Getting Real About, and Ready for, NE Valley Wildfire Threat

By Mike McClary
The Arizona Republic

Like many Arizonans, I’m not originally from here. I hail from Michigan and have spent time in Colorado and Texas, places that have distinctive summertime threats.

Whether it’s a tornado, severe thunderstorm or a Houston chemical plant explosion, you eventually learn how to prepare and respond.

When I was living in those other states, I’d see footage on television of raging Arizona wildfires and think “Wow, that’s scary.” Then I’d turn the channel.

I recently said the same thing, but I wasn’t watching TV and couldn’t flip to ESPN. I was standing on my front porch, watching the flames from the “Bart” fire that burned more than 23 square miles of Sonoran desert last month near Bartlett Lake.

While it might have been a mildly interesting news report to someone in, say, Chandler or Tempe, to those of us living in the Rio Verde foothills, the blaze was an unwelcome sneak preview of how vulnerable our area is this time of year.

By all accounts, the conditions today – dry weeds and scrub brush, fueled by heavy winter rains – are more dangerous than usual. It’s the same devilish recipe that cooked up the “Troon” and “Rio” fires in the 1990s. It’s why so many of us in Rio Verde are taking precautions to keep our wildfire threat under control as much as possible.

When we moved to the Rio Verde area three years ago, the first thing we did was gleefully donate our lawnmower, weed trimmer and lawn edger to Goodwill. Twenty-some years of lawn maintenance were enough.

But after the soaking rains of winter, our property began to look more like South Dakota prairie than Arizona desert. And with each passing day, the lush green weeds quickly became an unruly fire hazard surrounding our house, not to mention the other 50-plus homes in our neck of nowhere.

That’s why we – and several neighbors – recently were at the hardware store, picking up new weed trimmers.

Our neighborhood usually is quiet on weekends, not counting the kids on four-wheelers, but lately it has been humming with the sound of weeds being whacked.

It’s a strange feeling, really, doing all this work and merely hoping it pays off. We understand that despite our preparations, we’re still at the mercy of a careless smoker or a random lightning strike.

We only can do so much.

Unfortunately, not everyone is taking the fire threat seriously. That leaves all of us at risk. I heard of one resident who told a neighbor that he moved out here because he can’t stand homeowners associations. He doesn’t want anyone telling him to clear his yard.

Get over it.

Let’s face it. Every day that we go without rain is another day that our area turns into a bigger box of matches.

As Dr. Phil would say, we need to “get real” – or prepare to see our homes engulfed in flames on the evening news.

Mike McClary is a free-lance writer who lives in the Rio Verde area. He can be reached at The views expressed are those of the author.

Everywhere You Look, NE Valley is Going to the Dogs

By Mike McClary
The Arizona Republic

Note: This is an updated version of this column. Orginally the paper rejected it claiming it didn’t have a news angle. Recently, in response to a heroin bust, the Scottsdale school district voted to allow drug-sniffing dogs in the high schools next fall. I had found my news peg and here’s what they ran. Also, the column ran alongside an AP photo with the caption: “A Rottweiler sits in the driver’s seat awaiting his owner’s return. What, he wasn’t allowed in the store to shop for himself?”

What’s all the commotion about allowing drug-sniffing dogs to roam Scottsdale high schools?

If you hadn’t noticed, dogs seem to be permitted just about everywhere else in Scottsdale, so why not the halls of academia?

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc.’s Web site , there are approximately 65 million owned dogs in the United States.

I’m convinced 10 percent of them are here.

Don’t believe me? The next time you’re out running errands, look around. Dogs are everywhere in the Northeast Valley.

Define “everywhere,” you say? I’m glad you asked, because I’ve kept a running list: the bagel shop, the coffee shop, the hardware store, the warehouse club, the crafts store, the grocery store . . . shall I go on?

Notice I didn’t mention a pet store or park, two places where I spend little time but would expect to find a hound – or several dozen.

Of course, I’m not talking about guide dogs or a pooch chained to a tree while its master runs into the quick mart for antacids. I’m talking about ol’ Rex going for a leisurely stroll with his pet parent in the paint section of a big-box hardware store. And little Lulu sitting in the cart while Aunt Mimsy shops for picture frames.

Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t there enough danger inside a stadium-size hardware store with the forklifts and teetering stacks of lumber? Should I have to worry about my daughter once again coming face-to-face with a German shepherd on aisle seven?

On a couple of occasions, I’ve seen store managers ask a dog owner to take the mutt outside. In both instances, the dog owner looked incredulous, as if to say, “Are you kidding me? I’m buying this socket wrench for the dog!”

Can you imagine the payday if a shopper’s dog bit someone inside a store – especially a store that didn’t sell four-legged animals?

Until recently, I looked forward to sitting outside a bagel shop on weekend mornings, munching on breakfast. Nowadays, though, it’s a tough choice. Do I want to listen to the chorus of dogs barking at each other, or do I want a bowl of oatmeal at home with my screaming kids?

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: Hey, pal, I don’t want to eat next to your screaming kids any more than you want to eat next to my frothing Rottweiler.

Trust me, I don’t want to eat with my screaming kids either, but until laws are loosened so I can leave a baby home with a bowl of water and a chew toy, I’ll be bringing them with me.

Yes, I know the day will come when my kids beg me to buy them a puppy. If I’m at all like my parents, I’ll eventually succumb to the pressure.

Not because I’m a sucker, though. No, it’ll be because I want my kids to live in the real world – even if it’s Scottsdale’s version of the real world.

And to do that, I need to get them used to being around dogs everywhere they go.

Mike McClary is a freelance writer who lives in the Rio Verde area. He can be reached at The views expressed are those of the author.

Led by the Comish, NHL Owners Living in Denial

My gut feeling since the NHL lockout began on Sept. 16 was that the season would get canned and commissioner Gary Bettman himself would suffer the same fate shortly thereafter.

As our friend Jack Walsh told The Duke in the film “Midnight Run“: “John, you’re in this mess because you’re in this mess. I didn’t put you in this mess.”

In the 1990s, Bettman expanded wildly without any concern for the fact that while these new owners might have been able to scrape together a franchise fee, they had little left over for a tiny detail called “payroll.”

So, because of his maniacal desire to turn transform a quaint hockey league into a diluted on-ice version of the pathetic NBA (complete with salary cap Bettman helped design as David Stern’s lieutenant), he’s got no revenue for at least one year.

Hmm, sounds like a great business plan.

Now, if I’m Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, I’m furious that because of Nashville and the small-market Canadian teams, I get bubkus this year (at best) and whenever they come to some agreement, I get to see declining revenues so I end up with one superstar and a bunch of rookies all so Atlanta can make the playoffs every other year.

This is why I had no problem with baseball’s approach. I had to come to grips with the fact that the Yankees are the Red Wings and I can’t bitch about the one and delight in the other.

Another reason why I think Bettman is the key conspirator here is because the players showed continued effort to give back – including the one thing they said they “never” accept: a salary cap. The owners offered zilch in return and should be ashamed.

I watched Bettman’s weasel press conference and came away convinced that the man is out of touch. By the by, is he getting paid this year? I wish I had seen the NHLPA news conference but I had to get a few things done by end of day. The players, I would suspect, will get more people on their side…at least for a while. Eventually fans will get fed up (if they aren’t already) and lump players with the owners as one big bunch of wealthy shmucks.

We hear all the time that Sports is a business. True, but it’s still in a world of its own. Imagine if I said to my creditors, “You know what? I can’t afford all this stuff. I’m locking you out. You can send your bills but they’ll sit in my mailbox until I get more income and you lower your payments.”

What if I told Wells Fargo Mortgage that, yes, we agreed to the terms of the mortgage but I’ve decided I simply don’t want to pay that much every month for this house.

I’m thinking they’d begin their reply with “Tough shit, sir.”

Remember Our Unsung Heroes

By Mike McClary

The Arizona Republic

I met a friend for coffee just before the holidays, and over the course of conversation, he said that he thought auto mechanics were underappreciated.

“They’re highly skilled, well-trained and, basically, we put our lives in their hands,” he said.

How could I argue with that?

