We lived in Phoenix for 4 years. After the dot-com collapse, I was having no luck looking for a job in Austin, and finally found one out of state working for Garmin. As you are probably aware, our stay in Phoenix was not a high point in our lives. There were many reasons for that, some of which were not Phoenix's fault. But today, as we are all stressed beyond reason, I'm not going to focus on the negative for fear of getting sucked into the swamp of sadness. Today I will regale you with a few things I enjoyed about living in the Valley of the Sun.
1. The 4th of July
The greater Phoenix area encompasses a number of adjacent suburbs. Our house was on the southeastern edge in the city of Chandler. To the north of us, and the home of movie theaters and IHOPs, Gilbert. Ryan and I both worked in Tempe. My doctor's office was in Mesa. Basically there are a ton of sub-cities within Phoenix, and the city's footprint is massive. Also, despite the city being surrounded by distant mountains on most sides, it's largely flat.
This makes for some great fireworks viewing. You can see for miles on top of, say, the roof of your house. Each one of these sub-cities hosts their own fireworks show. So they're simultaneously all shooting fireworks off to the north and west of us. Pretty amazing. Poor Mel disagreed. He kept woofing in the backyard because we were on top of the house and there were loud noises.
It's no secret one of our biggest complaints about Arizona was the weather. Summer lasts from April until Halloween and feels like a blast furnace. "Dry heat" my ass. Occasionally in August you might get a rain shower or two, but the first year I was there I didn't see a single cloud until September.
But this is about the positive! Winters were lovely. Not really "winter" per say, but the weather was gorgeous. Chandler had Tumbleweed Park, where we would take Mel and sometimes a kite. I never understood why we didn't see more people there, but it was quite nice to have a whole park to ourselves. Sometimes we would take Mel off-leash and just let him wander around. I strapped a Garmin to his collar once as part of a "work" experiment and the resulting route looked like a drunk guy staggering in circles.
Because of the calm weather and dry atmosphere, Phoenix was also the ideal location for hot air balloons. We would frequently see balloons in the sky, sometimes for advertisements, sometimes for recreation. One almost landed in our backyard once. That was terrifying. They managed to make it to a grassy area east of our neighborhood so all was well.
3. Owning our own home
It may have not been our ideal abode or in the best location, but our little house in Chandler was ours. The very definition of an "open" floorplan, the house had 2 living rooms, a dining room and kitchen that may as well have all been one room. It had a nice backyard, with brick paths and lemon and lime trees. I spent a lot of time in that yard with Mel and the Chuckit tennis ball launcher. Mel loved his tennis balls and was actually good at playing fetch *side-eyes Scout*.
It was a good feeling to be paying a mortgage towards something for the first time. And living in that house helped develop our ideas of what we did and didn't want in our next house.
Plus, we rode the housing bubble to our advantage and made a profit, so there's that.
There was a lot of togetherness in that house. Me, Ryan, Mel, Jeff the Cat, and for the last year, Puppy Lucy. Pets don't talk, so Ryan and I spent a lot of time entertaining ourselves and each other. If you read my last post, you'll know that the two of us have a very comfortable relationship and that has never come in handy as much as it did our 4 years in Phoenix. It's a testament to our partnership that we didn't go insane.
Mel and I became good friends in that house. He was a good listener and tolerated my hugs with good natured tail wagging. A lot of my memories of Mel come from Phoenix, walking him in the park and around the neighborhood, making him a Halloween costume, playing in the backyard when it wasn't too hot, and watching him teach Lucy how to be a good dog all come to mind. I miss that pup.
One of the bonuses of living in a major city is sports teams. We never got into the Diamondbacks that much, but Bank One ballpark was a beautiful field, so we would try to get tickets when the Cubs or Astros were in town. One of the weird things about Phoenix is that there are a lot of transplants from other parts of the country, so you get fans from all over. For example, you would see people wearing Cubs hats at the grocery store from time to time. So wearing the opposing team's gear to a game was not as challenging as you might think.
