Dear Tucson...


Each issue we link up with Rachel Miller's Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month: Victoria and Raul were skeptical of moving to Arizona, but Tucson won their hearts. Photos by Rachel Miller.


Dear Tucson,

When we heard we were moving to the old pueblo we were angry. Livid. All we knew of you was that you were located in Arizona, the most dreaded of the red states, with pink underwear clad prisoners and bigoted laws towards immigrants. But we had no choice; it's where work was sending us. So rather than wallow, we Googled you. What is there to do in Tucson, we asked. And the Internet answered: there is roller derby, a museum fashioned after a zoo, and one of the largest arrays of telescopes in the world. There is desert and mountains and 360 days of sunshine. There is climbing and hiking, go-kart racing and skydiving. There are monsoons, saguaros, and gila monsters. There is even an Air Force base, a major university, and thousands of proud local businesses. We were placated; we figured we could make it work.

And then we arrived: it was May, it was hot, and there was no one here. There were tumbleweeds blowing down Congress, stragglers on 4th avenue, and jobs were hard to find. But there was sunshine and mountains and AC. We found a small apartment in downtown Tucson and set about exploring our new home.

victoriaraul2We found a extraordinarily cool place, filled with amazing, kind people, incredible, tasty restaurants, and weird plants. We found adventure everywhere we looked, with plenty of new things to try and new places to visit. And although we were initially skeptical, we've since built a home here. And we love it.

We love the sunshine, the haboobs, and the monsoons.
We love the mountains and the desert.
We love biking through town and hiking up Aspen Trail.
We love the mosaics, murals and street art.
We love the lizards, stray cats, and terrifyingly large spiders.
We love the carne asada, the cookouts, and the pools.
We love how close you are to the border, to wine country, to the Grand Canyon.
We love the star filled sky and the sunsets. Oh the sunsets!
We love "keep Tucson kind/shitty", "Bear Down", and "Free Baja AZ".

Thank you Tucson -- you will forever be in our hearts as our first home together, our oasis in the desert, our little slice of sunshine.

Vic & Raul

Victoria and Raul moved to Tucson two years ago when work brought them kicking and screaming to the Old Pueblo. What they found delighted them. They met Rachel down at Broadway and Stone close to Ben's Bells on Thursday evening and exchanged thoughts on downtown restaurants, pizza and cocktails. Victoria blogs at I scream for Sunshine where she writes about travel, food and life.

* Want to contribute to Love Letters to Tucson? More info here.


Dear Tucson...

Love Letters to Tucson logoEach issue we link up with Rachel Miller's Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month: Becca Ludlum, a New York transplant, smiles through the triple-digit heat. Photos by Rachel Miller.


Dear Tucson,

When I was young, I didn’t know you. You were just a place on a map with a picture of a cactus in my World Book Atlas. Growing up in upstate New York, I knew snow. I knew maple trees and fresh apples and farm stands. Humidity and snow banks and thunderstorms. I didn’t know you. I didn’t know mesquite trees or monsoons or roadside honey stands.

Now, I know. After living with you for 12 years, I know all those things. I also know about 110 degree days and which month is best for Eegee’s Flavor of the Month (July). I know about wearing sunscreen every day and not going outside without shoes in the summer – even just to grab the newspaper from your driveway.

becca4I know to stay far away from jumping cacti and that flip flops can make crazy tan lines on your feet and that on game days the dress code for the entire city is red and blue.

I know about Mexican food – something I never had in New York. I know the difference between a flauta and a taquito (it’s in the tortilla) and I know how to cook (and eat) a proper fajita. These are things that I never dreamed I would know about when I was a little girl.

After 12 years, I know you. And I love you.



Becca lives in the sea of ocotillo that is Corona de Tucson, where the desert comes right up to the doorstep and throughout the neighborhood the sidewalks and bike paths get significant use, even on the weekday morning Rachel went out to see Becca. Rachel says it made her begin to rethink her city dwelling ways a little. You can find Becca online at My Crazy Good Life and at, where she works wonders for small businesses and bloggers.

