Whilst celebrating the end of another workweek at my local drinking establishment the other night, I ran into a friend of a friend. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and rather quickly got to the topic of our respective geographic origins. Much to my surprise and delight, my acquaintance revealed he is not only from Arizona, but the same part of the greater Phoenix area as me. In fact, he’s from the town next to mine and went to a high school that my high school frequently trounced in football.
I should note for my readers from such far-flung places as Tunisia and Denmark, that in New Jersey, to meet someone else who isn’t from New Jersey merits a knowing nod. To meet someone from any region that could be described as “western,” yields some instant but flimsy bond. And to meet someone hailing from your particular section of the biggest metropolitan area within your home state of Arizona, means you have now made a friend for life… or for however long you both weather the storm of living in New Jersey.
As my new best friend and I kicked back a few beers and reminisced about the things we missed from the Grand Canyon State (and specifically the eastern portion of the Valley of the Sun), our topic of conversation veered from saguaros and monsoons into another common ground – the art and practice of writing. See, this particular friend and I not only share tales of surviving that day the temperature hit 122 or explaining to people that we don’t have accents, we also share an interest in and passion for creative writing.
He writes short stories and strives to get them published through magazines, online journals and contests while I’ve taken the dubious route of writing pithy essays for an oddly-named blog. As we talk about the things we miss most from Arizona – electrifying lightning storms, umpteen varieties of cactus and that big dust cloud that sweeps over the Valley at the start of a monsoon – I begin to realize how much the place you come from affects how you live your life.
I would hardly argue that coming from the Midwest inevitably makes you friendly or that being from New Jersey means you have a predilection for the Mafia. However, when you grow up in a place like the Phoenix metropolitan area, you do approach the world a little differently.
For example, when you’re from Arizona you understand that sandals are intended to be worn year-round and that seasons are mere suggestions that flit past imperceptibly. You also know how to drive with only two fingers and are strangely puzzled when streets don’t go perfectly straight. Native Americans live on reservations, not nature preservationists and you can be in the car for five hours and not leave the state. You can correctly pronounce saguaro, mesa, cholla, jalapeno and you don't laugh when you say Hohokam (though Ho-ho-Kus is a different story).
After nearly six years living on the East Coast, I still have not figured out all the ways my Arizona roots carry forward into my daily life, though I get constant reminders from all the locals. Just as your birth order, parents and any other nurture over nature elements shape who you are, so does the geography of where you come from.
Ultimately, you can register your car, get your voter ID card, pick up the regional accent and marry a local but you may never get all that Sonoran sand out of your hair.