The team we did get behind was the Phoenix Suns. We happened to hit the city when the Suns were actually pretty good, and they made the playoffs at least 2 years we were there. Every single game was broadcast (unlike the blackout happy Cardinals), so we got to know the players pretty well. Tickets to the games were less expensive than baseball, so we attended a number of games which were always fun. The Sun's gorilla mascot (look, it was a gorilla. I don't know) would come out and slam dunk or ride his motorbike around during breaks. Good times.
6. Food finds
Our corner of suburbia was mostly littered with chain restaurants, but occasionally you'd stumble on a local family owned gem.
One of these was a little hole in the wall taco joint. We good naturedly make fun of Arizona Mexican food because it's different (a burro? bean dip?), but these tacos were genuinely delicious. And I don't consider myself a beer drinker, but on a warm evening in Chandler there was nothing like chasing down tacos with a cold bottle of Negro Modelo.
Another of our discoveries was a tiny Italian restaurant in the parking lot of a Target that felt like you were stepping back in time when you walked in the door. It was dark with no windows and there was still smoking allowed at the bar (or at least until city code required they enclose the bar so people wouldn't inhale cigarette smoke with their linguini). There was no dress code, but you could easily fancy it up and not look out of place there. And the food was great, too.
7. No daylight savings
Look, Daylight Savings blows. Phoenix knows this. There it's a matter of public safety. If they had one more hour of daylight in the summer the citizens might spontaneously combust from the heat. I'm not saying the whole country should do this - it's nice to have the extra light in the summer, but why not stay on DS all year? I did not miss the 2 weeks out of the year it normally takes me to adjust to this nonsense. Arizona does it right on that one.
8. My doctors
The Phoenix years were utterly miserable in regards to my health. I was unsuccessfully dealing with my second transplant and having the worst migraines of my life. There was about an 8 month period where I was literally in the ER once or twice a week.
But I got to work with some of the best doctors that have ever treated me. My nephrologist group was outstanding, and my official doctor there, Dr. Lambda, had the best bedside manner. I felt like they knew their stuff, were honest with me, and really cared about my wellbeing. Dr. Lambda would call me personally to explain test results and answer questions.
My internal medicine doctor was awesome. Dr. Chang. I believe it was his first practice, but he was super knowledgeable and took every complaint seriously. The first year I was there, I had this horrible shoulder pain that didn't go away for months and no one could figure out the source. Almost a year later he came up with an answer and treatment (should it happen again, and it did). I wasn't even having symptoms any more, but I could tell it had been bothering him that he didn't have a solution right away, and he didn't give up.
9. The 202
TxDot, take some freaking notes. When Phoenix says they're going to build a highway, they build a highway. They don't spend 10 years on said road, they finish it 6 months ahead of schedule. Because no one wants to be out in that heat longer than they have to be.
Phoenix is laid out like a grid. There are major highways, but to get to those highways, you have to take surface streets and those surface streets have MANY intersections, which in rush hour traffic takes forever. A year before we moved back to Austin, the section of the 202 that ran south of our house was completed. I had just started back on dialysis, and my treatment center was in Ahwatukee (another suburb). Surface roads would have made that a 30 minute drive, but cruising over on the 202 cut that down to 10 minutes.
10. The Ostrich Festival
The Valley loves itself some outdoor events. We went to the State Fair, Balloon Festival, and Tempe Art Festival to name a few. But the weirdest was in our own backyard, Chandler's very own Ostrich Festival. In their own words, the Ostrich Festival is "based on Chandler's colorful early history of ostrich ranching". The first year we attended, there was some kind of bird flu going around, so they weren't allowed to bring any actual ostriches. I still have my shirt from that year's event. It has a picture of an ostrich with a big circle and slash around it.
Ostrich Festival: Ostriches not included.
We were able to attend in the ostrich years that followed and discovered what we'd been missing that first year. Not just ostriches, but ostrich races. You can apparently ride an ostrich. They made the unfortunate choice to dress the jockeys in various clothes from other countries, and let's just go ahead and say it, it was totally racist. Hopefully someone has had the talk with them and they've changed things up in the past 15 years. But hey, funnel cake!
So yeah, there were some good memories from our stint in Arizona. I'm glad I got to live in a different part of the country for a bit, just for the experience. A lot of our troubles stemmed from the fact that we were so isolated, and it would have been a great time to have more family close by. I think we did as well as we could in that little house together in the middle of the desert.