in the New York blogger scene. It was definitely beautiful but it had a depressing-nursing-home vibe.
It had been more than three hours since we took the spray and we had not felt a thing. Back in our room at the Hotel Congress we decided to take two more sprays, but this time we would spray it under our tongues and chase them with these beautiful and decadent chocolates she brought from home. The spray tasted like… you know when you go to the dentist and you get the anesthesia but some of it leaks out a little and you can taste it and it’s the worst? That’s it!
There is zero space, zero TV and full-blown pictures of saints in our room so after the spray we gtfo and back on our bikes to check out the area. Riding downtown got a little eery. The people were looking kind of weird and it felt very desolated, although there were lots of people around. Most of the car traffic was gone and there were more pedestrians and bike riders. However there was a very weird vibe. Like something was about to go down and everyone knew it but us. We stopped by Wooden Tooth Records, a neat little record store inside a cafe. We hung out there for a while checking out all the records. I found Johnny Cash’s America: A 200 Year Salute In Story and Song for $3.99. Sweet!
We weren’t really “feeling it” and the sun was setting. As usual, I forgot my bike lights. We decided to head back to the hotel, lock up our bikes and check out places we could walk to instead. The ride back was short, but disturbing. So much homeless youth… completely cracked out. Whatever these kids were on reminded me of an episode of Breaking Bad. Definitely the worst were the two kids throwing up by the underpass… one of them crying. It was truly heartbreaking. Right by the entrance to our hotel another kid, again completely cracked out, was wobbling toward a trash can. I don’t know if he was looking for food or about to throw up into it. What the fuck Tucson? This is a problem that needs to be addressed. Never saw any of this during Cyclovia. Of course we wanted to help, but it didn’t feel safe to do so at the moment.
All of this was depressing and definitely killed our barely-there-buzz. The hotel’s bar was packed, but I detest hanging out in a hotel. We spotted Maynards Market & Kitchen just across the street and decided we were brave enough to venture.
Maynards is a really cute joint filled with happy Tucson faces. It’s one of those places that was built to have that vibe… I can’t explain it. They have a kitchen with a small happy hour menu, but also a “market” so they sell wines by the bottle as well as “gourmet” snacks and stuff. Normally not my favorite type of place but it was close to the hotel and my friend seemed finally relaxed and comfortable again, so I was happy. Over a bottle of wine and some fries with aioli we started feeling really good. Finally, after four sprays and hours of waiting we were flying. And it was great. We laughed and laughed until it was way obvious to everyone and decided it was time to be boring and head to the room for some stand-up comedy on Netflix… but we had to bring some stuff to our room. We spent about 20 minutes walking in circles around the rather small “market” picking stuff to take to our room: Cactus Candy, cheddar popcorn, caramel popcorn, a huge cinnamon roll and another bottle of wine.
We got our bed-picnic on while laughing our asses off to Aziz Ansari from our tiny iPhone screen. Did either of us think about brining water? Oh, no. Really? That was smart.
The fun lasted about an hour before the music from below started pounding. They were not kidding around. That shit was LOUD! I spotted the ear plugs and was able to pass out to the sound of rock/punk or whatever.
With my eyes closed I was seeing all kind of colors while at the same time being terrified I will never fall asleep and will have to listen to this shit for hours and hours without end. The geriatric Arizona Inn was sounding pretty good. A La Quinta Inn by the highway would have been heaven.
I started relaxing when she says in the wimpiest of voices. “Dude, the lock to this door is so weeeak.” I immediately ordered her to shut up. I did not want to hear that at that moment. And that’s when I remembered: my bike.
We left the bikes locked up to the rack by the hotel. I had intended to bring them up to our room but completely forgot. I was only really worried about the Dummy. If something happened to my Dummy I would die. But I was way too “tired” to get up and get it. I asked the saints by my bed to bless it and hoped it would be there tomorrow.
I opened my eyes to the sun rising and reached my hand over to the left over popcorn desperately hoping to find some water. I looked over at my friend who was also waking up. We couldn’t believe it. We both actually slept through the night. I only kind-of woke up once, when the music got so loud it felt like the whole room shook violently for about 45 seconds.
The plan for this day was to go to a second gem show, and that was it really. I wanted to go to BICAS but only if we had enough time. This was technically a business trip for her after all. While laying in bed I had the bright idea to take two more sprays first thing in the morning. After all, it took about 4-5 hours for anything to happen yesterday and that was with four sprays. Surely two wouldn’t be much at all, and we wouldn’t hit us until hours later, hopefully right during the second gem show. She agreed. We took two more sprays chased with some old popcorn.
I got dressed and went downstairs for a cup of coffee and to check on our bikes. The bikes were still there just as we left them. (Thank you Hotel Congress Saints!) It was super cold so I drank my coffee in the lobby and waited for her to come down. We went to the hotel’s cafe for breakfast. We ordered french toast and as we were eating it just hit us like a ton of very funny and awesome bricks. I was just watching the syrup flow over the toast and it was great. It was only 8am by this point and the gem show didn’t start till 10am so we went back to bed and watched 30 Rock. After every 30 minute episode we would try to leave but we couldn’t. The flower print on the carpet made it impossible to walk. At 11am we had to check out… so we did.
We grabbed our bags and slowly traversed the wine-colored-flower-patterned-carpet down the steps. Dropped our bags in the car and got on our bikes. Getting going on the bikes took a minute, but once you get going it is the best. We rode around in silent for forever not knowing where we were going but having so much fun. We would go through bouts of silence, feeling the wind on our faces and hair, followed by so much laughter we had to pull over and get our feet off the pedals and back on the ground. It was the highlight of the trip for sure. There’s just nothing quite as fun as riding high with a good friend in tow.
I spotted Pizzeria Bianco. I had no idea there was a Pizzeria Bianco in Tucson! PB is one of my favorite places in Phoenix. Homegirl wasn’t too into eating pizza since she lives in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, but she went for it.
We sat at the bar and shared the Biancoverde with Sopressata, no wine, just water. It was amazing. Even she loved it. Loved it so much we ended up going back again when we got back to Phoenix at her request. After the pizza we were still “hungry” so we had the Flourless Chocolate Cake for dessert with an espresso (Exo Roast Co.) It was amazing. Hate to say it but Pizzeria Bianco totally kicked Cafe Poca Cosa’s ass. I mean completely different meals, so almost unfair to compare, but that was just soooo good!
We felt incredible after lunch and rode to the second gem show. The ride to the show was a little more composed but just as fun.
The second show was not as interesting to me so I sat in the food court area with a giant cookie from Eegees while friend shopped around. I just sat there with my cookie looking at people. It was not as boring as it sounds.
Once she was done we rode to Bookman’s to check out more records. I found Grand Funk Railroad’s We Are An American Band and Elton John’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player for next to nothing. And that was that. We put the bikes back on the car and drove back home. It was a little weird not going to any breweries while there but sistah hates beer so….
She stayed with me a couple of days here at home. While in town I took her to Wilderness Brewing (Gilbert), Cartel Coffee Lab (Tempe and Scottsdale), Diego Pops (Scottsdale), Hotel Valley Ho (Scottsdale), The Mission (Scottsdale), BoSa Donuts (Chandler), Zia Records (Tempe), Revolver Records (Phoenix), back to Pizzeria Bianco (Phoenix) and Rollover Doughnuts (Phoenix).
Where do you take friends/family when they come to visit? Especially Mexican places. Everyone who comes to visit is so excited to eat Mexican food and I still haven’t found an amazing Mexican place. My favorite was Paz Cantina 🙁
It was great seeing her again, spending time together and catching up.
I gained six pounds.