Post #293

Retro: Adventures on Speedway Boulevard

30th March 2004, late morning | Comments (37)

Tucson, Arizona, USA ~ April, 2002.

Temperature: 95°F.

Hoola Hoopers traffic sign

Tucson is not a place for the pedestrian. Try to travel the length of East Speedway Boulevard by foot and you’ll very quickly realise that you’re an oddity, and an uncatered for oddity at that.

Pavements end abruptly; detours through garage forecourts have to be made; knee-high hedges have to be stepped over. Your way is blocked by signs saying ‘Do not drink from the irrigation system’, ‘Jiffy Lube’, and ‘Club Platinum — always hiring dancers’.

People stare at you as you cut through the front yard of Crazy Bob’s Guns and Beer; children point you out to their parents as you skitter across the entrance to Walgreens car park, Momma, it’s a rac-oon! That ain’t no rac-oon, Honey. Thas a pee-destrian. Them’s vermin though, just like that rac-oon. Run it over, Momma! I’m tryin’, Honey, I’m tryin’.

To get from Bud’s Drapery Den, on the south side of the street, to Furniture-in-the-Raw, on the north side of the street, you must either walk half a mile to the nearest intersection, or brave six lanes of traffic at a run.

The message is clear to those travelling à pied: Buy a car, you shmucks!

If not by foot, then by bus

Self-portrait of Dunstan, at a bus stop
Self-portrait, at bus stop

On Saturday morning I’d ventured out for a leisurely stroll down Speedway, but after three hours of vaulting hedges and dodging cars I’d had enough, and was ready to head on home. I reached my bus stop at 13:09 and found it empty of people and devoid of a timetable. Molly had said the service was pretty sporadic at the weekends, so I sat down to wait, played with my new cowboy hat, and watched people working at the car-wash next door.

At 14:00 a guy carrying a newspaper strolled up to the shelter and sat down next to me. He was mid-thirties, had very blond hair, and a blonde moustache. I noticed he had on and black, Velcro-fastened trainers, and wondered if he had trouble tying regular shoelaces.

Mr Velcro
Has the bus come yet?
Nope, not yet. I’ve been sitting here fifty minutes and there’s been nothing. Lots going the other way, but nothing for us.
Mr Velcro
Oh, OK. Say, where you from?
Mr Velcro
Oh, right. I ain’t travelled much, only once been outside of Arizona.
Oh… well, Arizona’s pretty big. I expect it takes time to see all of it before you can move on.
Mr Velcro
You got that right. Been here thirty-seven years.


Mr Velcro
You been to France?
Um, yes, once or twice.
Mr Velcro
France is nice ain’it?
Yes, lovely.
Mr Velcro
Yeah… I ain’t never been to France.


A Hispanic man pulled up in a shiny truck and shouted a greeting to us. Mr Velcro went over and talked to him, then came back and sat down as the truck drove off, heading in the direction we want to go.

I wondered why he hadn’t taken a lift with his friend.

Could he not give you a lift then?
Mr Velcro
Was he not going in the right direction, to give you a lift?
Mr Velcro
Oh, he was, but I don’t want a lift from him. I spent seven years in federal prison with him. I don’t wanna see him again.
A seated man’s legs and feet, clad in blue denim and black shoes
Mr Velcro's shoes

We sat in silence for a while. I was wondering how to broach the subject of prison, without getting beaten to death, and he passed the time circling items in his newspaper.


So, was that when you left Arizona? When you went to prison.
Yeah, that’s right.
It must be hard, I guess they can send you anywhere in the country. You could be a long way from your family.
Yes sir, that’s true…
Why didn’t they put you in a local jail?
Because it was federal: I robbed a bank, so they put you wherever they want.

Wow! I was talking to a bank robber!

He went back to circling things in his newspaper (probably banks), and I tried not to think about how long I’d been waiting for the damn bus.


I turned my head to the right and watched a man staggering up the sidewalk towards us. He was wearing jeans, boots, a rough-silk shirt and his nose was covered by a giant scab. He looked a little worse for wear.

Scoose me sir, isis bzz going to da stashn?
I’m sorry?
Isis bzz going to da stashn?
Bank robber
No man, you gotta change for that station bus.

And with a sigh, the scabby-nose man flopped on to the floor by my feet.

Excyouse me sir, are you from Australia?
No, England.
AH! I’ve juz come back from Israel — lived there ten years then too many tanks came an’ I hadda leave. Been home one week.


