The undersized bars were packed. The streets were not.
I remember it a lot differently in high school. Mike and I cruised Main Street Pueblo Colorado in my white, worn out Toyota Corona looking for girls. Then, inevitably disappointed and at the same time somewhat relieved, we meandered off somewhere to drink beers and talk to hobos in the dark by the railroad tracks where the air reeked of old creosote.
“Say goodbye to the railroad,” I remember one guy telling us. “The veins of this town are drying up.”
The whole town dried up. That was then. Somehow it is still around.
Just last month, after twelve years, Mike and I met outside the Shamrock Brewing Company on Third Street, right downtown. This used to be the Irish Pub. When I was a kid it was owned by one of my father’s hooligans. An Italian by the name of Ted. He taught me how to play pool.
My parents had their first date at the Irish Pub. A Catholic priest set them up. I have a picture of them sucking face in one of the booths sometime in 1967.
The downtown bars of Pueblo are tucked between darkened stores, wide empty parking lots and abandoned red-stone buildings built in the 1890s. In contrast, black and white photos show trolley cars easing along streets packed from edge to edge with people and cars and horses and life in, say 1900. Or 1910.
It is nothing like that now even if there is a 15- year old project under way to revitalize the area by diverting a portion of the Arkansas River to run through downtown. The idea is to create a miniature version of San Antonio’s famed river walk.
Clear success has proven elusive.
I had driven up the three hours from where I live now in New Mexico to take pictures at the Colorado State Fair.
Extraordinarily obese women plied their kids with cotton candy from pink and white stripped booths. Fuzzy-faced boys shadow-boxed one another near a sausage stand. A pre-pubescent girl in a mini-skirt from a local dance school gave an astonishingly over-sexed dance performance to a crowd of grandparents. The 4H kids sat in circles by their cows thumbing their smart-phones. One boy fed a row of sheep. They all wore tight jeans.
The whole scene got me feeling that I needed to see Mike. I called him up. Our friend Sandra joined in.
After I put down one beer we walked down to the Senate Bar for another. Mike sipped soda. He’s been dry for seven years. Wounded but still climbing.
Mike was pleased of the fact that he has a back yard. “Bring your boy up and we’ll turn him loose back there,” he offered.
It must be because the backyard he had growing up in the old union neighborhoods by the steel mill was a narrow gravel alley shaded by overgrown Chinese Elm, lined with electricity and telephone wires and interspersed with ridiculously tall hills of red ants.
When we were kids we used to pour gasoline siphoned from the lawnmower into the anthills and light them on fire.
That’s just what you do in a place like Pueblo.