Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Faded Love Affair

Cushing Street, 2010

I suppose any love affair with a place is likely to fade eventually. Such was my recent experience in Tucson.

The last time I was there I spent most of my free time wandering the Barrio Historico, a small downtown neighborhood then undergoing a modest bit of gentrification. Many of the residences and commercial buildings had fresh coats of adobe and paint and were brilliant against the blue sky. I even titled the series of pictures I took that day, “Tucson, A Feast of Colors.”

Here I was, back again almost five years to the day from that last visit. Arriving in town late in the afternoon, I rushed downtown to the Barrio hoping to photograph some of that color and the shadows just before sunset.

Sadly, walking down Convent Avenue was like visiting an old friend who’s fallen on hard times. The bright colors of five years ago had faded. Some of the commercial buildings that had five years ago been busy with offices occupied by lawyers and architects were empty. Where I once heard conversation and music spilling out onto the street from patios and residences there was silence. Some of the homes that were being renovated when I was there in 2005 looked like work had stopped just after I left and never resumed. Some of the residences that had been full of life in 2005 were empty in 2010.

Convent Avenue, 2010

I saw several people just home from work walking menacing looking dogs. You know a neighborhood’s not feeling its best when just about everyone you encounter has a dog that is, or is the cousin of a pit bull.

I was willing to chalk my initial disappointing impressions on Wednesday to my own fatigue. I’d started the day in Virginia at 3:30 a.m. I’d flown across the country and spent the better part of the afternoon interviewing people up in Phoenix before driving a couple of hours to Tucson. Maybe I wasn’t giving the area enough of a chance. Maybe my eyes were just tired. Or maybe I was expected too much.

After work on Thursday I headed back to the Barrio, determined to find out what had happened since my last visit. I found some of the color I’d missed the night before. I stopped the first person I saw who wasn’t walking a pit bull and explained my curiosity about the neighborhood. “What’s happened?” I asked. The man explained that the sub-prime loan meltdown had pulled the rug out from under a bunch of young people who’d leveraged their last dollars renovating historic homes in the Barrio. Recession had similarly stopped speculators in the process of adapting historic structures for contemporary.

One mystery solved, I asked the guy for a good restaurant recommendation. He sent me around the corner to the Cushing Street Restaurant and Bar, where I’m happy to say I sat in the courtyard under the warm night sky and had some of the best pork tenderloin I’ve ever had. The service and music were primo. A good room and a good meal. Go there if you’re in the neighborhood.

Cushing Street Dentist, 2010


  1. Sounds like a visit to your childhood home that always seemed so magical as a kid, but small and ordinary as an adult.

    At least you enjoyed the pork.

  2. Oh, that IS sad. I think unfortunately, these neighborhoods are not alone. I hope things turn around all over sometime soon. It's sad to see places decline. Love these photos, though! I'll bet you were exhausted after that trip. It brought back memories of some of mine.