Today, I manage to pause for an hour and stop by a little godforsaken cafe off south Main Street. The waitress snaps her gum at me and pulls a pen from behind her ear. “Que quieres tomar?”
“Tea,” I reply, smiling.
“Shweet or unshweet?”
“Rrrregular,” I reply, rolling my Rs to impress her but end up slobbering all over the table like Porky Pig.
She vanishes through two swinging doors, and I sit back and take in the lively scene.
The room is brightly lit; the sun streams through a large picture window over a newspaper stand. A fan spinning slowly overhead catches the light and scatters it in cool incandescent ribbons across the Saltillo floor. Two ebony African fertility statues standing in the corner stare into space, their private parts in view for all to see.
A broad-shouldered fellow with wild black hair and eyes like melted chocolate sets a bowl of tortilla chips and salsa on my table. His muscular arms could make a girl forget English.
“Gracias,” I say, beaming.
At a table nearby, a blonde rocks a baby on her knee. She is talking to a man with reddish-brown hair, the same color as her child’s. I think about when daughter Mindy was little and how I would carry along puzzles and coloring books to keep her busy when we would eat out.
Before long, my botana platter, chicken and beef mixed, arrives. The smell of fajitas permeates the air, and I’m salivating even before my tongue hits the flatware. There’s no better food in this world, at least none that I’ve found.
“Mas tea?” the waitress asks, motioning to the cute guy to bring it over. He’s standing at the cash register, his arms folded like a bodyguard. When he reaches for my empty glass, my eyes slide like hot fudge down ice cream along the curve of his shoulder to his bulging bicep and beefy hands.
He refills my glass to the rim and replaces it to its same sweaty spot.
“Gracias,” I say, cilantro stuck between my teeth.
Suddenly, the door swings open and two dirty-faced kids, along with a woman with a third on the way, plop into the booth behind me, bouncing me up a foot on my side of the booth. The kids take turns squealing with delight and popping each other on the head with their spoons. One turns and wallops me, too. Their mother does nothing to correct them.
Paradise lost, I call toward the kitchen, “Una bolsa para llevar, pronto por favor.”
I’m waiting for a reply when the door swings open again, and a man with a heavy beard and a beer gut poking through the holes in his T-shirt walks in and sits down at the table next to me. He looks like a wolf in a poodle parlor, and he leans back in his chair and scratches his belly through the holes.
“Oh, geesh.” I say, calling once again. “Ticket, por favor, ticket.”
It seems like the staff has gone for the day. Or perhaps the waitress and the cute guy are having an “employee meeting” in the dish room.
Four men with gelled hair and wearing polo shirts give up on their ticket. They leave several bills on the table and exit.
The kids behind me are getting wilder, and Wolfman Jack is searching for something to gnaw on. I’m beginning to wonder if I should offer my leftover chips and salsa.
Finally, the waitress reappears and sets a tray of raw oysters and a bottle of Tabasco sauce on Wolfman’s table. The guy is definitely a regular. Sniffing the platter, he picks up a slimy oyster and wolfs it down in one gulp, after which he lets out a resonating belch. He studies his pinky finger, crams it into his ear and digs around. Whatever he has found, he pulls out and inspects it in the sunlight.
“Bolsa y ticket, por favor,” I ask for the third time.
At last I’ve paid and am in my car headed north back to work. I’m contemplating whether the outing was worth the trouble. Even when I factor in the drama, a tasty botana meal that one can only find this close to the border is worth its weight in, well … pesos.
I’ll be back next week.
Gina Tiano is the author of Life in the Bike Lane, available at Amazon.com.