* For more Love Letters to Tucson, and more photos, and info on contributing to Love Letters, click here. And check out Rachel Miller's new summer blogging project, One Hundred Degrees of Tucson. 


Dear Tucson...

Love-Letters-to-Tucson-logoEach issue we link up with Rachel Miller's Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month: Fabiano Moura remembers Christopher City. Photos by Rachel Miller.


Fabiano Moura, with fond memories of the now defunct Christopher City.

"Dear Tucson,

My introduction to you was a bit of a shock. Imagine growing up for the first ten years of your life always within minutes from the Brazilian beaches and tropical surroundings, only to land in Tucson on (what I know to be a rare) cold and dismal day in December of 1989. After landing, we made the drive across town from the airport to Ft. Lowell and Columbus, to an area that was then Christopher City, our new home.  I was young, but can remember two prevailing questions ringing through my mind: 'Why are all of the trees dead, and why is the sky grey?'

It was chilly and dry and my body was still craving the warm Brazilian tropical summer, but the excitement of being in a new country soon overcame my discomfort.

My father was brought to the University of Arizona to finish his doctorate program and my family, along with many other families in similar situations, was placed in the housing development we affectingly grew to know as Christopher City, or CC for those of us who were still learning English and had a hard time pronouncing “Christopher”.

christophercity3CC was unlike any place I have ever experienced and holds a special place in my heart to this day. Speak to anyone who lived there and you would be hard pressed to find a different statement. For the next four years we lived in Christopher City and the stories I could tell are a tale of a different time and place, a hidden cultural melting pot and a breeding ground for adventures and childish mischief.

As kids, we of course started with the essentials: find a group of friends, find a desert, build a fort, maintain it, and defend it against all foes. My group of friends consisted of four Navajo Native Americans, two Mexicans, two Iranians, two Koreans and one kid who no one really knew where he was from. Our nationalities, religions and cultural differences came second to our love of the outdoors, building forts, roaming the surrounding desert and forbidden walks to the Circle K at Alvernon and Columbus.

christophercity2The cultural center was a large building in the middle of the housing complex where we separated the boys from the, well, smaller boys, with amenities such as a swimming pool, diving board, ping pong table, pool table and a playground where we would have a healthy dose of daily competition for no other reason than being kids. The sun dictated our curfew… and the sun told us to stay out from sun up to sun down.

Our sunscreen consisted of a thick layer of desert dirt, and our version of war included real BB guns and a thick layer of clothing. We knew nothing of bike helmets and the front yard bushes served as a perfect catching net for jumping from the rooftops. A crowd favorite was strapping on roller blades and grabbing on to the bumpers of city buses as they entered the complex -  and seeing how long we could hold on.  Thinking back, I have no idea how we made it, but I would not trade the experience for anything!

Christopher City was a place of culture, a place of friendship and most of all a place that represented the opportunity to pursue the American dream. I will never forget it and now, as a parent, all I wish for is that my kids have even a slice of what I had growing up in that place.



Christopher City was a full-service community constructed in Tucson on 70 acres at Columbus Boulevard and Ft. Lowell Road. It opened in the spring of 1963. Construction was sponsored by the Catholic organization the Knights of Columbus at a cost of $5,600,000. There were efficiency and one- and two- bedroom apartments, limited nursing care, a club house, stage, pool, and small shopping center on the grounds. The community was initially marketed towards Catholics and later towards members of the Jewish and Protestant faiths.  The community didn’t do well financially and in 1966 the Federal Housing Administration foreclosed on the property. In 1967, the University of Arizona purchased the property at a price of $2,450,000 for married student housing. In 2000, the property was found to be infested with mold and was demolished.

* For more Love Letters to Tucson, and photos, click here. 


Dear Tucson...

Love Letters to Tucson logoEach issue we link up with Rachel Miller's Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month, in celebration of Kon Tiki's 50th birthday, regular Maggie Rickard pays homage to a Tucson classic. Photos by Rachel Miller.

maggie rickard

Dear Tucson,

I love you

I love your natural beauty and devastating sunsets.

