Saturday, September 10, 2011

So Go Downtown - Things'll Be Great

I only have three more days of jury duty.  While it's been a truly fascinating experience - I really don't get why people try so desperately hard to get out of it - the toll of being gone from my job twice a week is truly taking a toll on me, and I'm looking forward to having those two days back so I don't feel compelled to stay up until all hours in order to get assignments graded and returned, etc.  I am thankful that I have an exceptionally supportive department chair and principal, and my other department members and colleagues have offered some fantastic encouragement as well.  Everyone should feel so fortunate in their workplace.
But I think one of the best aspects of being on jury duty is that it has forced me to be in downtown Phoenix all day for each of those two days.  Now, many large cities that I have visited have a bustling atmosphere, and Phoenix is not that different.  During the day.  But in past years, unless there was a sporting event or concert, the city practically rolled up the sidewalks come 5PM.  That's the thing about the Phoenix Metro Area (known to locals as The Valley) - since we have everything we might "need" in our own particular suburbs, there isn't that same need to head downtown.  While we do go to Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe with friends every New Year's Day (gotta get those beans and greens!), usually we stick close to home.  Why go to Majerle's near the ballpark when there is one in Chandler (same could be said for Coach and Willie's now, too)?  Who needs to go to the comedy club on Jefferson when the Improv is in Tempe?  And don't get me started on parking - it's a b****.
That's not the case anymore.  In the four months that I have been "working" downtown (it really is work, by the way - they make you earn your $12/day), I have seen many of the newer places that are helping contribute to what I think a city should be, and even as we sat outside (yes, outside - so exciting!) for lunch yesterday, we noticed a lot more non-business people out and about on the streets of Phoenix (perhaps some Mizzou fans?).
Most of those places are restaurants; we tend to get an hour for lunch (sometimes that's a bit longer if we wrap up our morning calendar early, but we can't count on it), so we all head out to try something new.  Yesterday we went to Vitamin T, a small place right next door to the Arrogant Butcher and the Tilted Kilt as well as a self-serve frozen yogurt shop (try their grapefruit tartini - it's delicious).  When I say small, I mean tiny - only a few tables.  But the food's really, really tasty.  The menu reminds me of what you'd get from a food truck, but this time the food truck is inside a building (I think that a food truck would also be bigger than the space they have, to be honest.
The impetus for going there is the Sonora Dog that is on the menu, and two of us taste tested it.  The rest got tacos of varying fillings - barbacoa, ahogado, carne asada, etc.  While the Sonora Dog wasn't, in my opinion, a true Sonora Dog (the bun wasn't right), it was still good, and I'd recommend Vitamin T for anyone looking for a good twist on Mexican street food.  Or takeout margaritas.
But as Phoenix continues to add new, sleek buildings to its skyline (the new judicial building is nearly finished, and it's beautiful), I am enjoying how it also embraces its past.  The Light Rail, which I think is also helping rejuvenate the downtown area, offers different snapshots of the evolution of what is Phoenix, thanks to various local artists.  Each stop has been a "canvas" to an artist, and you may find a nod to Arizona's participation in the assimilation of Native Americans or a sculpture honoring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.  
Taken from the courtyard at
Fair Trade Cafe
The artwork doesn't stop as you leave the Light Rail stops - Arizona State University's downtown campus has a lovely green area right off of Polk and Central that hosts a gigantic sculpture called "Her Secret is Patience."  I found this yesterday when I went looking for the Fair Trade Cafe, one of a handful of local coffee shops participating in Coffee Week, a fundraiser for Phoenix Children's Hospital and its fight against children's cancers.  So, first of all, Coffee Week continues through Sunday, so get in, get a cup of coffee, and donate a few bucks (or several) to a fantastic cause so that we can help more kids like my colleague's daughter Lily.  
Second of all, anyone coming to the downtown ASU campus has to go to Fair Trade - it's got good coffee, a truly fun and relaxed atmosphere (a lower level courtyard that offers plenty of seating), and it offers a student discount on both the coffee and healthy food that is served.  The coffee cake I purchased to go along with my Almond Joy® iced latte wasn't the healthiest move I've ever made, but Fair Trade does offer several gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options on its menu of fresh, local, and even homemade food.

And then there are a historic buildings, like the Hotel San Carlos, with the names of its famous visitors embedded in the sidewalk stars (the hotel is supposed to be haunted, so if any ghost hunters want me to come along on a lock-in, I'm game!), and the Westward Ho building, once the tallest building in Phoenix, now made even more unique by the  asymmetrical radio tower gracing its roof.  Sitting next to the new, sleeker, taller buildings, they make for a truly interesting walk around town, which I highly recommend to anyone coming to Arizona.
Before jury duty, I really wasn't all that interested in going downtown.  Having moved here specifically to go to ASU, I had always been in the suburbs.  But I'm so glad that I have taken some time to explore even a fraction of what downtown has to offer, and I certainly will not be loathe to explore more.  I have yet to get to the Friendship Garden or the Phoenix Police Museum, and on my trek to Fair Trade yesterday (it was a touch farther than I had imagined, but it was worth it to see all the great things I've been missing), I noted many local restaurants that I'll have to remember for when we come downtown for a concert or sporting event - the prices have got to beat the $7 beers at Diamondbacks games!
Oh, and as for that parking, it's much less of a b**** with the Light Rail park and rides.

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