Mill Avenue Vexations by Kyt Dotson
Vex Harrow
Posted: April 1, 2020 at 11:53 pm
Subject: Mill Avenue empties with ‘stay-at-home’ pandemic response in Tempe

Today was the first full day after the “stay-at-home” order from Governor Doug Ducey. This is regarding the current outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus, which causes people to become violently sick and has killed 29 people in Arizona so far.

AZCentral has some amazing photos of what that’s done to Mill Ave and the surrounds.

All of these images, credit to Eli Imdali from The Republic.

I can say one thing, this is the least fares I’ve ever gotten in a single night. Cabs and ride-share services are included with essential services, people still need to go places even during a pandemic, but there are far fewer people out.

I’ve been watching Mill Ave all day, and most of the night, and the streets are mostly empty. People have been listening it seems.

It’s been interesting giving people rides. Some people don’t believe the pandemic is anything and chatter on about stories of hoaxes and question the order. Others have spoken about how a family member of theirs is extremely sick right now and they’re worried they might die.

For the love of the city, I’m sure you know that I want Phoenix to be fine after this, please take care of yourselves. If you can, stay home, and stay healthy. Not everyone has a good immune system to fight this thing off and if you avoid getting sick (even if you’ll be fine in the end) you’ll avoid spreading it to anyone else.

Stay safe out there everyone. And, if you do need a ride, I keep my cab clean just in case.

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Vex Harrow
Posted: March 19, 2018 at 1:52 pm
Subject: An Uber self-driving car just hit and killed a woman on Mill Ave, Vex Harrow comments

Today, a woman lost her life on Mill Avenue after being struck by a self-driving car operated by Uber, the ride sharing company.

I don’t know that there’s a lot of people looking for the opinion of a taxicab driver on this matter – but this literally happened in my back yard.

Headlines read, “Self-Driving Uber Car Kills Arizona Pedestrian” but what you don’t know from this is that it happened on Mill Ave. From what I understand, this woman was struck when crossing the road near Marquee Theater – if you’re not familiar, it’s across the Tempe Town Lake from the Mill strip.

Uber, and ride sharing companies like it, do take some of the profit of us professional drivers and have for some years now. It’s not surprising: after all, it’s not like people couldn’t drive themselves before taxis became a thing. We are what we are.

The future of self-driving cars is still a way off, so I’m not afraid of losing my job to that either.

For a long time now, I thought that these cars were extremely safe. They seemed to be much more aware of the road and changing conditions than meatbag drivers at least. In fact, many times they were in the news it wasn’t because a self-driving car hit someone: it was because someone hit a self-driving car. Often because that car was being too cautious.

I really have not thought about how driving aggressively has sometimes kept me safe from being in an accident. But, after years of being on the road, breathing exhaust and staring at taillights, I have a certain sense of other drivers and an intuition of how they’re likely to behave at certain times of day.

I have been sharing the road with self-driving cars for a while now. No problems.

I am sure there’s a lot to figure out about these robot cars.

Mill Ave has a lot of pedestrian traffic. At certain times of day, there are so many people walking on the sidewalks and crossing the streets it can feel like Mardi Gras – and sometimes it is Mardi Gras. People don’t always obey traffic laws, in fact sometimes it feels like nobody obeys traffic laws. They will be crossing against traffic, not in crosswalks, wandering into the road.

These robot cars will need to account for that and not hit people who are acting unexpectedly. As I just said, Tempe is a hotbed of unexpected actions.

As a result of this tragedy, Uber has suspended its testing of self-driving cars here in Tempe.

Probably a good start. If you’re going to put new cars on our roads that affect people, you better get them right.

This is Vex, out. See you on the road.

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Vex Harrow
Posted: November 15, 2014 at 4:16 pm
Subject: What a long, strange trip its been

I had to go out of state for a while — 3 years in fact — and a lot has changed about Mill Avenue since then.

I’m still digesting some of the new developments. The battle over condos and the luxury market continues; there’s a lot less people wandering the streets, but the buskers are still here. The magic isn’t gone, just diminished somewhat under the shadow of progress.

I still have a few volumes of Vexations to write before its finished and the complete set is published.

