As we walked back down Congress Street to Sean's car, I reflected on how much more lively and varied the nightlife there has become over the past few years. There are now galleries open late and various indeterminate emporia to complement the bar scene. And the music blaring out onto the street now ranges from lounge to punk with impunity.
Though Congress is definitely on the upswing, however, it still has room for improvement. And I'm not talking about pie-in-the-sky fantasies of urban renewal either. I've seen the future in the not-so-distant past.
Kim got out her yarn box today during the "bag head" -- think the Fandango ad campaign -- project she undertook with Skylar after dinner. Kim hasn't done much with yarn since we moved to Tucson, but spent a good deal of time in the 1990s working on a colorful afghan. The box, like many of our boxes, is therefore something of a time capsule. Inside it was another box, with a dubious connection to yarn:
Our classic yellow tin bus, made in the Czech Republic and prominently displayed in our bedroom, came in this box. More importantly, we purchased it while enjoying a rainy January day on Tucson's Congress Street back in 1994.
Yes, I used the word "enjoyed" and "Congress Street" and "day" in the same sentence. When we moved here in 2000, it seemed improbable to think that had ever been a possibility. Congress was dead. Even the Hotel Congress had temporarily forsaken live music. The all-around hipness it had during our visit in 1994 seemed like a trick of my inner light. Back then, Bertrand's Books -- a real used bookstore -- and the Yikes! toy store provided wonderful browsing. Yikes! is still cool in its new location on Broadway, but the strip mall location deprives it of the charm it had on Congress.
At any rate, this entry is proof that we liked coming here before we came here permanently. The factors that conspired to make us not like Tucson much in 2000 and 2001 -- the stress of moving, unemployment, new jobs, Skylar's difficult two and three-year-old stages -- have receded into the place we put unpleasant memories and are gradually giving way to the pro-Tucson feelings we developed on our vacation visits of the 1990s.
Here's hoping that the edgy parts of today's Congress can survive and thrive next to the daytime-friendly sites slated to accompany the Rio Nuevo project. City leaders rarely comprehend what makes a central business district tick. But there are signs that at least some of the folks making decisions here in Tucson understand that swapping Solar Culture for The Gap would hurt the city more than it helps. For all of its minor faults, Tucson is a place -- and this extends even to the more suburban portions to the north and east -- where independent businesses are valued and chains do not necessarily mean the end of locality.