After a brief hiatus, the Insecure Critic column is back with the same poignant, insightful, selective insecurities as before, but with a new focus: examining the city in which he lives, the issues that he faces and the people and places he encounters.
When I got home from my recent trip to Ohio to visit family for the holidays, it struck me: Phoenix is home to me now. I know that may seem obvious since I have lived almost a third of my life here, but it hadn’t hit me until this trip that I was most at home in the desert. When I first moved to the Valley in 2000, transferring jobs with a former employer, I never saw the move as something permanent. I expected to stay here for a few years then move on. Something has kept me here, though.
If I boil it down to the basics, there are three things that keep me here: the special places that make Phoenix unique, the interesting blend of people you will find here and the paradoxical beauty of the desert.
While some people say that there isn’t anything to do in Phoenix, I find I have the opposite problem. When family comes to visit from out of town, we have trouble getting everything done in time. For example, the Heard Museum is unlike any museum I’ve ever been to, with its unique collection of Native American art. Every time I visit, all I can think is, “Why don’t I come here more often?” I also love the experience of taking someone into You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies at the Phoenix Art Museum for the first time. Sure, neither of those places is MoMA, but they offer things that are uniquely Phoenix.
Not to get all museum crazy, but the other thing that I absolutely love in Phoenix is the Desert Botanical Garden. It is fun, interesting, beautiful, romantic and inspiring. I also highly recommend the guided tours they offer — I’m personally not much of a guided tour kind of guy, but I went on one last time I was at the garden, and it was fascinating.
I just realized that I am starting to sound like one of those cheesy tourist guides that you find on the nightstand at the Airport Hilton, so I apologize, but there is a reason that the Convention and Visitors Bureau recommends these places: they really are world class, and they are right in Phoenix.
Anyway, my other favorite places in Phoenix are our unique, local restaurants. There is nowhere else that you can find Matt’s Big Breakfast or Postino. I’m not sure of another place that I could find a bar as chill as The Lost Leaf or service as ambivalent as that at Carly’s.
I love the people in Phoenix; sure, when you have a populace that consistently elects the craziest sheriff in the country time after time, you have to wonder about the general mental state of the people, but I appreciate the distinct Arizona culture. As someone with a libertarian political view that borders on anarchist, I like the sort of “live and let live” attitude that tends to prevail in Phoenix. I see it in the way people interact in social situations, the way people behave at work and the way laws are written. Yes, this means that in Arizona your pet project, whether it is bike paths, or publicly funded solar panels, is less likely to be showered with tax dollars, but it also means that people in general respect your ability to make your own decisions. I like that.
I have met some of the most thoughtful, intelligent, clever people I have ever known right here in Phoenix, and I am sure I am going to meet many more.
I remember the first time I was told this maxim about our desert by a priest at a church I attended long ago: The miracle of the desert is finding beauty where you would never expect to see it. It is so true. The most barren and desolate mountain has an uncanny majesty as it stands against the bands of color in the Phoenix sunset. There is inspiration in seeing the tiny blossoms of a desert plant surrounded by acres and acres of dry, dusty land. It is a reminder that the most beautiful and meaningful things often come to us in hardship and difficulty. The desert speaks to me.
Am I a diehard evangelist for Phoenix, or am I vowing to stay here until I die? Absolutely not. But, by the same token, I will never be one of those people who constantly bitches about Phoenix, about how awful the transit, weather, people, politics or education is here, and how they can’t wait to move to San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland or Seattle, as though someone were holding a gun to their head forcing them to stay here. If someone offered me a dream job in Boston or Chicago, of course I would move. But, I’m happy where I am now.