It was the end of the long, hot summer of '98. The days at last dipped below 80 degrees, and life in the desert was magical again. That I was leaving at that moment seems insanity.
But opportunity comes a knockin' on its own schedule, never yours. And after more than three years as a reporter for KPHO-TV Channel 5, I got an offer I couldn't refuse. I left the Grand Canyon State for the Lone Star State and a job leading a brand new investigative consumer unit.
As much as I loved the new job, I hated leaving the Valley of the Sun. I still vividly remember how I felt the first time I arrived in Tempe. The TV station flew me in and put me up at the Tempe Palms. The lights were twinkling in the early evening on Mill Avenue and the sidewalks seemed full of young, ridiculously fit pedestrians.
One look at the row of tall skinny palms and the red rock mountains in the distance and I was in love. I fell for desert life, its unique vegetation (I seriously expected everything to look like the Sahara), marveled at front yards comprised entirely of pebbles and spent many a weekend drinking coffee on Mill Avenue and perusing its shops for dream catchers or something else equally exotic and new to this Florida girl (like river beds without actual river).
In short order, thanks to my job and my own sense of adventure, I traversed the entire state from the Grand Canyon to Tucson to Yuma to Strawberry to Sedona to the Hopi reservation. I worked with the best colleagues I'd ever know and had a life teeming with natural beauty, friends and an utter lack of dull moments. Years after leaving, I find myself thinking of this beautiful place I left that inscribed its indelible mark on me. And I yearn.
So imagine my happiness - bordering on disbelief - when I look at my tour schedule and see I will get to spend an entire week in Tempe, Arizona and stay at the Tempe Palms! Impossible! This is what you call a full circle moment.
This time, I'll be back in Tempe not as a reporter but under my new guise as a musical theatre singer and actor. After 15 years in television news, I decided to follow a crazy little dream of returning to my roots as a stage performer. Today, I am touring North America with the worldwide musical sensation known as Mamma Mia! I am in the ensemble and the understudy to Donna (memorably played by Meryl Streep in the film version) and her best friend Rosie. Working as a reporter in Phoenix made me realize ankles can sweat. This time, any workplace sweating will be fueled by Abba hits and a nightly dance party that makes me marvel at how I get paid to sing and dance for a living.
Mamma Mia is the story of enduring love and the powerful bonds of friendship between three women who've taken very different paths in life. One of my own best friends just happens to live in the Valley, hosting a television show called Sonoran Living Live. She may not be fully aware of this, but we have big plans. Between bouts of singing and being a Dancing Queen, I plan for us to take on Mill Avenue, caffeinating thoroughly in order to best attack the cool shops I plan to lightly ransack. There's a Town Lake to examine that didn't even exist when I lived here. There are cacti to be photographed, Papago Mountains to climb and sunsets to be savored. There are old friends to see anew and desert air to breathe in deeply. And because Arizona is...well...Arizona... I expect it'll pull out a surprise or two I didn't see coming. Because everyone knows the wild west is an unpredictable place...
- Eileen Faxas
Eileen Faxas and the fabulous cast of Mamma Mia! perform at ASU Gammage May 17th - May 22nd. Eileen routinely blogs about life on the road with Mamma Mia! at her website: EileenFaxas.com. She hopes you will come to the show and say HELLO afterwards!