I love the music and art that you have inspired us to make.

I love that you offer so much more than you ask in return.

I also love being able to have one of Kon Tiki’s lovely rummy cocktail at the end of an overly rough day.

I fell in love with you on vacation. Following a particularly strenuous physical therapy session, I opened the door of Kon Tiki and entered another world. While we poured over tiki on Ebay in New York, we could find no real Tiki bars. In Tucson I could be IN the Kon Tiki.

Kon Tiki is our staycation, our escape. When we want to be in another place we open the door and find paradise here. For a few hours… an escape to relax.



Velvet Hammer, aka Maggie Rickard, moved to Tucson in 2002 with her partner Mark Bloom. Drawn by the warm weather, the lack of walk-up apartment buildings and the Kon Tiki bar, Maggie and Mark have been creating beautiful glass mosaics and art as Velvet Glass since they moved here. Maggie’s alter- ego Velvet Hammer is the drummer for the Jonestown Band

You can see the rest of Maggie’s photo shoot here


Maggie outside her favorite haunt, Kon Tiki.

Dear Tucson...

Love Letters to Tucson logoEach issue we link up with Rachel Miller's Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month, as Tucson gets ready for its sixth Festival of Books, bibliophile Holly Schaffer sends her city a note. Photos by Rachel Miller.

holly schaffer

"Dear Tucson,

I love you. And I love books too.

Let’s just get this out up front: I’m a bibliophile. I always have been and I always will be. But it’s okay. It’s nothing to be ashamed of (okay the stacks of books overrunning my shelves may be a little embarrassing, but it’s worth it).

I’m going to take a stab and say I’m not the only bibliophile in Tucson. Wanna know how I know? Four words: TUCSON FESTIVAL OF BOOKS.

Let’s roll back the clocks . . . March 2009. Many, many volunteers (myself included) had worked countless hours begging authors from around the country to come and take part in the first annual Festival. “But Tucson is a book-loving city,” I can hear the volunteers saying to (pleading with) publicists from such well-known companies as Random House and Simon & Schuster. And thank goodness we stuck with it.

holly1I knew from the second my husband dropped me off on the University of Arizona mall the morning of Saturday, March 14 to work the U of A Press booth that all our work had paid off. Throngs of people at 9 a.m. grew into a crowd of more than 50,000 by the end of the second day.

That’s not a typo: 50,000 book lovers gathered in Tucson over one weekend to celebrate authors, literature, literacy, and the reading/writing community. Over the past five Festivals (held every March at the start of UA Spring Break), this annual event has continued to spread its wings, attracting 120,000 in 2013.

tfb logoOkay, okay . . . back to the point. I love Tucson. And I love books. And that includes the Tucson Festival of Books. It would be impossible to innumerate in one simple love letter all the amazing things that make the Festival the fourth largest in the nation. So allow me to use some trusted bullet points to do the job:

* The Festival features more than 300 presentations, 200 exhibitors, and countless opportunities to meet authors, poets, screenwriters and journalists. Panels are created by teams of volunteer book-lovers who are incredibly passionate about various subject areas, which means that Festival attendees are sure to get the best of all genres, from mystery and romance to science and outdoor adventures and everything in between.

* All proceeds from the Festival are directed toward improving literacy rates in Southern Arizona. In fact, since its launch in 2009, the Festival has contributed $900,000 to local literacy organizations.

* Science City! Basically a world within a world at the Festival, Science City gives attendees an opportunity to immerse themselves in engaging hands-on activities, lab tours, science talks, and dynamic performances. Visitors of all ages are invited to ignite their senses with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this amazing pavilion. Organizations participating in this year’s Science City include the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, the UA Wildcat Water Lab, Sky Island Alliance, and the Marine Awareness and Conservation Society - just to name a handful.

* Fun for the whole family. And I mean FUN. Storybook characters wandering the paved walkways, a tent for tots with story performances, puppet theatre, felt board fun, and so much more. I really can’t think of a better way to spend time with the family while encouraging a love of reading. The Festival is a must for families!

