Tag Archives: tacos

Vince Lombardi said the price of success is hard work. Señora Otay-Mesa said the price of a taco is $1.50. Take your pick.

I’m coasting down Eagle Rock Boulevard when I see a kid washing a window in a building where a Filipino man once wrapped his fingers around mine, pushed his hand into the small of my back and said, “Dance.”

We weren’t alone. A woman with wispy red hair that looked like it may have been borrowed from a doll stood in the corner. She, the red head, was a dancing queen. There were glamour shots on the wall to prove it. And the tinny CD player in the corner, the full body mirrors reflecting the fluorescent light, the hardwood floors which once served as a middle school basketball court – she built all of that. A dancing queen’s empire.

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I have nothing to do, so I turn left on York and as is my practice, I look for a coffee shop that isn’t so thriving that I’ll have to struggle to find a seat or listen to someone younger or older than me lament to their coffee date about their struggle. Admittedly, these are difficult criteria in Los Angeles, and maybe anywhere I speak the language of the midday café crowd. With my eyes failing me, I pull over to find a place on my phone. I’m scrolling when I hear my name.

“Dude! What’s up?!”

I can’t remember his name, but I know we went to college together, so I return the enthusiasm, “Dude! Long time!”

He’s extremely tan and has apparently been wearing the same hemp bracelet for 10 years. “What are you up to? Where are you working right now?”

“Nowhere at the moment,” I say. “I’m sort of on hiatus, just kind of hanging out.”

“So you don’t have a job.”

“Technically, no.”

He nods as if he’s just learned that a national treasure has died. Or that the Comanche language no longer has any native speakers. “How long have you been out of a J-O-B?”

“Oh, not long. Since March.”

“Jeez. Two months. Hey, this is kind of weird but, can I get you something to eat?”

I laugh it off. “No way, man.”

“Hey, there’s no need to be prideful. I mean, you’re riding a bike.”

It’s true. I am. “It’s a nice day!”

“No, it’s not.”

It’s true. It’s not. “Yeah, well, I wasn’t in a rush.”

“Because you don’t have a job. Let me at least buy you a burrito.”

I want this to stop, but I don’t know how to make it stop.

FullSizeRender.jpgMy Taco is a family place that makes a taco borrego that is something to behold. I won’t tell you where exactly My Taco is because I’m already upset with myself for taking a guy who I didn’t like even when I knew him a decade ago. But we all make mistakes. Our poor, misinformed and now uninsured voted for Trump. We’re all culpable.

We settle in and he asks, “So did you lose your car?”

“No, I just thought I’d get some exercise.”

“Don’t you think your odds of getting hit by like, a bus are higher than dying of obesity?”

He might have a point. “I’m also skating tonight so I’m trying to get the lactic acid out of my legs from my game last night.”

The woman from behind the counter takes our number and leaves us with a half dozen tacos. They’re not pretty, but that’s why I’m able to keep coming back. The masses haven’t moved in because these tacos aren’t photogenic. They’re just tacos. Delicious fucking tacos.

“How many hockey leagues are you in?”

“Three. My nights are pretty wide open.”

“And apparently so are your days.”

“Yeah, but it’s hard to find a good midday skate. Holy shit, how much does that lady look like Kellyanne Conway?”

He turns his attention to a skeletal woman rollerblading in the parking lot. At the minimum, she’s been awake for a week straight. My college pal says, “You’re playing a lot of hockey.” I nod, my mouth full of lamb barbacoa, and he says, “I don’t feel like I should pay for lunch. You’re not even trying to get a job. You’re just biking around pretending to be homeless.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Come on! That beard! Those Vans? There are literal holes in your shoes. Actual holes.”

“Well,” I shrug, “you already paid. Want me to Venmo you?”

“I feel bad. You don’t have a job.”

“I don’t mind paying for my tacos. They’re a $1.50.”

“It’s not about the money.”

“Okay, you lost me.”