So, I’m havin’ a really bad come down from acid… Las week I crashed my motorcycle and I’ve been in hozbital… my girlfrenz still in there sir. I keep drinkin’ to try to numb the pain, you know? But it doesn’t help… Drank a pint of vodka thiz mornin’, but it just made my head worse. I got consussion.
Bank robber
Hey, you lucky you alive.
I am lucky I’m alive.
Bank robber
You sure are. Crash your motorcycle; you lucky to be alive.
Yes sir.
Bank robber

As he sat on the floor the scabby-nose guy tried to roll a cigarette, and I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone make such a bad job of it before: his co-ordination was on the blink, the tobacco blew everywhere, he didn’t seem to have enough saliva to seal the paper, and when he finally managed to squash the thing into some kind of shape he found, to his dismay, that none of us had a lighter.

Defeated, he put the cigarette on the pavement next to him, where the wind promptly blew it away.

The poor chap was not having a good day.

Sir, I hear the Queen of Ingand died las week. I watched it, it was pretty sad.
Bank robber
Yup, that’s a shame.
Actually it wasn’t the Queen, it was the Queen Mother.
Which one’s she?
Well, she was the mother of the Queen of England.
Bank robber
Well, she’s dead anyhow.
Yes, sir.


A man sitting on a bus
Scabby-nose Guy, on the bus

The bus!! Thank you Jesus!

It pulled up and we all got on: the Bank Robber first, then me, and finally the Scabby-nose Guy. There was a bit of a delay while our worse-for-wear friend tried to pay with something that the driver insisted “was not money”, but we were soon on our way.

Three hours trail-blazing though Strip Mall Country, and then two hours at a bus stop, in 95 degree temperatures, with a bank robber and a… scabby-nose dude on acid. Was I ever going to have a normal day here?

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Comments (37)

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  1. James:

    A hoot, I say, a hoot!

    Posted 28 minutes after the fact
  2. Marq:

    I wouldn't quite call it an adventure, but ... aw, heck with it. Adventure!

    Posted 1 hour, 3 minutes after the fact
  3. Sparticus:

    Don't worry Dunstan, even famous travel writers give up walking in America; Bill Bryson writes something scarily similar to the above, but with less hilarious bank-robber/scabby-nose fun.

    Posted 1 hour, 54 minutes after the fact
  4. Rahul:

    I bet you're rewriting these to make them funnier aren't you. Yeaaah, Dunstan, I'm onto you. You sneaky devil.

    Posted 1 hour, 59 minutes after the fact
  5. Ethan:'re not from Australia?

    Posted 2 hours, 25 minutes after the fact
  6. Kitta:

    That is a fine example why I hate taking the bus, not because of the people on the bus (like Mr Velcro and Scabby-nose), but because it never comes on time. Buses seem to have their own time - 1 minute = 10 minutes, 1 hour = 2 hours - and so on. Appointments are broken, people are pissed and the bus driver just wants to strike.

    Posted 2 hours, 49 minutes after the fact
  7. Tom Dell\'Aringa:

    Good heavens! Dunstan, what is it about you that brings out the absolute interesting/worst face that America can put forth? LOL. Dude, I don't think *I* have met as many oddballs in this country as you have, and I've lived here 38 years.

    Ok, the term Mr. Velcro cracked me up. Actually velcro "trainers" are quite popular, especially for kids. But hey, I wouldn't wear em. I love it when you changed his title to Bank Robber - ROTFL.



    Posted 3 hours, 30 minutes after the fact
  8. Pierce:

    If I was to have arrived at that bus stop I think it would be the guy trying to take pictures of every part of his body that would have freaked me out more than anyone else.

    Posted 3 hours, 40 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Andy
  9. Sean:

    They may have been staring at your atire.
    Change the hat to a truckers ball cap and put a shirt on.
    Shorts were too clean. If you are walking then you must be poor, so look it.

    Or they were amazed at your whiteness. I am whiter so don't take offense.

    Most USA cities were not built for walking.
    I wanted to take my bike to work, but to do that I must cross a huge traffic circle or 4 lanes of traffic and a soggy median.

    Excellent tale, as always.

    Posted 3 hours, 57 minutes after the fact
  10. Andy:

    Especially somebody taking a photo of their own crotch. (middle photo)

    <Andy gets a flashback to his wedding />

    Posted 3 hours, 57 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Pierce
  11. Paul G:

    Hee hee! If you're looking for strange and interesting people to converse with, public transportation is by far the best place to start. I knew people in college that would get on a bus at 1 a.m. and just ride it up and down the route, talking with or just observing all the interesting (read: drunk/stoned/tripping) people that ride the bus at that time of night.

    Btw Dunstan, you've inspired me to try my hand at story-blogging:

    Posted 4 hours after the fact
  12. Chad:

    You're killin me man! I love these stories first thing in the morning! Ain't 'Merica GREAT!?!?!

    Posted 4 hours, 18 minutes after the fact
  13. Scott:

    Hey Dunstan, have you ever been to the eastern United States? We have the same amount of freaks and weirdos, but packed into a much smaller area! Stories galore my friend, stories galore.

