The mustached gent stares out from his portrait in sepia-toned astonishment. I’m at Aunt Pittypat’s Kitchen, where morning light filters through lace curtains, corn bread is plentiful and someone will announce Lee’s surrender at any moment.
Like most of historic downtown Glendale, Aunt Pittypat’s is a doily-trimmed, pressed flower of a place. Drinks no stronger than coffee, not a big foam finger or St. Pauli Girl poster to be had.
Yet my friend in the oval picture frame looks uneasy; asking, in a bug-eyed, beyond-the-grave manner, the Big Question: “Who’s in the Hovercraft outside of town?”
That’s the new home of the Arizona Cardinals. The National Football League’s most migratory birds have flown the full-sun exposure of Tempe for a climate-controlled Hovercraft, west of everywhere.
Saturday, when the Cardinals play the Steelers in their first preseason game, the Hovercraft will open and we’ll all see what comes out: A national profile for Glendale? A prosperous West Valley revenue stream? Or a clan of scarlet bird-people who still can’t establish a running game?
And who’ll be left standing when their hard-drinking, oft-frustrated fan base blitzes the land of chocolate and collectibles?
(subhead) Invasion of the parking snatchers A couple of disclaimers: It’s hard for us East Valley-ites to be impartial about the Cardinals’ new home. Yes, for 17 years the team was a dysfunctional child. But they were ours, damn it, and we defended them like a dimwit kid at a parent-teacher conference.
But somehow, the dimwit kid got a high-end condo in Glendale, and now he charges us to visit. So forgive us if we occasionally descend into the kind of cheap shots you find under big tackle piles or on “The View.’’
Second disclaimer: The Cardinals’ new stadium isn’t in Glendale so much as orbiting it. The stadium is actually four miles away from the center of town — a gleaming, impressive, state-of-the-art structure.
Architects claim it resembles a barrel cactus — and it does, in the same way Pamela Anderson resembles a ladies room sign — but it looks more like a Hovercraft. An antisocial Hovercraft that wants to be alone.
In a state rife with runaway development, there’s almost nothing around the stadium yet. Lorraine Pino, manager at the Glendale office of tourism, says that will change.
“You’re going to see shopping and dining venues out there very soon,” she says.
For now, it looks like a spaceship landed on 91st Avenue, then dispatched a drone army of detour signs and sawhorses east, to conquer the city.
Not on the furniture!
But in downtown Glendale, they’re welcoming the Cardinals as liberators.
“I’m pleased they’re building the stadium out here,” says Gary Jahneke of Gatehouse Antiques. “Economically, it’s going to be a real shot in the arm.”
It has long been tempting for spurned East Valley fans to dismiss Glendale as “Death Valley without the charm,” but this is not so. For one thing, it’s antique heaven out here. Glendale bristles with cherrywood mantel clocks and delicate spice racks.
Ask for a Civil War soldier decanter with removable head, and any other community would look at you strangely. In Glendale, they ask: “Union or Confederate?”
Like every large Arizona city, it grows more strip-mallish as it sprawls outward. But in an age where ‘‘civic identity’’ is mostly a PR term, downtown Glendale’s identity is embodied in a single word.
“It’s quaint here,” says Jahneke. “Very laid-back.”
“It’s quaint,” antique dealer Ray Ralls agrees. “It’s Middle America.”
“There’s been a lot of focus on keeping the quaintness here,” says Teresa Seabrook, co-owner of the Glendale Gaslight Inn.
Yet you can’t help but wonder how “quaint” will play with the tailgate crowd.
Will the critically acclaimed brats and wienerschnitzel at the Haus Murphy’s German restaurant be consumed irresponsibly and later used as projectiles?
How many inebriated red shirts can dangle from the square’s antique clock before Father Time crushes a bystander?
Football fans are not all lumbering boors. But there’s a reason they don’t cheer their teams in “Things Remembered” gift stores. They need elbow room for a chest bump, a high five.
Broad gestures are necessary because it’s not always clear which opposing fan you’re taunting, or where you want a scathing profanity to land. How will they fare in a town where one earnest “BOO-YAH!” can claim the lives of a dozen Hummel figurines?
The high road
Glendalians are confident game attendance will translate into foot traffic downtown, though it requires fans to go from “Rams suck!” to “I’m looking for a lazy Susan” in the space of 30 blocks.
They’re also eager to show off their city.
“Glendale has really come to life in the last 15 years,” Ralls explains. “People around here don’t know it. Or, if they do, it’s from a long time ago.
‘‘We used to have a phrase: ‘It’s a best-kept secret.' Well, Glendale is still a secret that’s too well-kept. People really need to experience it out here.”
East Valley fans can understand their excitement. Many of us still remember those heady, early days with the Cardinals — and all the giddy optimism that died, gradually, one punt at a time.
Decency demands we take the high road (and a much, much longer one) and hope things turns out better for our sister city.
So, vaya con diós, Glendale! We will drive the Loop 101, eat your chocolates and park in your free spaces! We will cheer the lads in red with the detached grace of a dignified ex who knows what wasn’t meant to be.
We hope your fire-and-ice marriage with the Bidwills brings you lots of cheering, gobs of revenue, “The Antiques Roadshow” and the Lombardi Trophy!
And, if it doesn’t, we’ll have a long drive home to say, “I told you so.”