Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Friday, January 08, 2010

Traveller's tales

Picture 191
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
I wrote this as a competition entry for Observer Escape last year. Needless to say it didn't go anywhere, hence why it's here. Mostly true with *degrees* of embellishment...


“So let me get this straight. You’re going all the way to somewhere near Phoenix. But which isn’t Phoenix. Where it’s a desert. And you’ll be back at work this coming Monday. This is taking the idea of a ‘weekend break’ to ludicrous extremes, isn’t it?”

It was, I’ll freely admit, one of my more hare-brained escapades. Fly over 5,200 miles to sample some architecture, go up a mountain and celebrate a wedding. Then make the return journey. All within 72 hours, over one weekend in April this year.

But when friends ask you to go to a part of the United States that you’ve never been to before, and work and the credit card company don’t prove as obliging as you’d hoped, what else can you do but shove suit, boots and sun-factor into a bag and dash to the airport anyway?

My destination was Scottsdale, which extensive if rushed research told me is a city within the boundaries of Phoenix, with a dusty claim to be ‘The West’s Most Western Town’.

If it was true in 1947 it’s less so now, when judged from the air at least. The suburban sprawl of the greater Phoenix area appeared to be endless, visually proving the fact that it’s been one of the fastest-growing conurbations on the planet over the last 25 years.

On the ground, it was clear what’s been attracting the permanent and temporary snowbirds from elsewhere – the heat. It certainly felt as if the temperature was on some sort of performance bonus – the higher it could go, the more it would be rewarded. And so up it went.

But Scottsdale isn’t all critters and cactuses (although the latter do outnumber humans by a ratio of roughly 30 to one). There’s golf too. Lots of it – over 200 courses, as befits one of the major destinations of the PGA tour and other wintering major league American sports stars. That you accept as natural so many lush, green oases in the otherwise arid, orange environment is a tribute, I suppose, to the perhaps misplaced skills of so many engineers.

Maybe they felt they had to take on the challenge nature has thrown down. The landscape, at once awesome and forbidding, always straining to shake off man’s taming, is inspiring too. You sense that when shuffling round Taliesin West, the desert outpost of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was a surprise to see his cool, crisp geometry translated into woody tones and earthy hues, the unpolished rough stone surfaces reminding us that this welcoming school was at first a simple shelter, electricity and water a long time coming.

Nature in the southwest of the USA tends to get the final say, as I discovered when trying to hike up Camelback Mountain. I say ‘hike’; what I actually mean is ‘attempt to walk, while actually stumbling, bouncing and bruising myself’. My hands clung on to whatever crumbly grip was offered on the Cholla Trail, the supposedly ‘easy’ route to the top of the mountain. Halfway up, on a strip of rock about as wide as my foot, I decided that the American definition of ‘easy’ was slightly different to ours. More galling, however, was being passed by lots of high-stepping athletes for whom ascending was indeed as straightforward as walking down Main Street.

Still, I had enough pluck to defy gravity’s insistent pleas to take a shortcut, and made it down safely in time to witness a simple, blissful wedding under palm trees and attend the reception, where champagne corks popped at the same time the sun was sinking into the horizon.

Those sights were well worth the heat and sleep deprivation of such a quick, long trip. As was Scottsdale. Sure, by the time I nearly got to Phoenix, it was time to come back. But I saw enough that made me want to return, soon – and, next time, for longer.



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