Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Phoenix - First Impressions This Trip

I've been here in Phoenix for a week now. I have been here before too, at least4 or 5 other times. Each time I visit, I gt the same feeling - I much prefer Tucson. Phoenix is a pretty big city. It has a big downtown area that is surrounded by a lot of urban sprawl. Despite all of the sprawl, and all of the cars in the parking lots all around town, which would mean there are a lot of people here, downtown often gives the impression, at least to me, of a large post-apocalyptic wasteland city. I find it cold and lacking soul, and I guess that is best evidenced in the fact that you rarely see anyone walking on the streets. Even in the middle of a business day, when the streets of cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, or Washington DC would be thronged with people both people who work in them and who are visiting them) the streets of Phoenix are pretty much empty - soulless. Of course there are a few folks out and about. I would estimate that about 75% of the handful I have seen each day are driving. Mind you, even though the percentage I just mentioned seems a high one it is only in relation to the few people who are actually out and about. There is no traffic within the downtown area of Phoenix after 0900. Heck, there is not much during the traditional rush hour either. As for the other 25% of the folks I see who are on the streets of Phoenix during a work day, well let me just say that about 80% of that 25% are less than desirable. Oh let me just say it - to me they look like bums, indigents, homeless dirtbags. They are what they are. Phoenix seems overrun by homeless at least when you compare the number that you see of them to the number of regular working folks you see out and about.

Of course, and what else would you expect, the apartment complex that my government employer has forced me to reside in for my 3 month stay in Phoenix is on the edge of downtown and right smack in the middle of an area that seems to be overrun by homeless or at least by bums ad dirtbags. I am kind of surprised that no one has tried to break into my ground floor apartment as of yet. If the do try while I am inside of it - well then - they will get a surprise. If they do try while I am at work, then they will not find much. I have already been approached by a few looking for handouts. I have see one guy, in virtual rags, walk into the outside smoking or patio area of a bar/restaurant and start scrounging on tables at which people were sitting. Not one person at those tables said a word to him. Had he walked up to my table and put his filthy gloved hands on my food, there would have been one heck of a commotion is I will say.

The other thing that bugs me about Phoenix, is that despite having a large downtown area, and despite having a university or three, there are no truly well defined areas that cater to drinkers and diners. Everything is spread out and everything or almost everything seems to be set helter-skelter as if mushrooms popping up in damp doody that was excreted at random intervals in the woods. What can I say, not a pretty picture but it is the way it seems to me. What I mean is this - there is no theater district, no restaurant row, no area with a lot of bars within a few blocks, and so forth - at least none that I have encountered within the past week. Yeah, there is an area on the east side of downtown where there are a few to several bars. I walked over there on new year's Eve. Two bars looked packed to the rafters. About three others I saw had a grand total of about 30 patrons betwixt them. Folks, this was at about 0:30 to 11:00PM - a time when the partiers and revelers should have been out in force. Where are all the people of phoenix. Why does walking the streets of Phoenix at night, or even at mid-day, give me the feeling I am in a city in which the zombies have already eaten the great majority of he population, so much so that they have moved on to other feeding grounds because the pickings here are too slim?

My assessment of Phoenix may not make me any friends among they who live and or work here, but that is the impression I get. I would really rather be in Tucson. At least in Tucson, there are areas that seem devoted to certain themes. For example there are one or two antiques areas with many antiques stores, if not within a short walk of each other at least within a short drive of one another. There is a university area that looks as if there is a university with some off campus life around it. For example there are many restaurants and bars near the university along with a few clothing boutiques, coffee shops, and bookstores. While much of Tucson is spread out - there are islands or clusters of businesses that seem geared toward a particular theme for the area in which they exist. I don't just mean at malls either, hell there are lots of malls in Tucson as well as in Phoenix. I tend to shun them when looking for place to enjoy my day, preferring areas where I can take a walk outside. What Tucson has that Phoenix seems to lack are neighborhood centers of activity.

Now mind you, there are some areas like this near Phoenix. For example there is Tempe. Wow!. What a nice little town. It is not as sprawling as either Tucson or Phoenix, is much smaller in size and population than either I would imagine, but it offers much more than Phoenix seems to offer with regard to nice little shops, restaurants and bars all centrally located. I was there a couple of days ago, I think on Sunday, and there were literally thousands of people out and walking about. Obviously there was some special event taking place, but folks I was in downtown Phoenix and the surround areas on another night of a special event, New year's Eve, and Phoenix seemed like a ghost town at best. Thankfully Phoenix has a rapid transit system with rail service to Tempe. I will be using it on my weekends.

