There's nothing like going home for the holidays, especially if you're from Phoenix. The city is changing so quickly and growing so fast that not only is it a far cry from the place I grew up, it's a whole different organism from the last time I was here, six weeks ago. If you've never been to Phoenix, I've always said the closest comparison to the landscape was Iraq, but with more Starbucks. I now have to amend that statement to add that it's like Iraq, but with a sea of breast implants, more Hummers with better armor and complete assholes behind the wheel, and an occupying army of Republicans.
It is SO HOT here. It may be 83 outside, but it's always 87 inside Nana's house, where we're staying. It is so hot in her house that if you were to rotate yourself continually, in five hours, you'd be a Costco rotisserie chicken. We tried to escape by driving in our air-conditioned rental car to Tempe for lunch. We were nearing one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, which is a block away from Mill Avenue ? if you've ever watched the Fiesta Bowl, you've seen Mill Avenue ? when we both noticed massive fiberglass guitars lining the street, all painted by different artists. I took it as a nod to Tempe's vibrant music history, and particularly Mill Avenue, where all of the bars were located that sprouted such bands as the Gin Blossoms, The Refreshments, Dead Hot Workshop and the Meat Puppets. That was a decade ago, during the heyday of Mill Avenue, when it was still a grungy strip of mom and pop places and before both Gap and Bath and Body Works saw it as a potential retail cash cow.
A block further down the road, I suddenly heard the rumble of a huge backhoe and as I looked up, the air got sucked out of my lungs. As the giant backhoe arm raised up, then smashed back down and clawed at the ruins of a building on the corner of Mill and Seventh.
It was nothing short of a nuclear powered blast of irony. The building being pummeled right down the street from the huge guitars was Long Wong's, the old dive bar where nearly every band in Tempe ? including the ones whose records went platinum ? got their start, their first show, and found an audience. I spent a lot of time at Wong's; it was my hangout, and it was the place where everyone I knew hung out. A hefty portion of the material for my first book came out of that place.
I had been warned that Long Wong's was coming down this month, but I hardly expected to see it battered to dust before my eyes. "It's gone," I said to my husband, who had hung out there, too ? it was the site of our first date ? and I think we were both surprised to hear my voice crack. I was even more shocked to feel my eyes burn and quickly fill up. Leave it to Tempe, I thought, a town so hell-bent on "revitalization" and turning Mill Avenue into a retail Mecca that it had cannibalized the very thing the street was celebrating at the same moment. Wong's was the last bar and venue still standing from the time when Tempe's music history was being created; the other places had succumbed to a Hooters, a Philly cheese steak place, and another to a Borders (the area designated for author readings, amazingly, is where a parking lot across from Wong's used to be, on the very spot where tequila and I had a fight, tequila won, and I hurled then passed out hanging out of the backseat of my Toyota Camry).
Now that Wong's was moments away from being leveled, the history of that street no longer had a physical reminder left, and the only references back to those days were the ones we were lucky enough to remember. It was a bar, after all.
With another bang, the backhoe swung at Long Wong's again, resulting in a tumbling rain of old bricks, and the last of the building stood defenseless. No one else took notice, no one else stopped to watch, but I felt fortunate that sitting in an air-conditioned rental car with my eyes swelling and hot, I was there to see a place I loved so much take its last stand.