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.
"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.
Why do I love Phoenix? Simple. Because she loves me back.
— Wynter Holden, arts writer
I confess: I'm one of those losers who never left Phoenix, my hometown. I never did the "go away to college" thing like most of my friends, I never took a job in another city to spread my wings, and the longest I've ever visited a foreign country was a mere month.
But here's the deal: Every time I think about leaving, Phoenix won't have it. Like a boyfriend who will do anything to keep me, Phoenix steps up its game and makes me fall in love all over again.
After college, I got a job writing and discovered that, at a young age, a culturally young Phoenix gave me an opportunity to have a voice. I don't think this would have happened in any other city.
And though I've stayed and nurtured a relationship with this city, virtually all my friends who were making money and having great careers in other cities started to trickle back. Many took pay cuts and financial hits to get back to Phoenix.
Why? Simple. Because they love this city. And so do I.
I'm increasingly discovering camaraderie in a social network of peers — musicians, artists, writers and creative thinkers — who absolutely adore Phoenix. And we talk about it all the time.
We're not idiots. We fully realize that Phoenix doesn't offer a strong cultural identity for us to latch onto. But instead of griping, we embrace it. We have a chance to propel this city forward and create this place's future. Rather than relocating and riding on the coattails of generations past that culturally settled a city before we were even born, we're opting to make this place our own.
The prospect is exciting. I don't really know what Phoenix will look like in the years coming. But I suspect that if there are enough of us who love this place and continue to do the things we love here instead of somewhere else, an identity will naturally occur.
I want to be a part of that process. It's going to be a hell of a challenge and it's going to be a lot of fun. And it's something unique to Phoenix that other cities can't offer.
I've made a commitment to this place. And, like any long-term monogamous relationship, there will be bumps in the road and it may get frustrating to stick it out. But I can't help it. Really, it's the least I can do for someone I love.
— Lilia Menconi, arts writer
Growing up in Queens, I knew NYC was the greatest city in the world and had no particular desire to leave. But in 1977, when my parents told me and my sister we were moving to Phoenix, I was happy and excited — after all, I loved the television show The Wild, Wild West.
Metro Phoenix has never disappointed me. I could go on all day about my appreciation of the Sonoran Desert, the mountains, and the weather. On nearly any day of the year, I can enjoy top-notch outdoor experiences within a few miles of my home. That's what I love most about living here.
Urban amenities? There are enough for me. They'll get better as the population grows denser. To me, the best thing about the Valley's city life is that the city is relatively new and growing. Even the dust in the air carries a sense of optimism — much of it's from construction, anyway.
A lot has changed in 31 years, but this Wild West frontier town still gives me everything I need.
— Ray Stern, staff writer
My friends in Los Angeles are always trying to persuade me to move there, but there's no way I'd leave P-City for L.A.
There are many reasons for this, but my top reasons for staying in Phoenix are wife-beaters, guns, and freeway driving. I can wear wife-beaters year-round without worrying about being so cold that my nipples greet strangers. I can go Christmas shopping in shorts and a tube top if I wanted to, and I can have a natural tan in January.
While wearing my wife-beater, I can shoot my guns, because Arizona is a gun-lover's state. In Phoenix, I can legally buy an AR-15 rifle and have it in my hands within a couple days, after a background check. In California, I wouldn't be able to buy or own an AR-15, and if I wanted to purchase any other kind of firearm, I'd have to wait several weeks. And driving to the range (or open desert) to shoot is easy.
Unlike the freeways in other large metropolitan cities, where traffic's so congested you barely move, I usually drive 55 mph on the freeways, even during rush hour. Try doing that in Los Angeles.
— Niki D'Andrea, staff writer
Since moving to Phoenix from Chicago three years ago, I've gotten a lot of "Wow, you must really miss Chicago." Sometimes I do, but not as often as I thought I would. Phoenix is my home now. It's where I got married, it's where I've met a lot of cool people and made some good friends, and it's where my wife and I are comfortable and enjoy a lifestyle that's no less fun than the one we enjoyed in Chicago.
As a lifelong Midwesterner, I was conditioned to look down on the West. I was among the many who thought Phoenix was all golf courses, strip malls, and old-timers. I was a fool. The West is where it's at. It's easy to see why people have been moving this way for generations. I still can't abide Phoenix's irresponsible views toward development and water usage, its underlying xenophobia, and its "don't tell me what to do" Old West values, but I'm pretty sure it will grow up, in time. For that reason, I look forward to being here as the future unfolds.
