Forty years ago I would burrow inside the nose cone of a three-story rocket slide at Album Park. Not Eastwood Park—officials have force-fed El Pasoans that name since the park opened, in 1968, but, like ketchup on hamburgers, we don’t ever use it. Peering through the steel rods that made up the rocket walls, I could see the detention pond, where, after a heavy rain, people canoed among the frogs. A child of the Chihuahuan Desert, I had never seen a larger body of water. At the time, I thought all lakes had a rain gauge at their center.
It was in the rocket that I first conquered my fear of heights and of life. I trembled as I flew down the scorching-hot metal slide, but like a six-lined racerunner, I knew all would be right when my feet hit the sand. The familiar puff of dust emboldened me. As I grew older, I was nourished by the team sports I played on the park fields and by the fare at the Eastwood Optimist Club’s concession stand. East Side moms and dads fed hundreds of us from this tollbooth-size space. I ate burgers drenched in homemade chile verde and washed them down with a raspa. It all had to be consumed within five minutes or the snow cone cup turned the consistency of a spit wad.
As a teenager, I retreated to the pond with friends, swatting at mosquitoes the size of sumac berries and contemplating my future in a haze of adolescent inebriation. Late, after the last softball game was played and the field lights were off, I’d stumble toward the rocket, squeeze my oversized, lean body up the steps, and slide down, singing Elton John: “I’m a rocket man!” When my feet hit the dirt, creating that dust cloud landing, I was sobered and renewed. Then I’d whip back to the top, as if waking from hibernation.