I’ve parked a few times at the taxi stands for a few weeks now. Catching up with old friends. I haven’t had a chance to take a fare off the Ave yet–but I expect to soon. I’ve got a lot of driving to catch up on. After all, when it comes to cab driving a girl’s work is never done.

So expect more news here soon.

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Vex Harrow
Posted: May 23, 2013 at 11:44 am
Subject: Mill Avenue Headed for a New Renaissance?

Many of us recall Mill Avenue as a cultural space filled with interesting music, amazing artwork, and a sort of strange Bohemian-revolutionary crowd-filled-menagerie (this was basically what it was like in the early 90s.) That vision and zeitgeist faded swiftly as the Ave began to become also a mecca for corporate storefronts, fly-by-night outlets for major brands, and that culture stomped underfoot for what seemed to be the big-bucks—and then finally died in a fleeting whimper during the economic downturn of the 2000s.

There’s been a few attempts to reinvent and reignite that cultural space and Mill Ave still has a lot of interesting things going on and once again, it’s becoming more of a social and creative space than it has been in a long time.

So when I see articles talking about how investments are pouring into the Ave, they pique my interest. An article in the Phoenix Business Journal caught my eye where a discussion of how tech companies are helping out may help revitalize this still-simmering economy on the Ave (warning pay-wall.)

We’ve seen this slowly creeping in through the cracks—and while I do not put much stock in the Tempe Town Lake or the Light Rail (since neither has been leveraged in a creative or a cultural sense) I do see that there’s a lot that can be done with the crowds and the gathering-space of the Ave itself.

Not too long ago, Tempe thought a Geek’s Night Out would be a good thing, and I agree.

And, there was this (unsucessful) Kickstarter campaign to get a gaming console café on Mill Ave again—no doubt similar to eJoy. I hope that we can see something like this actually work. With the attention of tech companies, though, we might see the visualization of something that could bring in a technologized cultural space amidst what is mostly bars and restaurants.

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Vex Harrow
Posted: February 21, 2013 at 5:51 pm
Subject: Geek’s Night Out at Tempe City Hall

I might not be able to be at this, but it doesn’t mean that you should miss out:

Be part of a very special Third Thursday on Mill Avenue on Feb. 21 from 5 to 10 p.m., themed to bring out the curiosity within. There’s science behind everything you love and we want to show you how it works. From science fiction to the business of science and everything in between, we’re celebrating smarts. Join us. It’s fun, smart and very Tempe. Here is a sitemap and list of participating businesses, schools and booths.

Tonight will be Geek’s Night Out at Tempe City Hall.

I’m working all night, but I figured I’d let everyone know this is going on. Of course, you might still see me there between fares—and if anyone needs a ride, you know who to call.

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Vex Harrow
Posted: February 21, 2013 at 5:47 pm
Subject: City of Tempe Preparing to Amend City Code to Stomp “Aggressive Panhandling”

The City of Tempe has been flirting with amendments to the city code designed to stomp down on “aggressive panhandling.” Since Tempe doesn’t have a very good or compassionate history with the treatment of homeless and street rats on their streets, I meet this sort of addition to city code with a great deal of skepticism when it comes to motives and ultimately its enforcement.

We shouldn’t forget the addition of “anti-sitting” laws to the city codes designed to criminalize sitting on the sidewalk–barring health concerns–after the City also changed the street layout to have less benches and seats (read: none.)

This sort of behavior from the council makes a grim precedent that ignores the reason why homeless people meet on Mill Avenue and adds to the danger of being without a place to stay at night.
Instead of a compassionate and thoughtful examination of why street rats line the red bricks, it looks like the City is continuing to kick them when they’re down. This from an article in the East Valley Tribune,

The City of Tempe stated in a request to the council that, “aggressive solicitation activities create a safety hazard and an increased potential for criminal activities.”

Multiple city council members stated that these changes will create a safer environment in high pedestrian and tourist areas such as the Mill Avenue District and throughout ASU’s Tempe campus.

The amendments would make it illegal to solicit within ten feet of or directly adjacent to the entrance of a business, as well as fifteen feet from any transit stop or taxi stand. This could mean more business for stores in areas where this is becoming more of a problem.

