Day 15: Glendale, AZ - American Redemption - CycleBlaze

March 9, 2013

Day 15: Glendale, AZ

As soon as I wake up I open the computer and try to track down a 36-hole, 9-speed, 135-millimeter rear hub. More than 3.25 million people live in the Phoenix metro area, the place they call The Valley of the Sun. It's Saturday morning, but how hard could it be?

I call half a dozen shops around the country, from Colorado to Indiana, who list comparable hubs as in stock. But it turns out that in stock means we don't have it in stock and we have to order it from the distributor and we can't do that until Monday. That starts the long and tedius call-every-bike-shop-in-an-ever-expanding-radius-from-Glendale-and-ask-if-they-have-a-hub-or-wheel-that-might-get-me-rolling-again game. I call more than 20 shops. Most don't stock any hubs — full stop. Those that do only carry hubs for 32-spoke wheels. Questions about landing a new 36-spoke wheel tumble into the gutter in the same way.

I find two leads that might work if I get poop-in-the-desert desperate. The first is a cheap, used (and who knows how used) Taiwanese hub where every review mentions its sketchy quality. The second is a 36-spoke Sun wheel that the shop owner swears would solve my problem, but that several websites warn isn't suited for loaded touring. It's also wider than the rim I use now, which means a new tire as well. I have almost 5,000 miles to go; I don't want to compromise on the rear wheel, the component that gives touring bikers more major problems than any other. But with every call that ends with a Sorry we couldn't help, it's headed that way. Morale is asymptotically approaching zero.

And then the storm breaks. I dial up a shop called the Bike Barn. They don't have any standalone 36-hole hubs, but they do have a 36-spoke rear wheel for a bike with disc brakes that has the hub I need. They can perform a transplant: tear down the disc brake wheel, pull the hub, do the same for my wheel, and then rebuild my wheel around the new hub. It's crazy expensive — twice the cost of a straight replacement — but waiting for a replacement could take five or six days. They'll have me on the road and out of town on Monday.


Benny understands.
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The three-hour hub search leaves me hungry, so I walk along wide and empty streets and end up at a place called the Cracker Barrel. I think it's a restaurant, but it's hard to be sure. Ads for CDs of gospel music play on the speakers outside. Rows of wooden benches and rocking chairs sit out front, but they all have price tags. When I go through the double set of front doors, I walk into a tacky gift shop crowded with families and old people and a thousand stupid knick-knacks that no one needs, ever, available to buy at high prices.

How about a sock monkey with your chicken fried steak?
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The dining area — when I finally get there — is also insane. Every square foot of wall and divider and support post is covered with something vintage-looking: old tennis rackets, a wooden sled, pitchforks, horseshoes, scales, tins of baking soda, and more than a hundred metal signs for things like Sun Drop Cola, Kern's Bread, Brite Nail Polish, and Agrico ("The nation's leading fertilizer"). It's tens of thousands of dollars worth of stuff that no one seems to look at for more than a fraction of a second. Somewhere in an office in Texas or New Jersey there's a young woman whose only job is to buy up things that are old, or look old, in an effort to make restaurants like this seem like they didn't pop out of the ground fully formed two months ago.

The server checks in with me every four minutes. He's quick to bring the bill. His manager walks around wearing a headset, forehead creased, eyes concerned. Before I was seated I noticed that the hostess logs the time each party arrives, is seated, and leaves. The place has an assembly line feel, like there's a dude sitting in a dimly lit back room on the other end of the headset saying, "Hey, get that single guy out of here. We can fill that table with two people waiting out front and double our per-unit ACV on that space!" 20 minutes into lunch I'm working hard to avoid eye contact with the server. I've been biking every day for two weeks, my hunger is crazy, and even I can't eat my entree and 14 sides that fast. It's a fitting end to an experience that's bizarre from start to finish.

Or a rocking chair with your mashed potatoes?
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There are dozens of cities in the Phoenix area. I didn't end up in Glendale by chance. I love hockey, and I'm on a mission to see a game in each of the 30 National Hockey League arenas over the next five years. So far I've checked seven off the list. Tonight in Glendale I walk 15 minutes from the home where I'm staying and make it eight. Heading up to the arena is strange because it's just there. To the north and east are hundreds of acres of fields covered only in dirt. Beyond them sit single-family homes, some condo complexes, and low-rise office parks filled by health insurance companies and global construction conglomerates. Madison Square Garden it isn't.

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Inside, one lonely banner hangs down from the rafters. Phoenix isn't exactly a hockey hotbed, so a lot of people don't understand what they're watching. The arena is sponsored by a web company I've never heard of. It's a Saturday night game against a key division rival and the place isn't close to sold out. It's not the traditional NHL experience. But it doesn't matter at all. I sit eight rows behind the goal, shivering in shorts and a thin shirt. I soak in the smack of the puck against the glass, the slam of bench gates closing, and the steam that rises from the thin layer of hot water put down by the Zamboni between periods. It's a tight game. Late in the third period, Dallas's star player glides through the slot with his head down and gets leveled by the Coyotes' six-foot-six, 235-pound center. Awesome.

Phoenix bends but doesn't break and wins 2-1. It's hockey and I love every bit of it.

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Most of the small towns I ride through on my bike trips are dead or dying. That happens because the people who used to live there moved on. But the people who leave aren't going to Nolita in Manhattan or Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach or Capitol Hill in Seattle. This is where they end up; in the suburbs. They're crazy places to try to ride through on a heavy bike or travel by foot. But there's value to spending a day or two swimming within them. It gives a small but relevant snapshot of what life in suburban America looks and feels like for some of the 150-ish million people who call these types of neighborhoods home.

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