Tucson Bus System, Part 2: F-ing Red Robin

[Warning! I drop the F-bomb a few times in this due to quoting.  There is also some erm, more adult issues I mention in this. Sorry…it's kind of unpleasant.  Normally I like to maintain a certain level of whimsy in this blog, but I now feel like I killed a unicorn and drank its blood.  We'll go back to the regular programming of "Anne-Marie was kind of a stupid kid" stuff on the next entry.  I promise. Until then, I'm just going to sneak this into the blog with little fanfare to complete my two-part story...This is what they call a soft sell, isn't it?]

No prior experience on the busses – no snotty mustaches, no crazy singing handicapable stalkers – prepared me for the day I only refer to as “The Bus Trip from Hell.”

My first summer staying in Tucson was a difficult one, but biggest problem I had was I was very broke and in need of a job.  I spent the summer going to different places and filling out applications.  Trying to find a part-time job in the summer in Tucson is next to impossible and I was becoming disheartened.  There were times I would spend the entire day on the bus, going from place to place filling out applications, using transfer after transfer to save money.  I became familiar, even comfortable with the regulars – the delusional androgynous person, for example.  Or the older chap I named Guggenheim.  I actually liked Guggenheim – he would sit in the same bus seat every day, leaving the space next to him empty.  He carried one of those plaid thermoses, and would hold the plastic thermos lid like it were a china cup, sipping from it gingerly, and chatting to his empty seat in a charming, distinguished voice.  As he’d talk, he’d stick his nose up in the air and occasionally roll his eyes over the story he was telling.  I could never understand what his conversations were about, but they seemed delightful.  I’m being serious – if I ever become delusional, I hope my delusion paints me as a Jane Austen character, enjoying tea and witty banter.  Except I don’t think he was drinking tea.

I decided to dedicate one day in particular to travelling all over Tucson by bus in an attempt to find a job.  I hopped on my bus earlier than normal – I was disappointed to not see the regulars – Guggenheim was nowhere to be found.  I sat at the front of the bus, in the seats that face each other.  Across from me was a person who seemed fixated on me.  After a few minutes, I noticed this person started to move their arm in an unnatural motion.  Don’t look.  You remember snotty mustache.  Looking sears awful things into memory.  Rule number one of Bus riding: do not make eye contact with anyone but the bus driver.  Keep the eyes down.  Don’t look, for God’s sake, do not look.  But it might be nothing, I – OH MY GOD.

Why did I look?  I hate you, brain.  Snotty mustache was bad, but this is really, really unpleasant.  He was glaring at me, no less.  That seriously just took off 5 years of my youth;  thanks a lot.  What does one do in this situation?  I know what you’re thinking;  you’re thinking I either tell the bus driver what is going on, or I freak out on the guy.  But see, you’re not thinking like a cynical poor person with limited money and a tight connection schedule.  If I did anything, the bus would stop.  I’d miss my connection.  Maybe I’d have to talk to a cop about pressing some charge against the guy for public indecency.  I’d screw up my entire day of filling out applications, and go home traumatized and without a job prospect.  After all of that, they won’t do anything anyway, because that sort of thing isn’t a priority.  No.  My ride is only a few minutes long, and I’ll just get off, fill out some applications and hop on the next bus.  I stared ahead at the road and tried to think of something else.  Thankfully, my asshole brain agreed that this one isn’t one to tease me with.  I switched busses and made my job application rounds.  I spent a lot of time around the southeastern part of town, hoping I’d get a job at the Barnes & Noble.  That would be a decent job for a college student… I spent a couple of hours applying for other positions in the area.

By 3pm, I decided I had enough and went to the corner to wait for the next bus.  It was over 100 out and I was tired and sweaty.  I couldn’t wait to get back to my utilities-included apartment and cool off.  When I arrived at the bus stop, I knew I was approaching bad news.  Some dude was flailing his arms around and talking loudly.  He was cursing, but about what I couldn’t determine.  The other people at the bus stop gave me “the look” when I sat down.  “The look” translates to, “he’s a psychopath and/or on drugs.  Look out.”  I gave a gentle nod and avoided eye contact with him.  The bus was supposed to arrive in 10 minutes.  I could deal with this.

“Fuck!  Shit!  I am so fucking pissed off, man!  You know what I’m doing today?  I’m going to fucking Red Robin.  Every Friday I go to fucking Red Robin, and I get some muthafuckin’ fries.  Man, I’m going to fuck somebody up!  Who are you looking at, asshole?  You fucking with me?  Don’t fuck with me, because you know what I’m doing right now?  I’m heading up to fucking Red Robin.  Every Friday, muthafuckas.  Shit!”

It went on for 20 minutes.  Where the hell is the bus?  I looked at the bus stop on the other side of the intersection.  That bus would take me downtown, and I’d have to take two additional busses to get home.  No.  That’s money I can’t afford to lose, and it adds an extra hour to the trip.

Someone walked up to the bus stop, which was becoming increasingly crowded and impatient.  “Hey,” Mr. F-ing Red Robin calmly acknowledged our new attendant.

“Hey.”  The guy didn’t know any better.  Newbie.

F-ing Red Robin went off.  “You fucking with me bro?”

“No…I –”

“Fuck you!  Fuck you, you muthafuckin’ asshole.  I’m going to fucking Red Robin and I’m going to have a muthafuckin’ cheeseburger!  So fuck off!”

Oh, God.  It dawned on me.  Fucking Red Robin is at the Fucking Mall – past my fucking apartments.  I’m going to be on the bus with this guy for 40 minutes once the damn bus gets here.

F-ing Red Robin punched a trash can.  “AHHHHHHHHRRRRRGGGGAAAAHHH!!!!”

I thought about my dwindling money.  Do I eat or do I stay safe?  Eat?  Safety?  Eat?  Safety?  Well, I could stretch out the mac and cheese to a couple of days… and I can’t eat its powdery goodness if I’m dead.  And who knows when I’d get home?  The bus was already late, and if this guy gets any worse, it’s going to get pretty ugly.

I calmly stood up and crossed the street.  The other bus arrived and I hopped on.  I looked back at my comrades waiting for the F-ing Red Robin bus.  They were still waiting.  F-ing Red Robin was strangling the bus stop sign.  I made the right choice.  In one day you can only take so much crazy.

I slumped down in one the seats towards the front that faced each other.  I looked across from me and saw a friendly-looking girl.  I gave a tired smile and a nod.  She averted my gaze, stuck her paper transfer in her mouth and promptly ate it.  I shrugged my shoulders.  Could be worse…

The Tucson Bus System, Part I: O Holy Hurrff

[Warning! I curse a little bit in this] 

Is that what I think it is?

Oh God, it is!  Look away.  Don’t look.  Don’t look.  I can’t unsee it – *HURRFF!*

Close your eyes and try to think of something other than the man who just got on the bus with the giant mustache covered in snot.  I’ve got a sensitive stomach; it doesn’t take much to make me wretch.  Snot was all over his… *hurrff!!*  Think.  Think.  Look at your cute little clothes.  Those cute pinstripe shorts you got for $5 at Robinsons-May.  You’ll be at Emily’s in no time.  Mustache.  Shut up, mind!  Stop torturing me!  Snotty Mustache!  *Hurrff!*  Can’t unsee!!  Can’t unsee!!  Ooo, Emily’s apartment complex, pull the cord!

Ding!  Oh thank God.  Oh please let me get off the Snotty Mustache Express without vomiting.  Don’t look at him as you walk by… don’t look at him as you walk by… OH SWEET MOTHER OF TAP DANCING JESUS IT’S STILL THERE.  I managed to muster a “thank you” to the bus driver and stepped off the bus.  I felt cold sweat cover my brow, and I doubled over letting out a final dry *hurrff!* before I entered the AM/PM across from Emily’s apartments.  I was starving, and wanted a quick lunch before I went to her place.  I grabbed a big, fat, juicy hot dog and began to cross the street.  I bit into it and began to chew.  Snotty Mustache!  Damn you, asshole brain.  Damn you.

If this was the worst experience I had on the Tucson bus system, I would have been lucky.  Alas, no.  Between Emily living in the middle of No-Tel Mo-Tel Hell and the demilitarized zones I would later live in, I often wound up on bad bus routes and experienced the gross, weird and scary world of public transit.

As winter break neared, I went to Our Lady Queen of Shopping (known by non-believers as the Tucson Mall) and bought Emily a frying pan for some reason I can no longer recall.  I walked to the bus stop to wait for the bus line that stopped in front of Emily’s apartment complex.  There was a man sitting in a wheelchair who greeted me when I sat down.  “Hello,” he said.

