July 11, 2016

A Mission, Aborted

When I signed up for the Rental Car Rally, I was blinded by my desire to charter new territory.

I kind of forgot that I don't play well with others.

I forgot that I'd rather brave the desert alone, despite the perils I might face.

But I liked the idea of forging a trail with a team of three other like-minded adventurers, which would take me into Arizona for the first time—specifically, Tombstone, AZ, one of my "Bucket List" places.

All I'd have to do is split the cost of the registration fee, car rental, and gas four ways and go halfsies on a hotel room for one night. (I'd also have to go sleepless for the first night.)

I offered to share the driving duties. I left my cat for two nights.

I didn't really think I needed anything more than my already innate sense of adventure, quick-wittedness, and moxie.

But Rental Car Rally turns out to be so much more than that—although, if you ask me, that's not necessarily a good thing.

First there are the "themed" teams and accompanying costumes and decorated rental cars (or "chariots," or whatever). I was inclined to take a more incognito approach and not waste my time or mental bandwidth on dressing up in something that was more likely to hinder my adventure than help it.

Then there are the "pranks," as they call them. I'm all for sabotaging the opposing teams, but squirting them with ketchup and pelting them with raw (and, eventually, rotten) eggs for no other reason than just 'cause seemed like a distraction.

It was a complete waste of time for me to be watching my back the whole time, and then worrying about cleaning the car. I had little interest in retaliating when we did get hit, and even less interest in initiating any battles.

Because I was there to, you know, see stuff.

But even seeing stuff was a problem, because the organizers (mostly, a guy who goes by the name of "Pants") intentionally sent us on a scavenger hunt in the middle of the night to places that are locked and very much not abandoned. And after the break of day, we crossed the border into Arizona, where accomplishing the challenges we were given would've qualified as second degree criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor but technically punishable with jail time.

That being said, when our instructions sent us to the Phoenix Trotting Park in Goodyear, AZ, we did walk through the already-compromised chainlink gate. We hadn't been warned by the event organizers to not break the law, only to not get caught. But since my intentions were pure—to take nothing but photographs and not destroy any property—I ventured forth out of curiosity despite any reservations I may have had. Sometimes you get shooed away, but sometimes you get invited in.

And once I saw it, I couldn't resist this futuristic piece of modernist architecture from 1964. I knew that it had been open as a harness racing track (that is, horses) for just about two years before closing for good in 1966. I knew that it hadn't been used since, except for as a location for a movie or two. I knew that somebody still owned it—making it technically private property—but I also knew that they hadn't done a thing with it in years.

What I didn't know was if anyone would even care that I was there.

But the problem was that it wasn't just me. There were all those other ralliers—and Lord only knows what the ones who'd arrived before me had already done. So by the time I was walking towards the great beast of a grandstand (which locals consider an "eyesore"), my presence wasn't about to be tolerated when I got discovered.

"You're trespassing!" a man gruffly shouted from behind the wheel of a silver car that approach us as we were advancing toward the building.

"I just wanted to take some pictures," I told him. "See? All I've got is this camera."

But that wasn't entirely true, because I also had two of my other teammates in tow—and although our camouflage outfits were relatively tame compared to the freaky-deakies who'd pulled up to the gate after us, they were still a dead giveaway.

"Well, you've got to take your pictures from the other side of the fence," he said.

And I complied. I apologized. I thanked him. What else was I to do?

He probably had been chasing people out all morning. He couldn't have known that I lacked the mischievous spirit of the other teams—and of the event as a whole—because I actually care about these places.

And, as he said to me in a brief moment of softening up, he's got to deal with this stuff every day.

I hadn't known about Trotting Park until I signed up for Rental Car Rally, so for that, I'm grateful. But including it on our itinerary was kind of a cruel tease. I barely got to see it at all, and we had to consider that a failed task on our list.

And for now, I'll have to be satisfied with the vicarious thrill through other explorers' photos and videos.

And for the future, maybe I'll just stick to my own rules and not sign up for anything that would force me to play by somebody else's.

I'm best when I can march to the beat of my own drum.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Santa Anita Park & Racetrack
An Unexpected Boldness
Photo Essay: Crystal Cove Cottages, Frozen in Time
Photo Essay: Ventura Oil Refinery, Abandoned - Part 1

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