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Snowbirding in Phoenix: A Gay guide

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Photo by Lauren Vasatka
Photo by Lauren Vasatka

I was going to begin with, "The seatbelt light goes dim, and I slide my laptop out of my carry-on to start writing about my latest adventure," but that did not go to plan.

After escaping Seattle's ice-rink conditions in December and touching down in the sunshiny, cacti-occupied desert, I thought I was one of the lucky ones. Thousands of Southwestern flights had been delayed or canceled, but my fiancée and I had tickets with American Airlines.

"Dodged a bullet there," I thought to myself as I passed the packed Southwestern cancellation line.

It was easy — too easy. The flight home was where I'd pay my dues.

I'm typing this from a Sleep Inn room provided by the airline. I'm doing my best to ignore how the mirror screwed into the wall is cockeyed and the pillowcases are slightly yellowed. The smoke detector is so discolored from cigarette smoke that I doubt it's operational.

This sleeping arrangement is very different from where I have spent the last ten days: in my future mother-in-law's tidy, shabby-chic loft in Scottsdale. As I type, my fiancée cuts into my train of thought, saying, "What a way to end a vacation."

I had also visited Arizona last summer, and the temperatures are no joke. The Phoenix heat is like stepping into an air fryer; it's so hot that you can barely think. Swimming during that time of year is fantastic, though.

Winter in the desert, though, is like early summer in Washington: it's perfect. The idea of snow-birding every year is very tempting.

While exploring, I often caught myself gazing up at the sky. In the Northwest, you forget how massive that endless blue is. We have so many trees and mountains that cut through it. Our cities are dense, and our buildings are tall.

The desert is the opposite. Arizona doesn't build vertically; it expands horizontally. So I would find myself mesmerized, staring off into the vast open lands as the sounds of my fiancée's complaints over the lack of coffee stands faded into the background.

Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

Food and drink
Speaking of that, I didn't realize I was a coffee snob until Arizona. Maybe I've been spoiled by our PNW coffee culture, or I was unlucky in my venue choices. But if you're a fellow addict, don't arrive in Arizona with high hopes of a good brew. Most places burnt their beans, and one tried to hide their coffee crimes with copious amounts of sugar.

Let's move on to the food. There are a lot of options, but quantity does not equal quality. It could be the result of the palates of the local retirees or just the consequence of becoming chain restaurants, but much of the food is flavorless, with many eateries opting for brand building over taste. So you'll probably be disappointed if the restaurant also sells T-shirts.

I'd recommend visiting Culinary Dropout, where everything is made in-house. We ordered whipped feta and tahini dip for the table; it was the perfect blend of sweet caramelized squash, apples, and dates with the sour feta. The roasted pistachios brought it all together in a savory finish.

In the morning or for brunch, head to the Breakfast Kitchen Bar and order the avocado fries — my mouth is watering now as I write about them. It was highly recommended by some locals and is great if you're eating keto.

I also strongly urge you to try as many hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants as possible. In Washington, I couldn't bring myself to get too excited about Mexican food. But here, even fast-food versions know precisely what they're doing. We gorged on shredded beef burritos that dripped so much grease that we regretted not asking for extra napkins. The hard-shell tacos opened my eyes to how much of a difference a decent tortilla makes. When in Arizona, eat Mexican food.

The gayborhood
My fiancée and I wanted to check out the local gayborhood, the Melrose district. It's smaller than Capitol Hill but is packed with Queer spaces, including Boycott, the last remaining Lesbian bar in town.. It was a weekday night, though, and only a few places were open. As we drove in, we passed a billboard advertising hemorrhoid treatment; at least that company knows its market.

We enjoyed the Melrose district because of its diversity. From drag shows to soul food, this is definitely an area to check out. It reminded me of Broadway on Capital Hill in that, like Seattle has Dick's, Phoenix has Filiberto's. Sandwiched between two bars, it's a great place to go after a night of fun with your friends.

Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

Indoor activities and day trips
Due to the risk of heat stroke, there are plenty of indoor activities to take advantage of. East Scottsdale has a massive strip mall with arcades such as Bam Kazam (two hours of obstacle courses), go-karts, indoor sky diving, and an indoor sports arena; if you have your pooch with you, you can drop it off at the doggy daycare while you play.

At the OdySea Aquarium, about a mile away, you can go underwater scuba diving with stingrays and a shark that likes to play chicken.

If you're not in the mood to get your hair wet but feeling a little creative, look up Candle Chemistry in Kierland. No reservations are necessary: walk in and explore the unique DIY candle-creating bar by yourself or with a couple of friends. Walk through and smell each of the hundred scents they have to offer. Choose whichever you want, and then start playing around and experimenting with different combinations.

Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

Here's something that you shouldn't do: While Cave Creek is an interesting and unique little town, it's not for everyone. If you find yourself reading this article, that probably means you. It has a tiny, faux Old West vibe but not much else. Between the biker bars and the gift shops stocked with Trump and anti-Gay T-shirts, there wasn't much room for anything else. If you're in the mood for "pray the gay away," it may be for you. If not, go to Jerome.

Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

Jerome, an hour and a half out of Phoenix, was once a copper mining community. Now it's the home of elder hippies and those that love the local haunted history. The town, whose buildings twist up a mountain, features many cute stores and relics of its past. Enjoy the ghost tour while staying in the haunted hotel, or watch a film about Jerome's history or a horror flick in the old theater. It's a strange mix, but Jerome is wholesome and spooky.

Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

Where to stay
If you're looking for a hotel, check out the Scottsdale area. My fiancée and her mom call it "Snottsdale" but also say it's one of the nicer places to stay. The downtown district is very small compared to what we are used to and mainly consists of sports-related restaurants and bars.

Public transportation is also not as common. So if you are going to do a little exploring, think about renting a car, because you will find very few scooters and bikes to rent around the city.

If you're a Gay man who wants to have a romantic weekend away, look into a clothing-optional hotel. It's a great place to lay by the pool and interact with like-minded men.

I'm not sure I could live here, but I'll always enjoy visiting Phoenix. The people are generally nice and provide great conversation (except for politics). Residents here lean more toward extroversion and seem very confident. Many of them relish their fitness, designer clothing, and sports cars.

If you have never been, it's a Gay-friendly place to explore. Between the sun, the swimming, the indoor attractions, and the people, I'm sure I'll be visiting again.