You remember – or maybe you don’t – when Fort Lowell Road took a strange jog and pretty much became a dirt strip.
When high school kids held bonfire parties at the end of Sunset Road because it was in the middle of nowhere.
When Rosita’s was open and you had to bring your own beer just to sit among buckets catching the monsoon water that trickled into the swamp-cooled, adobe restaurant.
When artist Ted De Grazia was still alive.
When driving up Mount Lemmon or over Gates Pass meant you were taking your life into your hands.
This is the Tucson I discovered when I moved here in 1980.
Full disclosure (don’t hate): I’m a fifth-generation Californian. Yep, there are covered wagons checkering my past.
Being a descendant of old-timers, I grew up not so much California Girl as Desert Rat. But Tucson? Tucson is special. There were hidden gems everywhere back then in this natural amphitheater of ours.
One of the worst “you’re not a kid anymore” moments for me was coming home from university to find a gas station on top of Rosita’s.
Losing that restaurant with its charmingly goofy margarine-lid frames around the (spectacular) Rosita in various costumes – all with crocheted lace edging – well, that just did me in.
For a long time, I expected Tucson would go the way of every other ‘burb and become a haven for concrete and asphalt, with no room for the Charming, the Odd or the Other.
In 2006, I moved back to Tucson permanently with my family. We’d been living in Brooklyn until some crazy people tried to drop a building (or two) on the school where I was teaching.
We moved out of the city and lasted a few more years, then decided to head west, near the grandparents and let’s face it – more security than we felt living 10 miles from a nuclear power plant.
While the kids were thrilled to be close to their grandparents, and my husband loved the desert (he tans beautifully; I only burn), I was lonely.
Oh sure, I had my family, who I get along with ridiculously well, but I had grown to adore the quirky little village (minuscule, actually) where we’d lived after escaping Brooklyn. And worse, I thought those rough edges of Tucson were all gone.
I was wrong.
One of the things I enjoyed most in New York was public transit. You can get anywhere easily, cheaply and (nowadays) safely at any time of the day or night.
One of the byproducts of that system is that you meet people you never (ever!) would have talked to otherwise.
I’m a writer and teacher – I loved that. I missed that. In fact, since I work at home, I missed speaking to adults of any kind.
And then slowly, as I found my way around again – got used to Fort Lowell being an actual road, made sense of the River/Dodge/Alvernon Master Plan and dealt with the shock of actual storm drains (rather than roads to canoe down during a monsoon), I learned two things.
First, there are still some amazingly, wonderfully quirky places here in the Old Pueblo. And second, they are populated by spectacularly interesting people who have stories to tell – and are happy to tell them to you.
Heather Anne Ordover contributes to Cast-On with Brenda Dayne, to Weavezine.com and to Spin-Off magazine, and she is the host of the long-running podcast Craftlit: A Podcast for Crafters Who Love Books. She lives, teaches, crafts, blogs and writes in her corner of the Sonoran Desert with her extremely tolerant and supportive husband, two goofball sons, their two playful dogs, and a single, mournful, blue-tongued skink.