I may be mistaken, but aggressively interacting with anyone is already something that draws the attention of the police and it’s already illegal. The added element of “solicitation” seems like it’s just an addition slapped on top designed purely to target street rats.

The last paragraph explains the underlying reason why we’re seeing this legislation in the City Council: businesses are upset that homeless street rats appear on the streets and would-be Scottsdale customers looking for the white-picket-storefronts would steer elsewhere.

This next part really gave me a chuckle: several people interviewed about aggressive panhandling on Mill Avenue also speak to the situation of street preachers.

Besides panhandlers, Darling said she has seen many people being “badgered” by religious groups trying to spread their message not only on mill, but on campus as well.

“I don’t think it’s horrible,” Arizona State Criminology student Julie Martin said when asked about aggressive religious preachers. “People have the ability to proclaim that, and I think that is one of the basic rights of our country.”

Then again, Religious groups on Mill Ave and on ASU campus have been extremely aggressive in their proselytization.

It’s not uncommon that I park my cab and take the night in and run into these groups harassing people with their extremely loud speakers. Of course, the City of Tempe also recently passed a noise ordinance change that would quiet this excessive use of loudspeakers and bullhorns by religious groups.
As Martin above notices, while religious solicitation may be aggressive (and annoying) it’s covered at least by freedom of speech.

Street rats, however, won’t have these sort of protections. Nobody cares about them. Knowing how the Tempe police have targeted them in the past using similar legislation means that they’ll use the “aggressive” portion of the new codes to sweep them up even if they’re panhandling without aggression.
Even some of the commenters on the article aren’t so sure about this one.

I’m personally not sure where this will go and I don’t like the history of these sort of code changes shows–especially for Tempe.

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Vex Harrow
Posted: October 31, 2012 at 3:15 pm
Subject: Happy Halloween and Samhain everyone

It’s that time of year again! Even with Hurricane Sandy making everyone much wetter, I hope it doesn’t dampen the festivities and celebrations much – although I heard Manhattan lost power and that probably gave them cause to change their plans.

I’m off to get my own time on Mill Ave to see what’s been brought to my little domain. Only a few hours of cab work today and I’ll be hitting the red bricks myself.

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Vex Harrow
Posted: October 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm
Subject: Light Rail Passenger Defends Assault Victim with Katana

The title here should say it all, just watch the video immediately below and then we’ll discuss (the important action starts at about 22 seconds in):

If you watched the same video that I just did, then you probably just saw something both amazing and strange—someone on the Phoenix light rail came to the defense of an assault victim by drawing a katana.

As a woman of violence in my everyday life—usually against supernatural baddies more often than the mortal flesh-and-blood assailant—I must say that I’m in no small part impressed. First, the sword wielder managed to comport himself and his weapon with composure and discipline—in fact, he managed to chase off the attackers without spilling a drop of blood (from the attackers, other passengers, or even himself.)

It’s hard to tell if he knows how to handle the weapon or not, this video does shake all over the place, but I’ve had no few friends who can use this weapon and from what I saw, he used the small close quarters to his advantage. I didn’t see the blade slash wildly, he kept it in check and at guard until he reached the door.

Perhaps that was a hectoring jab I saw flickering out the door to urge the assailants on their way.

I do have several friends who carry weapons such as these with them in everyday business. However, I should point out that I believe they may be banned from the light rail system in general like most weapons (barring the strange paradox of concealed firearms.) It is difficult to conceal a katana if you’re not a Highlander without wearing a heavy cloak, and in Arizona such an outfit could be extremely hazardous to your health.

I hope the police spend more time and money identifying and bringing the assailants in this video to justice rather than waste their money harassing the young man who came to the rescue.

(At this point, I should mention that although I couldn’t see his face, the physique and manner of the katana wielder is oddly familiar to me. I think I know who that is. Bravo.)

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Vex Harrow
Posted: September 6, 2012 at 10:54 am
Subject: To Mill Ave by *yungstar on DeviantART


This is a very small portion of a larger image by *yungstar on DevianART. It’s a beautiful representation of the bridge that spans the lake (the river turned into the Tempe Town Lake) and a recollection of what Tempe and Mill Ave are about, a photograph of the evolution of our street and our city.

Click the link or the image, look at the full sized image, and leave a comment and/or compliment.

