Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed Out

Happy birthday mama Maxwell

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In the middle of a vast and sprawling desert there sits a vast and sprawling city. Truth be told, Phoenix oozes more than it sits. Its edges, amorphous in places but abrupt against natural barriers in others, crawl across the Sonora desert at, in places, a pace that would leave a snail winded and gasping for air. Vast tracts of what were once stinkin’ desert that bloomed with agriculture thanks to the virtual destruction of the Colorado River are now stinkin’ subdivisions where transplants from across North America sun their bums in air conditioned pickup trucks.

The perfect months to visit Phoenix are any ending in "ary", of which this is one. During those months, Phoenix provides a warm oasis for winter-weary snowbirds, of which I am not one. But a respite from Whistler’s deep freeze was a welcome idea and I jumped at the chance. Having committed the sin of envy, I arrived in Phoenix to find temps roughly the mirror opposite of Whistler – +18°C instead of -18°C – and, ironically, about the same amount of snow I left. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. There’s more snow. At least in the mountains just north of the city.

Unaccustomed to such icy temperatures, except in their deeply repressed memories of former lives in Illinois and Minnesota, Phoenicians(?) are mostly bundled up in down jackets, fur coats, fleece and heavy boots. Except for the ones wearing shorts and T-shirts. The scene is reminiscent of a vast masquerade party where the entire populace has raided their tickle trunk. Everywhere is the faint but unmistakable scent of moth balls.

It is also raining. Rain in the desert is both an unaccustomed and generally unwelcome intrusion. Even among those who acknowledge the area’s great need for rain – Phoenix and environs being well ahead in the race to become the first greater metropolitan region to die of thirst – grow uncomfortable after the first few drops. This is due, in no small part, to the fact that everything in the desert is so used to being thoroughly desiccated it reacts in one of two ways to the first drops of water. If it’s flora, it blooms. If it’s manmade, it leaks. Houses, cars, long-abandoned raincoats, umbrellas, shoes and those fringed tops on golf carts everyone drives around the planned retirement community where my parents live, all leak prodigiously at the first sign of rain.

And, about the time everyone gets used to a little leakage, come the flash flood warnings, followed more or less immediately by the flash floods themselves. Flash floods are the desert’s version of tsunamis. Because the catchment area is huge, the waterways deeply eroded, and the soil incapable of holding more than a cow can drool while chewing a cud of stinkweed, it doesn’t take much rain for surf to be up ‘round these parts. And because the population grows constantly, there is always some former easterner, who thought it would be cool to catch the wave on his boogie board, swept away by the flash flood. Generally, all they find is very clean, very polished bones since the wall of water in a flash flood carries enough grit to make it as abrasive as rough sandpaper and moves with speed to tumble the poor sap around like a stone in a polisher. Cowabunga, dude.

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