* It’s an all-hands-on-deck community event. More than 2,000 volunteers take time out of their lives to assist. Over the course of two days (and even more when you count the folks who act as volunteer drivers providing author ground transportation to and from the airport) Tucsonans act as food court hosts, entertainment support, author escorts and moderators, among many other jobs. It’s truly amazing to see so many people come out year after year to keep this event going.

* Bus scholarships, generously provided by Fiesta Bowl Charities and Citi, are made available to schools and children’s organizations to assist in providing student transportation to the Festival. Need I say more?

holly schafferI could keep going, but really . . . do I even need to? After five years, the Festival is Tucson. People travel from out of town to attend; the UA Mall is packed solid for two days; the sun shines gloriously on tents full of books and smiling authors and readers; the food court swells with families eating, laughing, reading; the culinary tent inspires people to try new foods and drink (while filling their shelves with the best new cookbooks out there); and workshops throughout the weekend help aspiring writers become the best they can be with programs focused on research, editing, the craft of writing, promotion, and on and on.

Tucson, I love you. You are quirky and wonderful and hot as hell and beautiful. And you are a book loving town. And really, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get much better.

Oh - one quick thing before I go. If you didn’t already know this, the Festival’s website is live NOW! Check it out. This year they’ve made a color-coded genre grid with an option to create your own customized Festival schedule.

Love, your friend,

Holly Schaffer is the Publicity Manager at the University of Arizona Press. She’s volunteered on the Tucson Festival of Books Author Committee since its inception in 2009. She’s currently reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro. A first-time mom, Holly is most excited about attending this year’s Festival with her 18-month-old son Elliott. When she’s not enjoying some fresh air and story time in the kids' area, you will find her working at the University of Arizona Press booth.

* Visit this year's Tucson Festival of Books March 15th to 16th at the University of Arizona. More info here.

Dear Tucson...

Love Letters to Tucson logoEach issue  we link up with Rachel Miller's Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month, in honor of Valentine's Day, 94.9 MIXfm's Bobby Rich gets poetic - and emotional - about his adopted town. Photos by Rachel Miller.

bobbyrich2"Dear Tucson,

I didn’t know I’d love you, until I met you.

It wasn’t quite “at first sight,” rather it took several months of being with you every day. Then I started to “get you.”

And the more time I spent with you the better I liked you. Then it became love.

I love the looks of you, the scent of you, the unrelenting friendliness of you.

The east, west, north and the south of you.

I love the mystery of you. Even after two decades of being with you I don’t know nearly enough about you. Yet you know me, providing the familiarity I need when I’m feeling a little lost.

At the same time I can become lost in your strange ways of twisted, turning arteries. And - like the rest of us - you are a bit confused as to what you want to be when you grow up.

bobbyrich3At any given time of the year you can cry me a river or dry my eyes. Feed me, entertain me and show your artistic understanding of colors at the beginning and end of the day.

I love reminding those who would criticize your hotness that they could be living with Chicago or Minneapolis.

And one thing I especially love is how you care for those who need help. Your empathy and concern for the helpless and underserved often proves your heartfelt desire to make yourself better.

I am at home with you. It feels right. Let’s stay together."

It started with a Tweet ('Bobby <3 Tucson'), prompting Rachel to ask Bobby for a love letter. And it ended with Bobby giving her a fabulous behind-the-scenes tour of both 94.9 MIXfm and the KGUN 9 news station. Given Bobby's love of music, Rachel wasn't surprised to see several song titles and lyrics woven into his letter.


* Bobby Rich has been the 94.9 MIXfm morning show host since 1993. He is also active in the community, with projects such as the Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona (which he was instrumental in founding), and the MIX Miracles radiothon, which raises funds for pediatric care at TMC for Children through the Children's Miracle Network.

To get you even more in the Valentine's mood, click on the video below for the story behind Rachel's blog. Got a Love Letter for Tucson? Click here.

