Cruising on a Friday Afternoon
to check out the sights of Central Avenue, click here...../luisa/centralpresentation.htm
The following is a story written by James A. Velasquez on 4/8/2002.

           There are plenty of things to do and plenty of places to see down South Phoenix’s very own Rodeo Drive named Central Avenue.  It is February, about a cool 75 degrees, the windows are rolled down to give you a better view of the surroundings, because there are just too many places to choose from to stop at just one, we cruise.  Driving down Central Avenue in South Phoenix is like your very first kiss, you don’t know what to expect.  Every corner offers a distinct flavor of “The South” as its residents have affectionately grown to call the area.  Cruising down Central is like riding a roller coaster.  It begins very slowly, as you creep to the highest point of the coaster…and then, boom at top speeds you run into a double loop!  You never know what to expect.  One minute you may be talking to a gorilla and the next, you may be listening to a Mariachi trio playing traditional Mexican music.

            Driving south down Central gives you opportunities to meet people you normally never would encounter, like my gorilla friend.  This guy puts on his costume everyday and sits in front of the Muebleria La Bodega furniture store handing our candy to would be customers.  As my friends and I were stopped at a red light I asked him where the idea came from?  He said in an all to human voice, “Hey man, look around you, there are people everywhere!”  As we drove to the next stop I decided that the gorilla was right, there are cars flying by intersections, people waiting for buses and people walking up and down the streets, somehow you have got to get their attention.

It was about this time that our driver, Javier was getting hungry and since he controlled the wheel, his wish was our command, and we stopped to find place to eat.  Lillian who is a resident of the South claimed she knew where to find the best camarones, (that is Spanish for shrimp), so she directed us to Rocky Point Mariscos, (mariscos is Spanish for shellfish).  As my friends walked into the restaurant, I could not help noticing a mural across the street so I went in for a closer look.  Someone had painted a scroll with the names of longtime Mexican residents of the South, describing theses people as the Aztecs of Phoenix.  Next to the scroll was another mural of a Mexican man in a sombrero standing with the flags of Mexico and the United States on either side.  I was especially appreciative of this particular painting.  Many people believe that the nationalism Mexicans display for the homeland is disrespectful to America, when in fact it is no different that an Irish person celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.  What the mural identifies is that Mexicans are also Americans, with no less a hunger for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than any other nationality.  The mural was painted on the same furniture store that hired the gorilla for its advertising.  Imagine that, only on Central Avenue could mural honoring residents of South Phoenix and an advertising gorilla share the same address.

            Eventually I made it to our table, just in time to catch Javier and Lillian singing alongside with the jukebox that was playing some rancheros, (Spanish folk songs).  Luisa was at the table having a good laugh at the two rock stars.  No sooner had I sat down that a Mariachi group strolls up to our table.  Luisa asked, “How much?”  The man with the guitar said, “Cinco dollars”, (five bucks), and I gave the guy holding the trumpet ten dollars for two of the most famous traditional Mexican songs I knew.  The gentlemen played loudly and sounded great but before we could ask for another song, they left with a polite, "gracias".  Luckily our food arrived just in time, since Javier was getting restless.  The table was filled with shrimp tostadas, oysters and fish tacos.  Everything was great, right down to several different types of salsa!

After our meal was completed we decided it was time to go out and speak with some of the local merchants.  We ran into Senor Duarte, a longtime resident of South Phoenix and proprietor of Duarte’s Tire Shop.  The building looks more like a hacienda than a garage, then again, what do I know about tire shops?  Senor Duarte must be doing something right, since the tire shop has been in existence for over twenty years.    Senor Duarte explained to our investigative group that despite the areas’ aging appearance, it was a good place to reside filled with good people and long time customers.

            The next place we stopped at was a little shop named, Chuys’ Jewelry, and as you might have guessed, it is family owned.  Like Senor Duarte, Chuy described good people and honest service as the secrets that have kept his jewelry shop in business over thirteen years.  One subject that Chuy did touch on rather adamantly was the nearby Rio Salado Project, which has drastically increased his property taxes.  Despite the taxes, Chuy is excited about the opportunity of increased revenues that tourism from the project could bring.

            Back in our car and without any regard for the street signs prohibiting cruising, we carried on.  What we found was that even with an Auto Zone or Circle K, most of the businesses down Central were small family owned shops.  It added to the sense that the South was a small comfortable community.  Here the residents know what they like and have many different flavors and tastes to choose from.  Cruising down Central Avenue is like taking a trip to Tijuana, Mexico.  There are a lot of different people doing a variety of different things.  There are exotic places to eat, weird animals as used as pitchmen for advertising purposes but most importantly, you gain a sense that this area is a strong community with long interesting history of proud residents.

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