18 Aug My Phoenix Story: Theresa Cano
New York City. That’s where I expected to be by now.
I told myself at 21 that if I was still in Phoenix by 30, it would mean that I had failed at pretty much every aspect of life. Well, I just turned 39 last month and I have never lived anywhere but Phoenix, save for college years spent in Tucson. But I realize now that just because I didn’t grow up to live in the city that I thought I would have doesn’t mean I have failed. I’ve actually come to love the city I was born and raised in and have called home for nearly 40 years, though, I can’t lie, it’s taken nearly every one of those years to realize that.
My disdain for Phoenix began in my mid-teens and held strong until my early thirties. But it wasn’t always there. As a little girl, I can remember trips to my dad’s office at the Historic City Hall building. I can remember the thrill of hustling through the crowds of office workers, my dad’s firm grip on my hand. Navigating the unique buildings, giants in my little girl eyes.
“Daddy, what is that building?”
“It’s the Luhrs Building, your mom and aunt Linda used to work there.”
“Really? It looks like it’s from the movies.”
“Yep. It sure does honey. OK, hurry along and pay attention or we won’t make the light. We’ll go look at some other buildings that I think you’ll like at lunch.”
I treasured these visits. They gave me a romanticized view of Downtown. But what I didn’t realize was that after the nine-to-fivers clocked out, Downtown Phoenix turned into a ghost town. It wasn’t always that way.
My parents, both Phoenix natives, met in Downtown Phoenix in the mid-fifties. They would tell me of dances held in ornate buildings. Movie nights at the Palm and Fox theatres. Dinner at Durant’s. Shopping at Wolworth’s, Goldwater’s and Hanny’s. Cruising down Central Avenue. Photos of my mom and dad conjure up a Phoenix version of Mad Men. Back then, Downtown was the city’s heart and soul.
Thinking back, I believe hearing their stories of Downtown Phoenix ignited my love for New York City. The interesting buildings, the crowded streets filled with quick-paced workers, culture, restaurants, an actual city center.
I was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital downtown, but grew up in north Phoenix. A baby-burb, if you would. And as I entered high school in the late eighties, Downtown began to get a reputation as somewhere you didn’t go anymore. The department stores and restaurants closed, buildings became filled with vacant office spaces. Visits to my dad’s office stopped.
The city began to sprawl out to the suburbs. Downtown was breathing with an iron lung.
Throughout high school and college, I spoke of nothing but New York City. My idol, Madonna, made it there, and so I was obsessed. Phoenix sucked. New York City was where it was at. I became a Yankees and Giants fan. Learned the streets. Knew where the museums were, you know, just preparing for my certain move. Watched a lot of Woody Allen films.
But as the meme so eloquently states, “Reality hits you hard bro.”
Three generations of family on both sides, including aging parents, both with serious health issues, and the lack of a hefty bank account that would be able to sustain anything resembling a humane existence, kept me in the state. And so New York City became a vacation destination. Phoenix, home.
In the late nineties, something changed my world. Following a horrible stint as a shoe saleswoman post-college in the Arrowhead area, I managed to secure a job in Downtown Phoenix. My sister was working at The Arizona Republic at the time and helped me get an interview with the head of this fun, little startup project the paper was starting called azcentral.com. Hmm, a newspaper having its own website? Whoa! Crazy!
The Arizona Republic’s building is at second and Van Buren streets. At 21, I was working Downtown.
Sure, I would get the questions, “Isn’t Downtown scary?” “Are there a lot of homeless people?” “What is there to do?”
Instead of spewing hatred of Phoenix, I’d get defensive. “No, it’s not scary.” “No more than any other downtown.” “There’s stuff to do, you just have to put a little effort into finding it.”
That’s how it began. A tiny crack in my armor of Phoenix-hate turned into full-on pride in my hometown.
In the 13 years I worked at The Arizona Republic, I was able to see the city shed its iron lung and begin breathing life into itself. The Diamondbacks stadium was built. Skyrise condos went up. Arizona State University and the University of Arizona both opened campuses. Artists, business people and more importantly, young families, began moving into the area. Restaurants like Cibo and Matt’s Big Breakfast opened and thrived. People started believing in Downtown again. More feet were pounding the pavement, and not just those belonging to the nine-to-fivers.
In the summer of ’09, in the same week no less, I was laid off, my dad lost his battle against cancer and I turned 34. I retreated back to the ‘burbs for a couple years until I found another job Downtown.
This time, there were food trucks, First Fridays events, a diverse selection of bars, clubs and restaurants like Film Bar, The Crescent Ballroom, Welcome Diner. A whole new crop of people were revitalizing Downtown into the place to be and live.
It may have taken almost 40 years, but now I’m proud to say that I was born and raised and live in Phoenix. And it will take more people like me, and those younger than me, to keep Downtown on the path back to the bustling, vital place it was when my parents first met.