“Hi, how are you?”  I looked over at him, and noticed that his limbs were randomly wrapped in foam padding, like the kind you would see under a carpet.  We chatted for a while, and I got a serious creepy vibe from the guy.  I figured he was injured or something, and tried to ignore the Stranger Danger alarm.  My social anxiety always kept me amped up, and I felt like I tended to be overly avoidant and cautious with people.  Don’t be a dick.  Connect with people.  Damn you, brain.  Ok.  We began to talk about music and singing.  See?  This isn’t so bad.  We’re connecting. 

He smiled creepily.  “I love Christmas music.”

“Me too!”  Connecting.  Look at me!  I’m actually talking to a stranger; making eye contact and all that jazz.   I’m so proud of myself!

“Can you sing me a Christmas song?”

Connecting with a stra…wha??  “Oh, um… I don’t know…”  The bus stop was filling with people.

“Please?  It would mean so much to me.”

All of a sudden my brain, who was so cruel to me in the Snotty Mustache episode, spoke to me with righteous indignation.  The man in the wheelchair wants you to sing to him.  Is that so hard?  Can you do a good thing for once and sing for this man?  It’s the Christmas season – what would Jesus do?  Damn it, brain.

“Um… okay.  What would you like me to sing?”

His eyes widened.  “What is your favorite Christmas song?”

“O Holy Night.”

“Sing that!”

“Okay…”  And God help me, I sang it.  He started to belt in with me.  To his credit, he had a decent tenor voice.  Slowly people started edging away from us at the bus stop.  Crap!  They thought I was a crazy person too!

“O COME ALL YE FAITHFULL… SING IT WITH ME!!!”  He began to wail, singing like he was at a Revival.  I complied.

“Joyful and triumphant…”  I squeaked.  Where is that damn bus?  People, I’m not crazy, I’m just singing to make a man wrapped in foam happy.  I–stop averting my gaze!  It’s the Christmas season!  Sing with the man!  DON’T JUDGE ME!

We continued on to two additional carols, and if this happened in the days of YouTube, I’m sure we would have been captured on a phone only to be auto-tuned to viral perfection.  Thank God for small favors.

The bus finally came, and he got on first, with the driver using the special lift and wheelchair seating that was on the front of the bus.  I got on the bus and noticed it was standing room only.  The girl in front of me stood beside his wheelchair, as I began to walk towards the back.  He grabbed my wrist and glared at the girl.  “You need to move.  That’s my friend’s spot.”  Oh, shit.  He’ll be wearing my skin as a suit before the night is out.  I hope I at least make a cute suit.  The girl shrugged her shoulders and moved to the back.  I stood beside him as he hummed Christmas songs.  I thought about the frying pan in my shopping bag.  Okay, if he does something crazy, I have a weapon!  Or, you know, I could run.  He started to ask me where I lived, and I gave him an incorrect generic answer.  As we neared Emily’s apartment, I pulled the cord, and we eased to a stop.  I looked at my foam-covered friend, and smiled nervously.  “It was nice meeting you…”

He looked angry that I was leaving him.  “I hope to see you again.”

“Um yea!”  And I ran off the bus.  I held the frying pan in a defensive grip and high-tailed it to Emily’s apartment, just in case.  When I told her the story, she looked at me like I was a damned fool and said, “Oh, he was faking it!  He probably used the foam to make it look like he was bandaged…what were you thinking?”

“I…well…I…”  Damn you, brain!

Ha, ha, sucka!  Oh, and… snotty mustache!

Asshole.

Arizona Restaurant Week: It’s Over, and I’m Stuffed.

Gluttony, thy name is Restaurant Week.

In 1992, a New Yorker had a brilliant promotional idea – for one week, have the hottest restaurants offer inexpensive lunch menus to encourage people to try out different restaurants throughout the city.  The concept was such a hit, it soon evolved to include fixed price dinner menus and inspired cities across the country and the world to incorporate their own restaurant week.

Four years ago, Arizona jumped on the restaurant week bandwagon, offering three course meals at a large variety of restaurants for as low as $20 a person and no higher than $40 a person (excluding beverages and gratuity).  Known as a tourist and resort destination, Arizona has a surprisingly high number of fine dining options.  Although it currently only has one five diamond restaurant in the state (the excellent Kai at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort), Arizona boasts countless four diamond restaurants across the state as well as many innovative, independently-owned casual dining restaurants that are more than fit for foodies.  Fortunate for the residents and visitors of Arizona, many of these excellent restaurants participate in Arizona Restaurant Week, an event that took place this past week.

