The more I’m getting to know Tucson, the more I’m really appreciating it. Tucson still has a hint of the Wild West left in it. Coyotes, scorpions, snakes, horses, gila monsters, you name it, they crawl through the streets at will. There are still bandits, cowboys, land and livestock disputes, and the city is deeply steeped in Native American and Mexican culture.
Ruins dot the city, not razed for some shopping center, but left as history. Murals and art are everywhere and on everything. The people are scrappy, wily, and weathered. They don’t care what you think. Yet, they’re very friendly and open. You’re their brother or sister to start with, and you only cast yourself out due to your own words and actions.
The place lets itself look and feel its age. Yet, it’s quick to welcome the new, as long as it doesn’t mess with the old. There’s a balance. Be who you want to be. Do whatever business you like. But you have to be either adding to the character of the place, or at least not destroying it. Attempts to do that are met with a fierce uprising of a sort that isn’t seen in its northerly big brother.
Protests happen here in earnest and with passion. Activism isn’t a fad here to look cool or use as conversational bragging points. When Gabby Giffords was shot, the city openly wept. There is no Arpaio down here. He’d never get their votes.
In my first few weeks here so far, I’ve talked with all sorts of people, and whether they were white or Mexican or lesbians or cowboys or bikers, they were all friendly and all they seemed to ask of anyone is no bullsh*t. Anyone would buy you a beer or shake your hand. Nobody is impressed by anyone’s money or status. They only care whether or not you’re authentic, and if not, at least don’t be an asshole. People are able to disagree here with a shrug rather than a fight. The only people who don’t seem to be like this are either tourists or college kids.
Mom and pop shops are everywhere. People prefer them. This is a place that’s receptive to it, so it can be done here. It’s the only place I’ve heard of where they haven’t all gone out of business due to the recession, because people shop at them enough to keep them alive.
Also, the food here. In Japan, you’d be very hard pressed to find bad sushi anywhere, even at the cheaper places. Here, it’s tacos, tamales, flatbread, and other local, cultural cuisine. That includes cowboy food. I went to Shooter’s Steakhouse and was drunk and decided to splurge on a steak, which I almost never do when eating out. It came out a perfect medium-rare, with a char to it that made me feel like I was eating history.
Then there was Nico’s. Carne asada and carnitas tacos full of flavor and they even throw on the guacamole as part of it, not an extra charge. Not only that, rather than having some Mexican dudes begrudgingly serving the gringo, the staff and the cook were friendly and kind and it didn’t feel fake at all. And I look like a skinhead with my black clothes and bald head. At each place, the cooks weren’t bitching or bitter about not working in some high end place. They took pride in what they were doing and made amazing food. They want you to enjoy it!
I feel like moving here is like finding a brother I never knew I had. I feel more at home here. It feels like I fit more, perhaps because they don’t expect me to fit. Because you’re accepted here as long as you’re accepting. Diversity is the way of things here. People care about sustainability, art, culture, and most importantly, solidarity when it counts.
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