New Times Staffers Weigh In on Why They’re Not Leaving Phoenix Anytime Soon

It happens all the time: I'm someplace outside of Arizona, I mention that I live here most of the year, and the Phoenix-bashing commences.

"Oh, no! Phoenix!" moaned Dennis, the first time I met him. Dennis owns Parkside Vintage, an amazing antiques store I always visit when I'm in Warren, Ohio. "I used to live in Phoenix, back in the '60s and '70s," he reminded me when I was there last week. "But it got so big-city, and the weather was so morbid. So I moved back here to Warren."

Dennis sent me next door to the Blue Iris Café, where I had a remarkable meal. "I wish we had a really good tapas restaurant like this in Phoenix," I confided to Chef Melissa when she came by my table.


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"Phoenix!" she bellowed. "Oh, my God!"

You guessed it. Melissa used to live here, too; she worked as a pastry chef at one of our better resorts, but the endless summer was too much for her, and she, too, headed back to Warren.

"I know," I moaned to my new friends when they started trashing Phoenix. "I hate it there, too. I hate worrying that I'll get heatstroke every time I go out to get the mail. I hate how, after leaving my car parked in the sun for 20 minutes, it turns into a convection oven. I hate that most of the shops and restaurants are chains, and that my favorite galleries and theaters are always struggling to stay open."

"Plus your symphony sucks," Melissa reminded me.

"And the place is so transient!" I practically yelled. "Everyone is from someplace else, so there's absolutely no sense of community! I don't even know my neighbors in Phoenix!"

That's one of the reasons why I bought a house in Niles, the city next door to Warren, about a decade ago. Niles is my hometown, one of those small, Midwestern cities where everyone knows everyone else; where the local greenery is abundant and not dangerous to touch; where summers are so mild that most people cool their homes with only open windows and an oscillating fan or two. In other words, the opposite of Phoenix. Living there in June and July, I decided, would make living here the rest of the year more bearable. I knew there was no point in trying to move away from Phoenix altogether; I'd noticed long ago that pretty much everyone who moved away from here always ended up coming back. But a summer home in a cooler clime seemed the perfect answer.

I lasted exactly three weeks. I can't tell you that my experience as a resident of small-town Ohio was so dreadful that I came racing back to Phoenix, never to return. Or that I came to realize how beautiful the desert is and that I'd been too stupid and ungrateful to appreciate how wonderful living here actually is. But I can tell you this: Humidity is a fucking drag. And people who live in small towns don't watch television; they watch their neighbors.

Things I'd never thought about much before began to matter to me. Like air-conditioning. And Democrats. And being able to carry a bag from my car to the front door of my house without one of my neighbors hurrying over to ask what I'd bought and what I intended to do with it.

It's trite and more than a little embarrassing to admit, but living elsewhere, even for a little while, made it clear to me that there's no perfect place to reside. Especially if you are, like me, a chronic malcontent who's always looking for something to gripe about. I love the frequent late-summer rains of northeastern Ohio, but eventually it's November there, and I can't drive in the snow. I love February in Phoenix, but by March I'm already whining about the heat. I hate that my neighbors here don't want to be pals, but it drives me crazy that I can't fart in the privacy of my own Ohio home without the guy across the street mentioning it to me the next day.

In other words, the Phoenix Symphony may suck, but at least we have one.

— Robrt L. Pela, critic

I recently returned to Phoenix after a year and a half in Portland, and people always ask me why I came back. Why leave a relaxed, eco-friendly cultural hotspot for the dusty, dry desert?

Because here I have friends I adore, a kickass job at the coolest paper in town [Editor's note: We paid Wynter to write this] and a throng of Ren Faire geeks, er, "medieval enthusiasts" who accept me as one of their own. Because I can always find a parking spot. Because I can use the pool in January or enjoy Christmas dinner on my patio. And when the monsoon rains come, I sit on the stone bench outside of my back door and soak up every wonderful drop, rather than sinking into a depression to rival Sylvia Plath (which was especially scary with all those bridges around!).

But most of all, the people of Phoenix make me feel welcome. They don't judge me for throwing away a plastic bottle instead of trekking to a recycle bin. They don't scoff at my love of mainstream action flicks or my resistance to eating tofu, fungus, or raw fish.

