By Gary Flanagan
Before exploring the tenth Capitol on my trip, it was time for a little auto maintenance. A simple oil change and tire rotation turned into major repairs. Ken, a courteous shuttle driver and Vietnam veteran, was available to drive me into Phoenix. He circled the Arizona State Capitol and helped me look for the nearest church. There wasn’t one in sight, but West Jefferson St. did lead to the Capitol entrance. With my iPad and a good pair of shoes, I set off on a path of discovery.
The Capitol building is very distinctive. A windvane similar to the winged Victory of Samothrace sits above a copper dome. Building design includes local materials and is optimized for the desert climate. The old Capitol building was built in 1901 in anticipation of statehood in 1912 and is on the same grounds serving as a museum. In 1960 and 1978, additional buildings were built that now hold the legislative and governor’s offices.
I entered the rotunda and headed for the information desk. I asked about the closest churches in the area. The volunteers do not live in the city and do not know. They suggest I ask a guild member before a meeting that was starting soon. Once again, no knowledge of local churches. Back outside I see a group of women packing up some signs from a demonstration.
Asking if they know where the closest church may be, they all mention that they are from Planned Parenthood. My guess is they expected a reaction. However, I asked again, “I’m just looking for the closest church.” Each one opens their smartphones and soon one is found. It looks like it’s a few blocks to the NW. I thank them and start out in that direction.
One block north and three blocks west, I found a group of stucco buildings completely surrounded by wire fencing. A rusted sign read “St. Matthew church and school. NO Unlawful entry!” School visitors went into the office. I could hear children playing in the schoolyard. I walked around the perimeter and found a courtyard with a statue of Jesus and his sacred heart. The gate to the courtyard and church entrance was locked. It was noon and a car pulled into the parking lot. A Spanish woman got out and tried to enter. I shrugged my shoulders to indicate that we couldn’t get in. We both walked over to the church office and rang the bell. No answer. Very strange. I feel like I’m in the middle of Don Mclean’s song “American Pie.” The woman got back in her car disappointed and drove off.
While I walked back to the Capitol, I called for Ken to pick me up and return to my quite expensive repair bill. Watching the breaking news on TV in the waiting room, a most notable event had just happened. While I was searching for a closed church, white smoke rose from the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. A new Pope had been elected. His chosen name is Francis. I thanked both my service advisor and Ken for excellent service and hit the dusty trail once again.
It was mid afternoon and I wasn’t not quite sure if I should head back home, west to California or north to Nevada and Utah. Something pulled me toward the lights of Las Vegas, 400 miles away. I was thinking it surely has frugal hotels and would be a good place to stop and sort out my options. Arriving in the city limits at 10 p.m. with little traffic to stop me, I felt the need to continue north on I-15 toward Utah.
The fuel and driver were nearing empty just before midnight. I pulled into a gas station and McDonalds restaurant in Mesquite, Nevada. I opened my iPad, directed it to Hotwire and chose the closest, most frugal hotel available. The answer was Casablanca casino and resort, one exit back on I-15.
As I approached the front desk, the clerk told me there is a golf tournament in town. It appeared that no rooms were available. He turned me over to a supervisor. Her name is Mary. She looked and found the reservation, but has to search for an available room. Finding a VIP room that is not being used, she then apologized for leaving as her shift was ending. She turned to another clerk who had just started his shift and instructed him to check me in to the VIP suite. He gave me my room key. I thank him and glanced at his badge. It read “Jesus.” This particular day started in Phoenix with a new Pope elected and almost finished with no room at the hotel. And I was checked in by Mary and Jesus. It was time to rest.