We crammed so many of ourselves into the streetcar yesterday it looked like a Tokyo subway train at rush hour. The rail line was so popular with gawkers you’d think Woody Guthrie had been inspired to write “This train is bound for glory” by the round trip from the maintenance facility to the Mercado District west of I-10.
Look at their mugs, smiling at the sight of our modern streetcar the way Mister Rogers smiled at “Trolley” every time it returned from the Barrio of Make-Believe, humming, “it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhoods” from midtown to downtown.
It’s as if Tennessee Williams wrote “a streetcar named desire for a viable downtown” in steel and asphalt, and downtown, like a sweaty Brando shouting “Stella” at the top of his aching lungs, was shouting “I’m back” at Southern Arizona.
The streetcar is the ark by which the University of Arizona and its children are colonizing and invigorating downtown. By shuttling frisky Wildcats into downtown for wilding sprees with their parent’s debit cards, the ancient urban planner’s prophecy shall be fulfilled.
Verily, I say unto thee, thy streetcar shall run to and fro and verily, unto downtown, it shall beget students who shall beget student housing which shall beget fine dining which shall beget clubs which shall beget retail which shall beget who knows? Maybe even a Trader Joe’s? And verily thy aging boomers shall buy lofts and sip Manhattans and downtown will be rocking as unto a shining city on a hill.
The economic benefits of the streetcar are clear: permanent jobs, thriving revenue-generating enterprises springing up along the line like seedlings next to a river, and a notable boost in the incomes of personal injury lawyers representing maladroit bicyclists.
I’m excited about the plans to expand the streetcar line. Take it up Campbell Avenue to Wisconsin, and out west to Southern California, link it up with the monorail at Disneyland, offering inebriated students a chance to sober up on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride long after the fireworks have ended.
It’s the little electric engine that could, making it over countless hills thanks to the many obsessed and possessed Tucsonans clinging to their “I think we can, I think we can” attitude.
Here’s to the founders of Old Pueblo Trolley, Gene Caywood and Dick Guthrie, a pair of trolley pushers who were promoting a streetcar for Tucson before Rice-A-Roni was the San Francisco treat. Clang, clang, clang, went the trolley. Hum, hum, hum came the streetcar.
Here’s to the group of trolley huggers full of sense and sensibility called Tucsonans for Sensible Transportation who kick-started it all in 2001.
Here’s to Steve Farley, public artist, state senator and light-rail evangelist, who preached the word of the electric shuttle to the heathens until he was hoarse, amen.
Nudged by a coalition of similar light rail-o-philes, homebuilders and auto dealers, the voters in 2006, approved a half-cent sales tax, funding the Regional Transportation Authority Plan. The RTA plan purchased buses, bikeways, blimps, gondolas, enough asphalt to pave the moon, the streetcar system and two wicker rickshaws pulled by javelinas.
Mayor Bob Walkup got the remaining funding for the blue ride from a federal economic stimulus grant by twisting arms in Washington, D.C., with such insistent cheer the U.S. Department of Transportation coughed up $63 million to make Bob go away and return their arms to their sockets.
I was told the streetcar required extensive testing in order to meet federal guidelines.
The ugly truth is, week after week, the streetcar kept failing the multiple-choice math portion of the exam. With the help of tutors, the streetcar finally passed, which brings us to yesterday’s “Dia de los Mass Transit Mania,” a day that was not marred by anti-immigration protesters attempting to block a northbound streetcar, demanding to search it for illegal immigrant children bound for “El Norte.”
It was a day when partisan carping and empty-headed mewling was drowned out by the sweet rumbling hum of urban progress with a small carbon footprint — a day when we celebrated bipartisan teamwork and persistent citizen engagement, a day when Tucson celebrated the inaugural run of its modern streetcar like a kid, wide-eyed and breathless, on Christmas morning celebrating his first Lionel train.