In the past, we have discovered many fine restaurants in town thanks to Restaurant Week: Bourbon Steak, Different Pointe of View, NoRTH, and Zinc Bistro are among our favorite Restaurant Week “discoveries.”  This year, after reviewing the menu options on the Arizona Restaurant Week site, we settled on three restaurants: Bloom (located at Scottsdale and Doubletree), Ko’Sin (located at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort), and Talavera (located at Four Seasons at Pinnacle Peak).  As always, the week was filled with many surprises and fantastic dishes.

We kicked off Restaurant Week on Wednesday evening by heading up to Bloom.  The warm, cozy atmosphere of Bloom coupled with an inexpensive happy hour cocktail set us up for what would be the best experience we had for Restaurant Week.  With a name like Bloom, you’d expect light and leafy dishes presented artfully on oddly-shaped plates.  What you really get are big-portion, comfort food dishes – crispy chicken with sage stuffing, perfectly-cooked skirt steak with carmelized onions and melted blue cheese, and cheesy, baked shrimp tagliatelle.  Wow.  To top it off, we had a creamy butterscotch pot de crème with salted caramel and a brownie on the side topped with ice cream.  A bit much, but it all exceeded our expectations.  Bloom?  We will be returning to split a plate or two once our stomachs settle.

Friday night, we went to the Sheraton Wild Horse’s other restaurant, Ko’Sin.  Although Kai does not participate in Restaurant Week, diners can get a taste of the beautiful grounds at the Sheraton and experience a few moments of Kai-like culinary inspiration.  While Ko’Sin’s service was less than attentive, the food more than made up for it.  To start, we had a delicious buckwheat tart with mozzarella, basil foam and white balsamic over heirloom tomatoes with a gazpacho “shot.”  Following the tart, we had my favorite meal of restaurant week – lobster mac n cheese: lobster, pasta, pancetta, peas and corn, all covered in a rich gruyere sauce.  This was an amazing dish, loaded with big chunks of fresh lobster.  Every single bite was delicious, and those of us at the table who chose the dish didn’t leave a bite behind.  It this isn’t a regular dish at Ko’Sin, it needs to be.  As part of a $40 three-course meal, it was a steal.

Finally, Saturday night, we went to Talavera at the Four Seasons.  You can always count on Talavera to provide top-notch service and beautiful views of the valley.  Normally, you can also count on great dishes at Talavera; however, we found the food on this trip to be largely forgettable.  We had a lobster corn bisque, bacon wrapped steak and salmon, but none of these dishes really stood out in either presentation or flavor.  The one exception was an unusual dessert we ordered – a raspberry cheesecake “slider” with funnel cake fries.  It was a whimsical dish sure to satisfy anyone with a massive sweet tooth.  We have faith in Talavera, but they seemed to be off their game on Saturday.

If you missed Arizona Restaurant Week this time around, have no fear – they are likely to have another Restaurant Week in the late winter or early spring.  Besides, many of the delicious dishes mentioned in this article are regular menu items.  If you are from outside of Arizona, below I have posted a few links to Restaurant Weeks across the country, and updates to regional Restaurant Weeks will be posted on our Facebook Fan Page.  Check them out and support your local eateries!  If you would like The Menacing Kitten to provide information on a Restaurant Week near you not listed below, please comment below or on Facebook, and I’ll do my best to oblige.

Did you go anywhere for Restaurant Week? Are you attending a Restaurant Week in your town? Share your experience with us below!

Other Restaurant Weeks across the country:

Connecticut: http://www.connecticutrestaurantweek.com/ Their restaurant week is coming up in October.

Los Angeles: http://discoverlosangeles.com/restaurantweekv2/index.html This restaurant week is also coming up in October.

Boston: http://www.bostonusa.com/visit/restaurantweek/

Washington D.C.: https://www.restaurantweekmetrodc.org/

New York City: http://www.nycgo.com/restaurantweek/

Fashion Intervention Team!

Towards the end of spring semester of my freshman year at college, I learned an important lesson: when your life is falling apart, you need something simple and superficial to yank you out of your funk, even if it’s for only a day.

Now realistically, life wasn’t really falling apart; my psyche was merely experiencing an ongoing war between severe depression and extreme anxiety.  Each side had an ample supply of weapons to toss.  I had an unclean break from my first serious relationship and I gained 20 pounds through its course – that’s two offensive strikes for depression.  My grades were taking a nosedive and I was terrified of communicating with people; even making eye contact made my throat tighten and my hands shake – powerful weapons for the anxiety side.

