Recently, I visited the Valley of the Sun, Scottsdale and Phoenix. It was a great feeling. Arizona has been my home as much as any place in recent years. I have lived there twice in my life. But this was the first visit in a few years and it was fun to get back.
The thing that makes the Phoenix area such an adventure is the driving. This is the Wild West. Janet Napolitano’s camera speed traps have slowed the traffic down a bit but it still roars to life in between and the locals know where the cameras are or will be. Even she hasn’t been able to completely tame the flow. It is amazing to experience.
What is unique about the traffic, for those who are not familiar, is that the slower traffic moves to the left. So the speedsters race in the right lanes. In fact the fastest freeway of all is the far right which is occasionally brought to a crashing halt by someone who actually obeys the rules of driving and, as a slower car, moves to the right and temporarily blocks the “racer’s lane.” So you can’t really fault them.
It is a bit of a puzzle why this culture exists so uniquely in Arizona. I mean you run into it everywhere but it is definitely a pronounced, unique trait of the Valley. There are no signs that say “slower traffic move to the right” so maybe that is some of it. But surely everyone knows and doesn’t need such a reminder. Passing on the right is much more dangerous. So why do the cars move over into the left lane and clog it up, leaving all the other lanes free? Is it ego? “I am driving as fast as anyone should be driving on this six lane road so I am in the fast lane and you can get behind me and wait.”
But no one waits. While the old folks line up in the left “passing lane” and stretch it out for miles, the under 70 years of age crowd, which is at least 25% of the population in Arizona, roar on by, speeding faster than they should and there are always races, screeching tires. It is a show. And I miss it.
One night, several years ago, driving late on the Squaw Peak Parkway, I saw a SUV approach me on the left. I could detect it just out of my peripheral vision. And it irritated me. After all, I was doing close to 90 and I was in the right lane. Not the left like the old retirees. The car should have either gone around me or gotten behind me. What was their deal? And then I finally looked over. It was a car full of policemen and they were laughing good naturedly. They simply made some hand motions… “Slow down, easy does it, pal.” But no siren, no light, no ticket. I was relieved. I slowed down and I chuckled to myself. You don’t get that kind of mercy many other places but the Wild West.
Oh, Myriam and I visited those famous Mexican restaurants, including the best in the world, Ajo Als. And we stopped at Valle Lana to have some Sonoran Mexican food but mostly to check out the famous waitress who is known for her extraordinary memory. Her name is Elizabet Gehrke, which sounds German to me. But anyway, it is said that she can remember any order and get it right.
We marched in with twelve people and as luck would have it she was on duty and so we asked for her station. Now the women in our party did their number, “I’d like a cheese and onion enchilada without cheese or onions and a side of chopped onions caramelized on a separate dish with some queso and guacamole and a soft corn tortilla, under cooked and a little chewy.” Anyway, the German, in her Mexican garb hauled out dozens of dishes and had it all perfect without paper or pen.
I love Arizona. No wonder the Dodgers moved there. Sure they’ve got rattlesnakes and scorpions but not many mosquitoes and I can’t stand mosquitoes.