Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Crime Map of Tucson

I debated whether or not to just add this information to the post on finding an apartment in Tucson or to give it it's own post. I decided it was an important enough resource to be given it's own post.

There is a Web site called Spot Crime that creates almost real time maps of crime reports for major cities around the world. Here is the map for Tucson:


While I am dubious of its 100% accuracy, it probably gives a fairly accurate picture of reported criminal activity in Tucson. It would be a useful resource to help find "safe" areas of town if you're relocating here, or to compare with your own hometown.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Grocery Shopping for Organic and Natural Food
in Tucson

I rarely shopped at, or even looked for a natural or organic foods grocery store when I lived in Michigan. I had one or two friends that frequented these places, but as much as I considered myself a new-age liberal tree-hugger, going out of your way to shop for organic food seemed a little too “out there” even for me.

That changed very quickly once I moved to Tucson. There are so many choices, and the prices are so competitive with ‘regular’ groceries you have to ask yourself “Why wouldn’t you shop there?”

Of course there are conventional places to shop for groceries for when you reeaaally need to have that Twinkie, or it’s time to pick up some more Ban roll-on. Tucson has Bashas’ and Fry’s aplenty.

But today’s post is all about going natural, and for that you basically have three choices here in Tucson. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Sunflower Farmers Market
Sunflower Farmer Market Sunflower is a small Western grocery store chain with two locations in Tucson. I’ve been to their location on Speedway Boulevard. Two things impressed me about Sunflowers. One is the sheer volume of fresh fruits and vegetables they have. It takes up most of the center of the store. This is the spot if you’re looking for variety in fresh fruits.

The second thing that impressed me was… the chocolate in their bulk food bins. I know, natural/organic foods and chocolate don’t seem to go together (“Hey, you got chocolate on my tofu!”). But trust me, this is some of the tastiest chocolate I’ve ever had. I recommend the chocolate covered peanuts and chocolate covered raisins.

I think their strategy is to lure you in with awesome chocolate, and then once you’re in the store you’ll think ‘as long as I’m here I might as well get some healthy food, too’.

Trader Joe’s
Trader Joe's Trader Joe’s is a larger grocery chain, and they have four locations throughout Tucson. I’ve shopped at the location at Wilmot road.

On my first shopping trip there, an employee was handing out fresh baked chocolate chip cookie samples. It’s almost as if these places are DARING you to buy junk food while you’re there.

I really like shopping at Trader Joe’s. They have a great variety of foods that you don’t often find in any grocery store. If you’re tired of having the same old same old for dinner every night, give Trader Joe’s a try. You’re bound to find something unique to take home.

Another bonus with Trader Joe’s is the quality of their house brand of foods has been excellent for the items I’ve tried, including their chocolate (I do buy fruits and vegetables too, honest!).

Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods Market On a recent Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Lewis Black was doing a bit on inflation in Zimbabwe. He showed a clip of a reporter that had just come out of a store where he had paid over a billion dollars for a can of beans. Lewis came back with “A billion dollars for a can of beans?!! I didn’t know Zimbabwe even HAD a Whole Foods Market!”

A billion dollars for a can of beans may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the prices here are noticeably higher than the other places I’ve shopped. This is probably where the misconception was born about natural and organic foods being so expensive.

Whole Foods does have two pluses. It has a nice variety of foods, and it has a wine selection that has a section for sulfate-free wines. It was the only one of the three food chains that did that as far as I know.

Whole Foods has two locations in Tucson, and I’ve shopped at the location on Speedway Boulevard. While standing outside taking a photo for this blog entry I noticed an old man in a security guard uniform keeping a close eye on me. Because, you know, a middle aged white guy with a digital camera is obviously a security threat. As I headed into the store to do my shopping he approached me about what I was up to. My blog explanation seemed to confuse the old gentleman even more and he talked about taking me ‘up to see the owners to see what they think of you taking pictures’. I thought for a moment the guy thought by taking his picture I was stealing a bit of his soul but then it dawned on me he probably didn’t have one. I realize now that since I mentioned a ‘blog’ and the ‘Internet’ he probably thought I had just stolen his identity.

"You kids get off my lawn!"

