Downtown’s Older and Wiser Crowd


Weathered hands and aged limbs don’t stop them. They are the golden ones and the heart of the city. Loyal to their shops and spots, to their sidewalks and bus stops, they are unassuming and mysterious. They pay homage to this space like no one else could, gracing the benches and doorways with their frugality and unique charm. Walking amongst those decades younger, they prove to need no assistance or direction, just a great pair of soles on their feet.
Downtown's older and wiser crowd

It’s 7:30 a.m. and already there’s a different kind of bustle in downtown. A quieter, kinder one made up of people in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Some travel in groups and others alone, bags in hand and with a quiet confidence that seems to say, “I’m just here.” They came today just as they’ve been coming for years. To the passing eye, Rodolfo Hernandez and Luis Tovar might appear to be long time friends, but on a sunny day with the breeze hitting just right, both men began a conversation on everything from hats to knees and the government. Mid-conversation, they both still didn’t know each other’s name.

“You forget to ask the other person’s name sometimes,” laughs Hernandez. “You assume everything just is, but it’s good to pass the time and talk to complete strangers.”


Both men sat on a bench overlooking a parking lot next to the Camino Real Hotel and started talking about the cars they had driven during their life.

“I once had a van like that one,” pointed Tovar. “It was blue with white striping down the sides and had very nice rims. I bought it for my wife and we used to go off to Chihuahua twice a month with the kids, just pack everyone up and go.”

Donning a checkered shirt and scuffed blue wingtips, Hernandez sat  with a stern posture, while Tovar sat in a more playful manner wearing a Havana straw hat and favorite dress shirt.

“I wear this shirt all the time,” Tovar said. “I bought it at the supply store down that way and it’s lasted me four years. They have all the best stuff there.”

Buses passed by as the men sat, almost unphased and completely engulfed in their conversation. A testament ot age and perhaps their randomness, the two men had managed to find eachother that day, when the breeze was hitting just right and the rest of their lives was up in the air.

Lady Goya

Graciela Goya’s wrinkled face reads like a roadmap. She tends to her flower garden, catching the eye of several pedestrians passing by. The bottom of her purple dress is spotted with bits of grass and moist fertilizer and she does nothing to resolve it.  Goya, 73, lives in what she calls, “a small, clean and honest home.”  The majority of her 800 square foot home smells of lavender and is adorned in floral patterns and photographs of her grandchildren. Goya’s home is three blocks away from the downtown international bridge; something she said she would never change.

“I raised my family here, this is home to me” said Goya. “I don’t mind the crowd of people, they just pass by and I watch from my window. I can’t imgaine living anywhere else, it’s nice and peaceful here and I like it.”

The grocery store down the block is worn, beige and familiar to Goya. The words, “Fresh Produce,” are painted in big red letters on the side, but one knows that goods like dishwashing soap and milk can be found inside. Goya makes the trip every Thursday with her  youngest grandson, Daniel,  to buy enough groceries to last her a week. Her burlap sack rests on the floor behind her television set.  It is stained heavily on the sides, evidence that it’s seen its fair share of sweaty produce and street muck.

A widow of 12 years, Goya stands just under 5 feet, with bobby pins carefully holding back the hair behind her ear. She jokingly compares her current state to a photograph of herself at the age of 20, sepia in tone. The photograph, while 53 years old, still bears all the resemblances of Lady Goya. Her smile, although aged is still the same.

“That was me,” pointed Goya. “Now I’m just a shell of what I used to be, but that was exactly how I met my husband. I used to save up money to buy yards of fabric with my sisters. We’d buy different kinds and take it to my aunt so that she could make us dresses.

Although petite in frame, Goya walks everywhere. She said she used to depend on her husband to drive her everywhere, but after she died, her feet took on a whole new job for her.

“I walk just about everywhere now,” Goya said. “I can’t complain though because it is good exercise for me. Before I didn’t walk as much but life will make you adapt.”

Her husband’s car sat in the driveway for five years until Goya decided to give it to her son in California. She said she couldn’t stand that the car wasn’t being put to good use.  Because she was always chauffered by her husband, she never thought it was important to learn how to drive. While the past 12 years have taken some time to get used to, Goya said that she plans to make the next 12 even better.

“If I make it to the next 12, I’ve already accomplished a great thing; life,” Goya said.

She nods off into a quiet sleep…

In a place seen by many as a mecca for inexpensive and disposable goods or a weekend hangout spot, downtown for individuals like Jenisa Williams is more of a second home, a second skin in a town booming with new businesses. Waiting under a shaded bench for her bus to arrive, Williams said she has been coming to downtown for years. She said she prefers it to any shopping malls or crowded stores because of the space and for its diversity.

“I used to come here with my children during Christmas and we would walk around looking at all the lights, it was marvelous,” said Williams. “Of course now everything is so changed that you can’t really tell where everything used to be.”

Looking down for a moment, Williams wiped the sweat off her forehead with a paisley hankerchief she had in her jacket pocket, then took a drink from her water bottle.

“It’s a nice place to get away from everything and everyone,” she laughs. “I know that may sound silly because downtown is full of people, but there’s different kind of people and you don’t feel so restricted here like you have to dress a certain way or anything. My daughters are always trying to take me to different stores and I just don’t like it. I’m too old for that.”

With pearls in her ears and a paper fan in hand, Williams settles into the bench and nods off into a quiet sleep.

Looking at the faces of these “regulars” almost sums up the feeling one might get when visiting the dowtown area. One knows that their visits are frequent and prolonged and that on any given day they can find them there, passing the time and living their lives unannounced and undetered. By most standards, one would say that their life is comfortable and often monotonous, but to them, their life is golden.

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