He pushes his greasy orange plate to the middle of the table. “Well, can I give you a lift somewhere?”

“I’ve got my bike.”

“Dude! You’re got to stop bringing that up. It’s making me sad. Seriously depressed. Just get like a Ford Fiesta or something. They’re cheap. Get a fuckin’ Kia.”

“I have a car.”

“I keep forgetting that because you’ve got that… meth mobile.”

“A bicycle?”

“You’re just putting lipstick on a pitbull.”

As we clear our plates, I ask, “So, do you work over here?”

“No, the overhead’s too high. I’m going to open up shop in Cambodia. Maybe Laos. Super cheap labor. Great full moon parties. Fuck, I love full moon parties.”

“Open up shop doing what?”

“Whoa. Lot of hostility from a guy who’s basically homeless, begging people to buy him burritos and shit. By the way, this place is bomb. Definitely coming back.”

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The front door jingles and we step outside where the Cracked-Out Nancy Kerrigan is still doing pirouettes. He throws a leg over his pearl white Vespa. “Well, I hope you achieve your goal of becoming a professional hockey player or whatever you’re doing with your life.”

“That’s not really… Okay, thank you.”

“Hey, let’s do this again soon. I still have the same number.”

“Perfect. I definitely have all the numbers in my phone that I had in 2008.”

He revs his Honda Airblade, flashes me a toothy smile and pulls onto York Boulevard. But unfortunately for everyone driving east now and for the rest of the day, he’s sideswiped by an orange Metro bus. The bus brakes, but not before it first tramples over his scooter, then his body, and finally his head. Cars begin to honk. A few people get off the bus and go about their day.

I mount my 12 speed, look right, then left, then right again. The traffic has already started to build. I feel fortunate to be headed the other direction and in the bike lane no less. More importantly, it looks like I don’t have to worry about him telling anyone about My Taco. We’re left with so little that’s sacred in this world. But at least we have tacos. Yes, at least for now we have tacos.

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FLYING PIGS

There’s a bar just off of PCH where for $2 a bag you can throw peanut shells on the floor and drink Bud Light with millionaires. In front of this bar is a parking lot with a surf spot named after the drinking hole. In that parking lot I met Max Rose.

Max and I had spent the morning on adjacent peaks, trading mushy three-footers with every surfer from 24th street to Yorba Linda. In the parking lot, we stood side-by-side as the sun warmed our extremities. I drank coffee that was three hours old. Max’s Westfalia was adorned with two For Sale signs. There was a weathered parking ticket on his dashboard.

“It’s not true,” he said. “Despite what they say.” He had feathered brown hair and a beard that was streaked with gray.

“What’s that?”

“Pigs really can fly,” he nodded at a police helicopter as it flew overhead.

I laughed and he figured me for a kindred spirit. The two of us in front of our economical cars, surrounded by new S.U.V.s with stickers about deporting our terrorist, illegal alien, commie, Allah-worshiping commander-in-chief. Maybe we were.

“It’s the sound. I’ll never forget that sound,” he said.

“Oh yeah?”

“Shit yeah. It’s like those guys who went to Nam. They never forget what a military chopper sounds like.” He looked up at the sky. “I still cringe when I hear a flying pig.”

I nodded.

“I’ve been chased.” He stroked his beard. “In Texas too. A doctor’s son had a sports car—two seater that he didn’t want to pay for anymore—so I took his car. I took his Harley too.”

I slipped out of my neoprene suit and he moved closer. There was a tattoo of an indigenous woman on his forearm and whisky on his breath.

“He paid me and a friend of mine a hundred bucks. We took his car out to the middle of nowhere. Mind you, this was the early seventies. Such a thing existed. I was twenty-one, twenty-two years old. ”

We stared out at the Pacific and watched it heave and toss those fortunate enough to afford a morning beating.

