Coffee heat rising


Poor old Dave, proprietor of Dave’s Used Car Lot, Marina, and Weed Arboretum, is finally moved out, having spent a week and used the services of three male friends equipped with pickups, a flatbed, and SUVs to haul off his collected junk. He’s posted a do-it-yourself “For Sale” sign in the front yard (“Drastically reduced!”) and ridden off into the sunset, leaving his weed garden behind.

This afternoon some kinda seedy-looking guys climbed over the weed haystack in the driveway to ogle the peeling batten around the eaves. Evidently they were calculating what it would take to revive the decrepit house to its former glory…or at least to rentability. Early in the evening, a father came by in the wake of his toddler’s tricycle. Dad and son broke into the back yard through the side gate and disappeared into the weed jungle. The kid’s trike is gone now, so either they came out and went on their way or the cockroaches carried the hardware off.

Old Dave, as we learned, was foreclosed. My neighbor and I found that out when the notice was mistakenly slapped on her front door instead of Dave’s. He borrowed $320,000 against the place. Zillow values it at around $307,000. Even though it has a pool (soon to be a mosquito pond, no?) and a good-sized corner lot, there’s no chance it’ll fetch that much. Another foreclosure in similar condition around the corner sold for $268,000.

In a way, I’m sorry to see Dave go, despite the mess he lived in. The trashed condition of his property and his habit of parking a used-car-lotful of rolling stock on the front lawn affected the property value of houses all around him, and that was irritating. But at least Dave was quiet. I dread what’s going to end up in that dump next.

O.K. There’s a remote chance someone will buy the house for a song, fix it up, and live in it. More likely, though, some speculator will grab it out of foreclosure, throw a cheap coat of paint on the outside and some apartment-house carpets on the floors, and rent it out. This will add to the already thick population of rentals in the neighborhood. It will join the place that houses Biker Boob, a Hell’s Angel who roars up and down our residential street on his unmuffled Harley and who uses the garage to conduct a shade-tree mechanic’s operation, complete with LOUD heavy-duty shop equipment that he starts up at 7 a.m. every weekend and operates until after 11 at night, and the shack whose out-of-state owner rents to SEVEN unrelated adult men, all of whom park their cars on the front yard and none of whom is interested in hacking back the knee-high weeds on the property.

The other possibility is that the new owner will be yet another of those folks who buys on the cheap, thinking he’s found a bargain, without having a clue to what’s involved in maintaining a forty-year-old tract house. Once they get moved in and discover how much it costs and how much work is involved in taking care of one of these places, they just let it go to pot.

Either way, the result is the same: a run-down house on a run-down lot, dragging down property values in the our little six-square-block development. Add to this recurring phenomenon the City’s kind decision to rip out a whole row of houses to make way for the train tracks, and you can see if you want to move up but stay in town, you’re flat out of luck. There’s no way you can afford a comparable (or even a lesser) house in a better-maintained neighborhood that’s located in the central part of the city. The only way to get back into the middle class is to move way, way out into the sprawl on the outer fringes of the metropolitan area.

You, too, can drive two hours each way to work. You’ll love it. It’s the American way!

The Hallowe’en grinch

What do you do about Hallowe’en?

I get a big boot out of seeing the kids in costume. But I’ve become pretty curmudgeonly about having swarms of kids, teenagers, and even adults show up at my door asking for a handout. Several things make this custom problematic.

Most obvious, of course, is the cost of candy. You have to get the kids products that are individually wrapped, because many parents, wary of nut cases who lace treats with “tricks” of one sort or another, won’t let the kids eat it unless it’s in a manufacturer’s package. It’s pretty expensive, especially if you don’t eat the stuff yourself. Which I don’t. Any candy that doesn’t get handed out to trick-or-treaters gets wasted. I hate that. It makes me feel like I’m throwing money in the trash.

Next, there’s the issue of out-of-neighborhood families trucking their kids into more affluent areas in hopes of scoring fancier stuff. My neighborhood abuts a very tony district—we form a buffer zone between an area of upper six- to lower seven-figure homes and a couple of gang-ridden slums. So we get the overflow of kids being trucked into the swell neighborhood. Well, I wouldn’t let my kids run loose in the areas to the west and north of us, either, so I can’t blame the parents for bringing them to a part of town they may perceive as safer. But what you’ll see is twenty kids jammed into the back of a pickup and dumped on the street in front of your house. Some years, a hundred kids will show up at the door; some years, none. Just depends on which street the freeloading parents decide to use as a drop-off point.

I don’t mind giving candy to the neighbors’ kids, but…OK, ungenerously!…I resent having every kid in Sunnyslope show up at my front door demanding a handout.

When M’hijito was little, one friend’s parents used to keep a stash of expensive, healthy treats for the neighbors’ kids and a big bucket of the cheapest, grodiest junk they could get for the traveling freeloaders. Worked, I guess…but something about that doesn’t sit very well with me, either. Is it OK to rot little kids’ teeth and contribute to their budding diabetes just because the kids are poor?

