Surviving Another Summer in Phoenix

A couple of years ago, a friend and I made a pact: We would pass an entire summer without once complaining about the heat. Each of us met our goal — amazing, since we're both world-class kvetchers — and, having done so, went right back to complaining about the relentless weather each summer after. Last week while grocery shopping, I realized I was standing with my head shoved into a frozen food display case — a sure sign that summer is here again. I knew where I was headed: Five months of driving everyone crazy with whining about the weather.

I've listened for a lifetime to everyone's suggestions for getting through the summers here without collapsing, and none of them really applies to me. I'm 50 — what am I going to do at a water park? I don't ice skate, and one can shop at Tempe Marketplace (with its super-chilly, all-mall misting system) only so often.

When I was a teenager, we used to hang out in orange groves, which were everywhere back then, wedged between and among nearly every west-side housing development. In my memory, it was 20 degrees cooler among the citrus trees, even at high noon, although it may have been all the pot we were smoking. Today, most of the groves have been bulldozed, and, anyway, what am I going to do in an orange grove? I gave up marijuana years ago.

(A nice alternative to these long-gone groves is the Boyce Thompson Arboretum on U.S. 60 in Superior, which offers sightseeing for fans of nature and cooler temperatures, although it's wise to stay on the well-shaded trails to avoid getting overheated or lost.)

The stuff I like to do tends to involve walking around looking at classic architecture, which means being out-of-doors and in the proximity of old buildings. Early on Saturday mornings, it's possible to do this and stay cool (while shopping!) at downtown Phoenix's open-air market, which this summer has cloaked itself in canvas, so that shoppers won't get heatstroke while squeezing melons or buying organic rutabagas and home-baked bread. This giant tent is augmented by hangar-sized outdoor fans, which — as fond as I am of fresh fruit and the chance to buy yarn made from someone's poodle — is my second favorite thing about this weekly event. I'm really there for the market's proximity to great old buildings. I get to sit at the market's outdoor cafe and admire all the crumbling architecture around me for an hour without having to be rushed to the hospital immediately after. (If I do get too warm, I can always nip into Phoenix Public Market, another old building that's been rehabbed into a super-trendy downtown grocery, complete with coffee shop.)

Leaving town is always an option — I hear Miami, Arizona, is cooler and hasn't yet gotten around to tearing down all its historic buildings — but then Phoenix just seems hotter once I return. Cave Creek, about 1,200 feet higher than Phoenix, is also cooler, but it's too touristy for me — so many of its buildings have been tricked out to look like an Old West movie set.

So you'll find me in Phoenix this summer, most likely hanging out at the Fry's grocery store at Tatum and Shea — and I won't have my head stuck in the ice cream case, either. I normally shop at Safeway, but this Fry's location gets my attention this summer. It has covered parking, for one thing. Valet covered parking. They'll even wash your car for you while you shop, if you like. And there's curbside grocery-loading, too — packages always seem so much heavier when it's 115 degrees outside.

Inside isn't so bad, either. Whoever heard of a grocery with a wine bar inside? Well, now you have. They've got a sushi bar, too. So that's where I'll be until October — possibly a little tipsy and pile-driving shrimp cocktail, hiding from the heat.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela