Posts Tagged ‘Tucson’


Well, it’s finally happened. My favorite Mexican restaurant, El Torero, closed tonight and won’t reopen. By happenstance, I dropped in for some typically great Mexican chow and some beers with a few friends tonight, had one of the final meals El Torero served, and got to talking with the owner (and chef). He’s been threatening to close the place for a good five years, to which my attitude has always been, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll believe it when I see it.” Tonight, I believe it.

El Torero is a South Tucson institution, and has been around as a family place for over 60 years.

(South Tucson incorporated as a 100% Mexican, one-square-mile city in 1939 as a self-defense measure against the virulent racism in the City of Tucson. Things really didn’t begin to change here until the 1970s, and Tucson proper is now the most integrated city of over a million in the country, and the population within the city limits is currently close to 50% Mexican. Racism persists, but it’s a shadow of its former self; Tucson is at times referred to, with some justification [the arts and music scenes], as a “mini-Austin”; and the City of South Tucson [now entirely encircled by the City of Tucson, but still over 90% Mexican] persists as a poverty-stricken monument to resistance to racism.)

Enough with the history lesson.

El Torero is gloriously tacky with formica tables, a chewed-up linoleum floor, flame-throwing salsa, and a stuffed (or fiberglass) swordfish on one wall outlined with Christmas lights. It’s the only restaurant I know in Tucson where during slack periods the owner will sit down uninvited to shoot the shit with you, and during really slack periods the on-duty cook will come out of the kitchen and likewise sit down uninvited to shoot the shit. I love it.

As homey as it is, the food is (or was) great — every bit as good and a bit cheaper than the ultra-trendy Mi Nidito three blocks down the street (the food there is good and reasonably priced), which is the place to go for trendoids who don’t mind waiting an hour to be seated while there’s no waiting at El Torero. (Rigo’s, The Crossroads, Michas, and Guillermo’s are all at least close in quality and equivalent in price, within about a mile, and there’s never a wait at any of them. Mi Nidito became the place to go after Bill Clinton visited the place maybe 25 years ago, did his best impression of a human rotorooter, and consumed mass quantities.)

Anyway, El Torero is gone. When I spoke with him tonight, the owner (in the center in the photo at left) told me, “Just go to Lerua’s” (about two miles away on Broadway) — owned by the same family, with the same recipes. That’s good advice while it applies. Lerua’s will likely be axed when the Broadway “improvement” project kicks in sometime within the next few years.

Damn! but I’ll miss El Torero.

(P.S. For anyone in the area, my blues duo, Cholla Buds, will be playing two jobs downtown tomorrow, Dec. 1: from 1:00 to 4:00 at Crooked Tooth Brewery on 6th Street at Arizona Avenue, and from 5:30 to 6:00 or 6:15 at The Hut on 4th Avenue and 8th Street. Both shows are free. Please come on down and have some free fun.)


Yep, a lot of white folks are scared shitless of losing majority status in this country. Listen to the fear-mongering racist jerks and they’ll have you believing it’s a coming apocalypse.

It’s not. In my neighborhood, where white people are a minority, there are plenty of problems, but they aren’t related to race.

A lot of that has to do with Tucson’s being the most integrated million-plus city in the country, and my high-density neighborhood being the most integrated neighborhood in Tucson. People just get along here. We have to.

I moved here (The Keeling Neighborhood — Official Motto: “It’s not as bad as it looks”) in 1992. At the time, it was probably 55-60% Mexican, 30-35% white, and 5% to 10% black, with a scattering of Yaquis and Tohono O’odhams. When I moved in, in terms of violence it was somewhat like, though not as bad, as what I was used to in the North Mission in San Francisco: being constantly on edge and hypervigilant. (A few weeks before I left there, around dusk walking down Mission Street by the armory, I flattened against the wall as I heard rapid footsteps approaching coming up behind me — it was a guy with eyes wide as plates being chased by an equally crazed motherfucker brandishing a machete.)

When I moved in here, there were shots every night, but they were mostly a good half-mile away, not pleasant background noise, but far enough away to ignore. After living in the North Mission, this neighborhood was a relief in comparison.

