Delirious in the Sun: My Search for Rio Nuevo

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I, too, am fed up with Rio Nuevo! Except, I don't know what it is.

So much about this chimera remains unknown to mortal citizens. Its beginnings are cloudy; its workings are mysterious; its mission is perplexing; its fate is indeterminate. Its habits - what it eats, how it mates - are complete enigmas. No one even knows if the beast is growing or shrinking. In fact, the only two things that we know for sure about Rio Nuevo are paradoxical: it is not "new," and it is not a "river."

Seeking understanding, I went online. I found tax documents with figures down to the cent. I found organizations being reorganized in order to organize other organizations. There were feasibility studies, impact studies, and assessments. There were meetings, messages, agendas, signatures, acronyms and a long list of board members, or were they "bored" members? I was still confused.

The official Rio Nuevo website offered the comforting (if banal) slogan, "Downtown Tucson, The Heart of the City." It was written in an Old Spanish font, as if the letters were scratched into a heavy wooden door, as if someone were trying to get in...or out! Danger aside, I knew I had to put boots on the ground, and see Rio Nuevo face-to-face. Armed with bottled water, a mustache and sunglasses - much like Cortez - I decided to explore the Land of Three Tall Buildings in search of the elusive Rio Nuevo.

My descent was from the northeast through an area that used to be a great learning center. Tall crane-like objects - possibly cranes - loomed alongside the Three Tall Buildings. As I got closer to Rio Nuevo, I realized the feral creature had marked its territory with construction horses, sand bags, caution ribbon and chain link. A sign read Keep Left; another read Keep Right. If this was the "heart" of the city, then it was getting quadruple bypass surgery.

To truly understand the entirety of Rio Nuevo is not possible. It would be like the fabled blind men examining the elephant. In one place Rio Nuevo felt like a tree trunk; in another it felt like a crater; in another like an elephant. In one place it was an old wall rebuilt; elsewhere it was a new wall torn down. I was still confused.

I looked very closely, but could find no delineating edge to Rio Nuevo. The square-yard of urban detritus before me held dirt, macadam, metal, glass and plastic. But, where did Rio Nuevo start, and regular downtown end? At the tire tracks in the dirt? At this pothole? At that one? Was it the line of the construction ribbon, blowing about? Rio Nuevo was like two hands not clapping in the wind.

My scientific theory was falling apart; I grew uneasy. Suddenly, Rio Nuevo seemed omnipresent. I sensed it lurking in the shadows of the Land of Three Tall Buildings. The leviathan was everywhere and nowhere! I could feel it's gaze, as if it were stalking me! And, I ran...

I ran past a scattered jumble of Rio Nuevo parts near the Eastern Corridor when a giant rattlesnake bridge appeared! It was large enough to swallow a human! I searched for poor souls inside its perforated metal skin, but there were no pedestrians anywhere! None! Where were the people? Good God, where were the people?!

One day, the Land of Three Tall Buildings will be covered with sand up to the very tops of the Three Tall Buildings. Our descendants will dig and find Rio Nuevo, or what's left of it: mummified building supplies, exotic construction horses with orange flashing eyes, and two recurring words in an Old Spanish font suggesting a "new river." They will house these artifacts in a future Museum built with public bond money, and they will charge $100 at the door. Thusly, will Rio Nuevo finally come to fruition.

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