And finally, there’s the safety question. This neighborhood has had three home invasions that I know of—probably more that haven’t been gossiped about. I don’t open my door to strangers. Really, you’re crazy to do so. Why should I make an exception for hordes of out-of-neighborhood candy tourists? Especially when many of them are not kids. I don’t feel safe doing that.

In my cranky old age, I’ve taken to turning off the lights in the front part of the house, which discourages people from ringing the doorbell. It’s too bad…but the cost, the abuse of hospitality, and the risk kinda militate against it.

Hallowe’en! Bah, humbug!


Wow! Major storm hits lovely uptown Phoenix

 Power is still out for tens of thousands of Phoenix residents. Just now, at 10:30 in the morning, it’s only 92 degrees on my back patio, but humidity is said to be 61 percent.

So, I account myself extremely lucky that here the power was down for only an hour or so, and even more extremely lucky that the devil-pod tree* did not snap off in winds clocked as high as 100 miles per hour. Nor did any of the other trees, all much in need of thinning: desert willow, Texas ebony, vitex, palo brea, palo verde, yellow oleander, and the moribund ash.

Check out this photo, baldly stolen from ABC News (Channel 15), of a large billboard bent all the way down to the ground! Don’t know how long that link will stay live: it’s worth a visit for the amazing slide show of 185 dramatic photos, among them some stunning shots of lightning.

Our associate editor e-mailed early this morning to say DON’T COME TO CAMPUS! She said trees were down and blocking the way into the building. To get into the office, she had to wade through a six-inch deep puddle. News reports show signals out at several of the major intersections I have to traverse, and so…I believe we’ll be telecommuting today. Unclear whether our offices, which occupy a condemned building (yes) (don’t ask) (it’s better not to know), got any water; I asked her to check, and, having heard nothing, imagine we’re O.K. Hope so. I don’t want to have to traipse two hours through impossible traffic and chaos to deal with that.

It took about three hours to clean up the back yard, though I hafta admit that a large part of that time was spent cutting back the red salvia that tried unsuccessfully to cannibalize the Myer lemon (salvia 10; lemon 98), the overgrown lavender, and the overwatered, rotting sage plant. Even the aggressive salvia was less than happy: we’ve had so much rain this summer that many of the Mediterranean and xeriscapic plantings I put in the yard are turning to black slime. The pool would have been OK — in fact, probably wouldn’t have needed any extra attention — were it not for the devil-pod tree. I pulled a good bushel of pods, pollen balls, leaves, twigs, and small branches out of the water.

I occasionally consider whether to have the tree taken out. That will cost almost a thousand bucks, on top of the thou’ it will take to remove the dying ash tree in front. Really, only in the summer does the tree turn into a real nuisance. The rest of the year it’s quiescent. On the other hand, I was alarmed enough last night to stay out of the bedroom, where the tree will hit if it decides to fall on the house. The wind came up again after I posted last night’s storm report; Cassie and I ended up sleeping on the living room sofa. Less than perfectly pleasing accommodations.

The tree has some advantages, not the least of which is that its thick foliage forms a privacy barrier between the pool and passers-by on the street. Some members of the public are given to using the shrubbery as their toilet, so…as you can imagine, these are not folks you want peering into the yard. It could take a couple of years or more to get something else to grow big enough to block unwelcome gazers. And it does put some shade on the concrete pad, which functions as a horizontal trombé wall to conduct heat into the bedroom all summer long. Removing the tree would make the bedroom even hotter than it is (which is plenty: it’s the warmest room in the house), jack up the summer power bills, and take a great deal away from the backyard’s privacy.

In terms of making the house affordable for retirement, though, getting rid of that tree might be the best thing to do. It would be one fewer tree that needs a professional to thin and groom it every year or eighteen months. Last year I spent about $750 on tree care, all of which needs to be repeated right now. And Matt didn’t even touch the devil-pod tree. Who knows what he’ll charge this year? If I’m to stay in this house, I’ll have to cut the costs of yard maintenance somehow.


* Satan and Proserpine, the previous owners of the House from Hell, planted this tree directly upwind from the swimming pool. They claimed it’s a weeping acacia. Unlikely. Whatever it is, the thing is a good forty feet tall, a height it has attained mostly in the five years since I moved in, and “low litter” is not the operative term: it drops leaves, twigs, pollen puffballs, and seed pods that stain the CoolDeck and the pool’s plaster. This was not a pair who understood much about plants: they thought the two(!) sissou trees they stuck in the front yard would never get taller than about 15 or 20 feet.

The show must go on!

It’s 4:20 in the morning. At 3:00 a.m., the dog got sick and demanded to go outside. While I was standing out there with her, a car drove up the alley with its lights off and stopped behind my back gate.

I called the police.

A few minutes later, I heard pounding and the sound of something breaking. I called the cops again. They sent an officer over, who discovered the perp is a Cox Cable worker.

