Thursday, March 14, 2019

Yuma, Arizona

There’s hardly a worst feeling a cyclist can suffer than coming out of a building and discovering his bike has been stolen.  The heart plunges and the gut feels wrenched.  One desperately looks around hoping he is mistaken about where he locked his bike.  But no it’s gone and life will never be the same.

I endured a mild case of the stolen bike syndrome when I arrived at the address for the El Centro Carnegie only to discover an empty lot with a fence around it.  I had biked over a hundred miles anticipating the thrill of meeting another Carnegie only to be slapped in the face.  It had been razed some five years ago after suffering irreparable damage from an earthquake.

No one had bothered to update Wikipedia, as it reported it still functioned as a library.  It was the second time in these travels that I had searched out a Carnegie only to learn it was no more.  The other was in Oakland, where only a couple months before my arrival it had been leveled to make space for a tiny village of huts for the homeless.  That wasn’t as devastating a blow as this, as I was hopping from Branch to Branch in Oakland and could shortly enjoy the discovery of another Carnegie.

Though this was a great disappointment, at least there was another twelve miles south in Calexico on the border with Mexico. It would wrap up my California Carnegie-Odyssey, number eighty-one in thirty-four days biking 2,327 miles crisscrossing the state. 
It was a fine one to end on, a small reddish-tan Spanish-Revival style unique to California sitting gallantly in the corner of a park without the distraction of any other building.  It was identified with “Carnegie Library” over its entrance, a pair of ornate wooden doors up a small flight of stairs flanked by a pair of light fixtures, all the dignified features of a Carnegie.  

It was brightly aglow from the setting sun, just as I felt.  It climaxed a great month of riding all over California, gaining an intimacy with the state and meeting up with quite a few friends along the way.  I had bid farewell to Tim earlier in the day along the Salton Sea near where he had camped across from a gigantic sink hole besides the railroad tracks. A large crew was busily at work trying to fill it and stem it from further encroachment upon the tracks. They had a large pile of rocks and a stack of metal pilings.  

Of the eighty-one Carnegies I visited, all those still standing in the state other than four in its northern extremity, thirty-seven were still libraries, though one was a law library and another a research library.  Nineteen were museums and five community centers.  Others served in some capacity for the local government—police station, chamber of commerce, visitor center, city offices or city hall.  Three were vacant and seven had fallen into the private sector, including one as a residence.  They ranged from palaces and temples to some shoddy, uninspired buildings, but they were all significant, century-old buildings, many on the National Register of Historic Places, as was my finale in Calexico.

I was sorry not to share this moment in Calexico with Tim, but he needed to get back to San Jose.  I could gaze down the street from the library to the border three blocks away.  The town across the border, Mexicali, was blocked by a pre-Trumpian wall topped with curls of wire such as one sees around prisons.  Calexico has a population of 40,000, but it’s downtown along the border was very quiet. There was no activity to speak of, pedestrian or motorized.  A block from the library were two budget motels. I was leery about burrowing into the bush for the night along the border with all the patrols, so was reconciled to staying in a motel.  I chose the Don Juan.  There were no cars out front, nor any in the motel across the street.  I pretty much had it to myself.  

I had to sit on a couch outside my room near the office to access the WiFi, enabling me to call Janina and report that I wasn’t going to make it back for her birthday on the 17th, the first I’d missed in seven years, as the cheapest remaining seats on trains to Chicago from Phoenix and Tucson within that time frame were going for $900.  Spring Training had filled the trains.  I’d have to bike up to Flagstaff, where the fare was a much more reasonable $154.  I didn’t object to the climb to 7,000 feet, as it would take me through Prescott, one of just four cities in Arizona with a Carnegie.  

I’d get to half of them, saving those in Phoenix and Tucson for another time.  The first was in Yuma, fifty-five miles from Calexico, along the border with Mexico and California.  The first fifteen miles out of Calexico were past irrigated fields, then the terrain turned desert.  A frontage road paralleled Interstate 8 for over thirty miles.  When it expired before a canal I had to ride on the Interstate for a few miles.  It was no fun, as the shoulder was very rough, ruptured every twenty feet with a hump from a break in the pavement.  I had to slow considerably, but was still jarred every couple of seconds.  At last another frontage road appeared, but I had to return to the Interstate for a few more miles. At least it’s shoulder was smoother.

A “Welcome to Arizona” sign greeted me when I crossed the Colorado River, not a very noteworthy river at this point.  It was less than a mile to the Carnegie, or what remained of it. It had been totally consumed by several additions and bore no resemblance to a historic building.  Its Carnegie origins were totally ignored.  It had been given the name of “Heritage,” though it looked thoroughly modern.  

A set of photos mounted on a wall behind the circulation desk showed its transformation.  It was utterly unrecognizable from what it had been, like someone who’d had an extreme sex change.  The first alteration in 1949 added columns to it, making it look more like a Carnegie than it had originally.  But then the next change removed the columns and added an extended porch across the front of the library, a necessity in these parts as shelter from the sun.  The latest alteration added a long covered entry.  The building’s sole plaque acknowledged the patron who donated the money for the canopy entry.  I will have two hundred miles to recover from this disappointment before the next Carnegie in Prescott.


dworker said...

You scared me. I thought you had had your bike stolen. On my touring trips, I use two locks, a chain and a kryptonite. It has worked so far. I have had 3 bikes stolen in mhy life, and I well know that nauseous feeling.

carry on.

Harold said...

I too thought the same upon reading your opening lines. Glad you are well. Sorry to hear the El Centro was a bust. Harold