I told him I would be happy to go with him to see ‘the owners’ so I could let them know how the company they hired for security purposes was hassling paying customers that would also give them free Internet publicity. I left him muttering to himself about not knowing I was a customer, and finished my (last) shopping trip at Whole Foods Market.

So there you have it. Three choices with eight locations total, for natural and organic grocery shopping. My recommendations would be for Sunflower Farmers Market for fresh fruit and vegetable variety and totally awesome chocolate, and Trader Joe’s for a great variety of unique foods and an excellent house brand line of groceries.

Sunflower - http://www.sfmarkets.com/
Trader Joe’s - http://www.traderjoes.com
Whole Foods Market - http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gaslight Theatre and The Retro Rockets

The Gaslight Theatre bills itself as “The Hottest Thing to Hit Tucson Since Sunshine!” offering Musical Melodrama Open Year Round.

The Gaslight TheatreTrue to its name, Gaslight Theatre is a venue for live performances from local actors performing plays such as Beach Blanket Bebop (or "That's for Surfin'!") and Frankenstein Lives! (or “The Jolt’s On You!). They also host a “Family Concert Series” once each week that offers live music suitable for the entire family.

It was a live music event that served as my introduction to Gaslight Theatre. Last Monday I attended a concert featuring the local classic rock band called the Retro Rockets, and their first set promised to consist entirely of music by the Beatles.

A Gaslight SunsetOK, this photo has nothing to do with either the Retro Rockets or Gaslight Theatre. I just had to take this shot of the sunset reflecting off the clouds. It made me hungry for pizza.

The Retro Rockets aren’t just a tribute band to the Beatles and don’t limit themselves to Beatles music but they did a great job of covering early Beatles hits. They had a great time doing it as well, and took turns bantering with each other and the audience.

The audience appreciated it, and at the beginning of the evening were singing along with parts of the chorus of songs. By the end of the evening people were loosening up, and most of the audience was singing along to entire songs.

The Retro Rockets made it easy to sing along. After performing the first set of Beatles music, they filled their second set with such recognizable and feel-good hits like “Pretty Woman”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, “Long Cool Woman”, “I’m a Believer”, “Hang on Sloopy”, and “Do You Believe in Magic”.

The Retro RocketsThe Retro Rockets (photo courtesy of their MySpace page)

Tickets for performances at the Gaslight Theatre are sold in advance, and the Retro Rockets appeared to have sold out the house.

The seating at Gaslight Theatre consists of two or three chairs around a small wooden table, and if you’re hungry waitresses will bring you food - mostly sandwiches, some desserts, as well as beer and wine. It’s the latter two that I really appreciated. By the middle of the second set, when everyone was singing along to classic rock and roll, and I was sipping on my third beer, it struck me how much it felt like I was back in the early 70’s, booze cruising in a friends car, singing along with the radio.

And guess what? After all these years it’s still fun to listen to great music with friends while sipping on a barley pop or two. And MUCH safer than drinking and driving.

I had a great time at the Gaslight Theatre and plan to be back to take in a play or two and I’ll DEFINITELY be back for the live jazz music coming up in October.

The Web site for the Gaslight Theatre is http://www.thegaslighttheatre.com/ (have patience, it takes a while to load).

The Retro Rockets are booked throughout the rest of the year. Their schedule is on their Web site at http://www.myspace.com/tucsonretrorockets.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Happy Birthday Tucson!!!

Today is Tucson's 233 birthday!

Let's go places and eat things!


Monday, August 18, 2008

Finding an Apartment in Tucson

I had a lot of help with this blog entry from someone I met at a recent Tucson Single Professionals event. His name is Dave and I asked him for his advice for renting an apartment in Tucson.

I asked Dave for his advice because he is a long time resident of Tucson and was recently involved with a project involving local real estate developers. This project allowed him to become familiar with quite a few rental properties and their managers. Another advantage is these properties are all nearby Dave’s neighborhood so he is very familiar with this area.

I told Dave I was looking for a safe, quiet neighborhood. Here is his list along with a few notes:

Cottonwood Creek. 3111 E 4th St. (520) 795-9856. Pricey at $760-$1100. Web site at: http://www.hslcottonwoodcreek.com.

