Culture shock is about the only way I can adequately describe my experience of moving from Phoenix to Payson.
My introduction to the community and people in Payson has been like taking a refreshing step back to a time and place where people take the time to ask, "How are you doing?" and actually listen and truly care about the answer.
Don't misunderstand me though, Phoenix is not a bad place to live. I lived there off and on with my family for over 30 years.
But, to tell the truth, for as long as I can remember, I have had a plan in the back of my mind to move to Payson. During high school, my friends and I would make camping pilgrimages almost every weekend to Payson and the Rim.
After so many years in the Valley of the Sun, when my opportunity came to escape from what I personally consider to be sweltering, unbearable heat, I jumped at the chance.
I would not say I am the typical transplant to Payson. To begin with, I am 50 years old, (friends constantly accuse me of having known Moses) and have just completed a degree in journalism from Arizona State University.
My father was in the military and I basically grew up in Europe. We first were stationed in North Africa when I was only a year old, and then on different bases in Europe, until I was 14, when we came to the United States in 1970.
Almost immediately, we moved to Scottsdale and then to North Phoenix and my Arizona "odyssey" began. I attended Paradise Valley High School, where I graduated in 1975, with no greater accolades than to say I actually managed to graduate in the standard four-year period.
I joined the Air Force after high school. After I came back to Arizona from the military, I decided to follow many a boy's dream from my generation and be a cowboy.
After years of playing cowboy (and I do mean "playing" cowboy, I was adequate at best) and chasing cows or leading tourists in Bermuda shorts and lathered with sunblock across the Arizona landscape (for barely enough to live on), I realized it was time to find a new line of work.
With a tradition of academics in the family, it seemed natural to "pick up the gauntlet," and try college again after making the decision to change "careers."
Both my father, who lives in Flagstaff, and my brother, who lives in Phoenix, are Ph.D.s, and succumbing to that unspoken family expectation (and mild pressure from my 14-year-old daughter, Taylor), I decided to go back to school and learn something other than how to keep from falling off the back of a horse.
So, in 2001, I decided to begin a new life and went back to school to become a journalist. I started at the community college level at Paradise Valley Community College in North Phoenix, and transferred from there to Arizona State University in 2003, where I graduated (much to my family's delight and relief) in 2007 from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.
I had kept my eye on journalism job Web sites for a couple of years before graduation, and the Payson Roundup rarely made an appearance looking for reporters. Then, just a week or so before I graduated, almost as if by fate, an ad appeared asking for a reporter here at the Roundup and I started pestering the managing editor for a job.
Well, to make a long story short again, I managed to get the job here and made the move.
One of the first things I noticed, was the relaxed, hometown-friendly atmosphere in the Payson area and surrounding communities. I remarked just the other day that on my way to work, not one person scowled at me. I never once felt like I was taking my life in my hands just by being on the road. No one looked at me, as if I should not be allowed to drive and it took less than 15 minutes to get to work ... in a good mood.
So as not to sound maudlin, I can honestly say I am very pleased and honored to be welcomed into the community. Everyone I have met and spoken with, both as a member of the community, and as a reporter for the Roundup, have been genuinely friendly and warm toward me. What a wonderful change.