Downtown Tucson is a waiting place these days, haunted by the ghosts of Glorious Expectations.
On a recent Sunday morning, my head full of expectations of my own, I ventured out in search of a creaking, time-tuned upright piano with sticking and missing keys that had been at Hotel Congress for as long as anyone could remember.
Over the years I'd played that piano a couple of times during gigs or when no one seemed to mind (and even a few times when people did).
It had been years since I'd played that piano and I decided it was time to do so again.
So I got on my bike and rode off, hardwired to the vision, mind made up about the way things are.
Then, as with so many other things in Tucson these days that are old and weird and original, the piano I learned was gone.
Bummer. Drag. Shit.
Another Tucson ghost is born.
Undaunted and intent on wandering, I soon found myself on a bench at the nearby train station.
The train station was carefully rebuilt, restored and sanitized for the usual cost of millions of dollars.
It's a wonderful place to sit, watch for trains and listen.
But the carefully restored nostalgia seems at odds with the desolate landscape reality across the tracks, creating a canned sensation, like being on a movie set, which is somehow appropriate I suppose.
We sat there, my recorder and I, listening to birds and cars and conversations and music, waiting for trains that never came (Bloody expectations redux!).
Lulled into a peaceful trance that lasted until it ended, I got rolling again, following the streets, sidewalks, ramps and alleys, stopping from time to time to listen to the eternally chipper cross walk warnings echoing off the buildings.
HEAR ONCE MORE
In the early light of Sunday, when junkies, drunks and good Christians roam the streets like zombies, their shadows long and askew, the city reveals itself honestly.
A bit of faded graffiti, an old sign, a cluster of buildings, a vacant parking lot, wind blown trash, condoms, leaves.
During the crazy days of the roaring 2000's, money poured into Tucson like tequila, fueling visions of sanitized, homogenous Downtown funk for the masses.
Tucson's great planners and schemers became intoxicated with Glorious Expectations.
Millions were spent on plans and advertising, historic buildings were ripped open or razed completely, desert was scraped clear, neighborhoods were gentrified and everyone waited for the Glorious Expectations to be fulfilled.
Then came the Great Recession and the party was over.
Suddenly what could be grew increasingly out of reach.
Projects scaled down, deadlines passed, developers headed for the hills.
On my Sunday ride, board covered store fronts that once held places to eat or play music or hang art moaned in the wind.
So many tenants of thriving venues unceremoniously evicted to make way for the Glorious Expectations that have yet to be fulfilled.
At the historic and now destitute Santa Rita Hotel which once housed the fabled Cafe Poca Cosa, the building is fenced and shuddered and abused by vandals.
On a good night, dining at Cafe Poca Cosa could border on a hallucinatory near religious experience.
The food, the margaritas, the masks, the conversations, the energy and the baby grand piano sagging beneath the weight of so many roses was bliss.
Today the restaurant's new location is sleek and hip and chrome and black.
The food and drinks are as wonderful as ever.
Still it is hard not to feel wounded and hollow when seeing the old location, caked with graffiti, closed and left to rot in exchange for Glorious Expectations of upscale condos and shops that never came to be.
There is plenty of charm, wonder and magic left in Tucson's roughshod layers.
And the developers and the politicians tell us to hang on.
They say something new and wonderful is just around the corner.
I'm sure it will arrive eventually, because nothing lasts for ever.
But I hope too that the Great Recession may save what remains of Tucson's downtown soul, and perhaps slow the pace of our Glorious Expectations.
At least for now...