This is part of our home and the photograph does capture a great deal of why we enjoy being here.

Link, via DeviantART.

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Vex Harrow
Posted: August 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm
Subject: Tempe Turns Down the Noise on Mill Avenue with Amplified Sound Ban

mill-ave-signMill Ave may become a quieter place this week after the Tempe City Council authorized a program to ban amplified music/speech on the Ave and enforce permits for people who want to use it. The program is a pilot and will take effect shortly, and will last until December 2012.

The Tempe City Council recently authorized a pilot program to control noise in downtown Tempe and determine the impacts of various noise sources. Starting this week, no amplified sound or other excessive noise will be permitted without the issuance of a Special Events Permit within the public rights-of-way in the Mill Avenue District.

The city is selling the project to residents and Mill goers with some piss-poor rhetoric that they could have spun better if they’d only listened to the sorts of problems that people actually have with amplification on the Ave.

The problem hasn’t just been musicians, of course, it’s also been street preachers who bring their own amplification to shout at the masses (and some used to shout into bars and open air restaurants.) For a while there was a preacher named Shawn Holes whose sound setup was so abusively loud that it would have caused inner ear damage to people standing too close.

The boundaries for this area are College Avenue to Farmer Avenue, University Drive to the center of Town Lake (North.) Residential developments within this area include Hayden Square, Edgewater and Bridgeview at Hayden Ferry Lakeside, Orchid House, West 6, Regatta Pointe and others. About 1,500 people live in this area. At least another 1,000 people are expected to live in downtown Tempe in the near future as developments such as The Hub and Villas at Southbank open.

“This is the next step in the coexistence of an entertainment district and a residential area,” said Nancy Hormann, president of the Downtown Tempe Community.

Musicians are still welcome to play on Mill Avenue, but they need to perform acoustically.

And it’s true, there’s a few musicians, such as Papa Soul, who have sound systems set so loud that they’re painful to walk past on the sidewalk.

Residents of the nearby condominiums isn’t a good reason for an amplification ban. Why not simply implement thoughtful noise regulations that require people to get a cheap license to use amplification where they agree not to raise their equipment above a pre-set decibel level? Certainly the city could make a program to cheaply license, teach people how to use the equipment (or deliver a simple FAQ on a piece of paper) and then have the police spot check to determine if they’re in violation.

After all, having encountered the abrasively loud street preachers it’s obvious when a sound system is beyond an acceptable and healthy sound limit.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the assessment that the reason why the noise ordinance is being put in place. The claim is that people live too close to Mill Ave and noise is bothering them—which has always been a bit of a false canard. The drum circle was pushed out of a space backed up away from the Ave because developers constructed a condominium structure back there and residents began to complain, an event that still chafes at my sense of fair play.

“Complete non-sense. There are very few people who actually live within ear-shot of Mill, and those that do know full well that it’s the entertainment district and that some excess noise may happen on occasion,” MillAve4Life notes on the KPHO story. “Having been to Mill hundreds of times I can say, without a doubt, that even on the most extreme nights the ambient noise level is still less than an annoying motorcycle with short pipes. If they’re willing to go this route, why not limit the amount of excess light, surely that bothers the planes that routinely fly low and close to land at Sky Harbor International.”

Mill Ave Amplification Needs to be Toned Down Not Tuned Out

Looking at the total amount of abuse that directly affects passersby from musicians who do not check their sound levels and street preachers who care more about being heard far away than being understood has given me a reason to powerfully dislike the use of amplified speech on the Ave. However, I don’t think that “special events permits” are the way to go and I’m bothered that the law seems to only target musicians.

In fact, the press release about the resolution and all news seems to mention only musicians.

I expect that the noise ordinance covers all amplification including that of speech, otherwise its intended effect will be largely useless as buskers are only amid the worst offenders and do not represent all of them.

Simply getting a handle on how loud amplification can be would be superior to cutting out entirely. Especially because the noise ordinance will not affect businesses, even those who have open air venues with large speakers.

If I were a more cynical sort, I’d guess this ordinance is largely connected to businesses feeling like they’re not king of the hill or most dominant for cultural expression on Mill Ave. We’ve seen them behave this sort of way before at the cost of the actual visitors and people who patron the Ave on busy nights.

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