Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California.

Living in a small town in the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area


I've never really lived in a small town, but I like the idea. So when I lived in Los Angeles, in my twenties, I made it into a small town for me. Whenever possible I did the kind of things that people would do in a small town, like buying a lemonade from some kids who were selling it in front of their house. I also went to garage sales, not because I really needed anything, but because it was a way to make the kind of personal contact with people that's normal in small towns, and unusual in a big city. When I moved back to Phoenix I continued to do that.

Yesterday I stopped at a garage sale and spent a dollar. And this is the important part - you gotta spend some money. It doesn't have to be a lot, but if you just walk up and talk to people who are at garage sales they're gonna consider you a total waste of time if you walk away empty-handed. So I spend a dollar. In the eighties I would spend a quarter, but inflation has changed that amount. I won't leave a garage sale without paying for the privilege. And that privilege is the wonderful feeling of seeing that even in big cities people are all the same. And I've gotten wonderful comfort from that, at a value well beyond the dollar I've spent.

The garage sale that I stopped at yesterday was "Grandpa's Mystery Treasures" - at least that was what was written on the trailer that always sat there in the driveway, which I've gone past many times. I do have items in mind that I tell people that I'm looking for, and might actually buy for more than a dollar, which includes: weight training equipment (like dumbbells), and interesting stuff for the garden. But I don't really need those, I need to continue to live in a small town.

Of course people think I need stuff, so I'm encouraged to look around. I was pointed towards shot glasses, which were interesting to look at, and other things, but I really didn't see anything that caught my eye. "Grandpa" was disabled, and he got up to show me stuff (I was the only person there) and it was at that point that I knew I had to make up my mind pretty quickly and buy something. When he went and sat down again, I simply got a dollar out and gave it to him, saying that I wasn't going to leave until I'd spent it. At that point he steered me away from the more expensive stuff, and finally decided that I probably needed a Coca-Cola glass, which I asked him to pick out, and I took. Whether it's a valuable antique, or not even worth a dollar, I have no idea. I do like the glass, which is a bonus, but that was never the point.

I know that people are afraid, and feel vulnerable in big cities. Most of my neighbors here in this nice little suburban area never leave the house except inside of a vehicle with tinted windows and locked doors. The houses all have block walls and garages, and I understand that this comforting security makes people feel even more afraid of stranger danger, because everyone around them remains a stranger. And yes, there are a lot of bad people out there, but I'm not one of them. When I stop at garage sales, I introduce myself whenever possible, I tell them that I live a couple of blocks away. I keep my eyes on the stuff in the driveway, I don't look at the house, as it may seem as if I were "casing the joint" (which is what burgers do to figure out the layout of a house in order to break in).

The man that I wanted to grow up to be was not going to be an "old fool". I didn't want to peek through my curtains and become angry if the cars were parked the wrong way on the street, or if people hadn't put away their trash cans at the right time. I would become an adult that took care of my little part of the world, who understood the basics of civil law, who could talk to the District Attorney if necessary. I'm still working on becoming that man, and it will include spending a dollar at a garage sale.

I like living in a small town, and Phoenix is just fine for me.

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