Yes, Boston, there is a sun. I have seen it. There is nothing
blocking its way. It is big and yellow and exceptionally
beautiful right at 6 o'clock. As what one could almost believe
is an inspired contrast, it is surrounded by this velvety blue
stuff, deep as a gong in the middle and fringing to picolo toward
The sun is radiant, but not at all like a pig. It is silent, undemanding, but never absent through the day. Today I saw a very small patch of clouds well south of here. I can't see the sun now, but it has left its calling card on my skin (no burn--I know my limits (grin)). And instead I can see millions of stars.
This is the desert, which I hadn't expected. I read for weeks about this place and about the Southwest in general, but reading is never experience, and boy do I know it! I am knocked out by this place--and I have seen nothing...
There is a sun and it's gorgeously enduring. It makes it hot during the day--78 today (yes, that's a gloat). When it slips elegantly away (I watched), it cools off considerably, but still it is mild. And those stars...
I am in Tempe, in a simply incredible hotel room. The spaciousness of it astounds--it is bigger than any apartment I ever had. The bed would sleep five comfortably, or the entire nap-time shift at the pre-school. I am not playing 'Texas' games: everything here is enormous. I come from the real America, which is what this is part of--the giant-sized edition. I was raised in Illinois, where space is cheap. I had to scale myself down a great deal to deal with New York, and Boston was even more cramped. Here, everything is spread out, and every simple accomodation is capacious to a point that seems both funny and welcome.
Tempe is the home of Arizona State University, which is why I decided to settle here. It's a suburb of Phoenix that, like many here, is riding the Freeways (they call them that here) to becoming a city of its own. In addition to the university, there is a lot of office-park paper industry, all liberally sprinkled with rich suburb.
It is clean and bright and beautiful everywhere you look. The Valley Of The Sun, which is what any normal person would call The Phoenix Area, is a great big hole in the Rockies. There are mountains all around, and even a few poking up here (people build atop these--exquisitely). The air is gunkless and it smells heavenly: there are orange trees everywhere and their blossoms perfume everything. There are a great number of trees I can't identify, but I was shocked most by one I could: the palm. I've never seen one, unpotted anyway, and even though I had known I was going to, still it startled. They're ubiquitous and the older ones are deliciously weird. If you can picture the Watusi Warrior of artichokes, then imagine it turned inside out and further elongated, then baked, with perhaps a fringe of parsley for garnish, you have a lousy idea of what a palm tree looks like (grin).
The buildings are astounding. Everything is new and competently designed. The architectural style is fairly uniform, Frank Lloyd Wright Of Mazatlan. That's no accident, given the large number of genuine Wright buildings in the area (Talliesen West is near here, and I'll report on that soon). A lot of stucco in white and earth tones, a lot of terra cotta and tile roofs, with a number of gorgeous copper roofs. Everything is very low-rise and very spread out. Everything: businesses that you are used to seeing consolidated are separate here: for the first time in my life, I have seen a store that sells nothing but vacuum cleaners. There are a few 'skyscrapers' of five to twelve stories, but most business is 'mini-malled'. And I mean all business: enterprises that would be in office towers or stand-alone houses with a 'shingle' where you are are in mini-malls. Your dentist and your commercial lines insurance agent might straddle a frozen yogurt stand here. And every business is architecturally pleasing, right down to gas stations and convenience stores. Everything is new and clean and well thought-out at least from the skin out. I tried very hard to find filth or squalor in Tempe today, and found none. I'm not playing or spouting off: not one smashed beer bottle, not one overturned trash can, not one crumbling building. I did see one fly, but only one.
