I was recently in Arizona, a mixed blessing, like pretty much everything else. I didn’t have many expectations about Arizona other than lots of desert and heat. It being February, there wasn’t much heat. There was a lot of sunshine, though, which I always love and appreciate.

I remembered having read only one thing about Arizona. The unknown writer had been unfavorably impressed by the plethora, not to mention surfeit, of strip malls. I don’t mind strip malls, at least not as long as they’re not in my neighborhood. In your neighborhood—fine. I recognize strip malls’ right to exist somewhere else, and I was prepared to tolerate your defense of that right. That was before I went to Mesa, one ’burb away from Phoenix in Maricopa County.

Now that I’ve been to Mesa, Tempe, Gilbert, Chandler, Apache Junction, and other areas of what to an outsider—which I gratefully am—still looks like Phoenix, I can understand why that writer was anti-strip mall. Maricopa County has a lot of strip malls. I’d go so far as to say that Phoenix and environs have too many strip malls. I say “too many strip malls” not because I think there’s an optimal number of strip malls per unit area or per capita or per anything. I say Maricopa County has too many strip malls because many of them have died for lack of a reason to be there. Several showed no signs of ever having been active at all, just a block or two of empty brown store fronts.

Maricopa County seems to be mostly shades of brown, from écru to chocolate. There are great swaths of sand-colored buildings along the ginormous streets—Second Street in the heart of downtown Chico would be an alley in Mesa—mile after mile of beige carefully accented by burnt umber and coffee, with the occasional flamboyant splash of auburn.

I like brown, and not just because I’m personally brown. I like many kinds of brown surfaces, from skin to wood and actual sand and autumn leaves, and still Maricopa County, in addition to too many strip malls, might be said to have too much brown. In the desert, brown makes sense, and although I found the brown buildings usually inoffensive and occasionally elegant, I began to think that local government put the kibosh on bright colors, the way slaves in parts of the Old South were forbidden to wear bright colors.

I also went to Sedona, which oozes charm and smells like money, and the Grand Canyon, which is awesome.

Posted Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 under appreciation, perspective, Uncategorized.

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