Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Daria addresses the desert oasis

Finally, as I begin to seriously consider prospects that will take me out of Arizona, I have grown a tentative affinity for Phoenix.  Not for all of Phoenix, but for other-Phoenix - that is, Downtown.  The place where everyone assumes you're a Democrat, where drag queens operate frybread food trucks, and where completely different lives cross paths without much notice from anyone.  I really kind of love the weird juxtaposition of watching homeless people leaving shelters in the morning crossing the paths of shiny young college babes.  The sum of conflict is a wary sideways glance from each.

It's not perfect.  It's not even that great!  But I think I could actually be happy in Phoenix if I moved downtown and stayed there in my baby bubble of museums, galleries, farmer's markets, ancient delis, coffee shops, broken sidewalks and unexpected bits of interest.  It's gentrified, but, you guys - not that much.  I was walking down 5th Street today thinking, "Damn. This shit looks way better at night!"  Little bungalows lean with sagging porches and cracked bricks.  Spraypaint murals aren't exactly architectural improvements.  All the yards are dead, and Depression-era driveways open onto vast chain-linked dirt fields, the missing homes razed decades ago.  It is a kind of dry, blasted out charm. 

There's a lot of Phoenix that I do like, but each is a tiny pocket interspersed throughout hundreds of miles of irredeemable wasteland.  I love my grandma's house, and particular streets.  I love parts of north central, and certain buildings, and certain alleys or spots by the canal where old wind-breaking farm trees still live in the city.  I love sunny cold days when the entire fucking city is glinting in spite of its featureless gloom.  I like knowing where everything is, even if I don't care where it is. 

I've hated Phoenix since I was old enough to realize that other places aren't like this.  Like a reincarnated baby who remembers half of its old life, I felt distinctly screwed by living here.  No weather!  No seasons!  No architecture!  No history!  What are you supposed to do with this place?  It's so antiseptic, so staged, and the more other people love the strip malls stretching to the horizons, the more I hate the city.  And the people! I may have been treated to special breeds of desert rebels (guys in ZZ Top beards who call you madam without irony?  being taught to ride by a failed rodeo star? fine.) growing up, and they still weren't enough to stem the crush of human-shaped crap that populates every inch of this place.

I asked my grandmothers why they moved here.  My Grammy came here to follow my grandma.  They fetishized the warmth after years of Montana winters.  My other grandma came here for a man.  She had to leave Iowa or die, her doctor said, for the dampness that already lived in her lungs.  So she went to Santa Fe, where she went on a blind date which brought her here.  "Never thought of leaving after, eh?"  I jeered, resentfully.  No she never thought of leaving, she said.  One dull summer vacation day, when I was lying half on her coffee table and half on her couch, watching Bob Ross paint a winter scene on an antique circular saw blade, she said, "Change it!  I've seen enough snow drifts to last me a lifetime!"  I thought of the inches of frost that accumulated inside her freezer.  Like that?

I like enjoying the city for what it is, when I can.  Certain bits of research mean more to me because I'm from here, and I know that.  I love historic photos of the big empty valley, with only natural characteristics to identify it.  I visited the Luhrs room at ASU the other day to look for some things and came across a lot of early shots of Phoenix in the teens by Albert Ross, I think.  I took surreptitious, poor phone photos of the few that appealed to something deep and nativeish in me.

 Child swimming in the canal, 1924.  This one really gets me.

Praying Monk. 

Kids playing in the street at 7th st. & Van Buren.  Probably Monroe students.  The street looks so narrow. 


FSK said...

I miss those parts of PHX as well. cool old pics. Dana said her dad and mom (i think both?) used to swim in the canals as well.

Jason said...

I grew up in Phoenix, spent a large part of my adult life there and in Prescott. I live in Georgia now but the culture shock upon first moving was epic. I'm a traveller at heart so I encourage you to go elsewhere