One of the things I was happiest to leave behind in Britain were the tourists. Be they rampaging backpackers, knocking out three people every time they turned around, or organised groups of Japanese, frantically photographing “amusing” street entertainers, they were the main reason why going into the center of London was a chore rather than a pleasure. Entire swathes of territory were no-go areas, particularly in the summer, e.g. from Piccadilly Circus, through Leicester Square to Covent Garden, and north to Oxford Street.
Phoenix is nowhere near as much of a tourist destination, lacking much in the way of attractions or history (it was only incorporated in 1881). What it does have going for it, particularly in the winter, is a wonderful climate, and this is what draws in the “snowbirds” – the bane of all locals, and possibly even worse than any tourist, because they actually live here. Well, for four months of the year at least.
These people are the ones too wussy to cope with an Arizonan summer, even with air-conditioning, but come flocking like flies to horse-shit from about Thanksgiving (the end of November) through to Easter – or whenever the temperature goes above 100F. The vast majority are retired, it being much harder for actual working people to take four months off. And the mindset they bring is equally and relentlessly retired – at times, it’s as if the entire state smells of wee.
These estimated 300,000 visitors a year inevitably place a severe burden on every aspect of Arizonan life. Imagine London, with every Premiership team playing at home, and the FA Cup final at Wembley too – every day, for four months. Restaurants, which the rest of the year are quiet and peaceful, suddenly become jammed with shambling geriatric zombies, ordering the senior citizen specials and gumming up the works for those of us with jobs, who are only able to have their breakfasts somewhere near breakfast-time.
Post-offices, banks, supermarkets, doctors – it’s all the same. But it’s on the road that perhaps the worst carnage takes place. All residents know to give cars with out-of-state number plates a wide berth because, put bluntly, they haven’t got a fucking clue. They don’t know where they’re going, half of them can’t see further than the end of the bonnet, and their average speed is a resolute ten miles per hour below the speed limit. “I haven’t had an accident in fifty years,” they’ll say – no, but how many have you caused frustrated drivers behind you?
The comforting thing is that, like locusts and diarrhoea, you know they’ll be gone eventually – well, save the ones who keeled over during a session at Marie Callender’s all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch. Though given how most of them look nearly-dead anyway, not sure how you’d tell the difference. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to grin and bear it, at least until we can sweep past them with a victorious cry of “Go back to Illinoooooooois…”.