Late this past Saturday afternoon I drove to downtown Phoenix to catch a 4:00 p.m. showing of "Next to Normal" at Phoenix's beautiful Herberger Theatre. I got there early in hopes of finding some free on-street parking. As luck would have it, I was able to snag a spot at the end of the block at 3rd Avenue and Monroe - exactly seven blocks - in a straight line - to the front doors of the Herberger.
The parking, as it turns out, was the only "free" thing I encountered the entire evening.
The play, "Next to Normal," as I have already mentioned in this space, was exceptional. As soon as the lights began to dim, I was able to dash from my cheap seat to one of the better ones that had failed to sell for the late afternoon performance. As I sat there watching the play, I thought of the other great productions that I have seen at the Herberger - "The Kite Runner," "Les Miserables," "A Raisin in the Sun," as well as a play by Elaine May, "George is Dead," that starred Marlo Thomas and played at the Herberger more than a full year before Ms. May and Ms. Thomas took it to Broadway.
And though I had a great time at the play and walked away from it emotionally drained, it was afterwards that things began to get really interesting. To begin with, as I left the theatre the first thing I noticed was flashing emergency lights from a police cruiser and police outside of their car directing pedestrian traffic across the street. "Cool," I thought. "Phoenix is really starting to show its support for the arts. Take that, Joe Arpaio!" One block further along I encountered the same setup. This time I paid attention as another walker asked a young policeman what was going on. "Zombie Walk," he replied, pointing to a straggling line of the undead marching parallel to my route one block north.
Okay, so it wasn't a theatre thing. The police were out in force protecting zombies from traffic and theatre-goers. Good to know - and it goes along way toward explaining the staying power of both Sheriff Joe and Governor Jan Brewer.
When I had finally dodged the last of the police and the zombies and made it to my car, a sixth sense told me that due to the fact that it had been parked on the street for more that three hours, a walk-around, visual inspection might be in order. Right on cue, I discovered that the front tire on the passenger side was flatter than Ann Coulter's profile.
A quick survey of my car revealed that if I had a jack or a spare tire, I had no earthly idea where they were stored. The good folks where I bought my used Saturn, Gateway Chevrolet, had delivered it without several things which one would think would be standard on most vehicles, even used - an electronic door key, floor mats, a serviceable gas cap - so I would not have bet the farm that a jack and a spare tire came with the purchase. (I have since found the jack, but the spare tire remains MIA.)
So I called my insurance company, USAA.
USAA, I discovered that night, is long on sales, but somewhat short on service. They arranged for a tow truck to come and rescue me and my vehicle in about an hour and transport us to the nearest Wal-Mart - 13 miles away. The lady said she called ahead and they would be able to fix my tire when we got there. Of course, when the tow truck finally arrived, the driver called that Wal-Mart and learned that the tire shop was closed. Not wanting to leave my only car at a Wal-Mart overnight, I had the driver take me and the car home: twelve extra miles and a cost of $65 which USAA, the following Monday, refused to pay. (They were so much friendlier and agreeable when they were selling me the insurance policy!)
But meanwhile back in downtown Phoenix waiting on the tow truck:
The disabled car was next to a park bench and a street light, so I took my book de jour, The Complete H.P. Lovecraft, and sat down on the park bench to read while waiting on my rescuer. Lovecraft, the horror master, was perfect for a street read because zombies of all sizes and descriptions began staggering by on their way home.
It was while I sat there reading that I met Vincent, a "homeless veteran" who happened by on one of those scooters for disabled people. Vincent, dressed in a concert tee-shirt (some band called Desert Outrage), khaki shorts, and a cap that proclaimed he was a veteran of Desert Storm, asked what I was doing. I told him that I was waiting on a tow truck. He said that he was certain that I had a spare tire, and to prove his point, he climbed off of his handicapped scooter and pulled himself under my car to look for the tire while I stood guard to make sure no one came by and stole the shoes off of his feet while while he back-scooted around on the pavement.
There was no spare tire under the car.
When Vincent resurfaced, I engaged him in conversation to learn about his circumstances. He told me that he was a retired Marine Corps Sergeant Major (he wasn't - of that I am certain), and that he was currently homeless. Why homeless? I asked. (He appeared to be sober and not under the influence of any illegal substances.) He told me that when he left the Corps he had not been briefed on how to obtain VA services (another lie). He said that he was looking for a place to spend the night. His favorite shelter was already full, but there was another available if he could come up with twenty dollars. We talked awhile longer and I told his about veteran services at the air base where I worked - then I gave him twenty dollars, received a "God bless you" in payment, and watched Vincent roll off into bowels of Phoenix.
The tow truck driver's name was Tom, and he moved to Phoenix a few years ago from Florida. His goal was to eventually make his way to California - and to that end he believed that San Diego would be nice. Tom's truck had to be inspected before we could get onto the air base, and in order for that to happen we had to get in line behind another tow truck.
It was a full moon: zombies, and tow trucks, and con-artists on scooters, oh my!
When Tom finally got me home and backed my car into the drive, a couple of the neighbors walked out onto their lawns to watch. I had to go downtown for my entertainment, but theirs was delivered!
That was my Saturday night, and it was entertaining from start to finish!