We moved on to other topics, but I found myself thinking about it later that day when I took my daughter to the hospital for what appeared to be an increasingly serious illness.

For the next 48 hours, we stayed at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea and I began to understand just how many professions, like a mechanic or plumber, simply fly under the radar – until we need them. They touch our lives at the most critical moments and then essentially vanish.

During our time at the hospital, one person after another swooped in to take my daughter’s temperature, make sure she had plenty of juice, or deliver another pillow or coloring book.

Each of them – Dave, Anthony, Piper, Lisa, Connie and a handful of others whose names I never knew and probably never will – took the time to ensure that my little girl had what she needed to make her stay more comfortable.

And while my daughter slept, these same people were in another room, caring for someone else’s child. If those kids are lucky, they, like us, won’t need the nurses and technicians again anytime soon. But, boy, will we be thankful they’re around if we do.

A few years ago, I told a priest that I felt bad praying to God only when I needed something. He laughed and said, “That’s when you’re supposed to pray. And when things are going well for you, he moves on to someone else who needs him.”

With apologies to the almighty, I think this idea applies to earthly professions, too. Like the tow-truck driver who shows up when your fuel pump goes kaput on Loop 101. Or the air-conditioning repairman who comes to the rescue on a Sunday afternoon in August.

Or, the nurse who is starting another 12-hour shift in the pediatric unit at a local hospital.

From now on, I’m going to make it a point of recognizing these people before our paths cross. I won’t be sending cards and flowers, but perhaps a simple nod to a school bus driver or a more enthusiastic hello to the police officer.

Of course, I won’t feel guilty if I don’t drop by my mechanic’s shop just to shoot the breeze. Besides, he’ll be busy helping someone else.

Which is fine.

Someday, that “someone else” will be me – and the auto mechanic won’t be underappreciated.

Mike McClary can be reached at The views expressed are those of the author.

Accidents May Become Rule on Rio Verde Drive

By Mike McClary
The Arizona Republic

When I learned of the recent car/horse accident that claimed the life of a woman on Rio Verde Drive, I wasn’t surprised.

The fact is, it doesn’t matter if you travel on wheels or hooves, when you venture onto Rio Verde Drive, you’re simply another moving target.

Much of the publicity around the deadly wreck centered on how open-range livestock and city slickers don’t mix. I don’t buy it. Anyone familiar with this road knows, or at least should know, that the blame rests squarely with dangerously high speeds.

If you’ve ever driven on it, you know there is something mesmerizing about Rio Verde Drive. As you come over the hill east of Troon North on Dynamite Boulevard and head toward Rio Verde, the view is spectacular.

In the daylight, it seems as if you can see forever – and as if the road never ends. It’s straight, narrow and smooth, and if you aren’t careful, pretty soon you’re going 70 m.p.h. in a 50-m.p.h. zone.

After the sun goes down, it’s a different story.

Visibility is so limited that 40 m.p.h. feels like 70 m.p.h.

When we moved out to this part of town two years ago, the last piece of advice our builder gave us was: “Don’t drive too fast out here. The cows and horses are everywhere.”

The man was right. But that’s what drew us to the area – wandering livestock, stunning views, a quiet setting.

In one respect, this scenic part of Arizona is no different from the last subdivision we lived in. We just traded lead-footed teenagers for adults with similarly bad habits.

The question I have is, where is everyone going in such a hurry? Isn’t this supposed to be the laid-back American West that prides itself on the principle of “we’ll get there when we get there”?

I admit that the difference between 50 mph and 70 mph won’t change the outcome, say, for a coyote that steps in front of your car. But it might affect how your leisurely drive ends. Driving 65 or 70, you could spin out of control into an oncoming car. Or drive into the ditch.

So why risk life in the fast lane? Just take it easy and drive the speed limit.

The danger out here isn’t limited to wildlife, although cows and horses get the headlines. Just ask any cyclist who braves this street, only to be almost run over by a soaring dump truck. Or a jogger on the dirt roads coming off Rio Verde who’s almost embedded in a tree by a dirt bike or four-wheeler.

Even those of us driving in our cars aren’t safe from the ridicule of tailgaters. It usually comes in the form of a few unprintable words and a one-finger salute. Of course, we provoked it by doing something heinous. You know, like slowing down enough to make a right turn.