Now to be fair, I have been here only a week - so this is sort of my first impression. I say sort of because as I mentioned earlier on in this piece, I have been here before. It is virtually the same impression I get each time I visit. I can understand that in the heat of the summer, no one wants to be out and about. The thing is though, right now it has been in the 60s and 70s each day. The weather has been perfect. Perfect for what? Well for getting out and walking in the streets of what other that its apparent empty feeling is a fine looking and pretty amazingly clean city. The buildings are nice, if you like big city buildings with a modern flair, and I do. The streets are clean, no trash swirling in the breeze, no aromatic sewers, no wafting of the odor of doggie doody, no honking of horns from a madhouse of congested streets, but I have to say that does not make up for the soulless feeling I get here when I go for a walk here. It is, as far as the feel of the city itself goes, simply one of the coldest, most heartless cities I have ever visited.

Now mind you, don't get all riled up if you are a Phoenician (as I see you call yourselves). Most of the folks I have met here are just that - folks. They are, in other words, nice - regular - people. Most of them have been polite, well the ones i have met in person. Those on the road, driving in other cars, well quite a few of them have been dickheads. No other way to describe them except to say that they have no road courtesy, blow there horns for the least little annoyance, cut you off incessantly, tailgate as if they were fleeing the hordes of hades who are hot on their tails, and are pretty much discourteous drivers. That they do not show much courtesy while driving here is evidenced not so much even by their bad driving habits but more so even through their lack of appropriate response to road courtesies that other drivers give to them. When in a line of traffic, say stopped at a light, when the light turns green and traffic ahead of me starts to move, I have, several times already, allowed (or tried to allow)people who are attempting to enter the road from parking lot driveways to do so in front of me. I have sat there, a few times now, for up to 30 seconds, waiting for the other driver to enter the roadway and they sit there looking back at me like I am a nut waiting to broadside them once they enter the road. I have even waved several of them on, one guy waved back indicating he would not go. As soon as I went he screeched his wheels leaving the lot. This happens on the highway too while in traffic. Someone is in the next lane with directional signal on and indicating they want to move into my lane. i give them space, plenty of space, and as they look into their mirrors I signal they can change lanes. They do not, but once I close the gap, after having given them ample opportunity to change lanes, it is then that some of the try to squeeze in. That is not just me folks, I have seen it happen other drivers who were trying to be courteous. As for driving in traffic I have never, not in all my life, seen worse drivers in heavy traffic with the possible exception of those on the LA freeways or in Port Au Prince, Haiti. I suppose the worst infraction of driving courtesy though is tailgating when on the highway at highway speeds. This seems to be a statewide phenomenon though and not just a problem in Phoenix. Even drivers in new York city are more courteous on the roads and that even goes for NYC Yellow Cab drivers!

To me it seems the drivers in this state, especially in the larger cities, are very angry for some reason. Horn honking for any minor inconvenience is a frequent occurrence. For instance, I was making a left turn from a center lane, a turning lane. About 4 to 6 inches of my right rear bumper was still in the left lane. I had come upon the street on which I needed to turn and only realized it was the street at the last moment. Now despite the fact that the left lane, into which my bumper protruded, was rather a wide lane, a guy coming along behind me decided he had to swerve over toward my car and honk, keep honking as he passed me, then open his window and flip me the bird. It made me think maybe, just maybe he recognized me from some previous encounter or maybe as a Republican. No, the world is not that small a place, it was just a Phoenix driver being a peckerwood. This has happened three times so far. No I did not do the same thing each time. One other time I was entering a driveway of a gas station and had to stop partly still out in the street because the driver in front of me seemed dazed, confused, and not sure of where to pull up to get gas. Despite the fact that there were three lanes, empty lanes at that, on the side of the road from which I was exiting the roadway, the only other driver within sight had to swerve at me and blast his horn like a madman. The other incident was when I was entering the roadway from a driveway. I was not even out in the road, and a nut came racing up honking as if he expected me, or maybe was daring me, to drive out in front of him. He slowed as he passed me to almost a crawl. What is wrong with people liken that, and why does it seem to happen here so often. Others here on the same assignment as am I have also commented on the nutty and discourteous drivers here. I just do not get it. For the most part there is no traffic, except during the absolute height of rush hour, yet the drivers here act as if they are under the constant strain of heavy traffic and bad driving habits of others when such just could not possibly the the case. They just seem full of a wild eyed and frenzied rage that I simply do not understand if for no other reason that there seems to be no cause for it. I would think that the lack of traffic here at most times would make for happy drivers but somehow it seems to have had the reverse effect. I will admit, driving was much the same in Tucson. I will also admit, that it may be much more congested, and there may be a lot of lousy drivers, in New York City but must also point out there is a lot more common courtesy on the roads up that way and a lot less road rage when considering it all percentage wise or so it seems to me.

Oh well, those are over the course of my upcoming weekend, a better impression will be left upon me. Again, don't take me wrong, I still like it here despite those less than wonderful things I mentioned above, and I find the folks i have met to be courteous and nice and the city itself to be beautiful and clean (at least downtown) but there are some rather perplexing things that made there mark on me and led to the impressions I have had so far.

All the best,
Glenn B