As America Freaks Out About Extreme Heat, Phoenix Could Go Outside And Embrace It

KJZZ (January 3, 2020) by Lauren Gilger

LAUREN GILGER: 2019 was not the year of nuanced takes on life in Phoenix and Arizona in general. There were headlines like 100 Degrees For Days: The Looming Phoenix Heat Wave That Could Harm Thousands from Vox and As Phoenix Heats Up, The Night Comes Alive from the New York Times that, despite some lovely photography, really seemed to hinge on the idea that Phoenix is a wasteland during the summer daylight hours. A Rolling Stone profile of Phoenix’s heat paints it as something of an apocalyptic dystopia. “Sunshine assaults you, forcing you to seek cover. The air feels solid, a hazy, ozone-soaked curtain of heat,” it reads. But our next guest has a slightly different perspective. Tom Zoellner has seen this state for all that it is. He is a former Arizonan. And while he now lives in Los Angeles, he recently completed a thru-hike of the famous Arizona Trail. This goes from Mexico to Utah and spans the entire north-south length of the state. Yes, he survived the trek, and he’s writing about it all and life in Arizona in a book of essays he’s calling “Rim to River: Journeys Into the Heart of Arizona.” Tom, welcome to The Show.

TOM ZOELLNER: Thank you for having me.

GILGER: Thank you for joining us. So I want to start with this first. Get this out of the way. You live in LA now, which may have some of our listeners rolling their eyes at this conversation. But you are not an Arizona novice.

ZOELLNER: No, no. My family has lived in Arizona since before it was a state. I’ve had a long and profound relationship with it. And I even tried to get hired at the University of Arizona, but that didn’t work. So here I am at my university in California.

GILGER: Right. And I know you’re in the midst of this book now, and we’ll get into that soon. But I want to start with a little bit about your perspective on Arizona and on Phoenix. When you read headlines like some of the ones I just ran through there, what is your reaction?

ZOELLNER: Well, Phoenix has spent much of its adolescence as a city trying to defeat the desert, trying to deny the idea that it even lives in the desert. Perhaps it takes something from the canals in that regard. One of the most instructive drives anyone can take in our city is to head north from downtown on Central all the way to Sunnyslope and look at that north central neighborhood, which is founded on a vernacular of British pastoralism. You know, you look at the Murphy Bridle Trail, you look at those homes that are generously put out on these carpet-like lawns, attempting to recreate the English manor house. And in that sense, it’s really interesting. I actually really like that drive. But it speaks to Phoenix’s desire to push back, to deny reality, to not admit that it lives in the upper Sonoran Desert.

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