Elcon Gardens Apartments. 3507 E 3rd St. (520) 795-2327.

Knollwood Terrace. 3528 E 2nd St. (520) 327-7125. Well-run, quiet. Manager has lived there, in addition to being manager, for about 10 years.

Las Villas Apartments. 3424 E 2nd St. (520) 325-6545. Quiet neighborhood.

Palace 3814 E 4th St. (520) 327-5671. Older residents.

Palm Gardens Apartments. 3727 E 5th St. (520) 325-4422. Being remodeled, responsible new owners.

One More Choice
I should point out that all of the places listed above are in what is known as ‘central Tucson’. Very close to shopping, dining, theaters, parks, and just a short drive to the downtown area. In other words, where the action is.

If you’re looking for a little slower pace, you may want to look in the foothills area. A very nice set of apartment complexes there is run by Tucson Rental Homes. They run thirteen complexes throughout Tucson, with three of them in the foothills area. Tucson Rental Homes are unique because they are (with the exception of single bedroom units) free standing units, so you don’t share walls or floor/ceilings with neighbors.

This remote and individual setting comes at a price of course. The price range for Tucson Rental Homes is $750-$795 for a single bedroom up to $1030-$1270 for a three bedroom unit.

Their main office and model units are at 4647 N Campbell Ave. Their phone number is (520) 299-4466, and their Web site is: http://www.tucsonrentalhomes.com.

Another Resource
If you’d like to do some more research, all of these rental units and more can be found at apartmentfinder.com.

* Of course, these prices were in effect at the time this blog was published. YMMV.

All of these apartments have been added to my blog’s Google map. The link to the map is here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Javalinas Coffee and Friends

One of the benefits coffee shops have is they can offer live musical performances in an intimate atmosphere. This is a great chance to experience local musical talent while enjoying the caffeinated beverage of your choice.

Two things need to come together for this to really work: good coffee and good musicians. I had a chance to partake of both of these recently at a place called Javalinas Coffee and Friends.

If you’re not native to the Southwest, a Javalina is a nasty looking wild beast resembling a wild boar. It has a mean disposition and will attack humans with no provocation. “Stay away” seems to be the most consistent recommendation when discussing javalina.

Javalinas Coffee and FriendsFortunately, nature loves balance. For the yin of the nasty beastie that is the javalina, there is the yang of Javalinas Coffee and Friends. The service there was not only NOT mean and surly, but some of the friendliest I’ve experienced. And not once did I ever feel in danger of being attacked.

Amber NorgaardAfter ordering the house coffee and finding a table I settled in to listen to the night’s entertainment. This night it was provided by Amber Norgaard singing her original songs and playing keyboard. Amber was accompanied by Will Clipman providing atmospheric background and percussion with a variety of bells, chimes, and drums as well as a couple of percussion instruments I’d never seen before.

Amber Norgaard and Will ClipmanThe small venue was packed, and it was easy to see why. Amber puts her heart and soul into her music and performances. She obviously enjoys what she does as she has recorded four CDs in as many years. Will is a four time Grammy nominee and two time winner of the Native American Music Award.

Javalinas is an excellent place to grab some after dinner coffee and entertainment. Because it is a small venue, the best advice is to get there early to ensure a place to sit.

Check out upcoming performances at Javelin’s Web site at: http://www.javalinas.com.

Amber's Web site is at: http://ambernorgaard.com/, and Will's Web site is at: http://willclipman.com/

Friday, August 8, 2008

Cloud Watching

How’s this for a low cost activity… grab a beverage, pull up a lawn chair and gaze up at the sky.

I consider myself to fairly observant of my surroundings, including natural splendor. I’ve been known to stop whatever I’m doing just to admire the color of a flower, the crisp quietness of a well manicured golf course, or the beauty of a sunset over Lake Michigan. But other than trying to see animal shapes in clouds when I was a kid, and the occasional cumulus filled summer sky, I’ve never considered myself a cloud watcher.

That has changed since living in Tucson. Since being here there’s hardly been a day when I haven’t glanced up at the sky and said to no one in particular: “Wow.”