Spread out: like you wouldn't believe. Tempe and all of the Valley Of The Sun is grided out in one mile squares. The grid lines mark the high-traffic corridors, three or more lanes each way. Within these, the 'side' streets meander, randomly or to form geometric designs. Everywhere I've lived was either all grid or all meander, and the idea of the two together makes a lot of sense. Traffic moves here, with none of the mishegos that comes from wild convergences. But: all of the businesses are concentrated on or near the corridors. Within the squares, there is little besides housing. And even on the corridors everything is spread out, with sweeping, richly green lawns and huge parking lots. I toured a grouping of mini-malls this morning, in frustration at not being able to find downtown Tempe. Later I checked my map and discovered that that was downtown Tempe(!).
Truly, I am stunned. I tried not to form any preconceptions about this place, when I was studying it. But no preconceptions could have prepared me for the reality of it. Everything is wonderful, and, so far, nothing has hurt.
And I have seen nearly none of it. I have been outfoxed but the outsize scale of the place. I knew I wanted to live in Tempe, so I reserved in this hotel, the ever so capacious Comfort Inn. I picked it because it was cheap--$40 a night. It's the most elegant cheap hotel I've ever been in, and this kind of cheap goes for $125 a night in Boston, with nothing like the service. Incredible! I expect I'd have died of shock at an expensive place. Anyway, the Comfort Inn is in Tempe in much the same way as the Botanic Gardens are in Boston. Everything is that way here: I tried to tour the ASU campus by bike today, but it simply wore me out. There is no way to deal with this place without wheeled transportation, and that's something I wasn't expecting at all. I love to drive, and I came here in part because I'm sick of not being able to drive, but it's been a while since I've lived in a place where one has to drive.
Unfortunately for me, I can't drive right now, because I let my license lapse in November. It pains me considerably, as you might imagine, to think of the kind of loose games I'm going to have to play with the law to get a new license (grin), but I'll manage. To make do for now, I bought a very sturdy used five-speed bike. I used it today to try to get a handle on Tempe (actually, only about six square miles of it, at the grid lines). This place is big and it is dwarfed by Phoenix.
I haven't even been to Phoenix yet, and I can't imagine even trying to get there without a car. When I get one, though, the Superstition Freeway will get me there while helping me convince myself that all this space must be coming from the fourth dimension.
So, anyway, what I'm reporting about is the tiny slice of The Valley Of The Sun that I've seen, two squares wide by three deep. Most of my time I've spent here and around ASU. Here, I've availed myself of the complimentary heated pool and the complimentary continental breakfast (all you can eat, but not continental (thank god)--danish, coffee and Battle Creek's best), and that enormous bed (I drew a map in case I got lost on it (grin)). At ASU I checked out the campus (beautiful but damned big), the stores (skimpy on the values of the mind) and the women (anhhhhh....!). Even before the palm trees, yesterday afternoon at SkyHarbor International Airport (nothing is named sanely, but the signage everywhere is tasteful and unobtrusive), I noticed the naked legs. Yes, there is a sun, and it makes women expose their legs, with not even the petty annoyance of a stocking or even a sock. When I lived in that dismal snow pit, I loved the Summer, because that's when the legs come out. Today, at ASU, they were out in force--and it's March 14th! I could cry. I like looking at women, and the women here are very worth looking at, very finely shaped and healthy-looking, and many of them are heart-stoppingly pretty. This is something like orange blossoms and clean-lined architecture: beautiful women are simply everywhere. The first woman I spoke with here, the reservations clerk at the hotel, turned out to be a knock-out. Seriously: if everything is not as it seems, please ask the pastor if he'll read this note at my funeral (grin). Eden Is...
Here's proof: I rented a one bedroom apartment about a mile from the university. It's a 'garden' style apartment in a small, quiet complex. It's capacious beyond belief, fully applianced with brand new equipment, electricty paid. The buildings are Aztec-restrained, dusky stucco with terra cotta roofs, and I was attracted to them by their beauty and symmetry. thre are two heated pools in the complex, tennis and basketball courts, and more parking than in all of Cambridge (grin). Surrounded by sun and palms and that unendurably green grass, it rents for, what? A grand? Fifteen hundred? Would you believe $375...? Yeah! With only $75 in deposits and $250 off on my last month's rent. Unbelievable! This place is wild!
