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Savannah vs. Scottsdale: A study in contrasts 

It's always weird to call Scottsdale, Arizona, and its surrounding area my hometown.

Sure, I came of age down the road, and my parents still live there. But every time I go back, I feel like more of a stranger in a strange land.

What was once a scattering of separate desert cities has grown into one massive metropolis. In the 20 years since I graduated high school, the population has multiplied like jackrabbits. So have the freeways.

Other than the purple mountains ringing this giant dusty valley, nothing matches my memory: My elementary school is now a fancy grocery store. The trash-heaped river bottom where we used to build bonfires and drink Coors Light is a fricking lake.

(The fishing's pretty good I hear; I guess old beer cans make for a fine habitat.)

Even since my last visit, the intersection near my parents' townhouse looks so different I thought they'd moved again and forgot to tell me. In Scottsdale, when an edifice starts looking dated, a developer tears it down immediately and replaces it with a shiny mixed-use condo complex full of trendy boutiques, Argentinian meat restaurants and Cheesecake Factorys that look like the Taj Majal.

If you think what they do to aging buildings is callous, you should see what some of the people do to themselves: Botoxed and liposucked out of their minds. Plastic surgery is right up there with shopping and golf as popular activities. I saw one lady with duck lips so big she could barely get them around her martini glass.

This obsession with the sleek and über-new presents a very different philosophy than Savannah's when it comes to architecture (not to mention aging gracefully, dahlin'.) Not much has changed north of Derenne since Eisenhower was president, and our historic preservation codes are so tight even the most spa-sculpted Scottsdale ladies couldn't even squeeze into them. If General Oglethorpe returned today for a nice stroll around Wright Square, he'd probably notice nothing amiss until some SCAD kid skated by with a teal mohawk.

There is an appreciation for local history in Scottsdale, though the early 1900s may seem like yesterday in Savannah time. Historic Old Town Scottsdale is a well-preserved homage to the Wild West. Frank Lloyd Wright built his angular winter abode, Taliesen West, nestled into the North Scottsdale foothills in 1937, and it remains a memorial to his great mind.

A few freeway exits over, I attended a spectacular performance of Ballet Arizona at the Orpheum Theater, first built in 1929 and restored to its former Spanish Baroque glory in 1997 by Phoenix taxpayers. As for the history pre-Manifest Destiny, many Native American sites are well-protected and their decimated cultures cherished in museums, though also unfortunately in the form of overpriced gallery art and casino gift shop Kachina dolls.

Of course, not everything can be brand swankin' new or historically valuable. Some of Scottsdale's architectural mistakes endure in the form of subdivisions covered in beige stucco, a style I like to call Taco Modern. I lump them with the hideous faux pueblo-style strip malls designed with an aesthetic known in obscure circles as Montezuma's Revenge.

While diametrically opposed in some ways, Scottsdale and Savannah share the distinction of being hot destinations, and I'm not talking about the kind on TripAdvisor. I mean roast-your-internal-organs-on-the-way-to-your-car smokin'. Some people love to tell you that the desert doesn't feel nearly as dolorous as the South in July because "it's a dry heat," meaning that instead of suffering the humid smotherblanket that accompanies our sultry summers, Arizona merely feels like taking a nap in Satan's pizza oven.

But that misery is still months away for both places; right now they share in common a spectacular spring. While wholly different than the confetti of blooms we enjoy in Savannah, this season in the desert is still a marvel to behold. Green-barked Palo Verde trees burst with tiny yellow flowers, and the sandy valley floor shimmers with bright brittlebrush. There may not be daffodils or azaleas popping up, but I can confirm without a doubt that Scottsdale's flowers have just as strong a capacity as Savannah's to completely debilitate a person with pollen.

Just when my sinuses were beginning to adjust and I was finally getting my bearings in my former desert digs, it was time to come back home. Though I was sad to leave my family and friends, I looked forward to coming back to a place where nothing ever changes.

I was greeted with the bitterest of ironies: In the week of my absence, a three-story apartment building has been erected practically in my front yard. Where there was once a view of ancient oak trees and mature landscaping, now sits an enormous, towering façade. It will be the tallest building north of Derenne before the hotels on the riverfront, and it was approved without so much of a whisper to the surrounding residents — and apparently, its beyond-code height was green-lighted at a cocktail party. A dangerous precedent for Midtown and all of Savannah, and believe me, you'll hear more about it here.

*sigh* I guess you really can't go home again.

***

Last year around this time, Paul Rockwell walked more than 100 miles from St. Mary's to Savannah to raise awareness for cervical cancer in honor of Sarah Noll, the cheerful Sentient Bean barista then fighting the disease.

Rockwell uses crutches due to cerebral palsy, and his impressive trek brought attention and funds to the cause.

Before Noll passed away last summer, Rockwell promised her that he'd continue his activist efforts. Unfortunately, plans to make the march again this spring were foiled by a broken femur. As the mighty do, he adapted:

Starting at 7 a.m. Saturday, April 13, Rockwell will roll around Forsyth Park in his wheelchair 13 times in Sarah Noll's honor and to raise a few bucks for research. Donations to the American Cancer Society are being taken at the Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.

"I told Sarah I would do whatever I can to keeping fighting the fight and do what I can to inspire people," he says.

Join him on a lap or make a pledge. But whatever you do, please don't tell him to "break a leg."

cs

For more info, contact Paul at (912) 508-8548 or email easydoseit_rockwell@hotmail.com.

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  • In the 20 years since I graduated high school, the population has multiplied like jackrabbits. So have the freeways.

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Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Bio:
Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.

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