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.
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?
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