Northwest Vs. Southwest: The Vessel Shapes Its Contents



I've mentioned more than once that I originally looked into the Rim Country in 1958, while on my way across the United States to Japan. And I've also mentioned why -- because of what I read about this place in Zane Grey's books.

So, it would be logical to conclude that I settled here because of the pines, the animals, the fresh clean air, the mountains -- all the things we so love.

Well, yes and no.

Oh sure, if this place had looked like Death Valley, I would probably have passed on it.

But there was something far more important than beautiful country that made up my mind. Hey, if all I wanted was beautiful countryside, I could have gotten that back in Connecticut.

Ever been there? Beautiful place.

I can probably do a better job of telling you why I moved here to the Southwest by telling you about the Northeast than I could by talking about the Southwest.

Here's just one of a thousand true stories I could tell you.

Once, when I was 17, I traveled down to New York City by train with my best friend, Richie Shellman, who, by the way, is now Father Richard, a fact that never fails to amaze me.

Richie and I wanted to see the stage play "Mister Roberts." And we did. We missed out on the great performance that Henry Fonda gave in the leading role, because he left for Hollywood by then to make a movie, but we did get to see John Forsythe in the part and he was very good in it. We also got to see an up-and-coming young actor named Jack Lemmon, who played Ensign Pulver. Lemmon was just as much of a riot onstage, as he was in the film they later made of the play.

Richie and I came out the door of the theater, still laughing and looking for some place to eat. Some place cheap, of course. At 17, you don't have a lot to spend.

As we strolled the sidewalks, Richie decided to make a phone call to his girlfriend, who lived over on Staten Island, but neither of us had any small change. We walked up to a newsstand and Richie asked the attendant if he could please get change for a quarter so he could make a phone call to his girl.

The answer? On as sour a face as I've ever seen, "Whatta ya gonna buy?"

Multiply that story by a couple of million and you've got New York City down pat. It's not the people themselves that I blame. I can't, after all. I was born there.

It's the vessel, the city, the cold, faceless, isolating city that shapes the people in it and squeezes the warmth out of them, leaving too many of them cold, and bitter and uncaring.

See where I'm headed?

The Southwest shapes people, too. Everywhere I stopped in Arizona during that trip back in 1958, I found warm people and a friendly welcome. I wanted to be a part of that, and I wanted this place to knock some of the rough edges off me.

So, here I am.

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