Dear Tucson...

Love Letters to Tucson logoEach issue  we link up with Rachel Miller's Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month: Aquil Joel Hameed of the new Axe Capoeira studio. Photos by Rachel Miller.

aquil1"I ended up in Tucson because of a girl.  I moved for love, but not the love of Tucson. I hated Tucson. I hated Tucson because it wasn’t Phoenix, where I had a decent job, friends, and the capoeira group I’d trained and played with for five years.

"Before I moved down here I would travel down to Tucson for a weekend to visit my girlfriend, but we weren’t exploring Tucson. We’d basically just go out to eat and relax. At the time, I hadn’t come to appreciate the weather, the fact that it’s cooler here, the proximity of Mt. Lemmon, or the friendliness of the people in Tucson

"When I first moved here I would get in my car and drive for hours. I would pick a direction and just drive around. Sometimes I would drive until I ran out of road and for a long time would get turned around and get lost. But the next day I’d do it again. At the time I didn’t have a job in my field. The economy was crashing and it made things very difficult. I took a chance quitting my job, where I had been employed for over four years, and moved to Tucson.

aquil2"It wasn’t until I was a little more established, finished college, and started working in my field (I am an information technology manager), that I began to fall for Tucson and see what Tucson had to offer. And then in a lot of amazing and inexplicable ways, things began to come together.

"I started falling in love with Tucson when I positioned myself to begin teaching capoeira and building a group here. Capoeira [a dance and martial art developed by African slaves that brought to Brazil] had been a large part of my life in Phoenix. I trained in our Scottsdale academy for five years as part of the international Grupo Axé Capoeira organization.  When I came down to Tucson I left my friends and my social connections there behind, but I found that the capoeira culture is very rich here. People in Tucson really resonate with capoeira and the arts. While there are maybe three capoeira groups in the Phoenix area, there are five or six in Tucson, which has a fraction of the population of the metropolitan Phoenix area.

aquil3"Another thing I love about Tucson is that it seems that so many of the people here are grounded, positive, and friendly as a whole. When I started teaching capoeira in town, I’d be at the mall, in the grocery store, or even in restaurants, and people would stop me and say, ‘You’re the capoeira guy!’ I think I got a lot of exposure early on where I first started loosely teaching classes at a local LA Fitness.  And later they’d seen our group performing at Club Crawl or Tucson Meet Yourself, but people here are friendly enough to say hi and express their appreciation for the art form I’ve come to love. I didn’t experience that in quite this way until Tucson.

"This is a love letter to Tucson, but in a lot of ways, Tucson has taught me more about giving love to others, but even more importantly about receiving love and encouragement from the good people that come into my life. And it just so happens that Tucson has a lot of love to give.

"As for the girlfriend. she moved back to Phoenix. But I love Tucson and I love the life I have here, with my son, the capoeira academy, and my work."

Rachel met Aquil at the Axé Capoeira Tucson training space Studio Axé in midtown's Broadway Village where, under the beat of the berimbau, he almost convinced her to relive her childhood by attempting a handstand. This born-and-bred Phoenix boy has leaped the Gila River and now claims Tucson as the home he loves.

* Want to check out what Axé Capoeira Tucson is all about? They will be performing at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 15. Interested in learning Capoeria? Aquil and his instructors offer beginners and advanced classes as well as kids’ classes throughout the week. Axe Capoeira is at 2928 East Broadway Blvd. Tel: 520 990 1820.

Dear Tucson...

Love Letters to Tucson logoEach issue  we link up with Rachel Miller's Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month: Soleste Lupu of non-profit dance studio Dancing in the StreetsPhotos by Rachel Miller.






Dear Tucson,

"I love you, though I admit I love other cities and other places too. I love Seattle, I loved South Korea and the East Coast, but coming back to Tucson is like putting on your favorite pair of jeans.  It feels like home, like comfort.

"When I was young I was convinced that Tucson was too small, boring and I couldn’t wait to get away. I didn’t appreciate my hometown.  I didn’t realize just what I had here…the arts, the nature, and the rich culture.


