So the great migration of the Clark’s from Cleveland, Ohio to Arizona came to an end in Phoenix. Keeping with the tradition of treating almost everything in our family as a secret, I have absolutely no idea why we decided this was where we wanted to put down roots.
In the early 1950s, Phoenix had a population of just over 100,000 people. Most of what is now nothing but city was cotton fields, but the place was growing rapidly because of the increasing availability of air-conditioning. In the 50s air-conditioning was not the refrigeration of today, but the swamp (evaporative) coolers of the time.
That brings me to a question I have had my entire life. Why would anyone choose to live in a place where the summer temperature can exceed 115 degrees? If you have never experienced this type of heat believe me you can actually fry on egg by putting it on sun-baked sidewalk (news shows treat this as a news story in the middle of every summer). https://youtu.be/5sU-8bi8n3g
My most remembered experiences in Phoenix all involved returning to a car in the summer that had sat in the sun in an asphalt parking lot. Open the door and the heat from a blast furnace hits you square between the eyes. If you tried to get in the car right away, the heat would melt your face off.
So you opened the door, reached in and started the ignition, and then waited for several minutes for the air-conditioner to drop the temperature to below 200 degrees. You would then spread a towel over the vinyl seats so you didn’t seriously burn your legs. Being able to take hold of the steering wheel depended solely on your individual pain threshold. You would then drive out of the parking lot in what had become a bathtub of sweat.
Although I have some very sane family members and friends who live in Phoenix, personally, I hated the place. To me, warm winters do not make up for broiling hot summers (At times, the house was so hot in the evening, we put our sheets in the freezer and then on the bed before we laid down to sleep). After leaving Phoenix, snow and ice, warm summers, cool falls, and wet springs are all I have known.
I have all kinds of negative thoughts about Phoenix. The called it the “Valley of the Sun” as if that was a good thing. Here they are always talking about the beauty of the desert, but I never saw it. The desert is boring sand, prickly cactus, and thorny bushes. There are no trees. There are no streams. Phoenix is nothing but cement, asphalt, and one house after another. You do not walk in Phoenix because things are many miles apart and drowning in your own sweat is just a kind of special kind of hell.
It was in Phoenix where I stated a lifelong sequence of having one “near death” or “nearly decapitated by stupidity” experiences after another. Some were serious, others only close calls, but all had the potential of ending badly.
Here, at the age of 8, I was learning to ride a bike with only two wheels. Up to that point, my dad had always been close by to catch me if something went wrong. Then one day I felt I was ready to solo, and asked my mom for her OK to do a bike ride on my own. Her response (as if often was) “Wait until your father gets home.”
So I did. I waited until he drove into the driveway and went into the house. And then I took off (in my mind, I had waited to him to “Get home”). Long-story-short, when I circled around and came back home my parents were in Stage II of meltdown. My whining about the technicality of what “Get home” meant landed on deaf ears and ended up with me losing bike privileges for a week.
But this rocky start was only the starting point for one biking catastrophe after another. My first accident happen just as soon as I was finally cut loose to “do it on my own.” As far as I’m concerned, it was all the fault of the designer of the subdivision we lived in. They had nice paved streets and great sidewalks, but the design flaw was putting metal street light poles at the edge of the sidewalk.
How was I to know that if I rode my bike on the sidewalk and turned around to yell at a friend standing in their yard that a street light would jump out in front of me? Another long-story-short: dented front wheel, dented wire basket, and a dent in my head that required 4 stitches.
This same sidewalk was to bite me one more time when I ran along the fence between our house and tried to do a 360-degree turn at the end of the fence to head up the other side. As I rounded the last fence post, I ran onto the sidewalk where I was going so fast I went clear to the edge where my feet spun out on a bit of gravel that was on a rolled curb.
I went airborne and somehow came down face first. I did a one-point landing on my front tooth and broke about a third of it off. I don’t know that 60 years later I ever experienced anything as painful as breaking off that tooth and exposing the nerve. We were immediately off to the dentist where he put a steel cap on the tooth—-I lived but barely.
When we arrived in Phoenix, my dad got a job with the local power company as a meter reader. Ambitious (and not wanting to walk around in the hot sun all day long) he took steps to become an electrical engineer. Amazingly, the course he took was from a correspondence school in engineering. Years later he liked to remark that now he was the correspondence school guy who was in charge of hiring new engineers who had graduated from MIT.
Once he had his diploma (or whatever) he landed his first engineer job in Prescott, Arizona (100 miles north of Phoenix and 4,000 feet in elevation higher). For me it turned out to be a dream come true.
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The tooth stayed until it was replaced with porcelain one (and later a very expensive implant) while I was in Navy boot camp (who knows why they thought I needed to look better). Thing is, that shining tooth never really bothered me and all my life that attitude may well have contributed to the fact that I have shown very little concern (some would say self-awareness) of things other people seem to consider rather important. As far as I am concerned, since my looks did not scare off my wife of 47 years, who cares what I looked like. This same attitude has also saved me a lot of time not worrying about matching the color of my dress pants with the color of my work boots and baseball cap.