At the height of this internal battle, I returned to my dorm room one night.  Upon opening the door, I was greeted by my roommate Emily and our friend Shemeka.  They were sitting on Emily’s bed, staring at me gravely.  Shemeka spoke first.  “We need to talk to you about something.”

Uh-Oh.  Was it my messiness?  Was it my pathetic issues with my ex?  Emily rested her hands on her lap.  “Anne-Marie, it’s your clothes.”

I looked down at my Marvin the Martian T-shirt.  “Huh?”

“You are a cute girl, and you have great features, but you don’t wear things that complement that.”

I looked at them, perplexed.  “I don’t?”

Shemeka shook her head.  “Like those blue shorts you wear; the ones that are really short?  You shouldn’t wear them, because when you bend over, it shows your butt.”

“What??  It does?”  I intuitively grabbed my rear end.

Emily continued.  “And those tight leggings you wear with the swirls…”

Shemeka knew exactly what pants Emily was talking about and finished her sentence for her.  “…they don’t match with anything you own.”

I sat down on my bed and pondered for a moment.  I thought I had some fun, indie-artist-y chaotic sense of style; that I marched to my own drummer, as they say.  My friends were blowing my mind.  “But…I shop at the mall…”  You can never go wrong with the mall, right?  I mean…the clothing is pricey, and they would never sell something out of fashion… they have Merry Go Round, and Wet Seal.  Wet Seal!  I put my hands on my shorts.  “I got these at Wet Seal…”

Shemeka smiled sympathetically, and Emily shook her head.  “See, this is what we need to teach you; things at Wet Seal look really good on the rack, but you have to inspect them.  They aren’t made as well as other clothing, and that’s why they aren’t as expensive.  You’re not getting as much value or quality as you would get at say, The Gap.”

My eyes widened.  “The Gap?  They are so expensive!”

Emily stood up, exasperated.  She pointed to her shirt.  “Ten dollars!  I got this for ten dollars at The Gap!”

I looked at her in amazement.  Where was this magical place she could find such inexpensive quality items?  I wanted to see the magical cheap clothes place!  I wanted to wear shorts that didn’t expose my ass!  I thought about the bad turn my life was taking.  Perhaps this one thing could set forth a series of events that would move my life in the right direction.  I looked at them like a lost kitten.  “Can…can you guys take me shopping?”

Their faces lit up and they squealed with glee.  “Yes!”  I knew by looking at them that I was going to be their dress-up doll for a day, and I was totally okay with that.  My life needed a makeover, why not start with my closet?

“Let’s go tomorrow afternoon!”

All three of us had classes in the afternoon, but what the hell – we skipped a bunch all ready, and this was an emergency.  I need this – I don’t need Anthropology.

The next day, we went on a pilgrimage to a haven from school and reality: Our Lady Queen of Shopping, hallowed be thy name, O home of clothing, Sbarros, and overpriced smelly soaps!  So yeah: we took the bus to the Tucson Mall.  From this point forward, I’m going to refer to Shemeka and Emily as Fashion Intervention Team (FIT), because they spoke as One – they were like two copies of the same Cylon model, but their Plan was to properly outfit every last human in the universe.  FIT’s first stop was “The Limited.”  We walked in and I eyed a shirt near the front.  They grabbed me and made a beeline to the back of the store.

Fashion Intervention Team’s First and Most Cardinal Rule of Shopping:   “Never pay full price for anything.  Never!  It will all go on sale eventually.  Oh and by sale?  We don’t mean 10% off.”  We arrived at the back of the store, and they introduced me to the magical place they spoke of the previous night – the Clearance Section.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Second Rule of Shopping:  “Always start at the back of the store.  That’s where the clearance items are.”  I looked at the items skeptically.  “I thought this was the stuff that was going out of season…”

FIT shook their head.  “We live in the desert – you can easily wear these for another month before it gets uncomfortable.”   They waded through racks and checked seams and price tags.  “Besides, when you find something that looks good on you, it will never go out of style.  Try this on!”  I was handed an off-white T-shirt with some girly prose and a rose on it.  I squinted to read the writing on the shirt.  “I can’t read what it says…”