Love Phoenix? I'm getting there. Leave Phoenix? I'd be surprised if I ever were to move "back east" again.
— Jay Bennett, editorial operations manager
One of the many reasons I love Phoenix is because my hometown is an ornery, ill-tempered mega-bitch from Hell. To me, she's an unrelenting shrew of Shakespearean proportions who brazenly challenges you to love her despite having many faults. Can you endure her inept or right-wing politicians, torturous 100-degree-plus temperatures, and sports teams that'll get your hopes up (only to crush them mercilessly)?
If you can, she'll reward you with gor geous sunsets across windswept deserts, a scrappy music and arts scene, the best Mexican food in the state. And perhaps her best quality: Small, hidden surprises she has in store for those willing to hunt for them, like quirky characters and cool out-of-the-way restaurants and businesses.
It's en vogue lately to ditch the Valley for hipper cities like Portland or Los Angeles (as many of my friends have done), but to those quitters I say a hearty, "Whatever." I have a perverse sense of pride at being able to survive and thrive here. We may not have a Voodoo Doughnuts or a record store on every street corner, but I think it's much cooler to find beauty in a place most people consider ugly or unattractive.
— Benjamin Leatherman, clubs editor
People complain about the heat. And when they do, I think about one of my former homes, Michigan, which had six months or more of serious winter. There would be suicides when it snowed past Easter, which it often did. People complain about the traffic. And I think about another of my former homes, Los Angeles, and just laugh. The reality is that Phoenix is an excellent place to live for so many reasons. You don't have to be rich to live in a beautiful desert location with an incredible view. The same thing in L.A. would cost you millions — and the commute into town for work is a killer.
The problem with Phoenix is the oppressive political environment. A friend likened it to Selma in the '50s, but it's worse than that. It's a place where even upstanding citizens can lose life and liberty at the hands of soulless government officials like Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas. It's a place where even millionaire newspaper execs get dragged out of their homes in the middle of the night, where dissension might well gets you a spot on the enemies list and a visit from the sheriff's Selective Enforcement Unit.
Hope springs eternal that sanity will prevail and the bastards will get thrown out, because if that were to happen, Phoenix would be paradise — eight months out of the year. Only Southern California has it better climate-wise, and its residents have to put up with the aforementioned, plus an astronomical cost of living.
— Rick Barrs, editor
I'm always threatening to leave Phoenix. I like big cities and old buildings. I have little interest in the things that presumably make Phoenix appealing: big houses, suburbs, white picket fences, white people. I hate driving.
And yet I stay. Whenever I'm presented a chance to leave, I start fantasizing — but I haven't yet been able to bring myself to take it.
It's too easy to thrive here.
Because there's no Old Guard to speak of, anyone can carve out a nice niche with minimal effort. You can make friends just by ordering coffee. ("You just moved here? Oh, my God. So did I!"). Most nights, you can get into the best restaurants in town without a wait — and it's not like the bars are going to turn you away, either. In an older city, you might have to donate big bucks to join the board of a prominent non-profit. Here you'll find people clamoring for you to join.
And then there's the weather.
Whenever I think about moving, I think what it would be like to go back to cloudy weather and gray skies. And about those lovely spring mornings when the desert looks like it's been dipped in stardust. Or the evenings when, as the sun sets, the sky is washed with pink and orange. This happens night after night here — so frequently that I sometimes forget to notice.
In spite of everything I hate about it, Phoenix has ruined me for just about everywhere else.
— Sarah Fenske, columnist
Before I moved to Phoenix, the few Phoenicians I'd encountered were quick to warn me that "there's nothing to do in Phoenix." How these people (speaking from experience or not) could expect me to believe that a city the size of Phoenix has no nightlife is beyond me.
There is a scene here. True, it's not New York, but if that's what you're looking for, there's an airport right off I-10.
You may have to look for things to do, but they're out there if you're willing to put in the time to find them.
What does Phoenix have that those big-city fellers ain't got? A tight community. Whether you're a Scottsdale douchebag or a washed-out Tempe guitarist or just someone wondering what the hell you're doing in Ahwatukee, we've all gone for a bite at Matt's Big Breakfast. We've all tasted a few Kilt Lifters. We've all battled with light-rail construction traffic.
Not to mention the numerous times I've run into someone I recognize from another part of town. How I can meet up with someone I know, purely by chance, in a completely different part of town is beyond me. Hell, some of them even have ended up as friends.
Just try to find that outside of this desert. I dare you.
— Jonathan McNamara, web editor
By the time I got to Phoenix, I was 23. I recently had moved to Tucson from "back East," and it was like living on a different planet, what with the cacti, heat, spicy Mexican food, colors, landscape.
