For My Clemson Friends, Bound for Phoenix and Brimming with Dreams of Glory

South Mountain State Park, overlooking Phoenix. (Monte Dutton photo)

South Mountain State Park, overlooking Phoenix. (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, January 5, 2016, 10:06 a.m.

Based on my social-media feed, I would estimate that approximately 10,000 people from here in town are going to watch Clemson play Alabama for the national college football championship in Glendale, Arizona on January 11.

Wait. Only 8,000 people live in Clinton. Okay, 8,000 people are going to Arizona. Well, 7,999. I’m not. It sure is going to be lonely.

Monte Dutton

Monte Dutton

Fortunately, I have been to Phoenix — Glendale is a suburb, a little to the west of downtown — both downtowns, since Phoenix has two — and then there are Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, and even Avondale, which is even farther west, little more than a crossroads, and where Phoenix International Raceway is located.

For twenty years, I wrote about NASCAR races at PIR. I started traveling out there in 1993, and the track started hosting two annual races in 2005. I don’t think I went to all of them, but I didn’t miss many. Twenty is a conservative estimate.

For a while, each year a friend and I had ourselves a little adventure by driving from the race in Fort Worth, Texas, one week, to Phoenix the next. They are back-to-back in the fall, and, one year, when the schedule fell the same way in the spring, I even made the trip twice. I took different routes. I stopped at national parks and monuments. I visited Billy the Kid’s grave in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, one year and had a hard time shaking Morman missionaries on the campus of New Mexico State in Las Cruces. I passed on the Book of Mormon but purchased a book on Billy the Kid. That was on one of the two trips I made alone.

It's a desert. A painted desert. In Arizona. (Monte Dutton photo)

It’s a desert. A painted desert. In Arizona. (Monte Dutton photo)

A few days ago, on Facebook, a “friend” noted that, according to his GPS, it was 1,981 miles from here to Phoenix. The reason he noted that was that the other time the Tigers won the national championship, it was 1981. Most responses assumed that person was himself driving to Phoenix. I hope not. If so, this blog is too late, unless, of course, he, family, and friends are presently able to get a signal between Midland and El Paso, where there are just a few more people than there are on the moon.

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico (Monte Dutton photo)

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico (Monte Dutton photo)

What I hope to do is give you — the many, the excessively proud, the members of IPTAY, which was originally “I Pay Ten a Year” but is now probably, oh, “I Pay Tenmillion a Year,” and it’s still IPTAY because IPTMAY is impossible for people who put a P in Clemson to pronounce — a few pointers for your Phoenix trip.

First of all, I hope it is better than my senior year in high school, when my entire family, and Big Don Fulmer, got up on Saturday after I had played football on Friday night, and drove to Tuscaloosa, in Granddaddy’s Cadillac, wearing a bumper sticker that read: CLEMSON-ALABAMA, THE DAY THE TIDE DIED.

That bumper sticker wasn’t on the Cadillac long.

What do I remember about that game? (1.) The Tigers spent much of the game in the shadow of their own goalpost; (2.) The Crimson Tide blocked Clemson’s first two punts; (3.) George Wallace was at the game and waved to the crowd from his wheelchair; (4.) The stadium’s name was changed from Denny Stadium to Bryant-Denny Stadium that night; (5.) Alabama eked out a 58-0 victory over Clemson; and (6.) After the season ended, Red Parker was no longer Clemson’s head coach.

Parker just died. May he rest in peace. I thought he did a great job running Tiger Football Camp, though it failed miserably in turning me into a blue-chipper.

That was a long time ago, and much has changed.

Sedona, Arizona. (Monte Dutton)

Sedona, Arizona. (Monte Dutton)

Regardless, don’t just go to Phoenix, Arizona, a unique part of America, and hang out with other fans and the Tiger Band, yelling cheers that you have been yelling every week, all year long.

Be careful, by the way. Imagine Buford Pusser (Walking Tall) being sheriff of a major city. That is Joe Arpaio, the 83-year-old law of Maricopa County. He is the most powerful figure out there. If you see him — let’s hope not — ask him. He’ll tell you how powerful he is. I heard him talk all about it one time after one of his deputies arrested Kurt Busch near the track.

