Every place somehow entices people to live there, be it for the beautiful weather, the well-paying jobs, or the superb nachos grande from the restaurant down the street. Every destination—whether for a business trip, a vacation, or just a stopover—needs a reason for people to visit. The reasons can be historical (like Williamsburg, Virginia), geographic (like Fort Lee, New Jersey, right outside New York City), culinary (like Paris, France), or even experimental (like Washington, DC). Sometimes, a place’s reason for being is simply to serve as a warning to others (like Flint, Michigan).
You can find good in any place, though, if you only stay long enough. The colorful blast that is autumn in New England can make its long winter bearable. The famous architecture and nourishing ales can help you overcome London’s less-than-tantalizing native food. The rugged countryside and friendly locals can almost make West Virginia worth the trip. Almost.
People live in the darnedest places. Oklahoma. Central Louisiana. Nebraska. What do they do there? Why do they stay? We don’t know, despite repeated visits, but we do know that each of these states still draws tourists somehow—and not just to buy lottery tickets or alcohol.
Some places, moreover, require time-stamps to determine the “red zone” of popularity. The skiing season defines many vacations to Ischgl, Austria; Portillo, Chile; and Hafjell, Norway. The surfing season brings people to Waikiki, Hawaii; Papara Beach, Tahiti; and Buzios, Brazil. It’s as much about when you go as where.
Which brings us to Phoenix, Arizona.
Tourists, snowbirds, and other retirees flock to Phoenix from October to March for the warmth of the Arizona sun. Winter in Phoenix offers many benefits, not the least of which is sunning instead of shoveling. Who wouldn’t rather wear shorts instead of parkas? Who wouldn’t rather sit by the pool instead of the heater? Who wouldn’t rather play golf than fight colds?
In addition, Major League Baseball teams, mostly from the West Coast and Midwest, hold their spring workouts and exhibition games every March in and around the Phoenix area. This happens for a reason. Chicago can be brutal in March. Phoenix, on the other hand, offers warmth that aids players and draws fans.
But the attractive winter comes with a catch. While Arizona in December encourages tee times and dune buggies, its August encourages escape clauses and getaway cars. The oppressive heat will drive you underground faster than an IRS audit. Unfortunately, we had to learn the hard way.
The city in the summer is a dull shade of gray, thanks to the asphalt, gravel, and cement that dominate the landscape. You’ll find very little of the green grass from the suburban scenery of other states. A lawn becomes prohibitively expensive when all the available water has to be used to keep humans and animals semi-conscious. In the obsessive heat, lawns turn brown. Eventually, whole yards are converted to gravel or tumbleweed. Voluntarily or not.
Summer temperatures in Phoenix regularly reach triple digits. Lemonade can’t combat that kind of heat. A cold beer barely makes a dent, although we found that six or seven can make us forget how miserable we felt. Whether it’s dry heat or not, the summer temperatures forced our lives into a holding pattern, a cycle of survival. To escape the heat, we had to dart from one air-conditioned enclosure to another: from the house to the car to a bar to another bar to the car to jail, and so on. It became our daily routine.
Only air conditioning—lots of it, full blast, 24 hours a day—saved us from certain death, but the need for air conditioning meant we couldn’t enjoy our favorite outdoor activities. Bicycling? We needed a liter of water per mile. Hiking? We had to do it inside a mall. Camping? We might as well set up a tent inside an oven.
If you find yourself in Phoenix in the summer, your choices are limited. Watch television. Go bowling. Shop for sunburn ointment. You can do anything you want to do, as long as it’s inside an air-conditioned building. We’re not saying it’s Hell on Earth, but you might.
Lessons Learned: Homeowners in Phoenix know better. You should, too. Visit Phoenix in January with the snowbirds. Visit in March to watch pre-season baseball. Either way, you’ll have a much better time than suffering Phoenix in July.
How We Saw It
Communication Breakdown: 2
Customer Dis-service: 2
Discomfort Level: 5
Grunge Factor: 1
Inactivity Guide: 5
Spontaneous Consumption: 2
Fun Fraction: 1/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
Native Population: 1,600,000 (in the city only)
Normal Attractions: Bank One Ballpark (home of the Diamondbacks), Phoenix Zoo, Phoenix Art Museum, Desert Botanical Garden, and lots and lots of air-conditioned shopping.
Final Point of Interest: Most of the city streets are lined up on a grid. You’d think this would make finding your way around easier. You’d be wrong.