After a great meal at Tacos y Tarros on a recent Saturday, my wife Irene and I decided to walk off some calories down Memory Lane in my old neighborhood.
We’re coronavirus survivors and it was our first outing in a month. We stopped at my parents’ house on Arroyo Boulevard and watered the plants. I indulged in a simple pleasure we took for granted as kids after a hard game of carro, basketball or riding bikes: I drank water directly from the hose. Even in the summer months, the water there pours cold.
We ate a juicy peach right off of the tree and Irene said the taste stirred up summertime memories of her own childhood. Not even the organic fruit at Sprouts comes close to these home-grown treats.
So off we went. I like to climb the stairs at the old Nogales High School as part of a workout. When I do, I can almost hear the voices of coaches of old that allowed the neighborhood kids to watch the Apache gridders practice. People like Jim “Viejo” Concannon, Alex Amado, Bill Stovall, Barney Alexander, Marcel “Hop” Bachelier and Hector “Guero” Ramirez. Sadly, signs on the gates say the pandemic has the old NHS field closed. Instead, Irene and I hoofed it up Plum Street to Highland, Anthony Drive and MacNab, then down Walnut Street and back down to Arroyo.
Nostalgia set in as we passed the homes of neighbors – most of whom have passed or moved, but whose names are synonymous with the Nogales I grew up in: Vega, Scrivner, Gonzalez, Fain, Saldamando, Sykes, Barnett, Martan, Chernin, Ahumada, Ayres, Peters, Valenzuela, Haro, Treto, Munguia, Soto, Jeong, Liñeiro, Zweig, Nava, Montiel, Cubillas, Chavarin, Carlon, Cirerol, Watson, Fuentes and Cenizo.
We took short detours through West Street, up Bostwick Court and Larrimore Street, where folks like the Billys, Padillas and Escareños lived or live.
They may have all the modern amenities, but how many people in so-called bedroom communities can sound off the names of their neighbors like this and claim that they actually know them? Most of us just don’t stay anywhere long enough anymore.
As Irene and I reached the base of Walnut, a couple of guys were sitting out on the porch drinking beers. I didn’t readily recognize them, but no matter; they recognized me.
“Why haven’t we seen you around?” one of them asked. “Are you still working at the International?”
It felt good to be remembered in the hood, like Gabe Kotter, the homecoming teacher in the 1970s sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
On West and Bostwick, a young boy on a bike did something rare in this modern world of hand-held technological distractions. As he rode alongside, he engaged us in friendly chatter. He warned us about a mean dog at the corner house and pointed out where some “locos” live. A woman standing outside her home also shared brief friendly conversation. It’s always been this way.
If you want to know the essence of Nogales, take a walk through some of its older neighborhoods. It can be bittersweet. Many homes date back to the 1920s or further. Some have been renovated, others are in various stages of disrepair. Many house multiple family and extended family members. Affordable housing is in extreme short supply.
But despite its many challenges the essence of old Nogales remains intact. Its people and culture are its biggest assets. And me? You can take a guy out of Nogales, but you can’t take Nogales out of the guy.
(Coppola is publisher of the Nogales International.)