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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    A user’s guide to Tucson

    Courtney Smithwire editor
    Courtney Smith
    wire editor


    he first thing this Arizona resident noticed before she even got off the plane was the trees. Mainly, they did exist. And what is more, they had leaves.

    From that moment on, my first-time trip to the East Coast was a conscious string of one shock after the other. I misunderstood directions because I had never heard of a beltway. Strangers in New York City called me ‘cowgirl.’ I learned the anatomical manipulation that is eating crab, and the safety in standing on the right and walking on the left. Attempting to buy a subway ticket, and what is more, determining which car to get on was an adventure in itself. I even spent a half hour catching fireflies upon discovering they are not just cartoon characters.

    The regionalism that I experienced on my summer trip, which was originally intended to visit a friend and fellow Wildcat, got me thinking.

    Tucson is not just a university town…Tucson is a state of mind.

    For every idiosyncrasy I discovered while visiting her home, she most likely experienced as a freshman, when she first visited my home.

    According to the UA Office of Institutional Research and Evaluation, of the fall 2005 incoming freshmen, approximately 36 percent were not Arizona residents. And it’s not just the entering freshmen – the entire UA community is composed of people from around the world.

    With all of these T-town newbies, a brief introduction to Tucson culture is probably in order. After employing the very scientific method I call ‘asking around,’ I have uncovered the things that absolutely confuse, shock or just plain amuse people who come from elsewhere.

    The first observation is a case of spelling. The city is often misspelled “”Tuscon,”” and more than once have I heard a local resident pronounce it this way in jest. Another more commonly intentional mispronunciation is ‘Tuksn.’

    Second, general consensus agrees on the Tucson Twenty Minute rule. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving five blocks or five miles. In Tucson, it will always, always take you twenty minutes to get there.

    Tucson has some pretty unique events, too. Dressing up like dead people isn’t really a common community gathering. But in Tucson it is! The need to watch the roping n’ riding of livestock doesn’t usually warrant days off of school. But in Tucson it does!

    With a city so unique, you are bound to encounter misconception and downright disagreement from outsiders. Here are some responses to the complaints and comments that I have fielded in the past: Yes, almost everyone wears flip-flops. Yes, the streets are always flooded after it rains. No, tarantulas can’t hurt you. Yes, these are cowboy boots. Yes, you can fry an egg on the sidewalk (I’ve seen it done). No, I don’t really know where Wyatt Earp was buried. And yes, that was Spanish you just saw on the billboard.

    Now vernacular is an issue as well, especially because people take it so seriously – I myself was witness to the blood spilt during the ‘soda’ versus ‘pop’ war of 2003 that took place on the third floor of Graham-Greenlee residence hall. To prevent the word wars that often ensue from the localization of lexicons, the following are words that will help you jive peacefully with local Tucsonans (and no, not a single Tucsonite or Tucsonian lives here):

    The Old Pueblo: the still-used nickname natives have given to Tucson

    T-loc: an abbreviation for a Tucson local

    Snowbird: a person who is not a year-round resident, but comes only to exploit our warm winter weather

    Eegees: a Tucson company whose name Tucsonans have made synonymous with the frozen fruit drink that made them famous (Yeah, you can say you’re going to Eegees to buy an Eegees)

    OV: a nickname for Oro Valley

    Barrio: a Spanish word that translates as ‘neighborhood’ – Each barrio in Tucson has its own rich tradition and folklore

    Grandpa Woodstock: the older hippie-gentleman who travels around the downtown area with cargo in a train-like fashion headed by a Spooky Tooth motorized bicycle

    Haboob: a Sanskrit-based word referring to the type of intense dust storm-characteristic of dry regions; dust storms associated with haboobs occur often during monsoon season

    Monsoon: We do have rain and if we are lucky the washes might fill

    The things that make Tucson however, are more than just the words and the weather. It is more than being awoken at 3 a.m. by a train that runs through the middle of town. It is more than just a Fourth Avenue, a St. Anita’s Market and a Grill. It is not the mere existence of these things. It is the recognition and appreciation of these things.

    And so, I ask you non-T-locs, and in particular, the group of newly dormless sophomores who will no longer be confined to campus, do not do what I have seen so many freshmen do already – consign Tucson to nothing more than a tumbleweed trap. It is so much more. Tucson is not just a university town or a quirky community – Tucson is a state of mind.

    Courtney Smith is a senior majoring in molecular and cellular biology and anthropology. She can be reached at

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