(Because we didn't get the camera out again until New Orleans, the Mardi Gras pictures start here...)
We arrived in my former hometown of Tucson for a glorious sunset and a fabulous broiled salmon, at the adobe home of my college roommate Bob and his wife Marilyn. I was six when my family moved to Tucson in 1951, a quiet desert college town of 45,000 - now sprawling out to encompass more than a million people. Bob and I were fraternity brothers at the U. of A. and also hadn't connected for nearly 40 years when he tracked me down last year and we all spent a night on the town in San Francisco. This time we laughed a lot again and had a great visit, sleeping the night in their guest house.
I spent some time commiserating with Bob, who is also a builder, about the flat-line health of our careers. I had known Bob from our college years as, along with always being the smoothest dancer on the floor, the guy who could do anything with a ball. Pool shark and crack billiard player, scratch golfer, and fastest pitcher on the fast-pitch softball team, Bob had become a golf pro before turning to real estate and development. The next morning Marilyn departed early and we left Bob smiling at the old Mexican gate of his hacienda, feeling much richer for having spent even a short time with our friends. As we took off east on I-10, leaving the last of our planned stops, we were willing to take pot luck for the rest of the trip.
We drove past the Dragoon Mountains' stronghold of Cochise and passed from the Arizona-Sonora Desert into the basin and range country of southern New Mexico and on into the Great Texas Plain. Here Interstate 10 runs southeast from the recently notorious twin border cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, just a quick sprint from the shanties of Mexico and on for seventy miles before turning east again. This stretch of highway closely parallels the border and is a major crossing area for cartel traffickers, running drugs to the north and guns to the south. The area is heavily patrolled by state and federal law enforcement which conducts surprise roadblocks and checkpoints staffed with drug-sniffing dogs. Twice we had to inch along through a cordon of uniforms and dogs which had their noses plastered to the side of our truck. If you happen to be traveling with medical marijuana on board, which is not recognized as such by the State of Texas, it might be advisable to chuck it before reaching this area, as any explanations you may have are likely to be made from behind bars.