Saturday, May 28, 2005

THE SOUTHWEST US IS THE NEAREST THING TO HELL

Lileks is talking about moving to AZ. He says he likes the heat. Don't do it, James.

I visited Tempe, AZ, last summer for a Physics course at Arisona State University.

It's the nearest thing to being in hell.

Don't waste your breath writing in, saying, "But, it's a DRY heat!"

So's an oven.

Stepping off the plane, I took my first breath. It was like leaning in to check the progress of a batch of cookies.

I'm used to the weather in Cleveland, OH. It's pretty nice. The temperature may raise during the day, it may get a little muggy sometimes, but, regular as clockwork, when the sun goes down, it cools off.

Cleveland's a green city. Yeah, we have pavement and buildings in the central city, and the projects areas are notably sparse in vegetation, but, as you get along the residential areea, you feel like you're in Mayberry.

In the older parts of the city, there is the Midwest architectural feature known as tree lawns. That's the strip of grass (and possibly 1 tree) between the sidewalk and the street. Over time, trees do what trees are supposed to do, and provide shade over the sidewalks and streets that prevents heat build-up in the hot months.

Almost every home has a front yard and a back yard, small rectangles of grass and garden. Most of them are hardly worth getting a lawn mower with a motor, except in the post-1960s suburbs. At that time, land was cheap, and every new home-owner wanted the feel of being lord of the manor. For that, you need acreage.

In Tempe, the yards are gravel. Drought-tolerant trees and bushes dot the stony borders.

The first morning, when I woke up (at 5 am), it was beautiful. Cool and fresh, I dressed, went out to the patio, and sipped my coffee in the strange surroundings.

It was delightful, for a few hours. By 8 am, it was already getting uncomfortably warm.

I visited with my husband's aunt and uncle for a few hours. Then, we got our luggage together, and prepared to travel to the dorm housing. I picked up my suitcase, and stepped outside...

...straight into Hell.

One breath seared my entire respiratory system. I've never been in a place (outside of a sauna) that was so hard to breathe in. Every breath dried up my nasal passages, increased my internal temperature, and left me weak and slightly dizzy.

It took the better part of a week to adjust. I eventually fell into the desert rhythm, only venturing outside in very early morning or late evening. I wore out a brand-new pair of sandals - the hot sidewalks burned off a 1-inch layer of composite materials in 3 weeks.

On the way home from church that first week, I remarked that I didn't see how ministers got any people to come to services - they couldn't use a fear of hell, the residents were there already.

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