Soleste Lupu

"At 21 I moved away. I married and moved to South Korea, and then Seattle for 10 years and then divorced.

"Joey and I had met when we were kids, in ballet school here in Tucson.  We were together as teenagers until 1986, when we separated, but we kept in touch, through postcards and long distance phone calls.  We reconnected 15 years ago and have been married for five of those years. Underlying our friendship there was always this Tucson connection.  And it is that connection of Tucson that really cements and bonds us together, always having the pull of Tucson no matter where we were. It was great to be together, in Milwaukee or wherever, and say “In Tucson…”

"I think there is this piece of Tucson that lives in your heart…this feeling, deeper than a building or a place, just a wonderful acceptance of different lifestyles, different cultures, art, and it’s part of growing up in Tucson. I didn’t recognize that I had this sense until I moved away. Historically, we have had this wonderful mix of cultures - Native American, Mexican American, and Asian - that, along with the natural habitat influences peoples’ creations and I don’t think that exists in quite this way anywhere else in the country.

"I love that I grew up and still live in a neighborhood where wild animals roam. I don’t think there is a hierarchy of humans over animals when it comes to rights to exist, and I think that is in part due to growing up in Tucson. I used to walk home from school, through St. Joseph's Hospital grounds, and it was still desert. There were javelina and coyote along my path home, they never threatened me. When I moved away I met other people who hadn’t had that experience, who weren’t familiar with having wild animals around and were deathly afraid of birds, ants, coyotes and all the other animals that we grow up with.

"Did you know that we have an incredible legacy of dance here in Tucson? Joey and I were fortunate enough to be taught by George Zoritch, an original Ballet Russe dancer, and one of the founders of the University of Arizona Dance Program.  I didn’t know what that meant at the time. It wasn’t until years later when I was thumbing through an old program of the Ballet Russe and there was his picture! In the 1950s  and '60s George Zoritch, Mitrovich and a number of very prestigious dancers settled here in Tucson and started ballet schools. It was wonderful to have that whole generation dancers here, but they’re dying off and I worry that this wonderful history and legacy is slipping away.


Soleste and Joey with some of their dance students.

"Tucson has managed to keep what is rich and great in diversity, in culture, in population, but can we continue? Arts and cultural events need people to attend, and they need dollars to survive. Phoenix has traditionally has been better at regular support. It’s important to remember, though, that we have incredible homegrown talent in Tucson, all over Tucson. We have many talented musicians, artists, dancers and tile artists in the city. I don’t think many people realize just how much talent we have. There is this idea that people from out of town have some sort of magic, that they have a better art that we have, and that isn’t the case."

Rachel met Soleste at the Dancing in the Streets studio on 38th Street as Soleste prepared for the school’s upcoming Nutcracker performance at the Fox Theater. You can rise to the Soleste’s challenge and support the arts and Tucson’s homegrown talent by attending this family performance of the Nutcracker on December 14th or 15th at the Fox Theater downtown. Can’t make it? Sponsor a child’s lessons, or dance supplies, or perhaps even their costume for their first public performance. 

* Dancing in the Streets is dedicated to using the power of dance to break down cultural barriers and enriching the community’s artistic experience. Based in the City of South Tucson, where Joey grew up, the school is focused on providing children and their families from the immediate community with programs that build self-esteem through dance. Find out more about it here.

Dear Tucson...

Love Letters to Tucson logoEach issue  we link up with Rachel Miller's Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month: Mark Bloom on a little-known Tucson swap meetPhotos by Rachel Miller.


"If you're a collector of 'vintage' stuff then antique fairs and malls, thrift shops, estate sales and yard sales have their appeal. That's as long as you don't mind paying top dollar, wading through piles of crap, being informed that everything is 'collectible' or driving around town following poorly written signs, often with questionable spelling and arrows that point in the wrong direction. These activities I tend to leave to the hard-core collectors. On most Saturday mornings I'll be rummaging through the dusty tables at the Tohono O'odham Swap Meet.

