Coffee heat rising

The forgetfulness of places

Can you remember your parents remarking, when you were a young pup, that your town was developing so fast  they could hardly recognize their regular stomping grounds as they were driving around, year after year? When we lived in Southern California, my mother used to say that off and on — we could even describe it as “all the time.” After we moved over here from unlovely Long Beach, occasionally she’d remark on the extirpation of the orange groves and the cotton fields as the booming Phoenix area Californicated at a breakneck pace.

I wonder if this sense that everything familiar is disappearing or being unrecognizably altered is a function of age, or if it’s objectively true.

Probably a little of both, hm?

This morning I had to present myself down at the dentist’s office at 9 a.m. sharp, for a routine cleaning and to discuss the endodontical adventures. Once again, there was hardly any traffic at what should have been the height of rush hour. Dr. D’s office is on the sixth floor of a mid-town high-rise, a district best described as damned toney. His offices look out onto a spectacular view of north Phoenix that goes on and on and eye-bogglingly on, halfway to freaking Las Vegas. I flew into the parking garage at about 10 minutes to 9:00…the place was empty. I mean seriously: the entire ground floor was vacant. I grabbed a crip space, leaving five empty. Otherwise, I think there were less than half-a-dozen cars on on that floor.

That was weird.

Upstairs, his sidekick told me they’d had to close their office for two months. I didn’t ask for details, but I gathered from her and a little later from him that the state came in and shut down dental offices everywhere. Can you imagine being forced to close your business, from which you earn your livelihood and with which you pay at least three full-time employees? Holeee ess aitch ai!

All being found well — or at least, better than anyone expected — I escaped unharmed and went on about my business. Without the Really Old Folks in tow, I’d forgotten to put up my Official Mickey Mouse Club Crip Space Hanger (I don’t use it unless I’m chauffeuring the old people around). But luckily no one cared: the crip spaces were empty and no ticket was in evidence.

So: two moments of small mercies in the space of 40 minutes.

Whilst driving downtown, I had that uncanny “not in Kansas anymore” sensation: that the city has changed just enough in the six or eight months since I last covered that route that the place seems kinda out of whack.

It was like driving through canyons of shadows. All the way down Seventh Street, one of the two main drags that flank the central corridor, the cityscape looked familiar…but also NOT familiar. Enough has changed that nothing is quite the same. Strip shopping and tired gas stations have been replaced with shiny new rabbit-warren apartments. Easy-to-navigate intersections are now festooned with complicated left-turn lights, no turn signals, time-of-day turn lanes, on and on. New high-rises block the view of the South Mountains. Run-down shopping centers have been resuscitated as office developments. Yet many of the same old businesses and buildings are still crumbling away beside the roadways.

You look down the road and you see what you see…but you also see shadows: shadows of what used to be there. Weirdly, it’s like looking at two photo transparencies overlaid on each other.

Having escaped from the dentist, I decided to go by the fancy new Sprouts at 7th Avenue and Osborn, my old stomping grounds. This store occupies the space of a defunct Basha’s grocery store, one of a historic chain of markets that used to hold forth across the state. I used to shop there all the time when we lived in the historic Encanto District. Not a great store, but close to home and good enough for day-to-day needs. Catty-corner across what is now a large, busy intersection is a Safeway, which has survived the present wave of gentrification.

Grab what I need, shoot through the check-out line, and sashay out the door, headed back to the car, when I see a poster.

A fifteen-year-old girl has disappeared from the corner of 7th and Osborn: large reward on offer. Her photo shows a pretty young thing. Now, you may be sure, a dead young thing, dissolving away somewhere out on the desert.

Holy sh!t…a fifteen-year-old nabbed. I don’t know why I’m so shocked by this: it wasn’t safe when we lived there. I used to walk up to this store now and again. And yes, men harassed me unless I had the German shepherd with me. Occasionally a guy would stop and try to get me to climb in his truck. No way, then or now, would I let a fifteen-year-old girl walk around there, even though that busy corner has several attractions designed to call young people: a corner pizza parlor, a fitness studio, the Sprouts, a popular Mexican restaurant, the Safeway… True, the corner is much, much nicer, much modernized over when we lived there…it doesn’t look unsafe. Back in the day, you knew it was unsafe, just as here in the ’Hood you know Conduit of Blight and Gangbanger’s Way are unsafe.

We had friends of the liberated female persuasion who believed that women should refuse to be daunted by the risks inherent to living in a large, low-rent city, or by harassment from every passing male who didn’t realize you carried a pistol in your purse. Women, they insisted, have a right to live in this society and a right to move around without being harassed, and so we should all go on about our business as though we do have that right and expect it to be honored.

Right. Like you can’t be dead right, hm? 

2 thoughts on “The forgetfulness of places”

  1. I’ve remarked on a similar trend in my city. Used to be, new buildings were expensive, so old buildings were usually re-used or re-purposed – they stuck around. Now it is far cheaper to put up a stack of condos – even if they don’t sell, even if they are posh – than to maintain a crumbling old building, especially if everything needs to be brought up to current codes.

    For old gems, pursuing a historical designation is an entirely different kettle of worms. This wouldn’t be viable if the location is in a sketchy neighborhood.

    So it’s not an illusion, in every major city, landmarks are getting flattened and old coots are getting confused. My grandfather, who couldn’t read, eventually gave up his driver’s license when he couldn’t navigate by landmarks anymore.

    • Yeah, I’ll bet that’s exactly the case. A number of older buildings here have been renovated, but I think that’s because they have “antique” value with the new young urbanite set. However, a lot of places have been replaced with new structures.

      And there’s a disorienting effect associated with age, too. As you tend to get out less — you’re not driving to work and to business meetings, for example, or schlepping the kids to soccer and baseball practice — places that you used to navigate on autopilot come to seem less and less familiar. Maybe that’s BECAUSE you were on autopilot? 😀

      I can’t even imagine how you could manage to get around this zoo if you couldn’t read!! That was a brave man…

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