    Posted 4 hours, 48 minutes after the fact
  14. Web:

    Dunstan's Adventures in America .. hilarious. You should be hand drawing these scenes out for us too..

    I think a lot of people in the Midwest are strange, don’t drink the water.

    Posted 5 hours, 15 minutes after the fact
  15. Karen:

    Ha! Public transportation is definitely the best place to encounter eccentric and/or felonious people. Of course, the second-best place is the International House of Pancakes, where a bus driver (notice the bus theme?) once boasted to me that he sometimes sets loose a wind-up mouse to scare the lady passengers.

    Dunstan: Great story and photos. Well worth the wait. :)

    Posted 5 hours, 21 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Paul G
  16. Lee:

    I have noticed that pedestrians are an endangered species during my forays to the states. Less so in California in my experience (my parents lived there for 3 years so I was over a fair bit).

    We did get rather tired of being asked if we were Australian. Though, having spoken to an Aussie on my travels, I can confirm they get asked if they're Brits...

    We've also (no joke) been asked if they speak English in England. I'm not sure what that shows, but it isn't good...

    Posted 7 hours, 58 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  17. Dunstan:

    My cousin Kim (an Australian) was in Alaska with an Italian friend a few years back. One of the people there asked them where they were from:

    kim: "I'm from Australia"
    friend: "And I'm from Italy"
    alaskan: "Italy? Is that were Italian food is from?"

    Posted 9 hours after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Lee
  18. Paul G:

    "...sets loose a wind-up mouse to scare the lady passengers"

    Ha! I'm writing that one down.

    And for the record, I would posit that Waffle House, not IHOP, is #2. I'd put the odds that your cook escaped from prison that morning around 70%. I have never lacked for interesting conversation at Waffle House.

    Posted 9 hours, 53 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Karen
    Inspired: ↓ Karen
  19. Karen:

    I'll concede that Waffle House has its own charm. Each one seems to have a waitress named Flo, who a) has fabulous beehived hair secured with AquaNet; b) calls you "honey" while smacking her gum; and c) seems to have been replicated for the sole purpose of staffing every WH in the country.
    Sadly, there isn't one in my area, so IHOP has to fill the void.

    Posted 10 hours, 25 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Paul G
    Inspired: ↓ Paul G, ↓ Chad
  20. Paul G:

    I've often wondered whether Waffle House has some sort of über-secret cloning facility that churns out beehive-endowed waitresses and potential-axe-murderer cooks. I can just imagine a room full of scientists wearing lab coats and those funny paper hats.

    If such is the case, there must be some sort of problem surrounding the cloning of teeth, as they seem to be a rare find in your typical Waffle House staff.

    Eh, they probably only had the budget to clone either beehives or teeth, but not both. It seems apparent that they chose beehives.

    Posted 10 hours, 41 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Karen
    Inspired: ↓ Karen, ↓ Chad
  21. Sean:

    IHOP is the nicest 24/7 restaurant in my town. Clean and normal. But there food is no good.
    Our local dirty diner, "Pit Grill", is the most amazing place in town. It attracts more *white trash* than Waffle House after a monster truck rally.
    Some of the best food in town, other than the road kill looking steaks.

    For Cajun and Creole foods, the best places are always *hole in the walls*. I just ate a few lbs. of boiled mudbugs (crawfish) and a shrimp poboy while interpreting a redneck conversation. Oh and some boudin, can't forget the boudin.

    Posted 11 hours, 27 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Chad
  22. Karen:

    My old coffeeshop used to be frequented by patients from a nearby mental hospital. One of them believed John Denver was the messiah.

    Is there a British equivalent to Waffle House, I wonder? Someplace cheap and trashy and crammed full of those at the lowest end of the economic spectrum (euphemism alert)?

    Posted 11 hours, 55 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Paul G
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  23. Dunstan:

    I've been trying to think of one, Karen.

    When you're out and about in the day, the crappiest place to eat is usually McDonalds or Burger King.
    In the evening it's usually a chinese or indian take away (though they're not crap), or a kebab (could be crap, depends what you get).

    I don't think there's anything the same as your waffle houses...

    I think our list of 'affordable' eateries would be:

    [1] pub
    [2] kebab shop
    [3] chippy
    [4] curry house
    [5] chinese take-out
    [6] McDonalds/Burger King
    [7] local cafe for cooked breakfast
    [8] burger van outside club/sports event/concert

    But then I'm not a City Boy, so maybe there's a chain of inner-city UK Waffle Houses that I don't know about.

    Posted 12 hours, 4 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Karen
    Inspired: ↓ Phil Baines
  24. Phil Baines:

    I'm not a 'City Boy' either, but I would say that we have some 'nasty eating places' you can find in most big cities here in the UK. I dont think they are Waffle Houses, they are more like big pubs, that have been commercialised and are owned by a chain. 'Wetherspoons' anyone? 'Walkabout'?

