This is a goose that gets more than one gander in Boyle Heights.
Visitors to Hollenbeck Park stop and stare when they see the huge white bird swim across the park’s lake, climb into Jesus Hernandez’s arms and give him a love peck.
They watch in amazement as Hernandez tosses the goose back into the water and it ducks its head gleefully beneath the surface. Then it shakes off the drops and paddles back to the shore for another toss.
When the two of them walk together away from the lake to a grassy park knoll, it’s clear to all that this is no ordinary bird.
“This is Chacho, and he is my best friend,” Hernandez explains.
The 60-year-old West Los Angeles electrician has driven to Hollenbeck Park twice a week for the last two years to visit with the creature that he raised from a gosling.
Hernandez had thought he was buying a duckling when he purchased the bird four years ago for $5 from a pet store. But “it grew very fast,” he says.
By the time Chacho was 2, he had outgrown Hernandez’s small backyard. Hernandez reluctantly started looking for a new home for his friend when neighbors complained about his loud honking.
He discovered the park at 4th and St. Louis streets on a trip to Boyle Heights for a guitar lesson. The park’s meandering lake and tree-shaded lawn would be perfect for Chacho, he decided. As a plus, there were other geese and ducks for him to socialize with.
Leaving Chacho that first time was difficult.
The goose followed him back to his car, honking plaintively and running to keep up. Hernandez finally scooped up his friend and placed him gently in the lake where a wall forms the shoreline. The barrier gave him time to retreat to his car.
“It was very hard to leave him. When I left I was crying,” he says.
He returned to the park with a loaf of bread and Chacho’s favorite cereal when he began his visits. The goose made a beeline for him as he stepped into the park.
That became the routine for future visits, although Hernandez now also brings tortillas to feed to other geese and ducks that are jealous of the attention Chacho gets.
During his visits, Hernandez stretches out on the grass and relaxes. Chacho rests nearby. He honks a warning and pecks at strangers’ shoes and legs if they approach.
“I don’t worry about somebody getting too close to me because he protects me,” Hernandez says.
After a while Chacho begins honking at Hernandez and gently poking him with his beak.
“That means he wants me to follow him to the water,” Hernandez explains.
Nearby, park visitor Alvaro Contrares, a 35-year-old construction worker, watches with a large grin on his face.
“It’s amazing. I’ve never seen anything like this. I’d never try to pick up a goose,” Contrares says.
City officials do not condone the dumping of pets in parks, according to Christine Conyers, facility director for Hollenbeck Park. Nor do they condone people trying to steal ducks or geese from the lake.
“Are they city property? It’s a fine line,” acknowledges park police officer Phil Graciano. “We don’t feed them. We just house them.”
Back at the lake, Chacho is waddling alongside Hernandez as he retrieves his jacket and the empty bread and tortilla bags.
He will put the goose back in the water beneath the shoreline wall so he can make a graceful escape.
“He’s my best friend,” Hernandez says again. “I love him and he loves me.”