An old friend I had lost touch with from my Valley days just discovered I had moved to Payson. The following exchange of e-mails took place over the course of several days:
Her: Payson. I've been through there. That's the place with the big intersection, isn't it?
Me: Well, yes, the intersection of highways 87 and 260.
Her: There's a McDonald's on that corner, right? Whatever are you doing there?
Me: Working for the newspaper. Mostly enjoying, but sometimes enduring small town life. You should get out of that heat and try it some time. There's really a lot more to Payson than the intersection.
Her: Yeah, there's a lot of other fast food joints along the strip as I recall. Why would anybody want to visit, much less live there?
Me: For starters, because there's more here than farther down 87 and 260.
Her: How so?
Me: Well up the Beeline, Pine has water issues and bark beetles are killing a lot of the pine trees. Besides the forest around Pine and Strawberry is closed. Keep going toward Flagstaff and you'll come to the Ghosts of Lakes Past.
Go east on 260 and before you know it you're in that moonscape left by the Rodeo-Chediski Fire.
Her: So Payson wins by default is what you're saying? Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Me: In retrospect, that's what it sounds like. But we really can stand on our own merits.
Her: I'm listening.
Me: Well, up 87 a piece is Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. It's still open, although the state legislature tried to close it last summer.
Her: Considering how much the state relies on tourism, isn't that like cutting off your nose to spite your face?
Me: Seemed so to us.
Her: It's open when the forest around it is closed?
Me: The Tonto Natural Bridge is always open. When the world has come to an end and there is nothing left but cockroaches, the Tonto Natural Bridge will be open.
Her: What else does the Payson area have to offer.
Me: Well, down Houston Mesa Road there's a lot of great camping and hiking -- until that part of the forest is closed. Then you can watch the volunteer fire departments out there squabbling with one another.
Houston Mesa Road is just past Tyler Parkway, a town bypass that connects 87 and 260, or a residential street depending on who you talk to.
Her: Which is it?
Me: The people who live along it, and notice I did not refer to political clout, financial influence, elitism or favoritism, prefer the residential street theory and tried to keep the speed limit 25 for the longest time.
Her: You could spend a whole weekend just driving Tyler Parkway at that rate.
Me: Seemed so to the rest of us. But now that the speed limit is 35, you have time to stop at McDonald's before spending the rest of the weekend driving down Tyler Parkway.
Her: Is there anything to do along Tyler Parkway?
Me: If you're Nazarene. They just opened a new church out there with a full-blown gymnasium.
Her: If you're not Nazarene?
Me: Forget it. But that's not to say there isn't a lot to do in Payson. I mean, there's six movie screens, three health clubs, a casino, miniature golf, batting cages ...
Her: And a partridge in a pear tree?
Me: No, that would be a buzzard in a juniper tree waiting for people traversing Tyler Parkway to die. But that's not to say there isn't a lot to do in Payson. Even that very intersection that started all this has changed. Right behind McDonald's is a Goodwill and across the street is a brand spanking new Walgreens with one of those new-fangled red time temperature signs.
Her: That's exciting.
Me: It is when it's 114 in Phoenix and the big red sign says it's 83 in Payson.
Her: Touché. Anything else.
Me: Yeah, you can see that big red sign for blocks. Know why?
Her: Tell me.
Me: Because there is no brown cloud obscuring visibility like down where you are.
Her: When you live in it, you don't even notice ...
Me: Until you come to Payson, one of only three pure air ozone belts in the world.
Her: What is a "pure air ozone belt"?
Me: Nobody knows, and that's the beauty of it.