According to Google, the word phoenix has a couple of meanings, one of which is this: a person or thing regarded as uniquely remarkable in some respect.
We are camped on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona after spending a lovely, relaxed evening at my Uncle and Aunt’s tastefully appointed downtown home. The city is no Boston, Chicago, or New York, and it certainly gets hotter here than a molten lava cake, but there is much to love about this well-planned and well-kept city. Here are six uniquely remarkable aspects — or phoenixes, if you will — that I have experienced during my stay:
Live where you work; work where you play; make it home for lunch
Like any urban area, Phoenix has its share of suburbs and commuters. However, the city is laid out in tidy blocks that intersperse the residential, the commercial, and the civic in a way I have not seen in other areas. Its neighborhoods are thoughtfully linked together by a helpful network of buses and light rail vehicles, and nearly all of its streets make generous accommodations for bicyclists. Parks are next to museums, which are adjacent to offices, which sidle up to single-family homes. The live, the work, and the play intermingle under the hot Phoenix sun, making this urban oasis uniquely livable, navigable, and manageable.
The sun blazes almost year-round in the Phoenix valley, and even the coldest days of winter seldom see frost. As a result, a range of flora can flourish here that would crumple and wither elsewhere. Citrus trees are easily grown and maintained in this sunny city. My uncle and aunt, with whom we had the pleasure of staying for a night, have prolific lemon and grapefruit trees in their backyard, both of which yield over 1,000 fruits a season. Fresh-squeezed lemonade and grapefruit to accompany a poolside breakfast? Yes, please.
Green in the desert
I have seen more green-loving, tote-bag-toting, tofu-eating, hybrid-driving, garden-growing greenie-beanies in this city than I met in all of the southeast and Texas combined. As a member of the poser-wannabe class, I am inspired by a population that is decidedly aware of their carbon footprint, vigilant about the food they put into their bodies, and resolute in they way they care for the environment. The city’s recent addition of the light rail gives testimony to a cultural embrace of environmental care, and the farmer’s markets peppered throughout the city give easy access to fantastic local produce and an array of conscious groceries.
Dancing on the subway
Aboard the metro light rail with my son, a lanky man wearing a crisp, sleeveless undershirt boarded the train. Stark, white earbuds contrasted with his deep brown skin tone, the cord of which wove its way into the pocket of his black shorts (where it presumably connected to an iPod). He stood still for a few moments. Then, a song with a good beat must have shuffled to the top of the playlist, and he started to dance. At first it was just a head-nod here, a hand-clap there. But before a minute could pass, he was bouncing and twirling, hands in the air, swiveling the hips, elbows up, butt doing the bounce. I wiggled my camera between the crowd of riders but did not manage to get a clean shot of the action. Tragic.
Near-perfect Margherita pizza
Boston? Definitely. Chicago? Clearly. Brooklyn? Duh. But the pursuit of the perfect pie in Phoenix? Really. The answer is a clear ‘yes’ at Pizzeria Bianco, which has been serving up wood fired pies in a petite standalone building near University of Arizona, Phoenix. Hailed on RoadFood.com as a drive-from-any-distance destination, I skipped countless presumably-fantastic Tex-Mex joints to give this pizza oasis a whirl.
The restaurant concocts five intriguing topping combinations, but is perhaps most acclaimed for their take on the original Margherita. Each crisp, chewy bite strikes the perfect balance between the acidic tang of tomato sauce and the divinely gooey saltiness of the melted mozzarella. Fresh, organic basil added a sparkle of earthy brightness to the top, and the crust offered a satisfying snap with each chew. With waits for a table occasionally topping out at four hours, it is clear that Phoenix knows a thing or two about good pizza.
Get your car fixed by a girl
Phoenix eats car air conditioners for breakfast. My 2003 Honda Element was simply the next victim on its list. When I need to fix the car away from home, I usually turn to Yelp for guidance, where most mechanics coax around three or four reviews from past clients. You can imagine my surprise when I ran into 180 Degree Automotive, an independent repair shop with a 4.5-star rating and over 200 lauding write-ups.
Bogi, the shop owner and lead mechanic, wanted to learn something about cars and started working on them in her own garage. She quickly became an excellent wrench and discovered she was passionate enough to make a business out of it. Now, she owns one of the most successful repair shops in the city, and her patrons notice the difference. Everybody that enters is treated like a person, offered coffee, tea, or cocoa, seated in a luxe waiting room, and provided free wifi and cable television. The staff communicate with patrons as though they are intelligent persons, and everyone receives regular updates of their vehicle’s status. The subtitle above is not my clever line, but an acknowledgment by Phoenix Magazine, spoken lovingly about the city’s favorite mechanic — who just happens to be female.
It is my sincerest hope that she will be able to repair my air conditioning system tomorrow, so we skip town and continue to head into the hottest area of our country.
My family is currently traveling around the USA in a 10 foot Shasta Compact travel trailer from 1969. We are currently camped in Phoenix, Arizona and headed toward the west coast. Keep it right here for tales from the journey, and please also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Nothing keeps us motivated more than the encouragement of hearing from our readers, so please keep in touch by commenting below. Thanks!