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Exclusive | My Desert Mirage Part Two

Exclusive | My Desert Mirage Part Two

"Who moved my Phoenix?" Our monthly columnist Dennis Hensley returns to his old college town and finds that nothing is as he remembers it.

The swanky suburb of Scottsdale was the biggest mind-blower of all. The quaint 5th Avenue shops, where my best girlfriend sold Indian jewelry during college, were still there but they were on a different side of main drag than I remembered. Did the entire district move a block to the west? And the Kachina Theater, where I stood in line for hours to see ET, is but a memory as is the Los Arcos Mall where I auditioned to be on Star Search by crooning Spandau Ballet's "Gold" and was rejected. Fortunately, new retail enclaves, like the massive Tempe Marketplace, with its outdoor fire pits and soothing fountains, have sprouted up to take up the shopping slack.

At least the Valley Art Theatre is hanging in there. That's the art film showplace in Tempe where, at 17, I saw my first X-rated movies, a double feature of The Autobiography of a Flea and Inside Marilyn Chambers, which, by the way, is the about closest I've gotten to being inside any woman ever. Flea starred the legendary John Holmes and though I had heard tell of him, I didn't know what he looked like. So every time an actor appeared on screen, I'd lean over to my roommate Johnny and say, "Is that John Holmes?" and he'd say, "I don't think so," over and over until finally, a lanky blond with a special something appeared on screen. "That's John Holmes!" we exhaled in unison. You never forget your first Holmes.

The only other area hot spot I visited that seems unchanged is the hilltop BBQ joint Rustler's Rooste in Ahwatukee, where my college roommates slung all-you-can-eat-ribs while I was on campus appearing in musicals. The Rooste still has the sawdust on the floor, the sodas served in Mason jars, and a live bull outside named Horny. On the night I was there, Horny seemed really over being photographed and gawked at, like Brad and Angelina at the Golden Globes, but maybe he was just having an off night.

In complete contrast to my Phoenix head-trip were the two days I spent three hours to the north in my hometown of Holbrook, AZ. In this humble burg, which bills itself as the "Gateway to the Petrified Forest," nothing ever changes and that's fine by me. I can get a green chili meat burro at the El Rancho Mexican restaurant, take in a flick at the theater of my boyhood, the Roxy, and catch up with the family. This time out, I did something I always wanted to do, check into the Wigwam Motel on Route 66, which was one of my travel resolutions for '09. It didn't disappoint.

Someone once said, "You can't go home again" but I don't think it's entirely true. I think you can go home again because I just did it. Just don't expect to recognize it.

Part One | Part Two

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