“Went to a field next to a lake. This lake—hippies used to skinny dip in it. Nothing around. Just fields. We parked the car and covered it with gasoline. Fifteen pace circle around that sports car—a puddle of gas. Course we were stoned and drunk as hell at the time. I threw a match—biggest fire you’ve ever seen.”

Wildfires in California kill eight people and burn over one million acres every summer, but for the sake of conversation, I nodded. I understood these dramatic parking lot tactics. There are no lies in the parking lot. It’s a fact: the surf was better earlier. It was better before you got here.

“So I start kicking the Harley, trying get that thing started. I’m kicking and kicking it. A crazy old hillbilly walks out with a shot gun and he yells, ‘Everybody okay?’ So I tell him, ‘Just fine.’ Mind you there’s a fucking fire. So I look at my friend and I’m like ‘We gotta get the fuck outta here.’ We didn’t even know there were houses out there. I mean, there weren’t—except a couple. Real spread out. Anyway, I’m kicking and kicking the bike and I end up kicking off the carburetor!” His eyes light up.

I have no idea what a carburetor is and apparently it showed.

“It’s on the side of the bike. I kicked it right off.”

“Oh, man. Crazy.”

“So I kick off the carburetor and this hillybilly with a shotgun is coming at us and we hear fire engines screaming. I’m like, ‘They’re coming for us.’ And the hillbilly is like, ‘What’s going on out here?’ so I look at the hillbilly and I’m like, ‘Our friend’s down by the fire. We gotta check on him.’ So we ran. All night,” he pointed to the long-since vanished police helicopter, “they chased us. We ran through the woods in the pitch black. I threw up eleven times that night. Eleven.”

“Wow.”

“We had to get back to town. It was getting light. It wasn’t daybreak yet but it was close. We found the road. I say to my friend, ‘They’re looking for two guys so you hide in the bushes. If they get one of us. They get one of us but we gotta get back to town.’ So I stood on the side of the road, knowing that if a pig drove by, it was over. We were going to jail. Texas jail. This was outside of Austin. But what do you know?” He grinned.

I didn’t know.

“Long haired freak comes driving by. He pulls over and is like, ‘Where you headed?’ and I said town. He was just out in the middle of nowhere driving around. Can you believe that? I ran all night and some long haired freak, just going for a drive saves my ass!”

“Wild.”

“Doctor’s son turned himself in. Pussy.”

“Really?”

“He just had to pay for the car. Or his dad did. He was rich. He never turned us in though. He just said he met two guys at the bar and they did everything. Never mentioned our names.”

“So you made it out alive.”

“That time,” he said. We stared out and watched wave after wave as teenagers and baby boomers shoulder-hopped one another.

“I’m Max Rose by the way.” We shook hands.

He looked at me and I looked at him. I didn’t know if he was sizing me up or if long stares just come with functioning lunacy.

“You want some,” he said, throwing back a drink he did not have.

I’m no fool. A man tells you a criminal tale. He tells you his acid flashbacks come in the form of helicopter bladeslap, which are over one’s head about forty-seven times a day in Southern California. You tell the man, yes. Hell yes. But I did not say yes because I am, in fact, a fool.

“I would, but I’ve gotta drive.”

He did a quick survey of the parking lot in front of the surf spot named after the bar with peanut shells on the floor. “Well shit, we all gotta drive.”

And of course, he was right.

He opened the door of his beige Westfalia. It was lined with long boards, newspaper, and a pillow. He generously poured brown liquor into a coffee mug that read: Bienvenidos a Sinaloa!!!” The mug wasn’t exactly sanitary, but the stuff he poured looked strong enough to kill an elephant. I took a pull, passed it back, and he took a pull.

“I wish I didn’t have to go to work,” I said.

“You stay here long enough and you won’t have to.”

We stared over Priuses, late model SUVs, and power-walking moms at the ocean. Waves lapped in off of the jetty. I finished off the crusty mug of whisky

He eyed the empty mug then patted me on the back. “Move along soldier. I can take it from here.”

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Filed under Red Cups, unemployment