With end of pandemic rules, New Mexicans celebrate new freedom on Fourth

·3 min read

Jul. 5—Drew Finch let out a spontaneous burst of patriotism Sunday while shopping at O'Reilly Auto Parts on Airport Road.

"God bless America!" the U.S. Air Force veteran said when he found a battery for his Harley-Davidson.

The Fourth of July was the first national holiday since New Mexico fully reopened last week after more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions. And people were letting loose twice as much as usual.

"It seems we came out of it OK," Daniel Perez said as he set out chairs to watch the evening fireworks display at Santa Fe Place. "Now we have more freedom to do cooler stuff rather than be locked up all the time."

On the Plaza, dozens of vehicles lined the streets for a classic car show. Couples danced, children dueled with swords made of balloons, and people young and old gawked at the vintage vehicles.

Many stopped by to look at Bill Wawrychuk's 1965 Ford Mustang, which he calls "Old Yeller." He's the original owner, and he bought it at a dealership in San Gabriel, Calif., for $2,895.83.

It still has the original radio, and when he takes his grandkids for a drive, they don't know how to roll down the windows using the old-fashioned hand crank.

He said the Fourth of July brings back memories of driving around with Carol, his wife of 51 years, while listening to an oldies station playing the kind of rock 'n' roll they played decades ago.

This Fourth of July was extra special, he said as he looked around the Plaza.

"It is a big blowout party for our country, more so this year because of the pandemic," he said.

"Everybody is out and about, everybody is enjoying the cars, the music, one another," he said. "This is the Fourth of July to me — no politics, no nothing. Just celebrating. It's nice."

At Zafarano Drive, Barbara Houser was busy getting her dog Pepper groomed at the PetSmart store. Sunday was Houser's first wedding anniversary to Sarah Nolan, so it was vital Pepper look good for the party later that day.

Houser's still cautious about going out, but getting vaccinated "makes people feel free to go out," she said. "No, we're not completely out of it, but life is becoming a little more normal again."

Business owners and retail managers at Santa Fe Place said customers were embracing the return to normal.

Michael Romero, a native Santa Fean who manages Hibbett Sports, said the sporting goods store has seen an increase in walk-in customers as virus restrictions have eased.

The store's Fourth of July offerings included free pizza with every purchase, gift cards and a raffle for prizes. Shortly after the store opened, several young men stopped in to try on shirts and sneakers.

"People want to go back to the store," Romero said.

A few doors down at Olivia's, Manuel Perez said people were beginning to come back to the family-run clothing store.

Perez was born in Mexico and became an American citizen 23 years ago. One of his sons was born on the Fourth of July.

"It doesn't matter what nation you came from," Perez said. "It's exciting to celebrate the Fourth of July. It's exciting to be an American."

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