Since then, things have gotten progressively more peaceful. The DEA hasn’t busted a meth lab on the block in over 15 years (there was only one such bust); it’s been almost as long since they busted the Hell’s Angels clubhouse three blocks south of here; there hasn’t been a murder within half a mile in over seven years; there hasn’t been a shootout on the corner (a hundred feet away — duplexes owned by slumlords) in well over five years (there have been two while I’ve been here); and the last real excitement was about two or three years ago when some asshole half a block down got busted by the ATF for building pipe bombs. Anymore, it’s rare to hear shots — no more than maybe once a month.

It’s become a safe neighborhood. Poor, but a pretty decent place for kids (but for the shitty, underfunded schools).

And you know? That improvement in the neighborhood has corresponded to a decrease in the white population. Right now the neighborhood is probably 65% Mexican, 10% to 15% black, and only 20% to 25% white.

Guess what, folks — we don’t need to fear our black and brown neighbors. All of the real problems, especially the economic ones, are systemic, not due to race. Let’s worry about those real problems, not made-up ones such as white people losing majority status.

 

 

 


This afternoon I was shooting the shit with a friend, swapping stories, and he related one of the better bar-gig tales I’ve ever heard:

In the early ’80s he was playing in a country band in Tucson, and they had a regular weekend job playing in a bar out in Avra Valley (west of the Tucson Mountains, and at the time still very much a part of the wild west). The clientele consisted of shitkickers and bikers, who of course didn’t mix.

As one would expect — what with the cost of a new Harley running to close to $30,000 — the bikers were a lot better off than the cowboys, and a lot of them held well paying jobs; their head honcho, for instance, owned a wrecking yard.

Anyway, there was a regular, a local who worked as a postman, who was enough of an alkie that he’d sometimes stop at the bar in his mail truck for a beer or two after completing his route before returning to the station.

That wasn’t so bad, but on weekends he’d drive his Cadillac to the bar, get tanked, and turn into all hands, harassing the waitresses.

This didn’t apparently didn’t sit well with at least some of the bikers, who didn’t like the guy anyway, but rather than resolve the situation in the normal manner (violence), they decided to teach the asshole a profitable (for them), expensive (for him) lesson.

One Saturday night, after the gig ended, my pal was packing up his drum kit, when he and the rest of the guys in the band heard a blood-curdling scream from outside. They ran out and found the drunk postman yelling his head off.

When he went out the door to weave his way home in his Cadillac, all he found was a chassis. What was left of the car was up on blocks, the wheels gone, as were the windshield, hood, doors, and rear window.

The bikers had done this with people going into and out of the bar all night. Evidently, people disliked the jerk sufficiently that they ignored the dismantling of the vehicle or were afraid of the bikers, or both. In either case, the bikers had taken a good hour or two to dismantle the car in public view — okay, in an unlit dirt parking lot — and no one reported them.

This incident likely cost the asshole a good two or three grand and likely netted the bikers at least several hundred bucks through sales of the parts at the wrecking yard.

I hope they threw a great party with the money.

 

 


This evening I did something stupid: I locked myself out of the house. I was doing laundry, put on a clean pair of jeans, took the dirty ones off, took everything out of my pockets, and laid it on my desk. I put my old jeans in the basket, walked outside to put the laundry in the washer, pulled the door shut behind me, and went “Oh shit!” I’d locked myself out of the house wearing only flip flops and a pair of jeans.

Fortunately, my neighbor was home, sitting out on his patio drinking beer and listening to Banda and Norteños blasting from his boom box (or whatever the equivalent is nowadays). I walked over to the fence and yelled, “Hey neighbor! I just did something stupid — locked myself out of the house!” Fortunately, he’s a master mechanic and has every tool under the sun. We tried drilling out the lock first, which didn’t work. Then he hauled out a grinder, ground off the door handle amid a cascade of sparks, and after another ten minutes we managed to get the door open.

I thanked him, walked in, locked the remaining dead bolt, drove up to Home Depot, bought another lock, and then drove to Total Wine, where I bought a 12er of Bud Light, and a bottle of pretty decent tequila.

