There are too many topics to put into my title, but I realized that it all kinda relates to friendships in Phoenix (and surrounding metro area).
Day six of my road trip was another day of hanging out in the Phoenix area. My brother’s family randomly discovered that neighbors of theirs from Montana were also vacationing in Phoenix at the exact same time! We decided to go to Top Golf to spend time with them. I had heard of Top Golf, but had very little idea of what it was, except some kind of golfing game.
We rented a double bay for two hours. It was their family: mom, dad, two kids, and our family: mom, dad, two kids, and sister (me). The kids played on the right and the adults played on the left. A staff member explained the rules. We each logged into the computer before our shot and then chose our club from those provided and tried to put the balls into the swimming-pool-sized holes you see out there. The closer to the bulls-eye you get, and the farther away the holes you hit, the higher your score. There are holes right below us, so even if you’re not very strong, or if you blow your swing, there’s still a chance for your ball to go into a hole and score you some points.
The balls have tiny foil RFID chips in them, and are tracked as they fly out. Just like on real golf, you can turn to the TV and watch your ball fly. The distance, speed, arc, and final resting place are displayed on the screen, with replays, and your total points. The screen keeps track of each player and how well they’re doing.
The first Top Golf facility was in Watford, England in 2000. After a slow start, the founders and investors hit upon a combination of game plus amenities like a kitchen and a full bar, to pull in the crowds. There are now 76 locations in the U.S. (8 of those barely opened or about to open) It’s certainly crowded. Phoenix has three of these and when we tried to make reservations the day before, two were booked solid and finally we found space at the third. While waiting your turn, you sit back in comfy couches with a soundtrack of blasting pop music and waiters are there to serve you constantly, bringing theme park-style food and drinks. They will also turn on the fans for you, if you’re dying from the 80-degree-heat because you’re all from Montana where there is still snow on the ground. Anyhow, it’s a super fun thing to do for absolutely any level of golfing competence.
After our two hours, we all said goodbye to each other. Next we went to go see old friends of mine.
In my first civilian job after getting out of the Air Force, Bill was my supervisor when I worked in Burlington, Vermont. He knew me when I was in my twenties, put me at the head of a new volunteer weather observer program, supported me on solo work trips all across Vermont and New York to install weather equipment, and encouraged me to start my first newsletter to keep the volunteers united (I’m still editing newsletters to this day!). He looked out for me while I came to work very pregnant with Tara. I remember being at work on my actual due date (since Tara came a week late), and it was time to climb the spiral stairs to the roof to take a weather observation, but Bill didn’t want me wobbling around on a staircase, so he did the observations for me! For my baby shower, Bill built Tara a rocking horse and his wife Mikki painted it. They inscribed their names and the date on the underside. What a special gift built strong enough for Tara to use when they got bigger. The last time I saw him was when my former co-worker, Kimberly, and I drove up to Vermont from Massachusetts to attend his retirement party in 2006 or so.
Anyway, my brother’s family was so kind to come along with me and Bill & Mikki were so kind to invite the whole gang in. They were wonderful as always, took us in, gave us a tour of their Arizona home, watered us, fed us, and told stories. It was so enjoyable. Mikki particularly enjoyed the kids, and it was obvious she had spent her entire career as a teacher. We had been admiring the citrus trees in the neighbor’s yard, and learned that that every single year they have to put boxes of them out on the sidewalk for others to take, because there are just too many. As we left, the neighbor arrived home, and Bill asked her if we could harvest from her trees. And yes! We left with bags and bags full of ripe grapefruit and oranges! What a gift.
I told them that I wanted to take my family up to South Mountain to watch the sunset, because I remembered having done that in 2011 when I was teaching a class in Phoenix, and my students recommended it. Bill told us we need to go to Hole in the Rock, which is where all the people in their area go for the sunset.
So we did.
So after leaving my friends, we all headed out to the desert again for a short hike before sunset. We easily found the parking lot at Papago Park, but didn’t realize what a big recreation area it is. Trails everywhere. We picked one and started walking.
There were only a few people out there jogging or enjoying the warm spring evening. We passed some workout stations that had been installed along the path for people who wanted more exercise than simply jogging. We tried and failed at pull ups.
We had not chosen the correct rock that contained the hole we were looking for. But we did enjoy the walk, and the climb, and the sights along the way.
The sun was dropping and we still wanted to get to South Mountain for the sunset, so we headed back to the parking lot. On our way out, we finally spotted Hole in the Rock. We had chosen the wrong trail. Oh well, we had fun and there were much less people on our trail.
We easily found the road to South Mountain and were surprised to find vehicles parked at the bottom of the mountain, even in the surrounding neighborhoods. I wondered if they could truly have filled the lot at the top, and spilled down the entire six mile mountain road, looking for parking spaces. We drove until we reached the brand new parking lot and gate, blocking vehicles. All of the people were parking at the bottom, and WALKING to the top of the mountain. Oh for gosh sakes I don’t think so. We had just completed our hike. There was no parking available in any case.
The next thing on our list was eating at a nearby restaurant famous among tourists and among locals in the mood for something different. This was another thing to do in Phoenix that my students had recommended back in 2011. It’s a good thing we skipped South Mountain because we were all hungry and were told there was a 45-minute wait. The waitress told us they had actually been seating people in about 30 minutes, and based on that info, we said “Sure!” It actually took an hour to seat us. Luckily, Rustler’s Rooste is pretty entertaining.
You enter the place through a tunnel made to look like a mine shaft, with stone walls. The stone walls continue to an indoor two-story waterfall that is totally unrealistic and over-the-top. Once you get inside, you walk on sawdust on the floors. The place has been a Phoenix icon for a long time, so the walls are covered in framed and yellowed newspaper articles from the restaurant’s history. We gravitated toward a far wall with a slide from the second level to the first level beside the waterfall, where, naturally, all the children in the place were lined up and careening and crashing down with vigor, over and over. Though safety seemed dubious, I’m sure at least half the parents were thinking with pleasure that their children were going to sleep well that night.
And then we were seated. The menu is somewhat limited, because they keep mainly to stereotypical Wild West themed food. There were a lot of steaks. One did not choose their side dishes, because everyone got the same thing: roasted corn on the cobb, baked beans, baked potato, bread. I had to ask for a salad – ha ha! The place is proud to offer fried rattlesnake and we were all dying to try it. Sadly, the rattlesnake came in tiny pieces, heavily breaded and then deep fried. We couldn’t taste the meat at all. It’s too bad. I have actually eaten a lot of rattlesnake, and the meat is light and flaky and delicious.
What a great day!! So many fun friends and fun activities and rattlesnake and cotton candy and a sunset after all.