Go see the Coyotes play hockey or the Suns play basketball. The hockey arena is near the football stadium. Or go see the Sun Devils play in Tempe. By all means, go to Tempe. Arizona State University has dazzling scenery, and most of it is human.

Because flying is better from a distance, I used to enjoy watching planes land and take off at Sky Harbor International Airport from South Mountain State Park south of Phoenix. (Monte Dutton photo)

Because flying is better from a distance, I used to enjoy watching planes land and take off at Sky Harbor International Airport from South Mountain State Park south of Phoenix. (Monte Dutton photo)

Many will tell you to go up north to Camelback Mountain, and that’s good, but my recommendation would be to take a drive in the other direction to South Mountain State Park. I think it can be directly entered by driving down Central Avenue from the city.

After winding up the mountain, near the summit is a vista offering a spectacular view of the valley below. It always reminded me of the scene from Patton when the general is watching the advance of Rommel’s tanks in South Africa, only the view from South Mountain is of skyscrapers, and airliners landing at Sky Harbor flying at a lower altitude than the adobe hut up on South Mountain.

Phoenix thoroughfares are mainly a grid. They are straight except when interrupted by hills rising up out of the vast expanse known as the Valley of the Sun.

All the latitudinal streets have names like Van Buren, Camelback, McDowell, Buckeye, etc. The one longitudinal street name is Central, which is apt. The streets to the west of Central are numbered avenues; to the east are numbered streets.

A scene from the road to Phoenix, southeast of Tucson. (Monte Dutton)

A scene from the road to Phoenix, southeast of Tucson. (Monte Dutton)

The Mexican food in Arizona is not that of which you are presently accustomed. It’s good, but it’s a little hotter, and the names are different. It is Sonoran, not Tex-Mex. On menus, there are no burritos. There are, however, “burros,” and you will be relieved to know they are not stuffed with meat that once brayed. This may make you a bit cautious in deciding whether or not to sample the cuisine. I recommend that you do. My favorite little hideaway is called the Tepee, and it is located at 4144 East Indian School Road on the east side of Phoenix. It’s nothing fancy, just family-owned and friendly. One memory of mine is watching Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M upset Alabama while sitting in a booth. Another time local Boise State fans were gathered there. The Broncos are considerably more popular in Arizona than in South Carolina, though I’m not sure why. Idaho is a long way from Arizona, and no crow would fly it without stopping.

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico. (Monte Dutton photo)

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico. (Monte Dutton photo)

Once I watched one of the more disastrous games in Atlanta Braves history on TV at another Mexican restaurant in the area, but I don’t remember where it is because that’s when I discovered that Phoenix also has lots of New York Yankees fans, and by the end of the game, I was drunk and don’t remember anything else.

My must-see (and dine) for Clemson fans is T-Bone Steakhouse, which is as close to an authentic cowboy joint as you will find here in the modern age. It’s way out in the country, south of town, not too far from South Mountain State Park. I’ve eaten there when quarter horses were lined up at a hitching post out front. The menu is limited. I’d pass if you are vegetarian or vegan or any other terms I have never fully understood. You can order the T-Bone, the Ribeye or the Filet, and I think there’s a chicken, and maybe a seafood, option. What you order will be cooked on an open grille out front, and there is a modest salad bar, and the meal will come with a baked potato, and they’ll bring a skillet of beans for everyone to share. The prices are quite reasonable, too, which is often a factor in my dining decisions.

After races at PIR, I used to meet friends at T-Bones, which isn’t too far out of the way if you’re driving back to the city from the track. It’s located at 10037 South 19th Avenue, meaning that is 19 blocks west of Central Avenue and 38 blocks west of 19th Street. If you get within a mile and it’s dark, you’ll see the amber lights of the parking lot if you look up the hill, a little to the left.

Got it?

(Graphic courtesy of Meredith Pritchard)

(Graphic courtesy of Meredith Pritchard)

The good news is that many authors are adept at cooking. Also, you can download it for free. The bad news is that a recipe of mine is in it. http://www.amazon.com/KP-Authors-Cook-Their-Books-ebook/dp/B0175UM12W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1452098248&sr=8-1&keywords=kp+authors

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

Most of my books — including the current novel, Crazy of Natural Causes — are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

By the time you’ve finished Crazy of Natural Causes, there’s a good chance the next one, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, will be out.

Read my blogs on fiction, other books, writing, etc., at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.

About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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