OF YUMAN BONDAGE

"They should have more activities for the juveniles; when we were kids, we played tops and marbles, flew kites, but they don't do those things anymore, those things are extinct," says Jesus. He used to pick lettuce here; now he and Albert demolish houses and sell stuff at the swap meet. Neither of them read Money, but they aren't the kind of guys who need a magazine to tell them where to live.

"Why do we stay here?" ponders Albert, who lived briefly in Scottsdale. "Because we like it."

If a historical point of interest is what you're after, go directly to jail. The Territorial Prison, to be exact, in business from 1876 to 1909; the place I've heard so much about. On my way, I pass one of those teenage benefit car-wash things, and stop to talk to two fellows standing by the street with signs flagging people in. Adam Hastings is 16, goes to Cibola High (whose team is the Raiders); Isaac Rodriguez is 17 and a Yuma High man (that's the Yuma Criminals, and he's on the soccer team). The Money 300 is old news to them. "We always hear about that," shrugs Adam, "but then they always mention that we're like the number one place for teenage pregnancy in the nation. There's always the good and the bad. And a lot of girls at school are pregnant."

But does it suck to grow up in Yuma? "Well, there's not a lot to do around here until you're about 16, and you get a car," he says. "Then Thursdays and Saturdays you go down to Mexico, there's a couple clubs, and if they think you're 18, you can get in. You drink and dance with the chicks and party. Then you come home at like four in the morning, and that's your weekend." Isaac isn't complaining. Drugs and gangs are yet to be a problem, he says; everybody gets along.

"Yuma High is pretty fun, everybody knows each other. And even the skinheads are cool."
They point me toward the prison, on the banks of the Colorado. I have to admit, when it comes to old prison museums, Yuma has it all over Phoenix. You can hang out in the horrific "dark cell" or check out the graveyard; they even have a list of what killed the cons who died behind bars. Jose Ramon--diarrhea. Sing Quong--suicide, hanging. William Douglas--suicide, swallowed acid. J.M. Edwards--dropsy and ossification of liver. John Pennington--received dead at prison. Chalk another one up for Yuma.

Close to the prison is the old downtown section of the city. It's so dead I find myself walking in the middle of the street, just for the hell of it. I saw a cat sleeping in front of a local government building, that was about it.

But Yuma is the kind of place where a cat can sleep downtown; it's still an anachronistic stronghold of family values, low crime, cheap rent, good grades. If that sounds good to you, and you can settle for the 74th-best place in the country, then call Ryder and head for Yuma. Nice place to visit, but give me the sinful, wicked climes of Phoenix. I don't know about you, but I just feel more comfortable in a place where crime, stupidity and low morals are rampant.

Right before I left town, I pulled into a McDonald's drive-through. A girl named Windi was at the window. I asked her point blank: Is Yuma better than Phoenix? "Well, it depends." Windi takes a second to think it over, hands me a medium orange drink. "Yuma is just better . . . but Phoenix is a good place to shop." At least we've got that going for us.

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