"Clinging onto the edge of the Tohono O'odham Reservation, outside the city limits, I get the feeling, to paraphrase The Wizard Of Oz, we're not really in Tucson anymore. There are no fancy paved pathways like they have over at the swanky, by comparison, Tanque Verde Swap Meet. There's no lighting, no beer carts, no concession stand, no ATM, and very few vendors selling brand new mass-produced generic goods.

10632967155_3d6520ceb7_h"TOSM is a collection of folks selling all sorts of stuff from the back of their trucks, on wobbly tables, strewn on blankets on the ground and from a random array of run-down structures (calling most of them buildings would be unfair to buildings). Many of the vendors have complexions as weather-beaten and leathery as the old saddles they sell.

"What this place lacks in sophistication it makes up for in character. The range of goods on display is both extensive and eclectic and includes all the usual swap meet stuff: tires and parts for your vehicle, a knock-off Spider-Man toy (re-named Spaderman to avoid legal issues), old vinyl records ("these are what we had in the days before CD's, but you'll need a record player to listen to it and I don't think they make those any more"), fresh fruit andveg, old black & white TV's ("I have a VCR that goes with it if you're interested"), artwork of a questionable nature ("I love this nude velvet painting, the new wife hates it, so it has to go"), coffee cans full of nuts and bolts ("I have a storage unit full of these"), assorted birds, chickens, goats, rabbits, and puppies (I like to think that they're all intended as pets, but I have my doubts), and thousands of knick-knacks, tchotchkes, baubles, bangles and beads.


"There's usually someone somewhere singing songs in Spanish accompanied by a karaoke machine or, if it's a good day, a real musician. Some of these Mariachi types are pretty good, and some are not pretty good, but they generally provide the necessary enthusiasm to get a small crowd clapping their hands. You can get your hair cut at a place that blares out Mexican cover tunes of Classic 60's Rock n'Roll.

"And then there's the food.

"Dotted throughout the Swap are many places to eat. All are individual businesses, some being run from trucks that seem to be parked here permanently, others from wooden huts and cobbled together shacks. Signs and menus are painted and written by hand. Grills are fired up and the enticing smells of cooking meat waft through the early morning air. Mariscos, Pescado, Pupusas, Tacos, Raspados, Carne Asada, Cabeza, Chilorio, Menudo, Birria, Lengua, all to be washed down with a cold bottle of Fresca.
10633213443_34e5bc103b_hWhen I first took the wife to the Swap I hadn't yet braved the food offerings. I am, after all, a transplanted Englishman, with no back-up plan in the language department. I asked her to help me order something and she told me to say "Mi gusta la cabeza" to the nice lady working at the food truck. Being a trusting sort, I took her advice and placed my order. I couldn't understand why the nice lady blushed and then laughed until the wife told me I had just said "I like the head". Cheeky woman! To this day I frequently see the nice lady at the food truck and she always smiles at me. I also learned my very first Spanish phrase (and learned also that I am not very keen on la cabeza, as a meal).

"People come here to buy stuff they need and find stuff they didn't know they needed. They bring the family, they come to chat, they come to sell, they come to eat, they come to socialize. From sunrise to about noon, on Saturday and Sunday every week, the TOSM is exactly what a Swap Meet should be: vibrant, eclectic, entertaining, surprising, full of character and characters, and inexpensive.  You have to wade through a lot of dusty, dirty junk to find the good stuff, but that's what Swaps are supposed to be like."
* Mark introduced Rachel to the Tohono O'odham swap meet on a balmy Sunday morning in October. The tacos and the Fresca for breakfast were an excellent start to the day, as was digging through the records, the wrenches, the children's books and the funky art. Next time, and there will be a next time, Rachel says she's going ready to buy some of fresh veggies.
* You can find Mark online at Velvet Glass, where he and his wife, Maggie Rickard, share their glass art. Mark is also a graphic designer and created the Love Letters to Tucson logo. Read more Love Letters to Tucson here.