26 July 2011

Arizona Part 3: Still on the Water Thing

I realized I wasn’t done with water.  Don’t worry, even I’m growing bored of it.  I’ll be on to bigger, better Arizona things soon.

I just wanted to let you know not to cry for me over the fact that we never got snow days as kids.  And no, we didn’t get heat days, either, even though in a hundred and ten I can tell you that school swamp coolers just don’t cut it.

(Aside: Swamp coolers.  Would you believe that when it’s really hot and dry, you can run water over a pad and then draw air through it into a house, and as that water evaporates it cools that house?  People have made these machines (also less inventively known as ‘evaporative coolers’) for bone-dry places like Arizona, and in practice they even kind of work.  In June.  For a while.  Husband and I used to have a swamp cooler in our house, and in July and August we sweated buckets late into the night playing Dance Dance Revolution in our unders in the privacy of our living room while the swamp cooler pumped in heavy, wet, not remotely cool air that smelled of local sewage treatment plant.  Delightful.  End aside.)

This is a swamp cooler.  The pigeons love that it drips water, and probably love less the way their insides feel after trying to drink it.

So we didn’t get snow days, and we didn’t get heat stroke days.  But we did get a couple of flood days.

Arizonans don’t know what the hell to do with precipitation of any sort when they do get it.  Worse, it only comes in deadly bombardments and not in manageable drizzles.  Flash flood warnings are a regular occurrence, and annually a number of people have to get pulled by firemen out of cars stalled in underpasses that look like this:

Taken this week.

There’s little adequate drainage to speak of anywhere in our city.  The water is supposed to be channeled along the sides of roads and dumped into gutters, but the gutters are too small and fill fast with debris, and soon even the main streets become filled with running water.  It inevitably drains off onto secondary streets, which city planners have elected to allow to dip into the deep drainage washes (now running feet deep) rather than build more drainage tubes and run the roads over them.  I mean bridges, those are like, expensive, right?  And you can see from the picture above how well these ditches work.  They speak for themselves, really.

So if you live anywhere, pretty much anywhere in the city, when it starts really raining you’re unlikely to be able to drive anywhere else of real import because your car will get stuck in the water.  This is especially true of the boonies where we lived, as we had to cross no fewer than four major washes running straight off the mountain before we could get out of our suburban corner and into the proper city.  And by the way, our city planners may suck at planning for water, but our drivers are even worse at driving in it.  If you could get past the washes, you’d probably get sideswiped by a hydroplaning idiot trying to turn left. 

(That idiot was me, I admit, when I was sixteen and full of newly-licensed hubris on the back streets of Minneapolis during a summer storm – I almost took out two entire branches of my extended family driving my cousins and sister to rent some DVDs.  Hell, they might have been VHS tapes, come to think of it.)

So on flood days, we got to stay home.  It was beautiful.

And I have had one “snow day” in my life.  I was living for two months with the parents after college, it was winter time, and by some miraculous force of Higher Power, we woke up one morning to see the sky had snowed and sleeted and the world was covered in a very thin film of icy powder.  My dad and I were carpooling to work then, and we got in his car and made a valiant effort for two straight hours to try and cross either of the two bridges leading from my parents’ house into town, both now covered in ice and snow that still, bizarrely, had not melted even by ten o’clock.  There is no way to get into town without crossing one of these two bridges.  And my dear city has, to its name, exactly one snow plow.  And I think they were trying to de-ice something on the bridge too or something, which is the extent of my knowledge on the subject because I am a native Arizonan and know nothing at all about precipitation (I had never even heard of a roof rake until I was in my second quarter century on this earth).  No one was getting across those bridges.  So we gave up and went home.  And yes, I may have had a bachelor’s degree already under my belt when it happened, but I might as well have been five for how excited I was to finally get a single mostly-legit snow day in my life.

Picture courtesy of my dad.  Gorgeous, right?  And yes, this shut down an entire corner of the city for half a day.

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