Monday, November 24, 2008

A Tale of One City: Or, Once Upon A Time In The Southwest; Or, Not A Metaphor for Phoenix, Arizona, That's For Dang Sure!

(written for The Arizona Republic; not particularly published there, though)

Once upon a time there was a city, a big city.

It was so big it was a giant. It wasn’t a particularly smart giant, or an especially graceful one, but it sure was big, even for a giant. And it was still growing.

Well, kids, this giant city wanted to be admired and respected and appreciated. Like all of us, it wanted to be loved. And not just for being so damn -- oops, sorry, kids --so darn big. This city wanted to be admired for its beauty, its taste, its artistic sensibilities, its wisdom. It wanted to be what some people call "a world class city."

It wanted to be in the big leagues.

And it was, in certain ways. It sure was big.

And still growing too. It had a lot of golf courses. And some of them were world class ones. And they were all real big, awful big. It had a bunch of parks, including the absolute very biggest park in the whole wide world. And the fact that being the site of the biggest darn park in the world didn’t make anybody feel any better about anything only made the city feel bigger and dumber and more awful than ever.

Because the city really did feel kind of big and dumb and awful. There were a lot of other big things in the city -- big fountains and big freeways and big malls with big fountains and big houses with big yards in big gated communities with big fountains of their own but it didn’t make the city feel any more lovable. Just more awful.

Every once in a while -- not that often but every once in a while -- the giant city got an idea, a big idea, a really big idea. Other cities had giant-sized convention centers -- maybe it should get a really gigantic convention center and stick it right in the middle of downtown, right where the stores and people used to go, and then everybody would really love it.

And yet , oddly, nobody loved it. Nobody came.

Oh, sure, conventions came to the convention center, but they took one quick look at downtown and went straight back to their hotel and had the concierge book them a tee-time at a big world-class golf course. And then they went home again. As soon as possible. So the giant city decided maybe its convention center wasn’t big enough.

And maybe it needed some other stuff downtown too, like gigantic arts centers and massive major megalithic sports stadiums. Stuff like that.

The big giant ever-growing city had heard rumors. Frankly, it didn’t get around much but it had heard talk of other cities and how they had downtowns and other districts that were something called “vibrant.”

The giant city didn’t know very much about what “vibrant” was but it figured it wanted to buy some quick. So it paid through the nose -- the giant-sized nose.

World class cities all had mass transit, so the giant city figured it better send out for some of that too, even though it didn’t quite understand why. Because the giant city had a lot of giant freeways that went all over the place. It had even turned the little two-way streets that used to go in and out of downtown into big giant one-way streets that worked just like freeways. But it went ahead and bought a big hunk of mass transit anyway. It really wanted very badly to be loved, after all.

But even if it was guilty of looking for love in all the wrong places, it couldn’t seem to help from making the same mistakes over and over again. It kept shopping for expensive new outfits that would make it more attractive. It went on a lot of dates with a lot of new suitors but once they’d had their way, well, it always woke up feeling lonely and even emptier.

Well, you can guess what happened, can’t you, kids?

The big giant unlovable city kept making big giant unlovable grand gestures, and they didn’t make it any more lovable, only more laughable. And it wasn’t like it wasn’t trying, for God’s sake. It was paying big therapy bills, going to experts and university presidents and PR firms, and getting no relief whatsoever. The only friends it seemed to have were big developers and people on the payroll, and sometimes it wondered if they were just pretending to love the giant city in order to use for their own purposes.

But you’re worried that this tale of one city might not have a happy ending, aren’t you? Well, it does.

Because one day, completely out of the blue, a wonderful wizard magically appeared, waved his mighty wand, said an astonishing secret incantation, and all of the giant city’s great dreams and grand gestures came true! Yes! It really happened. Just like that! Really! You bet. Now go to bed, kids, pull those covers over your head, and go back to sleep.


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