My first step out every day, I put my hand on a heart and open the front gate of a bungalow in Armory Park, one of Tucson, Arizona’s urban neighborhoods. Back in the day, Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific) Railroad housed its employees here, and each night, freight trains call from the tracks running a few blocks east. These days, no one answers back.

35 degrees each morning so far, rising quickly to 70 by 11:00AM. Tucson’s sunshine is an embarrassment of riches, although it’s actually overcast right now. Mountains to the northeast, northwest, due east and southwest. Block after block of tiny colorful cottages, fenced dirt and gravel yards blooming with all variety of cactus, palo verde trees, Spanish broom, and a great deal more flora with names I haven’t learned yet. All in good time.

Santa Rita Park, a short walk south, has acres of ochre grass, bird-laden trees, and a skate park lit up all night long. The low steady hum off I-10 offsets the skateboards’ arrhythmic whoosh and click. When the birds and freighters chime in, this area definitely has its own jazz.

An unusually dense population of homeless people claim their spots in the outfield of one of Santa Rita’s three ballparks, reading, sleeping, or standing watch. Each one is a civilization unto himself. Crossing through center field with my dog Seamus, I weighed having nothing to do alongside having nothing to your name, and realized there wasn’t so much difference between us.

I passed a woman living out of a gleaming black van parked along the third base line.  She was big and round, warm and friendly, with an uproar of black hair. Her huge slobbering silver Mastiff was tied to a nearby tree, barking urgently for water. His voice was smaller than I thought it should be, given his size, and hoarse, but then I realized he was directing his message to her, not the whole ballpark. Smart dog. Know your audience. I approached the left field foul line and we exchanged pleasantries, then she yelled “Sorry! Gotta go! The boss is calling!”  Then, as she disappeared into the side door of her van, “They have us so well trained.”

I looked at Seamus sixteen feet out on his retractable leash, and wondered for a moment just who was walking whom.

Scott Plate

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