Many of you who are familiar with the subject of this column are not here right now to read it, but since there are still plenty of us stacked up at East Valley red lights each rush hour, here goes.
One of my most treasured childhood summer memories was when, after six hours tussling with my younger brother in the back seat, we’d see Dad do something we hadn’t seen him do since the first of May: Turn off the car air conditioner and roll down the window.
That could only mean one thing: We’d made it to San Diego.
If only people who live year-round in San Diego would truly know what this moment means to tired, weary desert people, well, they might be more understanding when we make those sudden turns off Mission Boulevard without signaling.
They had a derogatory term for us, “zonies,” a clipped form of “Arizonan.” Every parking space taken by a car with an Arizona license plate was glared at by locals still circling the lot, wishing that if only “they” weren’t here, they’d have plenty of places to park their cars.
The same thing applied to lines to be seated at restaurants or to see exhibits or shows at Sea World. Sometimes you heard the word zonies, other times you just saw it just behind their lips.
Because I was a kid, most of the time I’d simply ignore it and just concentrate on having a good time, which was more than possible because the people at the restaurants and the shops who paid to maintain those lots and certainly the folks at Sea World were more than happy to see us.
And besides, it being 75 degrees and breezy every day covers a multitude of bad manners.
I didn’t think about being treated as a zonie until I got a little bit older. I found myself during winters back here in the East Valley with a similar look on my face when I encountered those crazy out-of-town drivers taking up all the good restaurant seats and golf tee times.
The word they saw just behind my lips was “snowbirds” (although many of them came from California).
I learned from this that community is a fluid thing, particularly if you define a community in economic terms. Money comes from many sources, including people you don’t know and may even not like, spending it in ways you never would dream of spending yours. They’re a part of my economic community and I’m a part of theirs, even goods and services most of us would nearly never consider buying.
That’s why each December I no longer complain about people buying so much useless junk to wrap up, pile higher than the tree and hand out at Christmas. (Well, I do a little.)
The fourth quarter pretty much tells us how well the rest of the year went for the retail business. Which is another way of saying that pretty much every time a dollar is taken out of a wallet, the journey it takes is one that employs people, satisfies wants and needs, and builds a society.
If the person spending that dollar’s not local, certainly they should learn the local streets and speed limits and behave civilly and respectfully. But many parts of the country have far fewer seasonal visitors. Residents there would love to have such folks and their money stop in for a while.
Perhaps the day will come when words like “zonie” and “snowbird” won’t be what come to mind when out-of-towners are spending money that’s actually doing more good than just for them. It all depends on how you define community.
• Mark J. Scarp (email@example.com) is a Tribune community columnist whose opinions appear here on Sundays.