Tucson Arizona, One of My Favorite Stops

Next stop, Tucson Arizona. I need to note here that we planned for this week’s blog to include Jackie’s perception of our stop in El Paso, but unlike my old retired self, she has a day job as a marketing expert in NYC. She is somewhat of a workaholic, which she says that she inherited from me (sorry Jackie), and she’s been working long hours for the past couple of weeks. So, we had to change things up a bit. Her trip blog posts of El Paso and Tucson will follow in the next few weeks. I am confident that she will totally agree with my perception of things, as you’ve probably noticed from our previous blogs. A twenty-something daughter always agrees with dad. (I am NOT overprotective). Tucson Arizona

Anyhow, we survived the 118-degree heat of El Paso, TX, and it was on to Tucson, AZ. We had to cross New Mexico to get Arizona, and I drove this leg of the journey. I wanted Myrtle, my favorite GPS, and Jackie to make sure that we didn’t mistakenly take an exit and end up on some road headed south. We were running along westward parallel with the Mexican border, and we could see Mexico off to our left for much of that part of the trip. I didn’t want to inadvertently end up in Mexico, because we didn’t have our passports. So, I drove and Myrtle and Jackie navigated. Tucson Arizona

The universe has a great sense of humor. We’re tooling along the highway across New Mexico, singing along to the Beatles on my iTouch, when Jackie says, “What’s that up ahead? It looks like traffic is pulling over to the right and forming a line.” Tucson Arizona

I slowed our speed, looked ahead and responded, “I don’t know, but what’s that large building on the side of the highway? It appears traffic is lining up to pass in front of the building. There are large letters on the roof. Can you make them out?” Tucson Arizona

Jackie looked concerned. “Uh, Dad, I think it says Border Patrol. But, that doesn’t make any sense. Wouldn’t that mean that we’re about to go to Mexico? I’ve been watching, and I don’t think we’ve left the main road.” Tucson Arizona

We reached the point where traffic was pulling off the road and forming a line, and I dutifully followed everyone else. As we approached the building, it was clear that the words did, indeed, say Border Patrol. “Daughter, we’re screwed. We’re about to enter Mexico without passports. How did this happen?” Tucson Arizona

We finally reached the head of the line, and a very attractive Latina in a Border Patrol uniform signaled me to stop. She approached the driver’s window, I rolled it down and she asked, “US citizens? How many in the car?” Tucson Arizona

I responded, “Yes, we’re US citizens. There are two of us, myself and my daughter. We’re on vacation.” Tucson Arizona

The agent looked our Outback over, smiled and then waved us on. Jackie, concerned, said, “Dad, shouldn’t you ask her if we’re about to enter Mexico? That would not be good.” Tucson Arizona

As the Border Patrol agent turned to walk away, I said, “Excuse me, Miss, but could you please answer a question for me? I know this sounds silly, but are we about to enter Mexico? We’re concerned that we took a wrong turn somewhere, and we don’t have our passports with us.” Tucson Arizona

The agent turned, approached my window again, and said, “Yes sir, you are most certainly entering Mexico. Have a great visit.” Tucson Arizona

With that, she turned away, Jackie and I gasped and I started gauging my chances of hanging a U-turn and getting out of there. Just as I was about to negotiate a panicked U-turn, that would have most likely resulted in my hitting another car or the building, the agent turned back towards our Outback. She approached once again, this time laughing. Tucson Arizona

“Sorry Sir, but I couldn’t resist. No, you are not entering Mexico. You are about to enter the great state of Arizona. Welcome!” With that she waved us on. Tucson Arizona

I told Jackie, “I don’t know what the hell that was about, but I think I wet myself a little. Why would she do that? Not funny.” Tucson Arizona

“I guess she’s bored, and couldn’t resist taking advantage of your confusion?” Tucson Arizona