It’s not that Michigan didn’t have clouds for me to admire. That’s one thing that Michigan has in abundance. Clouds. Or to be more exact, cloud cover. The winters there consist of six months of continuous, cold, gray, skies. It is, as a matter of fact, one of the cloudiest states in the U.S., with a 46% chance of seeing the sun on any particular day.

No, clouds I’ve seen. But Tucson clouds are different than Michigan clouds. They seem sharper, brighter, closer. There can be much more contrast as well, depending on the type of sky making it’s appearance over Tucson. Deep, dark grays to the east, while bright whites hover to the north and west. And there are almost always patches of blue sky reminding you that these floating visitors are temporary.

Like most giants, these white and gray behemoths have power. Not only to instantly turn a quiet, dry boulevard into a dangerous and impassable river. The clouds can also cast wide shadows over the mountains surrounding Tucson, or even conceal them completely, making even the mountains seem small by comparison.

I’m sure being a much higher elevation than Michigan helps explain clouds looking closer, (because they probably are!) But whatever the reason, the effect is similar to watching a movie on your television, or watching a movie at a theater. You just can’t help but be impressed by the sheer scope of it.

Of course I am writing this during the monsoon season, so this beautiful canvas of blue, white, and gray may disappear with the summer rains. But I plan to enjoy it while it’s here.

So grab a chair and gaze up at the sky. Because some movies deserve to be seen on the big screen.

Friday, August 1, 2008

There Once Was a Poet From Tucson…

What do you get when you combine a group of poets with no holds barred competition? The Poetry Slam! Whoever thought of this competition is a genius. What could be better than to listen to some the areas best poets recite original poetry knowing that the audience is free to cheer, boo, hiss, or snap their fingers while the poets are on stage baring their innermost, heartfelt feelings?

This was another great event I discovered through the Tucson Single Professionals. It was not only a competition, but a fundraiser for Team Tucson to help them go to the national competition in Milwaukee. Yes, there is a national Poetry Slam competition.

Team TucsonThis night’s competition was between Team Tucson and a team from the University of Arizona. It was held at the Poetry Center at 1508 E. Helen street. I haven’t been inside the Poetry Center yet, but the emcee for the night explained that it contains one of the largest collections of poetry available. Literary heaven, figuratively speaking.

The rules Poetry Slam were simple enough. There were ten rounds, each team allowed one poem per round. At the end of each round the audience applauded for the team they thought won the round. At the end of the ten rounds the team winning the most rounds won the competition.

MatthewThe emcee’s name was Matthew, and was also the coach for Team Tucson. His other duties included organizer and rule maker. One of the first things he did as rule maker was to throw out the rules he sent to the poets before the event. At the last minute the teams found out they: had to improvise a poem from a word suggested by the audience, had to give one of their poems to the other team to perform, and write a limerick about the other team. (This rule produced grimaces and groans from the teams. Limericks must not be held in high regard by poets.)

The competition began with a piece recited by Team Tucson. Three team members got onstage and performed with lines spoken alternately by one, two or all three of the poets in perfect staccato. It was beautiful to hear, and made it clear that presentation would be almost as important as the poetry itself.

With a name like “Poetry Slam” I had expected the poetry to be light-hearted. The second recital of the night from Team Tucson dashed those expectations quickly as the poet told a heart wrenching story of her sister, an abusive father, and an uncaring mother. It was brilliantly performed, but somehow seemed out of place given the night’s format.

Team University of ArizonaOne of the best performances of the night was from the U of A team. Team Tucson used the give-the-other-team-one-of-your-poems rule to hand the all male U of A team a poem about female sexuality. The artist took the poem and ran with it, totally embracing his feminine side and performed the piece with attitude. You go girl!

Listening to the competitionThe winner of the evening’s competition turned out to be Team Tucson, even though Matthew gave one of the Team Tucson rounds to U of A to even the score before the final round.

When it was all said and done there were lots of laughs, lots of applause, a few hisses, and a few "boo’s (mostly aimed at Matthew).

I discovered that poetry slam competition is held every second and fourth Saturdays during the school year at Bentley's House of Coffee and Tea, 1730 East Speedway. Very cool.

Here’s another bonus: one of the poets for Team Tucson has his own blog and will be blogging every day from the national competition. He is known as Faldwin the Bard, and you can visit his blog at: faldwin.blogspot.com.