Ultimately, I don’t know what will make people slow down. I thought this most recent accident would have sent a grim reminder, but so far nothing has changed.

Here’s what I do know: Until drivers lay off the gas pedal and get real, grisly scenes on Rio Verde Drive soon will become the rule, not the exception.

Mike McClary is a freelance writer and corporate communications consultant who lives in Scottsdale. He can be reached at

Poll Worker Training for Next Election Day Marathon

By Mike McClary
The Arizona Republic

It’s been said that an election campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. Having run a marathon and having worked at my precinct on Election Day, I can’t argue. Both require mental and physical stamina, both cause similar aches and pains and in the end both offer a rewarding and exhilarating experience.

Last fall I ran my first and probably last marathon. When I decided to take on that challenge, about nine months or so before the race, I didn’t know what I was in for but figured I had plenty of time to prepare my body and my brain for the 26.2-mile haul.

When I volunteered to work at my local polling place on Election Day, I had no idea I should have been training just as hard. Instead of 13-mile training runs, I should have practiced standing in place for 13 hours.

At my precinct, a relatively small one with fewer than 2,000 registered voters, we didn’t expect to have much of a crowd outside of the folks voting on their way to work, at the lunch hour or on their way home.


At 6 a.m. on Election Day it was raining voters and it never let up.

The volunteer coordinator cautioned me that it would be a long day — at least 14 hours — and that I should bring food, any medications and, for the slow times, a book to read. Based on that information, I figured my duties would include helping out when asked, greeting my mother-in-law when she voted and reading the last half of Seabiscuit.

In reality my job was to stand by the machine that tabulates the ballots. All day. I showed voters how to insert their ballot and helped them if the machine rejected it due to over-votes or under-votes, which happened every three or four voters. Under the perfect scenario, my coworkers and I would rotate from one assignment to the next to break up the monotony. But to do so we needed a break in the action. The break never came.

In fact, so steady was the stream of voters that we all had to cut in line at some point in the day to ensure we could vote ourselves.

What struck me throughout the day was the positive spirit of voters despite the long lines. By and large, folks seemed upbeat and proud to vote and virtually everyone who cast a ballot wanted an “I Voted Today�? sticker.

With few exceptions, voters cast their ballots with a smile as if to say: My voice has been heard. This optimism kept me going even as my legs and feet wanted me to concede.

Around 7:20 p.m. the last voter cast his ballot – thirteen hours and 20 minutes or so after the first. We spent the next hour transmitting our precinct’s results, breaking down the voting booths and sharing the titles of books we all brought with us but never got a chance to read.

First-time marathoners are asked, “Would you run another one?” When faced with that question, I replied, “Why on Earth would I?”

On Election Night my wife asked if I’d work the polls again. “Ask me tomorrow,” I sighed. Later, as I dipped my feet into a hot bath, I thought about the question. Would I do it again?

You bet I would.

And thankfully I have four years to train for it.

Mike McClary is a freelance writer and corporate communications consultant who lives in Scottsdale. He can be reached at The views expressed are those of the author.

Environmentalists Get a Bad Rap…

…but they certainly shouldn’t. If more people understood the impact of air pollution on their daily lives they would see more eye-to-eye with the Tree Huggers. Don’t believe me? Read this and see just how healthy that fish dinner is. Or isn’t.

This article talks about the impact of mercury from pollution. There’s a whole other argument on mercury that simply hasn’t reached enough people to demand a change: mercury is used to preserve vaccines. Why should we care? Well, though no pharmaceutical company has the guts (or money) to admit it, the preservative Thimerosal – which contains mercury – has been linked to autism. It’s used in the MMR vaccine all our babies are given.

In eleventh grade I had to stop using contact lens solutions that contained Thimerosal, which you have to admit is a much more pleasant-sounding product than mercury. You would think washing my contacts in mercury would be a good thing for my vision.

As more kids (and an overwhelming number of boys) are diagnosed with autism or disorders on the autism spectrum, more people will wake up to the dangers of pollution from factories and from the very medicine that’s supposed to help our children.