We become part-time city dwellers.
The situation was absurd.
Mike was driving 70 miles each way from Wickenburg to Tempe for work every weekday. He was spending more time in the car than doing the things that make life worth living.
I was trying to operate a helicopter charter business in a town where the retiree population was far more interested in making day trips to WalMart than spending money on something new and different. All my business was in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Glendale, making me wonder why I’d even bothered getting a Wickenburg business permit.
We were both trapped in a town with an ever-aging population, few shopping and dining opportunities, and an economy based on real estate and property taxes. There were few good-paying jobs and more than half of the new businesses failed. All of our friends in our age group had already moved out of town to places like Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and even Michigan. Our remaining retiree friends weren’t usually interested in activities like camping, off-roading, hiking, or weekend trips by plane or helicopter.
I was miserable, starved for input simply not available in Wickenburg. At least Mike got out of town every weekday, where he could socialize with younger, more liberally minded people and enjoy lunch out with a wide variety of ethnic options.
So when the housing crisis sent house values in Phoenix down 30% in one year, Mike acted. He bought a two bedroom, two bath condo in Phoenix.
We moved a bunch of stuff down to the condo on Tuesday, including a futon, Alex the Bird’s old cage, our old bedroom furniture, and a brand new leather sofa we’d bought at Macy’s. My brother and his wife were still in town and they helped out. They were also the first people to sleep on the new sofabed, since we all stayed over on Tuesday night. The new bed arrives January 14. We’ll bring the futon back home when it arrives.
I spent Wednesday shopping for the things we needed to make the condo a home — mostly kitchen and bathroom stuff. Then I came back to the apartment and began cleaning the kitchen. I soon found that the insides of the cabinets needed more than just soap and water. Soon I was giving them a fresh coat of white semi-gloss paint.
The apartment is part of a large complex of two-story buildings set around grassy, tree-shaded courtyards. It was built in 1965 and the cabinets and closets and bathtubs clearly date back to that time. The cabinets have new doors and drawer fronts and the kitchen is fully modernized with a huge refrigerator, gas stove, and dishwasher. It’s a small kitchen with limited counter space, but there’s plenty of cabinet and drawer space. I don’t expect to do much cooking here, especially with so many restaurants nearby.
Our place has two bedrooms, each with two full baths. The master bedroom has a walk-through closet big enough to satisfy any clothes horse — so big, in fact, that we put my long dresser inside the closet. There’s a big living room/dining room area with a gas fireplace and a wall big enough for the flat screen television Mike keeps talking about. There are two patios, one accessible from the living room and second bedroom and the other accessible from both bedrooms. (Yes, the second bedroom sits between two patios.) Each patio is surrounded by a 5-foot block wall with a gate to the courtyard.
The apartment complex is on Highland Avenue, between 22nd and 24th Streets. That’s part of the “Biltmore” area of Phoenix, although it might officially be just south. It doesn’t matter. We are walking distance from a Trader Joe’s, a Fry’s supermarket, the Apple Store in the Biltmore Fashion Park (which also features Macy’s and Saks), two bookstores, and dozens of restaurants. If Wickenburg is a desert island, our new part-time home in Phoenix is in the port city.
Yes, I did say “part-time.” We have no intention of living here full-time — at least not yet. Like at least two other friends of ours, we’ve decided to maintain a home for work and a home for play. We’ll still be in Wickenburg part of each week. The rest of the time, we’ll be in Phoenix.
You see, despite Wickenburg’s shortcomings and the direction that the town’s former administration pushed the town in — real estate growth above all else, including business or job growth — it still has a few things you can’t get in a big city:
At night, it gets very dark around our Wickenburg home. We’re on the edge of town and few of our neighbors believe in those ridiculous accent lights on their homes and trees. We see the Milky Way every clear night — which is just about every night in Arizona. At the Phoenix condo, there are parking lot lights and pathway lights and the general glow of the city all around. You can see some stars — after all, this part of Phoenix isn’t nearly as bright at night as Los Angeles or New York — but stargazing is not an option.
Peace and quiet.
Because we live on the edge of town in Wickenburg, at the very end of a road, there’s no traffic noise. Because we have 2-1/2 acres of land, we have no neighbor noise. Sure, there’s an occasional barking dog, but we’re more likely to hear coyotes howling at night. And yes, if the wind is blowing just right, we can hear the occasional loud motorcycle or truck air brake from Wickenburg Way or Vulture Mine Road. And, during the spring and fall months, when windows are open at night, we do hear the garbage collector making her 4 AM rounds. At the Phoenix condo, however, there’s a bit more noise. Outside on the patio, you can clearly hear the sound of traffic passing by on Highland, 100 yards away. Police helicopters fly by once in a while, mostly at night. There are more neighbors with more dogs and we can occasionally hear them. Don’t get me wrong — the Phoenix condo isn’t what I’d call loud. But it’s not as quiet as the peaceful quiet in Wickenburg or the absolute dead silence at our Howard Mesa property.
Having 2-1/2 acres of hillside land helps keep neighbors away from your windows. Indeed, in Wickenburg we rarely bother closing blinds or curtains. We have absolute privacy, which is the primary reason we purchased a home that wasn’t in a subdivision. (Who the hell really wants neighbors that close?) At our Phoenix condo, however, privacy is simply not available. Our windows — all of which are actually full-wall sliding glass doors — look out into our patios. Beyond the 5-foot walls is the courtyard. Beyond that is another two-story building looking out our way. Ever see the movie Rear Window? That’s my nickname for this place. No, it’s not quite that bad, but that’s the idea.
Is all the shopping, dining, and convenience of a Phoenix home really worth sacrificing these things for a few days each week?
You bet they are.