Remembering the Beginning

26 Apr

Late 2007 I remember making an isolated drive from Utah’s Salt Lake valley to the rapidly creeping mega-suburbia of the Phoenix-conglomerate in Arizona. My mother had moved to Glendale during the housing and job boom of just a few years earlier and every time I had returned to the collage cities of Glendale, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Peoria, Mesa, Tempe, and more it had expanded impossibly.

When I first visited Arizona family in the early 1990’s I witnessed orange orchards across the street from their 55th and Cactus house. A decade later they were gone. The line I recalled from my later teenage years as where the houses and shopping centers came to a halt and the free desert opened was so quickly being shoved away from the city center that I doubted my memories.

It used to be that when my friends and I would make the journey to our secluded retreats out past Lake Pleasant park grounds, riding north on the I-17 was a definitive escape from the city. Where the northernmost intersection of the Loop-101 and I-17 happens there was the usual collection of a movie theater, some restaurants, shops and a few nearby neighborhoods. At night, the thick light density would steadily taper off into an easy unending black broken only by the slow but constant trickle of cars heading back south into the city. After a time, a lonely convenience plaza was reached right when a departure from the interstate was made for the west bound Carefree Highway. From there you could access what was, for us, the closest expanse of empty wilderness we had; No lights save for the few wandering late night travelers if you stuck to the highway and the lonesome regional park something or other light if you struck out for the marina.

Since then, every time I re-entered the Phoenix valley from the high and winding path out of Flagstaff the scenery had changed. The marching line of lights had surged onward from ending somewhere near Deer Valley Rd to pressing so desperately up against the mountains at Anthem that I wondered sometimes if the rocky barrier between there and Flagstaff stood a chance.

2007 was different. That oceanic force of a booming economy had crashed and receded. Making the spectator drive of American progress, this time I saw not bustling construction sites with ceaseless movement of machines and men. Nor did I see shopping centers replete with “NOW OPEN” signs so new they smelt of drying paint and freshly laid asphalt from the invading roads. I saw nearly finished apartment buildings, neighborhoods, and centers abandoned mid-project by construction workers and investors alike with “LOT FOR SALE” signs hanging from the partial structures and “FOR RENT” where “NOW OPEN” had just hung. What had happened?

Economists and fifth grade teachers alike had lied. Infinite growth is not possible, and yet somehow we defied our own logic and believed. I write this from the sobering perspective that last Friday, April 15, 2011 my own dear mother walked away from her foreclosed home. Like so many thousands of other mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and grown children, she walked away from her house and all the dreams that were represented by its solid foundation, warm walls, and protective roof. Крыша (Kreesha), the Russians say. Shelter. Hope. Protection.


The closed factory next to resulting houses

Nine months previous I was standing in a patch of dusty balding grass, slowly turning to absorb the absurd panorama surrounding me. The absurdity came in the form of a large, closed factory standing so shamelessly proud against the contrast of dis-guarded-hodgepodge homes. Small shelters of collected wood, wire, and sheet metal huddling not a thousand feet from a nostalgic, Soviet-era concrete apartment building. At one point this town had been new. The buildings had been livable shelters before it had been necessary to scavenge for junk material that could be used to build a safer home in the form of a shanty. This was Шакша (Shaksha). How many mothers and fathers there had watched the only factory in town close its gates decisively on their hopes? Around 10,000.

And these towns are everywhere.


Tree Gore

Originally written and posted April 22, 2011


3 Responses to “Remembering the Beginning”

  1. Matthew Rellaford May 4, 2011 at 1:47 am #

    Hey, what you guys are doing is really neat! I fell in love with Russia four years ago and have been back to Russia or Moldova every year since. I’m in Transnistria right now, a Russian break away region of Moldova. I’m doing work with an NGO that combats domestic violence and human trafficking here. If you guys are ever close by or want to swing by Moldova you have my enthusiastic invitation! Moldova has had a very similar fate as rural Russia. Most people here earn less than $150 a month yet cost of living is upwards of $250 at a bare minimum. I don’t know how people survive. I’ll look forward to hearing from you. Here’s my e-mail if it doesn’t provide it for you:

  2. Brett Smith May 4, 2011 at 9:02 pm #

    I’m ecstatic for the both of you my friends. You have all of my love and what love Jenny can muster up for you as well. I wish great success upon your journey. We both expect nothing less than a striking story and moving footage. Some damn good camp fire stories had better be coming back with you too.

    PS. Jen says she loves you more than she loves me.

    PPS. What brand of climbing shoes would you recommend?


  1. » Salt Lake to San Antone КРЫША : half day around - May 7, 2011

    […] was shocked to find that the very shopping center mentioned as the “usual collection” where the northern intersection of the Loop-101 and the I-17 occurs to be one of these stricken […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *