When I first received the news that I would be spending all of July and part of August in Phoenix, Arizona on a work trip, my first thought was that it was going to be a HOT summer. Phoenix in July and August, really? Nice sense of humor, VA. But the more I thought about it, and now that I’m here, especially, I realize that it’s perfectly fine. I love the heat when it’s dry, Western heat and not that nasty summer weather in the central U.S., New England, or on the East coast.
My group of instructors arrived the day after that big dust storm. I am the only one of the group to be truly disappointed to have missed it. Having a background in weather forecasting makes a person stand outside the normal inclinations of safety-conscious people. Weather geeks like to get caught in thunderstorms – any accompanying lighting or hail is a plus. We like to witness dust storms, or downbursts of any kind. We thrill at floods, avalanches, tsunamis, and tornadoes in a particularly deviant way. Don’t hate us: we don’t have anything against humankind, it’s just that weather becomes so fascinating that it’s impact on human life can become secondary to our genuine awe at the power of Mother Nature. It’s a side effect of the job that apparently doesn’t fade completely when a weather geek changes careers and goes to work for the VA.
So yes, it’s been hot, but I am already finding it pleasant. Mornings I open up the slider in my room and let the fresh air blow through while I go for my run before class starts. Afternoons I luxuriate in the blissful blasting rays of the sun to warm me up again after suffering in the air-conditioned environment for 10 or 11 hours. It has been more humid than usual, because it is monsoon season. That makes the heat harder to bear, of course, but it did also result in one very good rain one morning. I told a friend that I went for my run anyway, and because it was so warm it felt like running in the shower. His response, “Wow, you must have a really big shower.”
My training background is limited to only day-long classes, workshops, morning training sessions, that kind of thing. I have never been the teacher in a class that continued day after day. I have not received any training for this kind of thing, but had a sense that I would be a natural. Here in Phoenix I am in a sheltered environment in that I am teaching official material that must be followed to the letter, and I must follow a lesson plan that has already been created. I am one of three instructors, so when I’ve pressed the students through 4 grueling hours of 38 Code of Federal regulations 3.1 through 3.309(e), I can sit down and let the next person pick up at 38 Code of Federal regulations 3.324. So it’s an ideal place to be initiated into being a teacher.
I am fortunate in many additional ways on this particular trip. For example, we have a great Course Manager, who is a representative from VA Central Office in Washington, D.C., ensuring that we are teaching what we are told to teach, and reporting back to headquarters about our ability to teach, and our ability to manage the classroom. Our Course Manager is very capable and has kept details like facility issues, computer access, file storage, personnel, etc., under control so that the three instructors can just teach. I am fortunate because my co-instructors are capable and easy to work with. We quickly realized we can trust each other to run the show, and so when someone else is teaching, the other two split the “free” time between researching and refreshing for our upcoming training topics, and pitching in to assist the trainer by running the power points, researching questions from students, and providing additional real-life examples when the students ask for them. It has been a great experience so far. After my first week of being a teacher, I am reassured that I was right in volunteering for this task.
The Phoenix downtown is hands-down the most boring downtown I’ve ever seen in my life. Our hotel is just north of downtown and three blocks from the VA Regional Office. Both downtown and the hotel/office areas are empty and sprawling and devoid of people. I mean, work with me here, “empty” compared to what one might expect in the center of a city. Downtown is populated with gigantic banks, conference centers, hotels, museums and a couple sports venues. There are plenty of buildings and parking lots, but no people. No little intriguing shops, mom-n-pops, funky alleyways, no non-conforming architecture… It is bizarre. The only people I ever see are during my morning runs when there is a rare local resident leaving their home to get into a vehicle and go to work, or an occasional person walking a dog, and in the afternoons I might see a tourist or even two of them, wandering the sidewalks looking for other signs of human life. Other than that – empty and creepy.
My first Saturday here, I had the hotel shuttle drop me off downtown. I was a trooper. I wandered along the empty sidewalks for a good four hours and came up with nothing that more than mildly captured my interest. There are some nice buildings, a weird loopy net thing in the air, a bar with outdoor seating that had misters (misters are nice), and a multiplex theatre that could actually come in handy if I get bored. I gave up and called the shuttle to come get me.
The people here say, “Oh, well, duh. Don’t go downtown. Go to Scottsdale! Go to Tempe! Go to Sedona!” So apparently the cure is to actually leave.