Within days of my arrival, someone warned me about Phoenix, which he referred to as "that hellhole up there," or something like that.
(Years later, former Maricopa County Attorney Tom Collins — who had fled the Valley for rustic Cochise County — said something similar when he told me, "When I drive up I-10 and get to the Gila River and I see this ugly gray cloud of schmuck up ahead, I just shake my head. That's Phoenix for me.")
Anyway, in early 1974, my girlfriend and I hitchhiked up to Phoenix to watch the Suns play the defending world champion New York Knicks at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum on 19th Avenue and McDowell.
Our ride took us to the arena after driving through downtown and past the ramshackle area known as The Deuce — where the Suns and the Diamondbacks now perform.
In hindsight, I know that we probably peered out at the La Amapola Bar, where Ernesto Miranda (of Miranda Warning fame) would be stabbed to death a few years later.
My pal was right — this place was a hellhole.
After the game, we stepped into the parking lot, where I yelled out to the departing spectators, "Anybody going to Tucson?" An elderly couple (probably in their 50s) soon offered a ride, which we gladly took.
Those were the days.
Ten years after that, Mike Lacey convinced me to put aside all my prejudices against this town — which, by then, included an irrational but lovely hatred of everything about ASU — to move up here and give his paper a shot.
That was almost a quarter-century ago.
Now it's home, and even if it still seems like a hellhole at times (especially in August, when a cool breeze seems light years away), I'd be hard-pressed to leave it.
Friends, family, good job, good times. Period.
— Paul Rubin, senior staff writer
The things and people I write about are always an inspiration for me — there are so many creative people here, and they're able to realize their dreams in ways they couldn't necessarily pull off in other cities. In some ways, Phoenix is like a giant small town, and although I don't have any family here, it's nice to be able to run into friends and acquaintances everywhere. The lifestyle is a big perk, and I don't just mean the weather (although nice weather helps!). I like that there's not as much attitude when you go out, that people are more laid back. Living here is also affordable enough that I can travel from time to time.
— Michele Laudig, food critic
Maybe everybody wants to leave the place they grow up in. As a young woman, I was desperate to get out of this Valley. I ran away to New York, where I reveled in things I didn't even know I'd craved: old buildings, winter weather, fashion, long walks, gatherings of Democrats over 50 years old. Easterners didn't get it, of course; people asked me, "Why would someone move away from Arizona?" And when I wound up marrying my boyfriend from Tempe with the huge family, I knew we'd be back.
On visits to Phoenix, I began to see blooming oleanders as pretty, even exotic. (Turns out Van Gogh even painted them!) The color scheme of dusty green flora, red dirt, and indigo mountains began to seem natural and soothing. Our parents grew older.
So, 19 years ago, we came back — like salmon, if salmon drove a U-Haul. Some things had changed. We had changed. We found more opportunities and took on more obligations, as grownups will do. The ultimate anchor is that my family, my in-laws, and most of my friends are still here — they're dug in, and so are we.
— Julie Peterson, arts writer/copy editor
It all depends on what you want out of life, but personally, I enjoy the opportunities that abound in this tween-aged town. It's no Boston or Chicago — nor will it ever be. Cities that build slowly through centuries hide nooks and personalities that Instant-Cities like Phoenix ("just add water") can't manufacture.
But this big-little city does offer unrivaled opportunities to:
A: Be a big fish in a small pond
B: Be an anonymous Citizen Doe in a metropolis of vanilla
C: Spontaneously ignite while walking to your car.
I like options A (the opportunity for regional success that couldn't be had in, say, New York) and B. They both keep me here for now. But I'm a fair-weathered lover.
At best, Phoenix can be cool only when its weather is. I wouldn't care if we had the Smithsonian, the Guggenheim and the Eiffel Tower lined up downtown. Come June, my body starts telling me it would bake like jerky if not for the marvel of air-conditioners.
Biased? Yes. I was raised in a tundra of lakes, woods, and mosquitoes — a land where everybody gets at least one deer per hunting season, whether by car or by rifle.
Every autumn, I still expect a smack of cold air to slap me in the face when I walk outside. I long for colorful leaves, cool breezes, sweaters, and canteens of hot chocolate at football games.
Some burning July morning I will drive past my office, head north on the 17 and keep driving. Maybe I'll stop in Montana. Or Canada.
Then, when the snow arrives, I'll join the migration of snowbirds who winter in Phoenix. After all, the grass is always greener — even if it only grows on irrigated golf courses.
