I had promised GrannyJ that I would stop at Trader Joe’s on my way up to buy her some lemon-dill sauce and some tuna steaks. I had a plan: I would go to the TJ’s I know, at 99th and Thunderbird, then head on up the hill. No problemo; the route was engrained in my head. So I pulled out of the rental car complex and let my autopilot take over: turn this way, turn that, get on I-17, drive, drive, drive, turn off on Thunderbird, drive, drive, drive.
I arrived at 99th and Thunderbird, and there was the familiar shape of the TJ’s mall. But it looked different. Where were all the cars? I turned across the intersection and pulled in, realizing, with a sinking feeling, that TJ’s was gone. Yes, I had the right spot: there was the familiar shape of the TJ’s store front. But where the “Trader Joe’s” sign had been there was only a fading memory burned into the creamy adobe by the sunlight, a dim shadow of where the letters had been.
So I pulled into the Wells Fargo parking lot, pulled out the phone, called mom. Sorry, I said. I’ll be there in about an hour and a half.
I decided it would be fun to drive up 99th (the Lake Pleasant Road) up to the Carefree Highway, though I knew it would be painful. The last time I had done the drive, the encroaching ticky-tacky boxes had been pushed further north, but surely there would still be some desert out there that I could drive through in the setting sun.
I drove up 99th, just getting into the swing of things, and was abruptly stopped at a T-intersection where 99th ended. Before me was a mall, a swanky earth-colored eminence with neon lights advertising eateries and clothing stores. The cross street was called “Lake Pleasant Parkway”.
I had to make a snap decision, and was not in the left-hand lanes…goodness only knows how things had changed further, and perhaps the better thing to do would be to just turn right, head back to I-17.
As I was driving the broad new parkway, expecting to head towards the highway, it started curving. I noticed a cross street: Beardsley. Say what?! That’s not right, I thought–doesn’t Beardsley intersect with the highway? I kept on, but started looking ahead for cross-street signs. And I realized that the setting sun was no longer behind me, but off to my right.
There ahead of me was Union Hills. ACK! Yes, I was right: ”Lake Pleasant Parkway” had morphed from a possible intersection with the highway into something heading directly south–back the way I had come. I turned on Union Hills, and saw that LPP had, at some point, turned into 83rd Avenue.
But despite this unexpected detour–which had taken an extra 30 minutes–I soon made it to the highway, and was motoring north through the edges of Phoenix…and passing yet another “Photo speed enforcement zone”. They were littering the area on all the highways, and they were new.
I passed Deer Valley and hit construction: a long, long passage of arrows pointing left, then pointing right, the highway lanes swinging this way and that, the Arizona Department of Transportation widening the highway and rerouting it.
I passed an intersection labeled “Jomax Road”. Once, only 10 years ago, Jomax Road was a small dirt road that fed into 99th Avenue in the middle of the desert, a lonely sign on a 2-lane road, that led into an area of old 2-acre spreads with dowdy ranch houses. Now, it was big enough to warrant an entrance to the interstate.
I passed the construction on the new, expanded interchange with Carefree Highway. It was dark now.
The newness passed away; now I was on familiar ground. Coming up on my bete noire, a development called Anthem. Once upon a time, the road there was called Desert Foothills; now it was called Anthem Way. Once upon a time, there had been a (for the desert) lush forest of palo verde trees, one of my most favorite spots to drive through in springtime, as the wildflowers carpeted the ground and the pale chartreuse leaves popped out on the trees. When Del Webb came through and raped the desert to install its huge development out by New River, they made very sure to keep all the saguaro cacti–it was required by law. But all the palo verde trees? The thing that made that spot unique? Poof. Gone. See, they weren’t required to do anything with them. So they brought in their bulldozers and ripped them out of the ground to make way for hundreds of square adobe-colored McMansions. McMansions purchased by people who wanted inexpensive housing near to Phoenix, out in the desert where the nights were an endless expanse of darkness filled with hundreds of stars.
Of course, now that those McMansions are there, with their associated street lights and porch lights and their carefully saved saguaros, the velvety nights with the tiara of brilliant stars are no more.
I’m sure the people who had lived in New River for years beforehand were pleased to have their night skies removed like that…
Most of the drive between Anthem and Prescott was the same, thank heavens. Long sweeps of emptiness with a blob of lights around Black Canyon City, and scattered spots of light marking old houses out in the chapparal. A small spot of newness at the entrance to Prescott, where ADOT is remodeling the old highway interchange, but not too much difference.
The past ten years have changed so much about this land I love. The relentless expansion of Phoenix has chewed up an amazing amount of the desert, and it saddens me. It especially saddens me to realize that–according to reports I have heard–many of those new houses, built to cash in on the real estate run-up of 1997-2006, are empty or on the verge of foreclosure.
Ah, well. I am at mom’s house. Her street is the same as it has been in the past ten years; the changes came here before that. We spent yesterday visiting the local Gingerbread House Village, hanging out, and going out for dinner. It’s quiet and relaxing, and I find I miss my dotter very, very much.