How a native New Yorker feels about living in a small Arizona town.
Wickenburg, where I currently live, is a small desert town about 50 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix, AZ. You drive through a lot of empty desert on your way to Wickenburg and when out-of-towners come to stay with us, they tell us we live in the middle of nowhere. No, I correct them. We live on the edge of nowhere.
We chose Wickenburg because of its small-town atmosphere, the affordability of housing (when compared with where we came from in northern New Jersey), the availability of services I needed to work (overnight FedEx, Internet access), and its relative proximity to a major airport (Sky Habor is 70 miles door-to-door).
In general, we got what we wanted. Our home, which was brand new when we bought it, sits on 2.5 acres of horse property near state land. We saddle up the horses right at the house and ride out on dozens of miles of riding trails. Our neighbors are far enough away that we don’t need to worry about closing curtains or blinds. We have real privacy, which I like. And peace and quiet, which I really like. I can work and keep in touch with my editors. And there are plenty of outdoor things to do, including horseback riding, off-roading, and hiking.
Wickenburg has just about everything we need to live comfortably, although there are some things I miss. Restaurants is a big one. Wickenburg’s restaurants are, for the most part, the plain vanilla variety where you can get a decent meal at a good price. But ethnic food is another story. There’s a very good German restaurant and several decent Mexican restaurants. There’s a Chinese restaurant, but it’s terrible (sorry, Mae). One restaurant, which is open during the winter season only, has very good “gourmet-style” (for lack of a better term) food, which is actually interesting. We try to go there at least once a month. For other food fixes — such as Japanese, Thai, and Chinese (we’re fond of Pacific Rim foods) — we have to go down to Phoenix or up to Prescott.
Wickenburg’s shopping is somewhat limited, too, although the Safeway Supermarket does a good job of meeting special requests. Certain types and cuts of meat are special order items; veal and lamb are seldom in the store. I have, on occasion, ordered a veal shank (for osso bucco) and a crown roast of lamb (for Christmas dinner). These items were extremely costly, but at least I was able to get them.
I work with computers and Wickenburg completely drops the ball when it comes to electronics. There’s a Radio Shack, but it’s run by a pair of morons who have serious attitude problems. I do most of my computer purchases via mail order or make a trip down to Fry’s Electronics on Thunderbird off I-17.
Wickenburg does not have a Wal*Mart (thank heaven), Home Depot, or Gap. It also doesn’t have a decent bookstore. Its singles scene stinks. So it will never be on anyone’s top-ten places to live.
Except, of course, retirement places lists. Unfortunately, Wickenburg always seems to appear on these lists. As a result, the town’s population doubles to 10,000 or so in the winter when old folk come down from the midwest and northwest to spend the winter where it’s warmer. And that’s where I’m having a serious problem living in Wickenburg.
The trouble is, these people (we call them Q-Tips because of their white hair) come for six months and act like they own the town. For the most part, they’re terrible (read that “dangerous”) drivers who are a real menace in parking lots and at intersections. They operate at a a speed that makes a normal Wickenburg resident look like the Roadrunner of cartoon fame, and makes a former New Yorker like me appear to be operating at light speed. They’re easy to bump into or trip over. They stop to chat in supermarkets and the post office, not seeming to notice that they’re blocking aisles. They seem to look down on local residents, perhaps because we don’t have two homes and they do — or at least a home and a motorhome that cost as much as a home. But the biggest problem is that they’re cheap and don’t want to spend money on anything in town if they can get it cheaper elsewhere. They cruise down to the Wal*Mart and other bargain stores in Surprise (40 miles way) regularly and whine about fuel prices in town. As a result, they don’t help support the local economy and they make it impossible for anyone to open a shop or restaurant that doesn’t cater to their cheap, white bread tastes.
Do I sound like I can’t stand them? In general, I can’t. There are a few exceptions, although I can’t think of any at the moment.
The other problem with living among all these old people is that you start to feel old, too. You start to wonder why, at the age of 42, you’re living in a retirement town. You’re not retired. You still have a lot of good years ahead of you. So why the hell are you living in a place where old people come to spend their last winters?
If the winter isn’t depressing enough, the summer can be sheer hell. In July and August, during the monsoon season, daily temperatures go into the 100s and 110s, with humidity sometimes peaking at 30% or more. It’s a nasty combination that makes it difficult to do anything outdoors. So we spend a lot of time indoors. Or in the air conditioned car. Or in the air conditioned store.
So Mike and I are seriously considering a move. To someplace that doesn’t get so damn hot in the summer and isn’t packed with the 55+ crowd in the winter. To someplace where we can feel alive, all year around. Where we can still get the peace and privacy we need to be happy.
If you know of such a place, let me know.