FIT sighed.  “It doesn’t matter!  You’re not getting it for the saying – it’s a cute print and it’s feminine, unlike your Van Halen concert shirt!”…Which I wore with the swirly pants.  Yeah, maybe that was a bad fashion choice…

I tried on and ultimately purchased the Illegible Girl Shirt, and we moved on to the next store – The Gap.  I walked to the back of the store, and FIT nodded in approval.  They instantly grabbed a plain white oversized shirt and dark blue leggings and handed them to me.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Third and Fourth Rules of Shopping:  “Oversized shirts are great with leggings, because the shirt hides your trouble areas (a.k.a. my pronounced ass, brought to you by the deep fried offerings at the UofA Student Union).  Combined with the leggings you get to show off your skinny legs!  Also, you want a plain white shirt, because you can mix and match with different bottoms.  The more combinations you can get with one piece, the better it is!”

We purchased the shirt and the leggings.  True confession time – FIT would show dismay at this, but I kept that shirt for 15 years.  I stopped wearing it out several years ago, but wore it around the house until the collar completely ripped off and Chris pleaded with me to throw it away.

Anne-Marie’s Anti-Fashion Tip #1:  Shirts are more comfortable and feel extra homey when they are loaded with holes and have a ripped collar.  I may have tossed that shirt, but I still have my tattered UofA Alumni shirt from 1999, and you will pry it from my cold, dead, unfashionable hands.

We continued on.  I pointed to a Merry Go Round and FIT grumbled.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Fifth Rule of Shopping: Don’t shop at Merry-Go-Round, unless you want to look like a Bon Jovi Groupie.

“Hey; my Junior year prom dress was from Merry-Go-Round!”

“Sigh.”

FIT was prescient – when the 80s groupie style completely left the universe in its pink lame spaceship powered by Aqua Net bottles and C.C. Deville tears, it took Merry-Go-Round with it.  I believe Hot Topic is essentially its replacement, replacing 80s whore with Emo-Avril Cul-de-Sac Disenchantment; take your pick as to which is worse.

FIT wasn’t impressed with the other boutique stores.  We hit the big anchors, the best of which being Dillards.  To split the Collective for but a moment, I need to point one thing out.  Dillards was THE store for Emily.  Emily worked at the mall for a while a few moons after this intervention, and I am convinced that she began her day by kneeling before a Dillards sale rack, arms outstretched in exaltation, praying and praising the God of Dillards for His Righteous Sales and Brand Name Goodness.  I will admit that if this were Scientology, I would have so been Will Smith to her Jada Pinkett.  She sold me on Dillards Sale-vation, and I too worshipped their sale rack altar many times during college.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Sixth Rule of Shopping: For name brands, the department stores are better than the brand stores (like Guess), because you’ll find more items on the clearance rack, and the clearance price will be rock-bottom.

At Dillards, FIT presented me with the Clearance Rack to end all Clearance Racks – the “66% off already marked down items” rack.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Was I reading it correctly?  I looked at the price tag on a cute pair of shorts – the shorts were originally $40, and on the price tag, it stated that they were marked down to $30.  “So…I can get this for… under $15?”

FIT nodded.  We then turned to the rack and devoured the clothing like starved Coyotes on a fresh, meaty carcass.  A Guess shirt for $10; an Esprit tank for $5!  I felt like I was sharing this moment with my inner 13 year-old who was rejected by her peers for never wearing these brands.

We finished up our shopping, and got on the bus to head back to the dorms – the neighboring bus seats towered with our full shopping bags.  Emily’s boyfriend came over to the dorm, and she made him sit through a brief fashion show of some of the items we purchased.  He showed as much enthusiasm as a guy could muster for such a thing, particularly approving of a nice sleeveless pantsuit Emily picked out for me.

Now truthfully, my lovely new wardrobe and hair color of the week didn’t change my life.  I was still horribly depressed, had a hard time with my bad break up, and my social anxiety kept me from responding to the compliments I got for my new “look.”  I was still me, unfortunately, but if nothing else, I now at least had shopping as an outlet for my angst.  For a few minutes, I could look in the mirror at my cute clothes and feel good about something.

Shortly after returning to Tucson for my Sophomore year, I visited Emily at her apartment to show her all of the clothing I bought without her assistance.    Naturally, we did a little “fashion show,” and at the end of it, she had a little tear in her eye and exclaimed, “I knew you could do it!  I’m so proud of you!”  I admired myself in the mirror – a fitted white blouse covered with a cute print vest over faded blue jeans, brown suede boots on my feet.  I looked good.  Well, 90s-era good.  I earned my FIT diploma that day.

