Manassas Journal Messenger | Tales from the Southwest

Scottsdale, Ariz. — If American life is hectic in general, we should come up for a new word to describe what it’s like in most of Prince William County, Stafford and other Washington, D.C. suburbs. When one gets a chance to leave his or her job in the metro area behind, sometimes it’s best to leave it far behind.

I arrived this weekend in the Phoenix, Ariz. area, visiting a family member that moved here in the mid-1990s. I’d never been anywhere between New Orleans and Los Angeles, so I decided that with the little vacation time I had saved up, I’d give the American Southwest a try. Since another staff writer, Brian Hunsicker, shared his first trip to the Pacific Northwest (Oregon) with readers recently, I thought I’d make this column part two of the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger’s west coast road swing. Tales from the Southwest may make one come to appreciate the sports and culture of the mid-Atlantic region. Or you may be convinced to immediately make reservations at one of the many grandiose resorts here.

I like to think I’m an American geography and contemporary culture buff, but I’m surprised at how little I knew about Arizona before arriving. To those who have spent nearly all of their lives on the East Coast like I have, or were raised in the Deep South or Midwest, Arizona could very well be another country, save the common languages, monetary units and Best Buy/Old Navy-filled strip malls.

The Southwest, at least on first impression, is much like an Easterner might picture it, having gleaned all he or she could from overhead shots during Phoenix Suns broadcasts and whatnot. This really is a cactus-and-brown-mountain-filled landscape.

But from the moment the packed Northwest Airlines jet I was on broke through the clouds on descent into Phoenix, I could tell this was no collection of sleepy desert abodes. Oh, no. The architecture may be different, but the homes are packed as tightly into subdivisions as they are in Northern Virginia. I’m told that the Phoenix-Scottsdale-Tempe-Mesa area will soon overtake Philadelphia as the nation’s fifth most-populated metropolitan area, behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

Arizona residents’ existence differs from those living near the nation’s capital in more than just the style of house. Some people here actually think the Cardinals are an NFL football team!

Sports in the southwest are different too. So far, I’ve seen no sign of anything Big East-, ACC- or SEC-related. I have seen updates from Arizona State college football practice on TV everyday, including hype for quarterback Andrew Walter (who?) for Heisman.

But cut these Pac-10 lovers a break. These are people who might really mean it when they say football is a religion. The NFL games out west kickoff at 10 a.m. (1 p.m. our time), forcing some non-secular folks to choose between sermons and the shotgun, pulpits and the prevent.

The time difference — which in Arizona is two hours behind the east in the winter and three during daylight savings since they do not change their clocks — affects nothing like it affects the sports world.

Sit down for a late dinner here, and most of the evening’s major league baseball games are in the ninth inning. The 11 p.m. SportsCenter? That’s the 8 p.m. SportsCenter ’round these parts. Folks apparently finish their workdays not long before Monday Night Football kicks off. It starts at 9 p.m. for us, which is about when it ends for them, so at least folks who have to be at work by 6 a.m. aren’t up past midnight trying to see if the Dolphins can complete a crazy comeback against the Jets.

Apparently, Arizonans are known to wear sweaters in 70-degree winter weather. But even the blood-thinning-out excuse doesn’t explain why a place — one that even in winter you can only find ice in a cold drink — has an NHL hockey team.

But I’ll tell you what, this isn’t a half-bad place to be. Scottsdale, just outside Phoenix and spring training home to the San Francisco Giants, is a golf haven. The city has so many golfing opportunities that only two people had to play through the evening round I spent driving balls onto the range and chipping back and forth over the greens.

If that isn’t enough, Scottsdale streets are equipped with what are called washes, which are oversized ditches built beside roads and structures to collect rainwater and prevent flooding. Some of the cities here are built on slate, which is apparently not too absorbent, and without traditional sewer systems.

But a wash isn’t filled with floodwater 365 days a year, so the city turned one into an 18-hole golf course, playable for cheap whenever it’s dry. Which it is often by the way.

Speaking of dry, don’t let anyone tell you dry heat isn’t as bad as Eastern Seaboard humidity. Hot is hot.

I can’t imagine there being many boring days out here for a fan of sports and games. The retractable-roofed Bank One Ballpark gleams even from the plane window view. Sports bar TVs are split between football, ultimate fighting and rodeo. And if the hour flight to Las Vegas is too expensive, every commercial break touts another casino on a reservation, so I’m sure the gaming opportunities are endless.

Whenever it’s quail, not squirrels, running in front of the car, you’re a long way from home. But it’s good to know that the seemingly strange happenings are all part of American culture.

Keith McMillan’s column appears on Tuesdays in the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger. Reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (703) 878-8086.

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