Returning to Modesto after nearly 50 years, and in town only a few hours, Luis Cayón Armella got a whirlwind tour from old friend Jeff Reed.
It was good to lay eyes on landmarks, such as the arch over I Street, and beautiful additions since he was here as a boy, such as the Gallo Center for the Arts.
But what he most wanted to revisit: the old A&W drive-in restaurant at 14th and I streets.
“We don’t have root beer in Colombia. I don’t know why, but you cannot find it,” Cayón Armella said. When he first tried it so long ago, he thought it tasted like medicine, but grew to love it. “It tastes very good with a hamburger,” he said with a broad smile Monday afternoon as he, his wife and Reed prepared to grab lunch.
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The men’s friendship was forged in the summer of 1964, only months after Modesto gained its first official sister city – the Caribbean port Barranquilla, Colombia. “My mother (Norma Reed) in her infinite wisdom decided I should go to South America as an exchange student at 10 years old,” said Reed, president and CEO of Basic Resources Inc., whose businesses include George Reed Inc. general contractors.
Of the 25 or so kids taking the Modesto Sister Cities trip, most were high school students, two or three were in junior high, and then there was Jeff, who’d start sixth grade that fall.
You find (Modesto) a beautiful place, as always has been, but bigger, different all over, and you see the progress. You also see how the time passes by, the old construction with the new.
Luis Cayón Armella, seeing Modesto again after nearly 50 years
Referring to his friend by his nickname, Reed said, “Tito’s family was my host when we went to Bogotá to see the capital. … It was supposed to be a week, but we became good friends and I stayed about three weeks, until somebody called from Barranquilla and said, ‘Get that boy back to Barranquilla now.’ ”
In the winter of 1964-65, the Reed family repaid the hospitality, hosting Tito for three months. Reed went back to Colombia to see his friend in the summer of 1968, and Cayón Armella revisited Modesto in the summer of ’69.
As happens, the boys lost contact as they grew into men and began careers and families. After about 15 years of trying to find Cayón Armella, Reed succeeded about five years ago on the social network hi5. They caught up on Facebook – “Once you’re friends on Facebook, you let somebody into everything going on in your life,” Reed said – and Reed; his mother, Norma; and father, Wendell, regularly would Skype with Cayón Armella.
When he learned that his friend and his wife, Maria Victoria Garcia Perre – both Masonic Lodge leaders in Colombia – would be in Southern California this month for an international meeting, Reed asked them to visit. He met them in San Francisco on Saturday, took them through wine country and then into Modesto on Monday.
I ended up going to Spain my last year of high school because of the all the Spanish I’d learned. Our business is international probably because of that early experience through the sister-city program.
After visiting Norma Reed – Wendell died in December at age 88 – they planned to head to Carmel on Monday evening, then go back to the Bay Area for the Colombian couple to return home Wednesday.
Time was short, but the friends filled it with reminiscences:
▪ Cruising in Modesto on Tito’s return visit, when Jeff had just received his driver’s license.
▪ Being in the Sea Scouts that summer, and having a “day of liberty” in San Francisco. (“That’s a whole other infamous story,” Reed said.)
▪ Being together in Colombia in the summer of 1968 to watch the national soccer team play Brazil just weeks before the Olympics. On the Brazilian team was Pelé, widely considered the greatest player of all time. And maybe 15 minutes into the game, a referee red-carded him, ejecting him from the game.
“It was riot mode,” Reed recalled. Troops were brought in to keep fans off the field. Someone hit the ref in the face.
“Everybody paid to see Pelé,” Cayón Armella explained.
The crowd demanded that the ref, not Pelé, be ousted. And it worked. “Another Brazilian player had to take the penalty,” Reed said, but Pelé returned to the game.
▪ And, of course, enjoying burgers and root beers at A&W. Back then, 25 cents bought a slider-size burger and a small root beer, Reed said. He recalled how annoying it was when the state state sales tax increased, so the price became 26 cents. “Then you had to carry around a quarter and a penny,” he said.
Cayón Armella called it a “blessing” that the eatery is still there. And as the friends again prepared to sit down for a burger and drink, he said, “We’re very lucky persons that life has permitted us to live for this time and to see each other in person after all this time.”
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327