Upon returning home, I installed the lock, grabbed the bottle of tequila and the 12er of Bud Light (the official beer of Tucson), let myself into my neighbor’s yard, walked back to his patio accompanied by his vicious dogs — I’m on their good side due to occasionally feeding them meat scraps — sat down, and we started talking about our lives and families.

We eventually got around to reminiscing about what the ‘hood was like 20 years ago when we were a lot younger and his wife, who died from cancer a year ago, was still around: gun shots a few blocks away most nights, but also parties on the weekend going until 3:00 a.m. with dozens of people drinking to oblivion and trucks parked in the yard booming out Rancheras, Norteños, Rock en Español, and Banda. For my part, I’d sometimes have louder-than-hell band rehearsals going until midnight. Sometimes on week nights. Nobody ever complained. It was a fun time.

But times have changed. My neighbor looked at me and said, “Now? . . . . . Some asshole would call the cops.”

I could only agree.

Before I left, I ended by telling him one of my favorite anecdotes.

About the time this was all happening I had a girlfriend who was a dedicated vegetarian who didn’t speak Spanish, and I was sometimes playing music with Indians (don’t get on me about the term — that’s what they call themselves) — a good Apache friend regularly and for years, and occasionally Yaquis and T’ohono O’odhams.

Well, I got an invitation to a birthday party down by St. Mary’s Hospitals for one of the T.O. musicians, and the girlfriend and I went. We were the only white people there out of 50 or 60 others; almost all them were T.O.s, some of whom didn’t even speak Spanish let alone English.

After we arrived, I hauled my gear out of the truck and went to the backyard where I played music and drank beer with the guys for about an hour.

When we took a break, I walked into the house to grab a bite, walked into the kitchen, and found the GF standing there with a bowl of clear soup in her hand, with garbanzos floating on the surface. She told me that she hadn’t been able to talk to any of the other women, because none of them spoke English. She also told me that the soup was really good, but that she couldn’t figure out what the chewy stuff was on the bottom.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her.

I still don’t think she’s ever consciously eaten meat since then.

Good times. Damn but I miss ’em.

 


(Well, even 24 in 96 is stretching it a bit — but it sounds better than 24 in 114, which is still pushing it because there are a few of the 24 that I’ve tried previously and that are lurking in the ‘fridge. Anyway . . . )

A few days ago, I got an offer I wouldn’t refuse from TotalWine: 15% off 24 beer singles.

I decided to use the offer to sample a bunch of brews I’ve never tried before — almost all microbrews, and mostly regional (Western US, and especially Arizona) microbrews. Here are the results, which were nowhere near as good as I’d hoped, but there were some bright spots.

I’ve omitted a lot of brews I’m familiar with and that I think are very good but overpriced (Rogue, Anderson Valley, Dogfish Head, Stone), and am sticking here with the ones I tried for the first time, and, from memory, a number of the good local beers available in bottles at a reasonable price. I’ve put the states or countries of origin after the beers.

First, what I consider the really good:

  • Breckenridge Brewery amber ale (Colorado)
  • Breckenridge Brewery vanilla porter (Colorado)
  • Nimbus Monkey Shines (extremely high octane brown ale — overpriced, but very good) (Tucson, Arizona)
  • Boulder Shake chocolate porter (Colorado)
  • Moose Drool brown ale (Montana)

Next, what I consider the good:

  • Alaskan amber (Alaska — duh!)
  • Full Sail amber (Oregon)
  • Left Hand milk stout (Colorado)
  • Foster’s Extra Special Bitter — labeled as just “Foster’s Ale” — a great buy (Australia)
  • Nimbus red (Tucson, Arizona)
  • Barrio rojo (Tucson, Arizona)
  • Nimbus brown (Tucson, Arizona)
  • San Tan Devil’s Ale (an over-hopped but good pale ale) (Arizona)
  • Lost Coast Stout (California)
  • Nimbus pale ale (this used to be a great beer, but the yeast mutated about 20 years ago, and now I’d only rank it as good) (Tucson, Arizona)
  • Alien amber ale (brewed in — where else? — Roswell, NM)

After that, what I consider only okay:

  • More than half of them

Now, two that I consider bad:

  • Grand Canyon amber ale (I find it sour) (Arizona)
  • Barrio Blonde (I find it bland and skunky, almost as bad as Corona) (Tucson, Arizona)

Now, two that I consider horrendous:

  • Magic Hat not quite pale ale (I find it like drinking perfume mixed with vinegar) (Vermont)
  • Estrella Jalisco (I had a few sips from one several weeks ago and poured out the rest of the bottle) (Mexico)

As for the best buys, I’d have to go with the Foster’s ESB ($2.29 for a 25.4-oz. can), Full Sail Amber ($6.99 a sixer). Moose Drool Brown ($7.99 a sixer), and Boulder Shake chocolate porter ($7.99 a sixer).

