I’ve lived in Arizona for 16 of my 35 years — so, yes, I guess I have to call it home. When Tim and I decided to move here from San Francisco soon after we married in 2001, we were motivated by a more reasonable cost of living that would allow us to buy a home and give me the flexibility to go back to school to become a teacher (and take the insane pay cut that came with that career decision … thanks, Tim, I owe you one). And for those purposes, Arizona has served us well. We bought a beautiful home, the likes of which we would not likely ever be able to afford in the Bay Area. We made new friends and strengthened old bonds, and we grew accustomed to the comforts of suburban life. But even after almost 10 years, I still have a hard time admitting that Arizona may be our last stop. But why? What’s wrong with Arizona?
Well, plenty. Arizona has a rich history of crackpots and crooks in state government, and while I don’t wish to get political on this here blog, the increasingly divisive partisan politics engaged in by our elected officials do nothing to endear me, or others from around the country, to this place (Arizona is frequently ridiculed on The Daily Show, for instance). No matter what your political affiliation, however, it’s tough to debate one key area that has been repeatedly ignored and abused by our state government: education. As a public school teacher, I am acutely aware of how we spend less on education per student than about 49 other states, and we have the highest student-teacher ratio in the country. Other startling statistics include Arizona’s rank in the number of teenage pregnancies and comparatively low number of high school, college and graduate school graduates. And an economy that has relied heavily in the last decade on the now-defunct construction/real estate business and, as a result, is experiencing 9.1 percent unemployment doesn’t help the picture.
But, on the eve of it’s 99th year, I can’t say that the state of Arizona is all bad. For one thing, there’s the weather. My family spent nearly our entire weekend outdoors marveling at the understated desert beauty, first at the stylish Sanctuary Resort on Camelback on Friday and then on two hikes in our neighborhood Phoenix Mountain Preserve, thanks to the ridiculously wonderful sunny weather. We ate good food — at the aforementioned Sanctuary, and then today at Zinc Bistro at Kierland Commons (preparing for France) — and we enjoyed great company at the home of some close friends Saturday night. Sure, come June we’ll be cursing the sun and the sadistic heat it brings, but for the next few months, Phoenix is really tough to beat. And though Phoenix may be overrun with chain restaurants and strip malls, it also boasts a lovely variety of interesting local businesses, and a whole host of exciting day trips, which we have hardly taken advantage of (I see a future blog post in the making).
So it’s weather and comfort and great friends and good food and a more leisurely way of life. If we moved back to California or another, larger metropolis — which is where my mind often takes me — we might find more excitement, better career opportunities and a more vibrant pace. But who’s to say that’s better? Right now, as I’m sitting on my back porch in February in a T-shirt and shorts, listening to The Strokes and watching my dog chase birds back and forth through our oversized yard, I feel pretty darned content.