    Then again we also have a lot of Beefeaters around. Do they count?

    Posted 13 hours, 1 minute after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Dunstan
  25. Chuckg:

    I beg you to come try out some of the buses here in San Francisco Dunstan, you'd have to bring a notepad for all the blogoodness the locals would feed you. As far the walking goes, sounds like Montana; hurtling hay bales and avoiding rattle snakes is always a fun adventure.

    Posted 13 hours, 51 minutes after the fact
  26. Zelnox:

    I live in a city. Once, public transportation went on strike during a snowstorm and that annoyed many many people. My city is very dependent on public transit.

    Posted 17 hours, 24 minutes after the fact
  27. Wahyu Wijanarko:

    Do you ever visit Bali?
    It's very nice place :)

    Posted 1 day, 1 hour after the fact
  28. Chad:

    The Waffle House and IHOP certainly are coming up here alot in the past week or so, eh?? Sean, I'm sorry that the nicest restaraunt in your town is the IHOP....but I do agree with you on the shrimp one I ever had was in some dumpy gas station in waayyyyy-southern Lousiana, way down in the delta. They had about 20 big jars of assorted pickled animal parts, quite a site indeed.

    Posted 1 day, 3 hours after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Karen, ↑ Paul G, ↑ Sean
    Inspired: ↓ Paul G, ↓ Karen
  29. Paul G:

    I can't help it. The people Dunstan has met in his recent stories remind me of exactly the sort one would meet in an IHOP or Waffle House.

    I really don't care much for the food at either place, but the ambiance, the "Je ne sais quoi" is reason enough to compel me to go every so often.

    Well, that, and the strong reassurance of my own normalcy (by contrast) that I get when I'm there.

    Posted 1 day, 4 hours after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Chad
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan, ↓ Karen
  30. Dunstan:

    They better have an IHOP or a Waffle House in San Francisco, or I'm going to be dissapointed :o)

    Posted 1 day, 5 hours after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Paul G
    Inspired: ↓ Paul G
  31. Nicole:

    My question is, what the heck does that sign mean? Walk really fast? Try to walk while creating a circular current around your legs?

    Posted 1 day, 5 hours after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan, ↓ Karen
  32. Dunstan:

    It's a "Beware of Pedestrians" sign that someone has stuck a hula-hoop on, to make a "Beware of Hoola-hoopers" sign :o)

    Posted 1 day, 5 hours after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Nicole
    Inspired: ↓ Karen
  33. Paul G:

    Sorry Dunstan, according to, they don't have any restaurants in California. It does, however, look as though IHOP is there in full force:®ion=CA%2CUS

    It's a shame that there's no Waffle House there, but I'd suspect that even if there were, it wouldn't meet the high standards of wierdness that they hold here in southeastern America.

    You could also try for a Denny's, just don't eat or drink anything they serve there.

    Posted 1 day, 5 hours after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Dunstan
  34. Karen:

    I've never had a po-boy. There's just something so sad and Dickensian about the name, like it's made of little workhouse orphans or something. (Soylent Green is made of orphans!)

    Nicole and Dunstan:
    The best "pedestrian" sign I've ever seen was at the border between San Diego and Mexico.

    Posted 1 day, 5 hours after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Chad, ↑ Paul G, ↑ Nicole, ↑ Dunstan
  35. Elaine:

    Tucson. Born and raised here. I've gone away to foreign lands, and I've come back. And I still ride the bus. It's a veritable rite of passage into this town.

    Good work, and I hope you're enjoying the desert in spring!

    Posted 1 day, 12 hours after the fact
  36. Mike:

    And here I am ax murder in the making
    working at a Denny's.

    We don't have the riff-raff
    at Denny's usually they patronize
    small independent establishments.

    It's hard for the non-high volume
    cook or non cook to begin to understand
    the stress involved in high volume cooking.
    More over the long term effects
    of that stress on the psyche of the
    individual. It's definately not office
    work or general labor.

    Posted 3 days after the fact
  37. Paul:

    I once went for a six week holiday to the States. I was on a tight budget because
    a) six weeks is a long time and
    b) one Dollar was then the equivalent of EUR 1.80

    So after landing at LAX I headed for the bus stop, which you reach there via a sort of limo affair.
    The limo dropped me off at what looked like a bus stop in England, with queue and all, except that a man with a straw hat turned round and immediately started talking to me about Jesus (this after a 12 hour flight) and the guy at the front of the queue was standing on his head, whistling.

    Befuddled by jet lag all I could think was: Welcome to California, have a nice day

    Posted 5 days, 21 hours after the fact

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