Unfortunate teen photo of yours truly is copyright 1992-2012 by Douang Athitang

Act Two

Connecticut, for the most part, is a beautiful and quaint state.  The roads rise and fall with small hills and wind through lush green landscapes, as large oak trees create a canopy overhead.  Driving through these winding roads, you experience Connecticut’s history through the architecture of its homes.  In the more rural areas you see old saltbox houses from the late 1600s and early 1700s.  Old towns are filled with colonials and Victorians, and the closer you get to major metropolitan areas, you find post-World War II tract housing consisting of cape cods and L-shaped ranches.  Tudors dot the wealthy outskirts.  In all, you have a wide variety of architecture to enjoy, covering the span of American history.

As pretty and diverse as it can be, there are few vistas in the state where you can look out and see for miles.  You happen upon homes and landscapes when you drive or walk along the roads.  You can see only what is in your immediate view, unaware of the world past the canopy or over the next hill.This was my life for 18 years.

As I stood on the balcony of my hotel room, I experienced Tucson for the first time, and admired the beauty of differences.  Instead of being cocooned in Kelly green leaves, I could see miles and miles of sand-colored ground and sage green plants.In place of winding roads, there was a clear grid stretching as far as the eye could see.  Rather than being surrounded by homes spanning 250 years of history, I could only see homes that were 50 years old at the most.  The tiny hills of Connecticut were no match for the bold and ragged Catalinas – the mountains made me feel like I was living in a topographic map.

When I stepped foot off of the plane, my mind was filled with a typical Yankee perception of Arizona – sun, sun, sun!  It never rains!  Blue skies all of the time!   Imagine my surprise then, when on that balcony, I saw a menacing dark cloud creep over the Catalinas making its way towards my hotel.  I inhaled to enjoy the unusually thick smell of ozone that preceded the storm.  For the first time in my life, I saw lighting bolts stretch from cloud to ground, hitting different points on the mountain.  The thunder rolled loudly as the storm neared.  I watched with fascination and concern – this was nothing I had ever seen before and was wholly unexpected.

Suddenly, a loud clap of thunder exploded as a large lightning bolt slammed from the heavens to earth only a couple of miles from my balcony.  I jumped.  Tens of car alarms triggered, providing a soundtrack of man-made chaos responding to the ho-hum of Mother Nature.  Large, dense raindrops fell from the sky furiously, while thunder and lightning rumbled and flashed around me.  The world was ending in a biblical storm; why was I the only one who looked freaked out?

Just as quickly as the storm came, it ended.  The sun peeked through the clouds, and the sky shimmered from the raindrops that continued to fall over Tucson.  The menacing cloud moved on to wreak havoc on another part of town, leaving a brilliant rainbow in its wake.  The sun seemed brighter, the sky bluer.

I realized at that moment that I had finally made it to Act II.  I did it.  I was able to leave home – to really leave home and start the next stage of my life.  I had no idea where I would wind up, but the wheels were finally in motion.  I could finally be “me” and have an existence that was built completely on my own accomplishments and failures.

Today, I think about how my life has mirrored that moment – I think of all the times I believed I could see far ahead, and I would anticipate and plan every move, only to be rocked by an unexpected lightning strike or fierce storm.  I’d feel like my world was ending yet somehow the storm would find a way to clear, and I’d be stronger and wiser on the other side; even if there was a little damage left in the storm’s wake.

That moment also serves as a microcosm of why I was a virgin to life.  There was much I thought I knew about the world, only to have an abrupt epiphany to challenge my thinking.  The epiphanies can range from subtle to anvil-like; they can be triumphant or they can be devastating.  They can be humorous, morbidly funny, and on a rare occasion – unfortunately – they can still bring tears to my eyes.

Over the years, there is one epiphany that trumps all others in its importance – the realization that we do not connect with each other through our perfection, but through our mistakes.  In the coming weeks, you’ll learn why I was (and am) a Virgin to Life.  My missteps are embarrassing at times, but a little hyperbole, humor, and a few choice curse words can at least provide good therapeutic laugh and perspective if nothing else.  So feel free to laugh and/or facepalm at my expense – I won’t be offended;  Maybe you’ll even find a little bit of yourself in my stories – I won’t tell if you won’t.

Photo of Arizona copyright 2007-2012 by Chris Giard.