This is a story about Tucson. But it’s also about falling in love.
After college, I bought a one-way ticket to Hollywood. I was 22, trying to be an actress, living a cliché. I was working—mostly in restaurants. I was commuting in hours-long traffic to casting calls and auditions.
LA was a rat race I couldn't win. I could count my friends on one hand, and wasn't happy in my relationship either. Every chance I had to get out of LA, I caught my breath and my mind was free...to write. My love for writing eventually overpowered my desire to be on stage.
I finished my novel.
ESCAPE FROM LA
I was catering a party for United Talent Agency (UTA), and struck up a conversation with an exec. Quickly recognizing an opportunity, I pitched my book, “It’s like Sex and the City meets American Psycho,” I explained. He bit.
I arrived (shortly after a spray tan) at UTA on Beverly and Wilshire. I’ll never forget the feeling of walking into the sparkling UTA offices and plopping my manuscript down. I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, though the Exec was not my Richard Gere (you'll know when he comes in later). He probably won’t even read it, my inner critic warned. Not only did he read it, I had a meeting with UTA the following week. They wanted to hip-pocket the book, which wasn’t quite the same as being represented. But I’d piqued their interest which was something.
While visiting my family in upstate NY the following week, I had some downtime. I hopped on my dad’s computer and searched for New York Times Fiction Best Sellers. I found similar genres, then scoured the authors’ websites for mention of their agents. There he was (no, still not my Richard Gere). He was looking for young adult fiction especially comedy with a strong voice. When he called to say my book was getting published by Simon & Schuster, it hit me: I could write from anywhere, and I deserved to be happy.
I packed my bags and got the f*** out of LA. Tucson felt right. It was the best decision I could have made for myself. The Catalina Mountains calmed me; the warm heat soothed me. Even though I was all alone in a new place, my heart was full. I could find myself again.
MY NEXT CHAPTER
There was so much to love about life in Tucson. Lounging, hiking, reading. Yoga. Virtually no traffic and better still, no auditions. I welcomed the silence, the peace and the quiet. A month had gone by and I could count my friends on two hands by this point, a vast improvement from life in LA. My 25th birthday was around the corner and I invited everyone I knew out to celebrate. My girlfriends and I went out to dinner at Cup Café in Hotel Congress, then we were off to Che’s Lounge for cocktails.
I had invited a guy I knew from a catering gig who’d recently moved to Tucson as an afterthought. He texted me that he wouldn’t miss my birthday and showed up with a present (a small mirror lined with Spanish tile) and a thank you card that read “Your smile, and everything else, could launch a thousand ships.” He was an Oregon boy, born and bred, had a teenage daughter, and with his blonde hair and blue eyes, I’d typecast him as vanilla. Fittingly, he was a Chef, and all I’d hoped to gain from him was a waitressing job. Instead, he really surprised me. He was smart with a great wit. We sat outside for three hours.
A few days later, I saw him again for a drink at Hotel Congress. "I'm moving to New York at the end of summer," I told him, "don't get too attached."
I had planned to spend a few months in Tucson and move on to pursue my writing career in New York, but he turned my life upside down. He taught me to embrace the outdoors, drink good wine, to love food instead of fear it. He looked at me with eyes of wonder. We biked through monsoons and watched movies in the park. We played tennis in the moonlight and hiked to desert waterfalls. We ate breakfast on the front stoop at his house in the Barrio Presidio neighborhood, and took road trips. It was, by all accounts, the summer of love.
I never did make it to New York.
“You’re the first guy I’m ever going to live with,” I told him, eight months later.
“You’re the last girl I’m ever going to live with,” he responded.
We moved to Bend a year later, both of us missing the seasons and him convincing me I’d love it there. We'd always have Tucson, but it was time for a new adventure.
Four years after that, surrounded by our friends and family, we were married. Our wedding was desert themed, with cactus and prickly pear flower boxes and food from Steven’s new restaurant, Barrio.
MY TRAVEL PICKS
We return to Tucson every couple of years and my nostalgia for the summer of love sometimes overwhelms me. Here are some of my favorite things to do in Tucson.
Equal parts animal conservation and desert landscape. I could spend hours wandering these paths and never have enough time.
Start in Barrio Hollywood. Mariscos Chihuahua’s original Tucson location has been serving up fresh Mexican seafood since 1994, but its roots go much deeper. The family-owned business started as a seafood stand in Nogales, Mexico in 1971.
Every time we return, there are new restaurants to experience and public art to admire. Batch is a small restaurant with a big appetite – specializing in doughnuts, whiskey, grilled cheese, and boozy cereal. Cup Café in Hotel Congress and Maynard’s Market & Kitchen are two other greats.
A cactus-lovers dream. Towering saguaro cactus tell the story of the Tohono O’oodam tribe, and winding paths allow visitors to experience the best of the Sonoran desert, including endless varieties of cactus the likes of which I’d never seen.
There’s something about these brightly colored row houses that make me all kinds of nostalgic. We lived just down the street from these iconic streets in El Presidio.
Take a little bit of Tucson home with you. Not sure if these little guys are carry-on friendly, but we have managed to transplant many succulents and aloe back to our home in Bend. For the best selection and a feast for the eyes, make the journey to the far east side – B&B Cactus is well worth the drive.
WHERE TO STAY
Centrally-located, this boutique, historic, Ranch-resort features spacious guestrooms and casitas carefully woven into the natural desert landscape. The picturesque southwest resort features a sparkling pool, on-site restaurants, a day spa, and horseback riding on Sonoran Desert trails. Hacienda Del Sol, 5501 N Hacienda Del Sol Road; from $299.
Recently opened by another escape-y from the entertainment industry in LA, The Downtown Clifton is a renovated, mid-century modern 11-room hotel featuring old-school touches and modern amenities in the heart of Tucson. The Downtown Clifton, 485 S. Stone Avenue; from $99.
WHEN TO GO
After reading my story, you may be looking for flights to Tucson in July and amazed at the low prices. Hang on. Although we fell in love in the sweltering heat amidst monsoon storms, I don’t recommend visiting Tucson in the peak of summer. Fall, winter, and spring are ideal times to visit. Much of the native cactus blooms in March, making it the best time to plan a trip. As for falling in love against the backdrop of the Sonoran Desert? I'm sure there are many more Julia Roberts-Richard Gere moments in store.