Lyft drivers in Phoenix don’t understand why I moved here. Whenever I mention I am newly arrived in their city whatever banal conversation we were having is kicked up a notch by their heightened interest.
Did you move here for work?
It is the question they all ask me. As though that were the only possible reason anybody moves anywhere. I suppose it stands to reason. People in New York were often baffled I was moving to Phoenix. It makes sense people in Phoenix would be just as baffled I arrived. Its the way it comes out though that makes me laugh. Confused. Like the question itself is too strange to finish.
Did you move here for work or…
They just trail off. Like they thought there would be more options but quickly realized there aren’t. A study from Livability.com showed less than 20% of people who move do it for job-related reasons. And that makes sense to me. While our work is such a significant part of our day it is not, nor should it be, the entirety of our life. But I still find it fascinating people always assume we moved for work instead of any other reason.
I answer the question similarly every time, but I can tell it isn’t a satisfying answer for the driver. Just once I want to tell them I’m a cactus enthusiast or a snake collector. Perhaps allude to my affiliation with a sun-worshipping cult.
But I don’t. I tell them we came out for an adventure.
“That’s cool,” they say. Which is a polite way of saying; huh? This is followed by a slight pause and then, no matter who the driver is, no matter the age, gender or race, they always say the exact same thing next.
Wait until the summer. It’s brutal!
They say it with a kind of twisted pride. The way somebody might brag about being a terrible driver. I wonder what they perceive my understanding of a Phoenix summer to be. Do they think I didn’t do my research about Phoenix (named after a mythological bird that burned itself on a funeral pyre)? Do they know every article about Phoenix calls it “The Valley of the Sun” and talks about how high the mercury climbs in the summer? Do they think I moved here, sight unseen? Threw a dart at a map and packed up my life?
At first, I knew these drivers were well-meaning, trying to give me a heads up. Arriving in February was the right idea they say. It is only going to get worse they say. I try to agree with them, let them know I get it, we will deal with the heat when it comes. But it isn’t enough. They don’t think I understand. I know this because they tell me:
No, you don’t understand.
It feels like they are trying to convince me not to live here. Like I made a mistake. Nobody could possibly handle it… except of course those 4 million people who already live here. Like it is so almost too unbearable to mention. And yet… they live here.
Zero chance of survival seems to be their opinion of me. My lily white skin will crinkle up like a Hershey wrapper in a campfire on Memorial Day, which is apparently when everybody here just starts bursting into flames and stays that way until they gently smolder out in the respite of late October.
What they don’t know is I have lived here before. I know what 115 degrees feels like. I have walked across parking lots that could melt my sneakers. So let’s take a moment to talk about that heat, shall we?
Yes, it is a dry heat. The same way your oven produces a dry heat you can dry burn yourself on if you dry touch it. There is no humidity. And while you do sweat less it doesn’t mean you are losing any less moisture. My 35-year-old body is already experiencing a type of desiccation normally reserved for the preservation of exotic fruit. I spray my nose multiple times daily with a saline concentration which should be called Concentrated Ocean Pain. The backs of my hands look like an Iguana’s feet.
It’s dry. It’s hot. It is brutal. People survive.
The experience of having survived the desert gives people a kind of special membership. We all do the same thing even if we don’t live in Phoenix. I did it when I met people who just moved to NY. “Just you wait” I’d say. I was either talking about how subway platforms turn into Turkish Bath Houses in July, or certain streets become high-velocity polar vortexes the minute hit them.
There is something about living through seasons in a place that makes us feel accomplished. It connects us to that place and gives us a sense of ownership of it. Belonging. It is easy to hold that up in front of people don’t yet have the same experience. “I have done this. You haven’t. Wait and see.” But we all adapt.
Maybe Phoenix will make us insane in the summer. Maybe we will love it. Maybe the sheer cost of sunblock and air conditioning will drive us into bankruptcy. All I know is we keep telling people who want to come and visit us that they should come before or after the summer.
“You don’t understand,” we say. “It’s brutal.”
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