— John Dickerson, staff writer
Where else besides Phoenix can you ride a horse to California Pizza Kitchen? Not downtown, of course. There are no ranches — or branches of the beloved casual-dining chain — within trotting distance from the copper-domed state Capitol on Washington Street. But if you venture into the sprawling suburbs where most people in the Valley of the Sun live, you'll find such places: where ranchland sits comfortably next to newly constructed McMansions, where farmers drive tractors past the Apple Store, where a cash-only honky-tonk sits catty-corner from a skate shop. Anything you want, it's here somewhere — probably in a strip mall.
Phoenix, perpetually one of the country's fastest-growing cities, is a mecca for intranational immigrants, and, as such, has collected every identifiable type of American. And they've all brought their best traditions with them. After a year in the Valley I'm still only scratching the surface, but I'm constantly amazed by what I find and where. You can get California Pizza at the California Pizza Kitchen, sure, but you can also get bona fide versions of the Chicago and New York varieties, or Portland microbrews, or New Orleans jazz. Whatever it is, someone brought it out here to the desert with them and it's here for the finding. You just need to saddle up and look.
— Martin Cizmar, music editor
Every summer for the past five years, I've edited our annual Best of Phoenix issue at New Times. This fact makes my friends and family snort, given the disdain I've always shown my hometown. And it's true that nothing makes me crankier than reading about all the supposedly super things in this city when it's so hot outside that I have to risk second-degree burns to get in the car and visit them.
But deep down, I sorta kinda love the place. When I was growing up here, Phoenix had no history — none I'd count, anyway (sorry, Hohokam). Now it does. It has my history. From the Red Devil Pizza on McDowell to the goat barn at the Phoenix Zoo to the Veterans Coliseum in downtown Phoenix, this is my town. Okay, so it's shabby but not-so-chic, and you still have to drive 20 minutes to get from one worthy destination to another. Even the Bath & Body Works on Mill Avenue didn't make it. But I can take my kids to the Sugar Bowl on Scottsdale Road and make their eyes wide by telling them I had chocolate mint ice cream in this very place when I was a little girl.
It's a question I've pondered for years, but I still don't know if Phoenix is cool. (Neither am I, considering my first concert was Rick Springfield at the aforementioned Coliseum.) But it's most definitely home.
Amy Silverman, managing editor
It took me a while to admit it, but I do love Phoenix. For me, Phoenix is much like a "hate-love" relationship. And because the positives outweigh the negatives, the relationship continues. Some reasons I choose to stay: My immediate family is here; the cost of living is relatively cheap; it does not snow; and everything is spread out. (I'm claustrophobic, so that really helps.)
Originally, I am from Lynn, Massachusetts ("Lynn Lynn the City of Sin, you'll never come out the way you come in"). My dad was offered a better job in Arizona and we moved here when I was 10. I remember living in Lynn and I believe that if we had stayed, I would not be where I am today. I would have not gotten the opportunity to learn how to play the viola, join clubs like yearbook and the debate team, or play sports like hockey or tennis. I believe Arizona has a lot to offer and people need not to be so quick to judge it. Phoenix may have an ugly exterior when compared to other states, but it has a beautiful interior.
— Jasmine Hobeheidar, assistant art director
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Growing up in Phoenix, I remember feeling that this city was trying very hard to be like L.A. — much like the younger sibling following an older sibling in an effort to fit in.
I left Phoenix at the first opportunity, first for university and then for work. Although I would return to visit family and friends, I vowed never to move back. As Phoenix grew and searched to find itself, so did I, elsewhere. I was in a great situation in New York City, with a successful job, incredible friends and endless culture — museums, galleries, theaters, restaurants, nightlife. A decade later, my wife and I had our first child. As a couple, our 800-square-foot apartment suited us fine, but soon we felt the walls caving in on us. My wife also grew up in the West with space and calm — both of which we wanted to provide our daughter. We also wanted her to have and know her family. So we decided to move back west.
We chose Phoenix, not just for family, not just for space, but also for the potential we saw in contributing to its culture. It may feel like there are random areas of interest with lots of space in between and that there are a lot of dots Phoenix needs to connect, but it will happen. It is happening. The possibility of becoming an entrepreneur is real here. Art galleries and theaters and gourmet restaurants have arrived. The Southwest no longer has to be defined by coyotes and kokopellis. "Never" was a word worth eating, as my eyes have finally opened. I see incredible opportunity for Phoenix to think big; hopefully, it will have the fortitude to think even bigger.
— Peter Storch, art director