Magazine article The American Conservative

By the Time I Got to Phoenix

Magazine article The American Conservative

By the Time I Got to Phoenix

Article excerpt

Years ago I shared a shuttle ride from the Dubuque airport to Galena, Ill., with a passengerial passel that included an elderly Russian whose family had fled the Revolution and settled in Paris. He explained to us that his mother had inculcated architectural discernment by taking him on carriage rides down the city's boulevards and declaring "good house" or "bad house" as they passed each structure. As our vehicle crossed the Mississippi we asked the old man to play the game. He did, ejaculating "bad house, bad house, bad house," until we happened upon a McDonald's, which reduced him to sputtering, "That should not be allowed!"

My wife greatly enjoyed this story, and she took to playing "good house, bad house" with our young daughter, rolling her eyes at my sappy protest that "any house in which there is love is a good house." When we'd sit by blue Ontario's shore Lucine would play "good boat, bad boat" with Gretel, overruling my proletarian-tinged defense of Rodney Dangerfield barges.

The great Edward Abbey called Phoenix "an oasis of ugliness in the midst of a beautiful wasteland," and I'd have tossed it in my "bad city" bin without a second (or even first) thought before five days in January under the chaperonage of our friends Jeremy and Kara persuaded me otherwise.

A good city needs ghosts, even if they're only spooking transients. We lodged in the San Carlos, one of those faded-glory 1920s "Clark Gable stayed here!" hotels one finds along the southwestern penumbra of moviedom. The Hotel San Carlos is said to be haunted by the restless spirit of Leone Jensen, a despondent flapper who took flight from its rooftop after being spurned by a rakish bellboy. Some male guests have claimed that Leone's specter has appeared at the foot of their beds, though she seems not to go in for succubal activity.

We heard plenty of strange noises in the wee hours, but instead of Leone's apparition the only visitant we had was a t-shirted fellow frantically pounding at our door early one morn and claiming that his wife had walked into our room as we slept and been made "very uncomfortable" by the intrusion. You and me both, buddy.

Kara is of an ancient Phoenician family that has enriched the city commercially and musically, and her pride in her hometown is infectious. …

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