Enough beer snobbery. What’s your favorite brew?

 

 


Since I had nothing better to do, I bought a 12-er of Bud Light (the official beer of Tucson)  and toddled on over to one of my neighbor’s places tonight.

His two 80-or-90 pound  mutts threatened me when I walked through the gate, until I said, “Knock off the shit, motherfuckers” and put my hand down toward them, fingers curled back, so they could sniff me. They were fine after that.

There were only the three of us tonight — yours truly, my neighbor, and his gay nephew — a really nice guy I’ve known for years.

This is how much things have been changing: my neighbor’s nephew (early 40s) is very open about being gay, and that ain’t all that unusual around here anymore. It’s “fine, whatever…” Nobody gives a shit.

But his boyfriend, from Hermosillo, keeps it all a secret. Up here, not so much. Down there, yeah, a secret. A shameful secret.

One hopes that the more tolerant attitudes up here along the border will seep down. Maybe. Probably.

One other really weird thing we talked about was one of my ex-GFs, a Texan from Houston. She’s a barely disguised racist — against Mexicans — not that she’ll admit it — but is fine with black people.

Weird, yeah. I know.

I think my neighbors were kind of disgusted that I’d have anything to do with — let alone have sex with — such an asshole, but didn’t want to say anything about it.

Go figure. Needless to say, that’s over with.

And this is over with for now: another tale from the hood.

Stay tuned.

(More utterly depressing pictures from out my front door shortly.)

 


Things have gotten more sedate. I’m not happy about that. Neither are most of my neighbors.

On the positive side, since I moved here 25 years ago, it’s extremely rare to hear gun shots. A quarter of a century ago, it was a nightly occurrence. For the most part, they were a good quarter to half mile away so I paid them little attention, other than thinking, “that ain’t good — but it’s south of Grant, so screw it.”

Now, it’s been months since I’ve heard shots. This is a good thing.

On the other hand, there’s way less partying than a couple of decades ago, which is a bad thing.

Then, we’d have band practice in my living room, playing pretty loud, and no one ever called the cops. Even when we played until midnight.

And the neighbors would have parties on weekends going until 2:00 or 3:00 am, with pickups parked in the front yard, doors open, blasting rancheros, banda, and norteños. It was glorious. No one gave a shit, or at least no one would call the cops.

Beer, bacanora, mota, and the occasional blast. Such fun. We were mostly in our 20s, 30s, and 40s then.

Now, we’re in our 50s and 60s, and the kids — who I’ve known since they were actually kids — on the east side have taken over the house.

My neighbor on the west side, a good friend who I’ve known for over 20 years, is by himself now. His wife, Angie, of decades died a few months ago, and he wanted to talk tonight so we buried the better part of a case of Bud Light (the official beer of Tucson) over a couple of hours.

I found out something touching while talking with him tonight: she actually liked me. I thought she hated me. Over the years, I had a string of (literally and unfortunately) crazy girlfriends, which they found quite amusing (“Charles has another one!”). About 15 years ago, after Angie’s younger sister got divorced, she and I looked at each other and went “Oh yes!” until Angie told me, and presumably the equivalent to her sister, “Stay away from her!”

At the time, I was really offended and thought she said that simply because I was white. I was wrong. She was trying to protect her sister. The awful part is that if things had worked out I’d have happily married her sister.

C’est la vie.

After returning home, I went over to a party with my neighbors on the east side of the house. They were celebrating the upcoming birth of their daughter, due in November.

More beer, more mota, and good Mexican food.

Of late, life is more sedate, but still pretty good.

¡Salud!