Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Arizona-versary

Today is my Arizona anniversary, the "Arizona-versary" of the title.  Nineteen years ago today, I completed my journey to Phoenix and officially took up residence in Arizona.

I still remember that day, July 31st, 1993.  It was a Saturday, and I woke up in a Palm Springs motel with my two cats at the time, and left early for the 4-hour drive east to Phoenix.

It was a warm morning, and the sun already felt hot as it began its climb up from behind the distant mountains.  As I left the Coachella valley for the open desert the landscape spread out in all directions, a seemingly-endless vista of burnt, sun-blasted earth in innumerable shades of black, brown, gray and beige, dotted with short, squat, desiccated shrubs and tall, stark saguaro cacti, stuck with their arms held up to the sun, as if begging for mercy that would only come in the rare years when we would have a wet, rainy springtime.  Off in the distance I could sometimes see a lone hawk or eagle, doing pirouettes in the sky as it expertly rode the updrafts and currents, spinning higher and higher in the empty azure firmament, searching for a bit of sustenance in this harsh, unyielding and unforgiving world.

The land flattened out into a broad plain as I approached the California-Arizona border and the Colorado river valley.  My entry to my new home state was marked only with a large sign on the side of the road, bidding me Welcome to Arizona and showing a cactus wren sitting in a saguaro blossom.  Almost on cue, the craggy mountains and rough, rocky hills started up again, and would remain constant fixtures for the rest of the ride.  Interstate 10 took me through Quartzite, a quirky, haphazard and confused jumble of a desert town, where double-wide trailers, recreational vehicles, and restaurants with early-bird dinner specials hold sway.  Quartzite is one of those surreal deep-desert outposts, teetering on the edge of reality, where you could come and blend into the desert and no one would ever hear from you again.  I was to learn that Arizona is full of such places - places where humans could turn into ghosts, and vice versa.

Two hours later I arrived in Phoenix and got the keys to my new apartment.  I brought the cats in and let them out of their carriers to explore their new home, and moved in the clothing and furnishings I was able to cram into my car.  The bulk of my furniture was still on the moving van, in transit from Burlingame, CA, and would not arrive for another 5 days.  I slept on an air mattress and sat on blankets and towels.  In spite of the forced austerity, it felt like home, and the cats and I were happy.

The next day, Sunday August 1st 1993, was HOT.  The high temperature was 117 degrees, something I had not even dreamed of, let alone experienced.  I walked around a little bit in the morning when it wasn't that bad, but very soon a stifling, claustrophobic stillness enveloped everything, and even the buzzing of the cicadas in the palo verde trees became quieter.  I retreated to my bedroom and laid on the air mattress, listening to the faint cooing of the native doves outside.

As I start my 20th year of living here, I think about the fact that I have spent nearly a third of my entire life in Phoenix.  Arizona is a very beautiful, diverse state, and about the only thing we are missing is the beach and the waterfront, although for the braver of those among us, Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco) in Mexico has the oceanfront.  You can find mountains and cool fragrant pine forests in the north, rolling mountains and ski resorts in the east, the funkiness and rustic charm of Tucson in the south and Nogales on the Mexican border, and the bizarre surrealism of the western deserts, where the land cannot make up its mind whether it wants to be Arizona or California and keeps switching back and forth.

We have the astonishing national treasure of the Grand Canyon, truly a wonder of the world, and the turquoise-and-red-rock spiritual theme park that is Sedona.  There is also Meteor Crater, a gigantic, mile-wide hole in the ground about 40 miles east of Flagstaff, blasted out by a huge iron-nickel meteor about 75,000 years ago.  It is an amazing site and worth seeing.  It's even more amazing if you see if outside the window of a jetliner:
So many interesting things to see and do, so many charming little places to visit, like Jerome, Flagstaff and Tubac.  But there is a downside to living here, and that revolves around the political climate here.

Unfortunately Arizona is a place of extreme bigotry and intolerance.  There is prejudice everywhere, against Mexican immigrants, against Native Americans, against women, against gay people, against people who practice non-Christian religions or don't believe at all.  As is shamefully typical among extreme conservatives, if you are not a white, Anglo-Saxon, heterosexual male, you are looked down on as being different and therefore, somehow flawed.

The state government on all levels is a total joke, rife with corrupt, hate-filled idiots and bigots who are re-elected time after time again by an electorate too stupid or uninterested to care.  This is an election year, and the local television stations show political ads over and over again ad nauseum, mostly pertaining to a senate race between a pudgy ginger asshole named Wil Cardon and a slimy-slick snake-oil salesman aptly named Jeff Flake. Both are falling over each other trying to lay claim to the title of Most Conservative candidate, they each accuse the other of doing the bidding of the Antichrist himself, Barack Obama.  In a lot of places dragging the president's name through the muck of a penny-ante pissing contest like that would be regarded as extremely vulgar and classless, but here in Arizona, nothing could be more normal or acceptable.  Or expected.

Old habits die hard here in AZ, and that innate conservatism is reflected in the voting booth.  Back in 2010 I was a poll worker for the midterm elections and was assisting an elderly woman in voting.  She was confined to a wheelchair and just getting around was a huge effort, but she proudly told me she was in her early 90s and has voted in every single election.  I thought that was wonderful until I watched her fill in her ballot, and she just went down the list of candidates and voted for whoever was a Republican.  She had no idea who she was voting for; she could be voting for Adolf Hitler or Charles Manson, but she only needed to know they were Republican.  I can't help thinking that blind, knee-jerk voting like that was the last thing the Founding Fathers intended when they created this democracy.

With clueless, indiscriminate voters like that, it is no wonder that when you're elected to public office here and you're a Republican, you've got a job for life and don't have to do another single thing again if you don't want to. This predictable, party-line voting means the dumbest, most bigoted and most loathsome assholes in the state become Republicans and get sent to the state legislature and to Congress to push their extreme-right agendas.  The state legislature in particular is overloaded with fat old Nazi sympathizers and hate-filled fundamentalist Christians.  It's a little disturbing that if you're a fundamentalist Christian, man or woman, and you're only 30 years old, you look old and mean and crotchety like you're in your 80s.  Hatefulness of that magnitude makes you old and ugly before your time.

There's an old adage that goes something along the lines of, if you know someone who is crazy, quirky, nonconformist and a little off-center and they mysteriously disappear, eventually they will turn up in San Francisco.  Likewise, if you know someone who's bigoted, intolerant, mean-spirited, uneducated and filled with bile and they too disappear, they will eventually turn up in Arizona.  And probably in the state legislature.

1 comment:

  1. I am a hispanic female living in Oklahoma. This state is not so bad as Arizona as far as bigots are concerned. Of course, bigots are everywhere.
    I guess the Indian proverb about walking a mile in someone else's moccasins hasn't been heard of Arizona.