Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cultural Diversification

Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My wife and I went on vacation during the first part of July, 2007. We flew from Phoenix, Arizona to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania so my wife could complete one of her life long projects. We both have "lists" of things we want to do in life and this was her chance to complete one of them. If you want to see what it was, the video is here.

Fairmont Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My wife and I do this sort of thing a lot. We go someplace off the beaten path and find things. Sometimes wondrous things, sometimes just odd things. It is always an adventure and we sometimes come back scratching our heads regarding what we have experienced. We usually come back with a different perspective on our lives.

The more we travel, the more we come to realize that Phoenix, Arizona is an odd place. It is a boom-town. It has grown up really fast, and culturally it doesn't have a lot going for it. It is a place where people come (by the thousands each day) to start a life and make money. There are very few 'natives' here. They have all come from somewhere else. You might think that this would give Phoenix a 'melting pot' sort of feel. But it doesn't. The weather here is so hot and the landscape so barren, that most people spend their time in air conditioned buildings or their automobiles. There isn't a lot of social interaction here.

Which is why Philadelphia was such a shock for us. By leaving Arizona and traveling to a place that we had never been before, we once again realized just how far from the 'norm' Phoenix is. In case you haven't seen how diverse our culture is in America, here are a few of our observations.

Fairmont Park Tunnel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Lawyer Ads: There aren't any lawyer ads in Philadelphia or New Jersey. We saw one or two, but they were hardly noticeable. Lawyers compete for advertising space at intersections here in Arizona. At any given time there are over 400 billboards for accident / injury attorneys in Phoenix. They also advertise on the sides of buses and on the back of phone books here. I guess Phoenix is a sue happy place. Philadelphia must be a bit more civil.

Hummers: There weren't any Hummers in Pennsylvania. They are the preferred mode of transportation in Arizona and are a status symbol here. I think I counted 3 in our vacation to Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I suppose that looking really intimidating while getting 8 miles per gallon isn't considered cool back East.

Spring House Roof, Morris Arboretum, Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania

Parallel Parking: We don't have it in Arizona. All the streets here are as wide as football fields and there isn't any need for it. For the old streets of Philadelphia, that were laid out for buggies in the 1850s, it is another story.

Tall Houses: I mean really tall houses in Philadelphia. I guess this is a matter of zoning and needing more space. Here in Arizona, all the houses are one story. Every dwelling here is done in a ranch style motif that is low and wide. Back east, the minimum seemed to be three stories with a basement. I guess that folks are healthier on the Atlantic Seaboard because they walk up and down so many flights of stairs.

Coffee in Saucers with Sugar: This may seem strange, but you don't get that in the West. If you order coffee here, it either comes in a large Styrofoam cup that you pour yourself or in a mug with a little tray of white / blue and pink packets, corresponding to your preferred type of sweetener. In Philly, you get a 'cup' of coffee on a little saucer and you can have sugar with it. If you ask for 'Equal' or 'Splenda', they look at you funny and think you are speaking a foreign language.

Old City Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Roads: Except for the main streets in the older towns, there aren't any straight roadways in Philadelphia or New Jersey. The streets all conform to the contour of the land and meander through woods and over creeks. There also seem to be stop lights about ever 50 yards in the cities. It is pretty much impossible to get over 35mph before having to round a sharp corner or stop for red light. Conversely, here in Phoenix, the roads are all straight, 50 yards wide and there are stoplights somewhere out there on the horizon. It is a drag race to get to the next major intersection every time a light turns green here. NASCAR is really big out here ya know.

Shopping: There were no Wal-Marts or Costcos back East. I suppose that it has to do with no large plots of land zoned for commercial use being available back there. Everything, and I mean everything was sold through small mom & pop operations. Everything was at the local level with very little corporate involvement. You have to know your grocer, since he is the only one for 10 miles in any direction. Out here in Arizona, we shop at huge mega-malls and buy everything in bulk, from toilet paper to coffee, then stuff it in our Hummers.

Infrastructure: There is massive infrastructure back East. Bridges, rail systems, huge public buildings, docks, seaports and airports. We have infrastructure in Arizona as well, but it is all new and you can tell it won't last more than 20 years before it starts to fall apart and has to be rebuilt. The bridges in Philadelphia were all massive things made of stone that looked like they had been there since the time of the Druids. They had become part of the landscape and melded with it. They are heavy, ornate and indestructible. Everything in Arizona is basically disposable.

Sue, Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Murals: As referenced before, there are a lot of tall building back East. Since you can't move out, the only place left to go is up. This means a lot of tall walls with no windows on some buildings. Easterners see these as blank canvas and there are murals everywhere in Philadelphia. I mean everywhere. In places that you would never see them unless you went looking for them. I am not talking crappy graffiti murals either. We are talking public art on a grand scale. Something that is totally absent out here in the Southwest. Public art was the norm back does not exist here in Phoenix. Interestingly enough, almost none of this public art was ever defaced or spray painted either. Most art in Phoenix has to be designed to be 'vandal proof' or surrounded by a fence.

White Puffy Clouds: It may seem weird, but we don't have these in the desert. We have high wispy clouds or massive thunderheads that explode from heat and humidity and then disappear. Back east, there is this cotton candy sky that provides shade 50% of the time and slow rainy days where it drizzles for hours. These are things never experienced in Arizona.

Cell, Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Toll Roads: They are talking about putting them here in Arizona, but it is doubtful that will ever happen. We don't have the law enforcement or the courts to go after the folks that wouldn't pay, and there would be a lot of them that wouldn't pay. This brought a whole new meaning to those little coin holders that they build into cars these days. We don't use them in Arizona, but they become and necessity on the East coast. We learned to never go on a trip anywhere without filling up the coin holder. We also realized why there were never any high-speed car chases on the East Coast. To many curves, stop lights and toll booths.

Benches:.....benches everywhere. I stopped counting when I got to around 350 in Philadelphia. These aren't benches at bus stops, they are benches along the sidewalks and in parks. They are more common than traffic lights back there. It seems that people are encouraged to stop and sit and look at their community. It is like the town sofa. Sit down, take your shoes off.....relax awhile. If you did this in Arizona, you would be shot, mugged and die of heat stroke in about 20 minutes.

Gazebo, Morris Arboretum, Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania

Flying Billboards at the Beach: I guess this makes sense, but it seemed odd. While on the Jersey shore, a plane flew by pulling some sort of advertising banner about ever 5 minutes. There was a small air force of these planes flying up and down the coastline in a never ending succession, advertising Atlantic City casinos and tire stores. It was all a bit surreal. In Arizona, all the billboards are on the ground.

All in all, the culture back east is one of tight knit inclusion and civic responsibility. Even the ghettos looked more cultural and closely tied together. There were thousands of small churches everywhere and scores of African Americans all dressed in white, headed off to pray on Sunday. There were very few Hispanics but scores of Middle Easterners in Muslim attire.

There were many other things. Too many to mention. These were just the ones that I remembers to jot down on my Palm Pilot.

All the differences were astounding. I suppose this is what you get when you look at a culture that has been growing, in close quarters for 200 years and a culture that has sprang up through commerce in just 50 years. I am sure that each city has it good points and bad points. However, the longer Sue and I live here, the more we look forward to seeing how the other half lives.