EL PASO — May 6th, the first Friday of the month, was the third time Raymundo and I loaded and unloaded photographs and earrings into the car and headed to the San Carlos Building at the corner of Texas and Campbell. We are old timers now; we know most of the vendors and we know what time to arrive so we aren’t stuck with a corner table. We bring a lamp so people can see our wares. We don’t sell very much but we keep going back for several reasons. I promise to tell you soon.
The San Carlos Building is becoming a “happening” place. A number of events are being scheduled there, more all the time it seems. First Friday is an event, Karla (another vendor) tells me, that takes place in other cities—Las Vegas, Phoenix, etc. It incorporates indoor/outdoor music, arts, crafts, and alcohol. It is usually very crowded and mellow. The art and music scenes show signs of “taking off” in El Paso, much of it in the downtown and University areas. The recent Neon Desert Music Festival was a big success and introduced several local bands to many who never even knew they existed, a pity they didn’t know each other earlier. The Percolator and Kinley’s coffee shops also host poetry, art and music events. Tonight Radio La Chusma is playing.
Raymundo is the photographer. He is tall, dark-haired and handsome as they say. Many of the female visitors to our table come to flirt with him. I just want a few of them to buy a pair of earrings. All of the lookers admire his work, and he patiently explains “what each one was about.” A number of people take his information and promise to get in touch later, some to buy photos he has already taken and some to hire him to take new pictures of their wedding, their nephew, their graduation. Some follow through. This is all good for Raymundo’s bank account, but it doesn’t come with health insurance.
The earrings are displayed on an old circular bird cage, elevated with Campbell’s soup cans. More people comment on the display than the earrings. In my years as a professor, several students took note of my passion for earrings and a few students added to my collection. I think my passion for wearing them has just been transformed into a passion for making them.
La Parada is an event populated mostly by twenty-somethings. As a sixty-something, I appear to be out of place, but I don’t feel out of place. Twenty-somethings have been a large part of my life for twenty-something years. I keep coming back for them: to watch the ones I don’t know, to hug and catch up with former students.
There are other characters as well: The celebrity boot designer who talked to me about business plans and showed me some designs on his cell phone. The photographer who bought a pair of earrings for his military wife in Afghanistan. The woman who skates for the Gardenias in the Sun City Roller Derby. The guy who makes El Chuco Fresh t-shirts, the one who does henna tattoos and packed up my extension cord.
On my way out at two in the morning, a couple of guys asked me what I was doing there. It was an accusatory question, but they weren’t looking at my grey hair; they were looking at my bird cage. I told them I was selling earrings, and as they got closer, they saw that the cage was the display. To cover their embarrassment they suggested I put a bird in the cage next time. I’m ready for anything now.
Editor’s note: Dr. Cheryl Howard is Associate Professor Emerita in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Over the coming months she will be introducing you to more of her students and giving you a glimpse of how a retired UTEP professor spends her time cooking, gardening and crafting. Photos from friend, former student and Borderzine contributor, Raymundo Aguirre, will accompany some of the blogs. Raymundo has his own blog, Bean Juice Dispatches.