Perhaps I’d been in the Valley a month when the phone rang at Scottsdale Progress headquarters. This was the spring of 1995.
I was the new columnist for the Progress and the Tribune newspapers in the East Valley. The caller — “Mister Scottsdale,” Herb Drinkwater, the city’s longtime mayor — spoke as quickly as Scottsdale had annexed new square mileage under his leadership.
He wanted to show me around what many folks have long called “the West’s Most Western Town.”
When I think about that history lesson 23 years later, what stands out to me is how proud Herb was of his city — its history and culture, its customer service for residents and business owners and its quality of life.
Cancer took Herb a couple years later. Sometimes, when I’m in Old Town, I make it a point to stop by the sculpture of the Mayor outside the Civic Center.
There’s Herb in his Stetson, bolo tie and blue jeans, his dog Sadie at his feet. The inscription on the plaque nails the man dead solid perfect.
“Serving the citizens of Scottsdale is the greatest job in the world.”
They don’t make public servants like Herb Drinkwater anymore, and Scottsdale has changed enormously in the two decades since he passed, but I believe one thing has remained constant: The city continues to be what Herb liked to describe as “a special place.”
That’s why I think Herb would have been immensely glad to the see the city’s hometown newspaper reborn, filled with stories about the unique goings-on that occur constantly across Scottsdale’s 185 square miles.
A journalism junkie, I like the idea, too.
Because for all its glitz and wealth, Scottsdale still has its share of issues, whether it’s the occasional rivalry of the city’s monied north side versus its modest southern neighborhoods, or this year’s election firefight over Proposition 420 and its impact on the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
Speaking of the Preserve, that acreage stands out to me as one of the city’s signature elements. I have spent many hours hiking there over the years, in the shadow of Tom’s Thumb, scrambling along near Lost Dog Wash or out and back on the Three Trails Hike.
Scottsdale also has been the sight of many a quaffed beer, though nowadays I adhere to a strict rule concerning watering holes: At my advanced age, I don’t go anyplace with a one-word name unless it ends in apostrophe-s.
Maya is out. Cirq is out. Rockbar, Paris, Chrome, Aura — all too hip for me. Giligin’s works, as does DJ’s. So do the Rusty Spur and the Coach House, especially come Christmas time.
The Scottsdale I favor is a land of Cactus League games on a February afternoon, a San Francisco Giants tilt followed by a journey down Scottsdale Road to the Old Town Oregano’s for an inevitably long wait and a pizza cookie.
It’s Fashion Square for a movie, or braving the Waste Management Open crowd in wintertime to watch a little bit of professional golf and a whole lot of soused sorority girls attempt to walk the fairways in three-inch heels.
Scottsdale has always been a suburban dreamscape to me, miles of Mercedes, mansions and red tile roofs occasionally interrupted by something startling — like the 2001 murder of Robert Fisher’s entire family, followed by his disappearance, never to be seen again.
Fisher these days is on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Typing his name is enough to give me chills.
My hope? That one day he’s found and arrested. And that we get to splash that news across the front page of Scottsdale’s very own hometown newspaper.