It's become a December tradition, something you can count on to give the lustrous holiday season in the Rim country just the slightest hint of tarnish.
Each year, along about Christmas time, The Arizona Republic runs a story about how dumpy Payson has become. The latest in the series, which ran in the Dec. 30 issue, was headlined "Hit the road, Uncle Jack," with the subhead, "Put down those golf clubs, visitors, and see the real Arizona."
In the article, reporter Scott Craven tells flatlanders of places to take holiday guests that reveal the true and natural splendor of Arizona places like Jerome, Greer, Bisbee, Crown King, Hannagan Meadow and "Saintly Christopher Creek" the latter if you can slog through the sleaze of Payson to get there.
The year before, Dec. 19, 1999, Republic reporter Maureen West teamed up with state historian and Christopher Creek resident Marshall Trimble on a front page story that trashed Payson for its "garish" commercial strip along the Beeline, its demonic drug houses, and its drastically dropping water table. An accompanying photo was shot and cropped in such a way that it distorted a portion of the Beeline into a never-ending, greatly compressed sea of tacky fast food joints, real estate offices and mobile home parks.
In the latest version of the Republic's December massacre, Craven picks up on West's theme, referring to the Payson area, with its "glut of gasoline stations, convenience stores and cheap hotels" as a place for "browsing strip malls and eating fast food."
Like you, we take offense at this latest outrage perpetrated by the voice of the Valley of the Smog, and, in the spirit of truth, justice and just plain getting even, put forward the following observations:
First, we congratulate Mr. Trimble and whoever else is creating all the positive press for Christopher Creek. We just wonder about the wisdom of doing so at Payson's expense. Where, we ask, would you and all those Phoenix tourists fill your gas tanks if it weren't for Payson?
The law of supply and demand is what makes us what we are, and most of the demand for gas stations, convenience stores and fast food joints comes from the folks who flock here in the summer for respite from the ungodly heat and choking pollution of the Valley home of The Arizona Republic. If our visitors wanted only high-priced, high-profit gourmet restaurants, we would have to be blithering idiots to instead give them McDonald's and Burger King. Nope, you give the heathens what they want when they come up for the weekend, so us full-timers can afford to enjoy this place year-round.
Cheap hotels or fairly-priced hotels? I have stayed in fleabags in San Francisco priced at $175 a night that couldn't hold a candle to the Majestic Mountain Inn or the Days Inn Suites or the Guesthouse Inn & Suites. No, we don't have glittering high-rise hotels or sprawling resorts complete with golf courses and health spas, but that is, thankfully, not the experience that the vast majority of our visitors are after.
One only needs to travel Van Buren Street in downtown Phoenix to see the full range of possibilities in a sleazy strip of motels. True, that is not what Phoenix is all about today, but neither is the Beeline what Payson and the Rim country are all about.
When did Van Buren stop being the main drag in Phoenix, anyway? And what is the main drag today? Central Avenue? The Black Canyon Freeway? Or is it possible that the Valley has lost its identity in a sea of endless growth?
While we're on the subject of identities, at least in Payson we are working on the problem. As an Arizona Main Street community with a brand new coordinator at the helm, who do you think is going to end up with an identity we can be proud of first us or the Valley?
Now let's talk for a moment about golf courses. When the archaeologists of another era dig up Arizona, I'm betting they will determine it was golf courses, not fast food joints and gas stations and cheap hotels, that caused the demise of our state. I'm guessing they will marvel at how a pristine desert was sucked dry so a bunch of executives with too much money and time on their hands could entertain themselves on company time by chasing a little white ball around acres of lush green grass that has no place in our climate. And the last time we dared uncover our eyes to look, there were nearly 300 yes, 300 golf courses in the Valley.
To be fair, growth is a difficult thing to control. LA couldn't. Phoenix couldn't. Prescott couldn't. And what's to make Payson any different? In fact, growth should probably be added to death and taxes on the list of inevitables. Unfortunately, Rim Country Chamber CEO Tom Kaleta is probably right when he says, "If you ain't growin', baby, you're dyin'." But the bottom line is this: En route to becoming what it is today, the Valley no doubt also went through a "glut of gasoline stations, convenience stores and cheap hotels" phase. And on the great continuum of growth, I'm sure glad we're here instead of there.
Finally, to Mr. Trimble and our good friends in Christopher Creek, may we suggest that you, too, are on that inevitable treadmill of death, taxes and growth. If you can figure out a way to stop what nobody has so far been able to stop, then Christopher Creek will most surely go down in history as that most elusive of places Shangri-la. Until then, we suggest you keep your ears pressed to the ground in the very best tradition of cowboys and Indians, because sooner or later the most famous question in the world is surely going to be asked in your very own community.
"Did somebody say McDonald's?"