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Why would I not want to stay in Phoenix? I came here in 2003 with an open mind and a lot of optimism. I bragged about my move from the Northeast to everyone who would listen. No more cold winters I would tell them. Within 3 years, all the wind had been knocked out of my sails. I live in the East Valley but have traveled all over the Valley and beyond on numerous occasions. There are nice people here but they are few and far between and they are insular and hard to meet. Neighbors rarely talk to one another as they hide behind their block walls. I never had breathing problems before, but thanks to the brown cloud that hangs over the Valley I have trouble breathing out here. I never had a car accident before I moved here - not once in 22 years of driving! I had my first one here when an impaired lady rear-ended me at 40 miles an hour at a red light, in addition to hundreds of near misses. The cop was too busy to give her a field sobriety test. He had other calls pending, he told me. The woman had a little boy in the back seat without a seatbelt on and the officer didn't care! My shoulder was torn up and he had other calls to attend to! I never had a windshield break in 22 years. I had 3 break on me out here in one year from flying rocks! There is more crime in one month here in Chandler (which is actually safe by Valley standards) than there was in ten years combined in my hometown!. Road rage and drag racing was rare in my experience until I moved here. Women back east are more diverse and classy in their thinking and style. Here I see a parade of bleached blonds, pumped up with plastic surgery and covered with tattoos as they strut down the street with their thongs pulled up six inches over their pants lines! The women under 40 all seem to emulate Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears! Out here in the "new L.A.", money and looks seem to count much more than brains and personality. I have been mocked out here by women many times for asking them to do cultural things with me, like have a picnic or see the symphony, a play, a jazz concert or a musical. I have a hard time finding intellectual, well-read people to talk to about current events, history, politics, art, science, literature and religion. I have met more women with "baggage" out here in five years than I met in 20 years of dating back home! I am sure that women will say the same about men out here. The Valley is a melting pot for people looking to shed their old skins and escape from the troubles they tried to leave behind in another state. The educational standards out here are sad. My nephew, who lives in Ahwatukee, faced more challenging school work and teachers in the public schools back east than he has faced out here in the public and charter schools he has attended. I never had issues with illegal aliens before. But since moving here, I have learned to appreciate the anger and frustration that so many feel about the issue. We are all paying a heavy price for having such an open border. I often have to remind myself that I am still in America and not in Mexico. I miss having a vibrant downtown where I can dine, see shows and shop. That is sorely lacking here. The closest thing to a real downtown out here is Mill Avenue. I never drank bottled water before I moved here. Now that is all I drink because the tap water is so foul. My auto insurance was 70% lower back home for the same coverage! I was very happy with the level of medical care that I received back east. Now I am scared to ever be sick. Apart from a couple of institutions like the Mayo Clinic and Barrows, the quality of care out here is pathetic. I have been to an emergency room maybe 4-5 times in my life. The only time that I ever had to wait more than 90 minutes was the one time that I went to an E.R. here and was told that the wait time would at least 8 hours! I left in noticeable pain from a shoulder injury rather than wait. Before I left, I asked the nurse why the wait was so long and she told me that the 40-50 Hispanics in the waiting room were all there for the free medical care they receive in the E.R.; not for any real emergencies. Back east, when someone calls and makes an appointment for a contractor, the contractor shows up. Not here. Many don't show up at all and some of those that do show up try and inflate their prices halfway through the job. Many are not even licensed. The only power outages we ever had back east were due to extreme weather. I had 13 temporary outages in 4 months at one Chandler neighborhood I lived in! Same with the phone service. I never lost phone service except on rare occasions in very extreme weather. Out here, at my current home, I lost phone service 5 times in one month! One of those outages lasted 7 hours! All the representatives at the phone company (Cox) could tell me was that they were doing upgrades in the area. Any time I ever had to call the police back east, they would respond in minutes. Not here. It can take hours for the cops to show up, if they even show! And even when it is a life threatening emergency, they take their good ole' time. Last Spring, two people were shot in their vehicle near Pecos Road & McQueen Road, about a mile and a half from the Chandler Police station. From what I read, it took about 15 minutes for the police to respond to the 911 call! Dogs, love them, have one. Back east, most dogs are for pets only. Out here, so many are bred for fighting. I have had little kids run up to me and tell me that their pit bulls would rip the head and tail off of my sweet black Lab. I never had mail stolen before I moved here. At my old house in Chandler, I had to put a lock on my mailbox because of all the theft. When the cops finally caught the 15 year old who was stealing the mail on my street, the U.S. Attorney would not prosecute him for mail theft because they allegedly were too busy with drug and immigration cases! Mail theft was not the only mail problem. In 2005, due to a post office computer glitch, all first class mail to my house took 30-40 days to arrive. That problem went on for 5 months until I finally reached a district manager and got it resolved. Can you imagine the problems that caused? I never found any foreign objects in my food before I came out here. In 5 years there have been 7-8 times that I have found items ranging from glass to plastic to metal in my food at restaurants! Even a bag of tortilla chips that I bought from a local store had sharp pieces of metal in some of the chips! I almost broke my tooth biting down on them! In one restaurant, my mouth was bloodied when I chewed my mashed potatoes. There was broken glass in the potatoes. My buddy looked me in horror as blood streamed down my chin. The manager (and this sums up the bozo mentality here in the Valley) was not even sympathetic! Nor did he offer to comp my meal! I could not get anyone at the Maricopa County Health Department to investigate any of these occurrences. I heard the same line that I hear all the time out here from officials - we are understaffed, sorry! And hey, where are the monsoons that everyone told me about before I loved here? All we get are ungodly hot, dry summers that keep getting hotter. The light rail? What a joke! It will only help a few people who live near it and already it has destroyed dozens of small businesses and made traffic a mess. Someone made out well in that deal and it sure wasn't Joe Taxpayer! Obviously I could go on and on all day about the problems here. The bottom line is that Phoenix has become another L.A. with all the crime, smog, traffic congestion and road rage, and without all the cultural and ethnic diversity, entertainment, mild summers and ocean breezes. I hate to say it, but the terrible ranking that the whole Phoenix area received in Places Rated Almanac by Sperling last year was well-deserved. Even though I will take a huge loss on my house, I am selling and getting out next year. I call this place "hell valley" to my friends out here. They used to laugh at me. Now many of them agree with me. Phoenix is the pits and it's only getting worse! No place is perfect, I know; but there have to be more strands of "green grass" in other places. Oh that's right, there isn't any grass here at all!

Hannibal Lecher
Hannibal Lecher

Niki, can you post a picture of yourself in one of your wife-beaters? Preferably when the weather is cold!

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