“My confusion? You and Myrtle were supposed to…oh, never mind.” Tucson Arizona

Later, when we settled into our Marriott in Tucson, I did a little research online. Apparently, New Mexico provides some of the easiest access to the US for illegals. Therefore, Arizona has set up their own border patrol station to catch drug cartels and illegal immigrants trying to escape New Mexico and enter Arizona on their way to who knows where. I didn’t know that. Tucson Arizona

Later that night in our Marriott, Jackie was chillin’ and watching the news. She called me. “Dad, look at this. Isn’t that the same Border Patrol agent?” Tucson Arizona

The same beautiful Latina Border Patrol agent that had given me a minor stroke earlier in the day was acting in a TV commercial touting the National Border Patrol Agency. She had the same friendly face and mischievous look. Tucson Arizona

Jackie said, “She’s very attractive. She could have told you anything and you’d have believed her. I can’t wait to tell Mom about this little incident.” I was sad. Maybe if I offered to buy her extra cheese. Tucson Arizona

I have to say, Tucson was my favorite place to visit. This was mainly because of the Titan Missile Base Museum, a most extraordinary place. Also, the cooler temperature felt pleasant, only 116 instead of the 118-degrees in El Paso. I could almost breath without my lungs burning. Tucson Arizona

When we were planning the trip, I had discovered the Titan Missile Base Museum online, and made a fuss to get it added to the trip agenda. I’m not sure how excited Jackie was about this particular museum; the gift shop was very small (sorry Jackie, I couldn’t resist; not your fault you got grandma’s shopping gene). But, with most of the place located underground where it was cool, with temperatures of 116-degrees outside, she didn’t seem too upset about it. Tucson Arizona

We arrived in the morning, parked and entered the small building that housed the ticket sales and a small gift shop. There were also a few interesting exhibits, including a disarmed nuclear warhead and mannequins in military uniforms and astronaut gear. As part of the tour, we passed through a small room where we were shown a brief introductory film. I learned a lot that day. Tucson Arizona

Apparently, back during the cold war with the USSR, there were 54 of these secret titan missile bases located out west to serve as a defensive deterrent to nuclear attack. This one was located in Green Valley, Arizona, just outside Tucson. All the others have been closed and the land sold to private concerns. Only the one in Arizona has been kept open and designated a national museum. Tucson Arizona

Each base included one or more missile silos, armed with the W53 warhead, containing explosives equivalent to 9 million tons of TNT. One Titan II missile could apparently lay waste to 900 square miles. These missiles were aimed at strategic targets around the world. The tour was interesting, exciting and terrifying all at the same time. Tucson Arizona

Four military personnel supported this base, two non-commissioned officers and two officers, who pulled 48-hour shifts. Each shift change included a full evaluation of all critical electronic and mechanical aspects of the base to ensure working condition. The sole responsibilities of these military personnel included ensuring that the missiles would fire and firing them upon direct command from the President of the United States. The personnel who manned the bases were never told the actual target of their missiles. Tucson Arizona

The tour began after the movie. The tour groups were led by ex-military personnel, many of whom had worked in one of these bases, and a few retired astronauts or fighter pilots. Our tour group followed the two guides (a female astronaut and female Air Force commissioned officer, both retired) down several flights of stairs, while those of us who fit in the elderly category (65 and over, bad knees, bad back, bad attitude) were carried down by a large steel caged elevator. Jackie accompanied me in the elevator, to make sure I didn’t get lost, or growl at anyone? (The heat did make me kind of crotchety). Tucson Arizona

They led us through several tunnels, explaining the amazing engineering of the facility. We eventually reached the main missile control center, filled with gigantic computers. The guide explained that that large room full of computers contained approximately the same computing power as one of our smart phones does today. Nice to think I might be able to launch an ICBM missile and control its flight pattern with my iPhone, although strangely enough, that’s never actually crossed my mind, until now. I thought maybe I should check Amazon when we got home to see what’s currently available. Tucson Arizona

