phoenix trip ’10

30 Aug

I flew back home from Phoenix this morning. As is my custom, I of course arrived at the airport ridiculously early and, hence, was checked-in and through security about 10 minutes into the 2 hours I had allowed for it. But oh well, that’s what they make the Entertainment Weekly Fall Preview issue for.

I arrived in Phoenix on Friday afternoon. This whole month I had been talking about how poorly timed my trip to Arizona was – August was going to be miserably hot there! But it turned out Friday was the only truly hot, sunny, clear day while I was there, and it wasn’t even that bad – I think it was 98 degrees. The whole weekend people kept thanking me for bringing the Portland weather with me – I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it did storm and rain a bit and the rest of the weekend it was just overcast. I went to Arizona in the summertime and still didn’t get to use my brand-new swimsuit. I also did not get the tan that everyone told me I had to get while I was there. But it was still a great visit, and I, for one, am just happy it wasn’t, like, 112 degrees the whole time.

I had forgotten the way the clouds leave shadows on the mountains. And the way it smells after a good rain in the desert.

On Saturday, Alyssa took me to visit her classroom so we could print something off real quick. But we ended up staying for awhile because Alyssa’s as bad as I am about making sure everything is in its place – she had subs in when she took the day off on Friday and they left things predictably out-of-order. Being in her classroom was like stepping back in a time machine. Teachers still use all those bright-colored cut-out letters and months-of-the-year signs that they used when I was in elementary school, and the chairs were so tiny! It was also kind of cool to see how Alyssa had put her own touch on things.

After the classroom visit, we went to Culver’s for lunch, which was a total trip to me. I’ve moved around a fair amount, and everywhere I’ve lived there are must-do’s whenever I go back to visit. For me, a foodie, most of these must-do’s are restaurants, some of which are just fast-food chains we don’t have where I currently live. Culver’s has always been a must-do whenever I visit my dad in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But Alyssa casually mentioned they had Culver’s custard in Phoenix now and then I pretty much had to go.

Cheese curds, a butter burger with cheese, a Culver’s root beer, and then some delicious custard – yum!

We rounded out our Saturday afternoon by going to see The Switch. I joked with Alyssa that I am one of the most boring vacationers on the planet – as all I do is eat and watch movies and generally just do things I would be doing anyway were I at home.

Saturday night we had occasion to go downtown  because Jessica, a friend of Alyssa’s, was having an 80s-themed birthday pub crawl. We got dressed up and had a lot of fun (even if I did puss out when it came time to pay cover charges at dance clubs – yuck, meet-markets).

Phoenix has changed a lot in some ways. Politically, of course, it’s as backwards as ever. And everything still pretty much closes by 10pm – save the bars and Denny’s and the trusty 5 & Diner. But the downtown area, which was practically a ghost town when I lived there, has been revitalized – the Hotel San Carlos got a $1 million restoration shortly after I left, and Arizona State University (predominately located in Tempe) moved some departments, including medical and journalism studies, into downtown, building student housing there as well. ASU’s presence downtown, as well as the addition of a light rail system in 2008, has really made all the difference. A lot of bars and clubs have popped up downtown and it’s actually become somewhere you might still want to be after 6pm now. Seeing the light rail operating and just seeing so many people downtown was kind of surreal for me.

Yea, that was Goldschlager. Luckily, I was only the photographer on this one, no shots taken. Alyssa’s friends were really nice and welcoming, which was great.

We were up really late Saturday night, so accordingly we stayed in bed really late on Sunday. We got up and kind of puttered around in our pajamas for most of the afternoon before finally getting ready to go out around 6. We met up with Hillary and her daughter, Emma, at El Comedor Guadalajara, another local favorite of mine, for dinner around 7. Alyssa and I both went to high school with Hillary, went to her baby shower when she was pregnant with Emma, and saw baby Emma once or twice after that, too. Emma has grown into an absolutely charming 2nd-grader now, who talks practically non-stop, and asked me whether I was Team Jacob or Team Edward. And Hill is still Hill, funny and sweet and awesome as ever. It was so great seeing both of them, but I stupidly took pictures of my delicious food, but not any of us all hanging out together (it was really delicious, though):

After dinner, Alyssa and I went to meet up with one of her friends at a bar off Roosevelt. We used to go to Modified Arts to see all the little indie shows when we were in high school, and at the time there was really nothing else nearby. Now, there are a bunch of bars and galleries and coffee shops over there and the area has kind of taken off even more as a hipster-friendly zone. Apparently, Modified is just a gallery now, no more shows.

The Lost Leaf is a cozy little beer and wine bar, with a good selection of craft and local beers as well as imports. I had my usual Lambic, which I was happy to see they had available. Although the bar itself was really cool, there was a band playing that was awful and awfully loud. We only stayed long enough to each have one drink and play two games of Uno.

The red lighting also made it really difficult to tell blue and green apart on the Uno cards. I like the above shot because it kind of looks like Thing is playing cards with us.

After The Lost Leaf, we went to The Roosevelt tavern, which I wish I had gotten exterior pictures of because it’s in a really neat little brick house with wrought-iron fencing around the perimeter. Instead, all I have is this vaguely artful shot of the menu:

Also a beer and wine bar, I was not so lucky with selection this time around. With no Lambics available, I was planning on trying the Strongbow Cider that Alyssa recommended, but they were out. It was also pretty busy in there – we joked that it was because everyone was here instead of Lost Leaf because the music was so awful there, but actually I’m pretty sure that was the case. We stood around for awhile, then finally snagged some seats, but we ended up leaving pretty shortly thereafter.

Mostly, I was just impressed that all these awesome little bars had sprung up in this area off Roosevelt where there used to be pretty much nothing. It was like hipster heaven there, I felt underdressed just because I didn’t have my plaid shirt, beanie, Chuck Taylors, skinny jeans, or v-neck white t-shirt on. It was almost like being back in Portland again. But the hipsters in Phoenix have a pretty insular little scene in which to circulate, so it was just cool to see that it has at least expanded a little, and I was excited to see that craft beers and local brews have kind of broken through there now, too.

Alyssa and I parted ways with Rich, who had to work the next day, and went to The George & Dragon Pub for another drink and then to our old haunt the 5 & Diner. The 5 & Diner is everyone’s old haunt in Phoenix, really, because it’s the only place besides Denny’s that’s open 24 hours a day, and they serve really good diner food. Plus if you’re 16 and you went to a show and you’re wondering what to do between now and when you have to be home, the 5 & Diner is pretty much it for the non-drinking crowd.

It was just like old times. We sat outside and ate, I had hot chocolate, and we talked about anything and everything. All weekend I was again struck (as I am every time we see each other) by how easily Alyssa and I just pick up right where we left off. There’s never any awkwardness or reticence, no matter how much each of us may have gone through or just grown or changed since we last spent time together. I only have a couple of friends who I’ve been able to keep up this kind of relationship with, and I’m so grateful that Alyssa is one of them. But it also makes me miss her more each time we have to part. We’re being proactive this time though, and have started planning a trip to Vancouver, BC next summer. I can’t wait!

Overall, my trip to Phoenix was short but good. I was surprised to find that I don’t really feel very much attachment to that place anymore. It’s lessened with each visit back, but this time it was pretty much gone, maybe partly because the city has changed so much and in many ways isn’t even recognizable as the place I called home. To me, this was less a visit “back home” and more just a visit to a different city altogether. But as long as Alyssa’s there, I’ll still be back from time to time.

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