That’s right. Cox sends guys with hammers and power equipment into residential neighborhoods to set up a racket outside people’s bedroom windows in the wee hours of the morning before dawn. The guy is still out there banging around.

Heaven forfend that some hapless viewer should have to wait until daylight to watch television!

Celebrate America: Shop Local

Did you realize that for every two jobs a huge national retailer brings to your town, three jobs are lost? Yes. As local businesses, unable to compete with WalMarts and Home Depots and Applebees, close down, more jobs are lost than gained.

Have you ever noticed that megaretailers raise their bargain prices once most of the local competition has been driven out of business? Check prices at your nearest surviving Ace Hardware (you’ll have to drive a ways to find it)-you may be surprised to find Home Depot’s prices are actually higher on many products.

A study of the effect of chain stores on the economy of Andersonville, a suburb of Chicago, showed that for every $100 in consumer spending with a locally owned firm, $68 remained in the Chicago economy, but only $43 remained from $100 spent in a chain store. The same study showed that 70% of residents preferred to shop in local stores and 80% preferred shopping in traditional urban business districts to big boxes. Nationwide, experience has shown that chain stores drain tax revenues through ill-considered subsidies, leave shopping areas blighted, and actively work to drive local companies out of business. Meanwhile, the carbon cost of pointlessly hauling food and other goods around the world continues to skyrocket. And as we know, we no longer can trust that our food is safe, nor our pet food, nor our children’s toys…

It is past time to fight back.

Stalking the Local Merchant

I was pleased to find a fight-back weapon here in my state: a coalition of businesses has come into being to foster local commerce and to encourage people to shop locally. The retail landscape here has become so homogenized it’s hard to find local stores. Most of our wonderful independent bookstores were hounded out of business years ago, people mysteriously developed a penchant for taste-alike restaurants, our fine local hardware shops closed their doors within months of Home Depot’s arrival, and now Phoenix, like every other major American city, looks just like every other major American city. Cookie-cutter commerce has brought us cookie-cutter cities full of cookie-cutter people. And so, it is excellent to come across an organization that will tell you where to find local shopping.

So far, I haven’t located a national clearinghouse or umbrella organization for such groups, but a little googling suggests they’re all over the country. As you might expect, smaller municipalities, recognizing that chain stores threaten their job base and the very character of their towns, are resisting vigorously. Taylor, Texas, for example, has a lively shop-local movement; there’s one in central Illinois and another in Cape Cod.

But larger cities are also starting to join battle: Salt Lake City’s Vest Pocket Business Coalition complements Utah’s statewide organization. New Orleans urges citizens to patronize local businesses, and Brooklyn has an active shop-local movement.

No doubt there are many more. Visits to just these few websites will show you the endless good reasons to buy on the local economy as much as you can, and most of them list locally owned businesses. Try googling “shop local” and the name of your city or state.

The Costs, the Benefits

Does shopping local cost more? Possibly, since megacorporations have no qualms about undercutting local competition-at least until the competition is gone. But we’ve already seen what abandoning our local economies for huge box stores has done to the quality of life in our cities: we have lost what makes our towns our towns, as every city in America has come to look alike. We’ve lost jobs and wages. We’ve lost nearby shopping and quality neighborhoods. As the cost of fuel has risen, the cost of flying and trucking food from far-away megasuppliers is making the most ordinary food items unaffordable. And now, in the era of globalization ushered in by vast corporate interests and their political allies, we are enjoying unsafe food and toys, engineered obsolescence of big-ticket items, less and less choice and variety in the products offered to us, longer drives to fewer stores…to say nothing of carefully orchestrated corporate invasion of our privacy.

Penny wise and pound foolish, with a vengeance! Some things are worth paying for. One of those things is our way of life.

I for one intend to start shopping local whenever I can reasonably do so. I hope you’ll all join me at your local merchants’ stores.
It’s simply good for America.

2 Comments left on iWeb site:


Excellent article!We just discovered our local Ace Hardware, and it’s less than three miles away!Husband and I both enjoyed browsing their shelves, and the prices were sometimes lower, sometimes higher, and sometimes the same as the Big Boxes.The customer service blew the Big Boxes away…

I much prefer the local farmers market to the big grocery stores, even though they are pseudo-local.Local, neighborhood restaurants are often sooo much betterthan the chains.I think people like to eat at chains so they know what to expect.Levels of cleanliness and quality are assumed to be good.

Sometimes I have to choose price, but when they are comparable I’m going to make the effort to shop locally whenever possible.


I agree!This is a great article and highlights the most important reason to shop local and support American businesses … because it keeps jobs, and our money, in the States where it belongs.

Real Life: Funnier than the comic strips

Speaking of the vagaries of megalithic bureaucracies (as we were yesterday), get an eyeful of what visitors see when they park at the Great Desert University, self-styled “gold standard” of our state’s public education system.

The photographer reports that every “compagt” space in the parking garage is so marked. He has yet to discover whether this holds true in all the many newly cleaned and restriped parking garages on the campus.

What are they trying to say to us?

Photo by Todd Halvorsen