The guide explained how the system worked, with each crew shift change including a complete re-inspection of the facility. I guess the President would have been upset if they pushed the button and nothing happened. I can’t imagine anyone today with the patience to sit in a missile bunker for 48-hour stretches waiting for the President to call and order that you fire their ICBM missiles. Must have been frustrating; on the one hand you’re desperate for something to do, but on the other hand the thing you are there to do is blow up a significant portion of the world in a nuclear war. Tucson Arizona

I’m guessing in a similar scenario today they’d at least have access to video games to play, just so they didn’t confuse the video game with the real thing. It wouldn’t be good if the world were to be destroyed by a soldier wearing an Oculus Quest who got confused and pushed the real button instead of a virtual one. Tucson Arizona

This tour was extremely interesting, although my mind couldn’t process the idea of 54 of these bases located throughout the west with this much destructive capability. At the time this was all a secret. Then I started to wonder what has replaced this defense system in today’s world, and I think I blacked out for a moment or two. A scary thought, to say the least. I considered putting on my own Oculus Quest and hiding in the VR world, but you do have to come out sometimes to eat, go to work, go shopping (I reference Jackie), etc. So what’s the point? Tucson Arizona

After the mission room, we followed the guides to the base of the ICBM missile silo. Through a large pane of glass, we could see the tail end of a seven story Titan II missile that was reportedly unarmed. I was relieved to hear that. The missile had the words US AIR FORCE painted on its side, and it was an impressive sight. Jackie and I felt grateful that none of the 54 bases had ever seen the need to fire any of these incredibly destructive missiles. Reminded me of the Peter Sellers Dr. Strangelove movie, where the guy rode one of these things to the ground. Tucson Arizona

Then we pondered the expense involved in building and maintaining those 54 bases. It’s no wonder that the USSR went bankrupt trying to keep up with or surpass the US during the cold war. It’s also a wonder that we’re only 22 trillion plus dollars in debt. I’m not sure what it says about the human race that we need to spend billions of dollars to build massive weapons of destruction we never want to use, to prevent war. When I try to process this fact, I get dizzy, my eyes cross and I start to smell burnt toast…not good to ponder this too long. Tucson Arizona

We enjoyed the last part of the tour somewhat less. We walked, or elevatored (is that a word?) back to the surface, where we were led outside. The guides showed us the radar system, a mock-up of an ICBM missile complete with signs explaining the propulsion and guidance systems, and the top of the ICBM missile silo. Tucson Arizona

These were very interesting, but would have been more so in temperatures below 116-degrees (still, cooler than El Paso). Jackie and I cut this part of the tour short, and headed for the gift shop. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you’ll know how much I looked forward to this part of the tour. Tucson Arizona

I spent time viewing the mannequins of military officers, astronauts and other personnel associated with the missile defense program. The disarmed nuclear warhead also caught my attention. I read the sign explaining the process for disarming such a device, and found myself hoping that the engineers who worked on this particular one had not just gotten off of one of those 48-hour shifts. Tucson Arizona

Jackie spent the better part of an hour in the gift shop. If memory serves, she bought a book and a couple of other small souvenirs. My daughter is a strong proponent of the printed page, and she keeps more than one book store in business all by herself. I must say that I have enjoyed the many books she has given me for Christmas, birthdays, etc. over the years. Tucson Arizona

I believe I can take some credit for her love of books, as I spent a great deal of time reading to her and her sisters when they were young. Although, I’m sure all three daughters would tell you that I didn’t read Hop on Pop or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish enough times. I hate to admit it, but there were times I wanted to strangle Dr. Seuss. Those books can get annoying after the gazillionth time. Tucson Arizona

We were exhausted after this wonderful tour, especially the final part above ground. We went out for dinner, more genuine Mexican food. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but I do remember that the food was very good, and no one suffered this time. Hooray for Tucson! Tucson Arizona

If you liked this blog, you might also enjoy our book MURDER BY ROAD TRIP, that was inspired by this road trip. Jackie and I co-wrote the book together, and it might be fun for you to find out what kind of trouble PI Longfellow gets into in Tucson. It’s available on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2HauHCg B&N at https://bit.ly/35lISh6 and Indie Books at https://bit.ly/2I95at8