Way back when in 1996, two things happened. The Super Bowl was played for the first time in Arizona, in the Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State University in Tempe. And the east coast was hit with an historic snowstorm that kept people housebound prisoners for days.
As pretty much a direct result of those two events, record numbers of people relocated to Arizona in 1997. My family and I were among them. And when we arrived it seemed everyone we met had also just moved from somewhere pummeled by an equally bad winter. Some of those people would have moved here anyway (me!), but many who had never really seen Arizona before got their first glimpse while watching Super Bowl XXX, and suddenly realized that living in miserable weather was not the only option. Thus a huge wave of desert transplants were born.
Fast forward to 2008 when the game of all games was once again played in Arizona, this time at the fancy new University of Phoenix Stadium (also known as Cardinals Stadium) in Glendale, Arizona. By then Arizona had grown quite a bit since 1996. Besides the new stadium, there were lots more restaurants and things to do. It seemed the desert had gone wild with expansion and new buildings appeared virtually overnight. And once again the world got to see Arizona at its best, bright as a sunny day in the dead of winter.
But when Arizona got all dressed up for company to host the big game for the third time at Super Bowl XLIX, all bets were off. The Grand Canyon State has now come into its own and evolved into a full-blown cosmopolitan destination. Coupled with the fact that the Phoenix Open golf tournament (which always takes place during the week preceding Super Bowl and ends within minutes of the big game start time) this year included Tiger Woods for the first time in fourteen years, the Valley of the Sun saw a week like probably no other in history.
It seems anyone and everyone, both famous and not, has descended on our little paradise. All eyes are on us this week. Katy Perry is here to perform at the half-time show, Jimmy Fallon is broadcasting from the Orpheum Theater right after the game, complete with The Roots. The Today Show has been here all week, as has ESPN with virtually every show they do. Snoop Dogg, Nicki Minaj, Diddy, Mark Wahlberg, Ryan Seacrest, Drake, Rihanna, and countless other celebs are either performing or hosting parties in town. Even the Victoria’s Secret models are here for a “Leather and Lace” party for which VIP tickets cost four and five figures (no pun intended). It seems like you can’t go anywhere this week without bumping into a famous person.
No, not really. These celebrity types pretty much keep to themselves. So annoying.
But what does all this mean to the average Arizonan? The one who still has to go to work every day and doesn’t have extra hundreds or thousands of dollars, not to mention time off, to spend on all that fun?
Well, first and foremost, it’s still fun to be in the midst of all the excitement, make no mistake about that. To live in a place where some part with tons to money to get to, and where others long to be, is just plain great no matter how you slice it.
And some people have found this week to be a goldmine as they rent their homes to sports fans for mega money. Hopefully they find their homes still standing when they return.
But it does have its special challenges. To get anywhere around the epicenter of the action, one has to find creative new routes and detours around traffic and limos, not to mention deal with those who don’t know their way around or how to handle a four way stop or the fact that our traffic lights apparently work differently than anyplace else’s. (If I’ve said it once at a green left turn arrow this week, I’ve said it ten times: “Are you waiting for an invitation or what?”, honking while secretly hoping Mark Wahlberg might get out of the car to pick a fight. Hey, a girl can dream.)
And restaurants EVERYWHERE just don’t have enough seats or servers to handle all these hungry guests. No matter where you go, you wait and fight the crowds. This week I’ve been to a normally quiet little Italian restaurant. I’ve been to my favorite hole-in-the-wall Greek lunch place that I didn’t think anyone could ever find. I’ve tried to eat lunch in flipping Gilbert for goodness sakes! GILBERT! Which is about as far as you can get from Glendale without leaving “the Valley”. But it’s the same story wherever you go. Wait, wait, wait.
Perhaps the loudest clash between tourist and resident happens in the grocery stores. They’re there, after golf, feeling pretty good and laughing it up while buying fun food and drink. And I’m buying toilet paper and Windex, while avoiding their shopping carts like a game of dodgeball.
But we’re good hosts. We love our guests. We encourage them to spread their money around. And given that a large part of the country just experienced some really not fun weather, I think we all need to face the facts: another influx may be coming so hold on and get ready for the value of your home to go up.
Happy Super Bowl!
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