Rich, rich, rich! Incredible wealth everywhere you look, and all of it within easy reach of everyone. I was really sweating that rent nut, because it would tell me when I have to (grrr!) find a job. It's so low and sweet, and I'm getting so enormously much for it. It's beginning to sound liturgical, but everything is like that here. Low prices, huge quantities (two scoops at Baskin-Robbins turns out to be more than a pint--for $2.11), all sorts of freebies and rebates, and the most gracious service I've known anywhere. I've had to learn to order children's and appetizer portions, because I simply cannot eat all they want to feed a normal person. The people are super nice and very easy to talk to. I've had more friendly conversations with strangers in the last 32 hours than I had in the last 32 days in Boston. At least in Tempe, there is plenty of everything for everybody and everyone is very easy to get along with.
I've barely scratched the surface. There are a lot of things I noted that didn't find their way into the discourse. So here are some notes at random, just so they don't get left out. Many of the fast food restaurants serve beer and wine, and some have full bars; I've never seen anything like that before. The papers seem pretty boring, and I haven't yet found the 'other' paper, the former counter-culture, now furniture-culture paper. The bookstores are pretty ditsy, and every one has a full Cliff's Notes rack. The Tempe library is too damn small, but it has all of Kay Smith but Elegy and an Ibsen/Shaw comparison that looks interesting; I'm sure I will have to crash the ASU library to find all I need. Swimming and laying in the sun are very enjoyable things to do. Backtracking: Major Barbara is a form of an answer to Ghosts, but the mother should be better realized, so it doesn't work. Watching naked legs, arms and backs while laying in the sun is extremely enjoyable (grin). I ditched my very tired boom box in Beantown, so I bought a Walkthing today; I've been toying around with stations, and for the moment I've settled on Classic Rock, basically sixties and seventies music. So far I've heard Bang A Gong, Layla, and Ike and Tina Turner's Proud Mary; I'm still waiting for All The Young Dudes and Monkey Man, but I know they'll get to them. The TV isn't much, not a lot even with the 15 or so cable stations, and a whole lot of religion; I left my TV in Boston, too, so it doesn't matter, just thought I'd pass it along. The floorspace of all the stores is incredible; soon someone will offer complimentary roller skates. The mountains really are purple. I saw my first articulated bus today; it looks rather like the green line trains, but the articulation is done in pleated aluminum. Near ASU there is a Christian bookstore called Quo Vadis that does not sell that book (!!); I asked the clerk if he knew where the business was going, but he didn't get it. I did my Friday plus laundry today in a laundromat that had no customer but me the whole time I was there (!!!!! Yeah!--and my new home comes with laundry facilities). There are five pro baseball teams that have Spring training here, including the Cubs; the Seattle Mariners are staying at this hotel. It's likely I'll be moving to another apartment when I'm more settled; I got a lot on this deal, but there's more I can have and I want it: more space, private pools, and jacuzzae. This is very much a paradise on earth, and the only drawback I can see is that people seem to be less than ideally intellectual, even at the university; they are educated, as all Americans are (and many New Yorkers and Bostonians are not), but I've yet to have a chat with someone who seemed fired by the mind. I haven't been in touch with the LP yet, but I'll be calling when I get a phone (probably by Wednesday). I didn't expect to be able to, but I found those wonderful greeting cards with no 'message' but with a classic painting for a cover; I've loved those cards for years, and I feared they were gone from my life; on the other hand, never before have I had a chance to send a copper postcard, and I may just do it (grin). There's more, still and always, but I need to think about getting to bed soon; I'm moving in to my new abode in the morning.
This is going to do fine. I'll post a phone number when I know it. In the meantime, I'll be out by the pool scrutinizing all the naked body parts and imagining those that aren't (grin).
Very Best Wishes from The Valley Of The Sun,