Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Snowbird Life

Now that I'm about to head back to Illinois from Arizona, I should answer the question people ask me most about winter travel: What's it like to live away from home for three months, especially in a desert rather than in the snowy and cold Midwest?
Aerial photo of Phoenix

It may be easier to use some photographs. Years ago when my oldest child moved to Phoenix, I'd fly via Chicago/Denver/Sky Harbor Airport to visit Arizona. It took a whole day and three difference planes. What I remember most from that trip was the first sight of the city at night, a gorgeous panorama that suddenly came into view once we flew over the mountains surrounding the Valley of the Sun. I'm not sure I will ever forget that blazing panorama. 

   The most visible and memorable landmark by day or night was South Mountain because my son and his wife lived near the base of the mountain. They still do today, and on the mountain is a plaque commemorating their daughter, Gwen, who died several years ago. They often climbed the mountain together.
     Renting a house, learning to drive on the freeways, and finding interesting places have occupied many of my thoughts over the past four years when I actually have lived in Phoenix during the winter.
     In those years I've rented three different houses.
The most recent one looks like this and is located in an area of South Phoenix known as Ahwatukee.  It's in a small, gated part of the city near great shopping, restaurants, movie theatres, book stores, and a library. This is what I see (below) when I leave my house in the morning.

Unlike home, I know none of my neighbors, but the whole area is racially diverse and the car license plates come from multiple states as well as Canadian provinces. It feels like a safe area and I don't worry about crime. The neighborhood has its own pool and the landscaping is handled by the homeowner's association.
    The most complicated problem has been learning to drive in a city of a million and a half. Each year I've
driven my own car out and back with a variety of friends and family members. I've become an expert at packing for a three-month visit and filling my car trunk and back seat. I have it down to a science. We've driven through snow storms, sleet, and a huge dust storm that almost did me in. But somehow we have made it through a variety of routes.
     The first two winters in Phoenix I mostly used the surface streets, venturing out on "The Ten" only occasionally. Now, however, I'm quite comfortable using the freeways. The 202 takes me east and west and the 10 or 101 take me north and south. This is the scene (above)as I head toward the 202 from my house. It's only two blocks away. 
 At first the overhead ramps and traffic seemed a bit daunting. But now I'm used to driving up and over just about anything. Because Phoenix is a city of freeways, I use four times more gasoline here than I use in my tiny town.            

     Some of the places I frequent the most are the
Chandler Mall
grocery store (10 minutes away), the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale (30 min), and the Chandler Mall (15 min.)
     Phoenix has wonderful restaurants, shopping, and winter weather, and it's hard to leave those joys to go back to the Midwest to a small town. However, despite missing my children and grandchildren in far off Phoenix, I feel that small town is home.

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