<My Town’s Downtown Area> Liberal America favors the diversification of our culture in all facets of life. The nation seems to have become such a melting pot that what passes for progress these days is nothing more than an erosion of traditional values and mores that we’ve all grown to hold as deeply personal.
The media is sure to blame for this overwhelming disparity of what we feel is right in our hearts and what we are told is right. One of these myths of cultural diversity that must be acknowledged is the notion that we should embrace the diversity of eating ethnic foods from specialty restaurants.
It was with this confusing mindset that I agreed to eat at the local Mexican Restaurant in my town’s downtown area. The parking at El Hacienda was treacherous to say the least. We were forced to negotiate a parking spot built for a Saturn or one of those electric cars, not the full sized sedan that we drove to the establishment. We made sure our valuables were brought in with us. I hinted that we should leave the car doors unlocked as area thieves would just as soon smash the windows to get at any visible goods of value in the vehicle. Best let the ruffians open the door to rummage through the car where nothing valuable can be found.
The walk to the front door of the establishment was also a bit of an adventure. The greasy and unkempt sanitation area is surrounded by a rusty fence, the main access door hanging wide open with a full view of the fly-infested dumpster. Bags and pales of garbage were leaned up next to it. Who carries garbage out to the dumpster but is too lazy to throw it into the container? One of the establishment employees was standing in hanging, dropped-crotch, shaggy jeans and a filthy t-shirt smoking a cigarette or Mexican equivalent and watching as we made our way to the front entrance. He was also glancing at our car that we had just exited.
El Hacienda is adorned externally with brightly flashing beer lights and a plastic, old time “Open” sign that seems to be worse for wear, the back of which has the clock with black arrow “Be Back Later” lettering. The tackiness of this put me back a bit, but as my wife advised, I left my attitude of uneasiness outside and reminded myself that an open mind is best when confronting new ideas and life experiences. Life is anything if not an opportunity to embrace political correction, so we’re conditioned to believe and as laboratory studies have concluded.
Two wide dark men in flannel shirts with dirty baseball hats on their heads sat silently at the bar counter reading Mexican newspapers and drinking unknown Mexican beer in green bottles. An anonymous muted soccer match was playing on a large television mounted on the wall of the main dining area. Loud horny mariachi music was funneled through the establishment’s public address. Almost every table and booth of the place had patrons, mostly of Latino descent and over half with crying babies. The tables were unattended to and strewn with various half-eaten entrees, as well as dirty silverware, plates, and burning cigars.
We were seated quickly despite the crowded nature of the establishment on a work night. One wonders if many of the patrons had gainful employment to wake up to tomorrow morning. The presence of white people in the restaurant was not uncommon as two such individuals were waiting for to-go orders near the main cash register. The Mexican waitress was promiscuously dressed, showing off her ample bosom but not in such an overt nature as one would expect from a woman of her ethnicity. She was in good spirits as she spoke in broken but understandable English.
A basket of corn tortilla chips with two sauces were placed in front of us along with the menus and waters in red, hard plastic cups. The sauces appeared cloudy, like the water. My wife agreed to try the red sauce while I cautiously sampled the green. I placed a tiny dab on a chip and sniffed it. A peppery sensation filled my nose but did not seem overly strong. I tasted the sauce. It had a bite, relieved that it did not bring about any sense of nausea or distaste. My wife complimented the red sauce. I tried a few chips of each before becoming bored.
The plastic coated menu was shabby and confusing as it seemed to be broken down by columns with Mexican on one side and American on the other. No pictures were presented to show what the dishes looked like, only crudely written descriptions, some of which were misspelled or so grammatically incorrect that it was all I could do to keep from busting out in politically incorrect laughter. I decided to have the three taco plate, two beef, or “carne de res,” one chicken, or “pollo.” My wife chose the pollo burrito plate, or “britto” as it was displayed in the menu. We placed our orders. I was immediately served a Coca-cola in a similar hard plastic cup as the water was served. My wife was served her choice of a Corona with lime. I decided to refrain from alcohol in my growing disturbed state.
As I drank the flat tasting soft drink, the agitation of my surroundings started to unnerve me with all the Mexican noise and commotion going on. Unruly children laughed and sprinted up and down the aisle. One young girl, chased by her older brother, shrieked with laughter when he closed in within arm distance of her. Crying children howled as if they were being tortured, their mothers ignoring them as they gossiped with each other in Mexican. I even noticed one breastfeeding her child while she ate her dinner.
I was starting to have reservations about dining at this particular establishment when our food arrived. Two large platters were placed in front of me and my wife. On half of my plate, three soft shelled tacos were hidden beneath a bed of shredded lettuce that was stuffed into the doubled corn tortillas along with the meat, onions, Mexican cheese, and tomato bits. A flat scoop of brown refried beans with melted shreds of the same cheese overlapped a similar scoop of orange Mexican rice with green onion and pepper specks, both items of which occupied the other half of the plate. My wife had a similar rice/beans’ side dish on her plate. Her burrito was thick and covered with a brown sauce, Mexican cheese, and clumps of shredded lettuce. For some reason, even more fried tortilla chips were piled on top of the mess.
After one bite of my bland taco, I assessed a need for spice. A bottle of vinegar-based hot sauce sat next to the dented napkin dispenser at our table. I removed the wooden ball-shaped cap to discover it completely clogged with a red clump of dried sauce. I shook the bottle but to no avail as nothing came out. I wound up having to smack the bottom of the bottle with the same force I would a scratch awl to make a rivet mark on a piece of sheet metal. The clog dislodged and a huge squirt of hot sauce spewed forth soaking my taco and the nearby rice. The look of exasperation on my face caused my wife to touch my hand in a signal to calm down.
For the next ten minutes, we continued to eat our Mexican entrees and side dishes. It was then that I felt an overwhelming need to use the restroom. The explosive feeling of a hurried digestion process hearkened me back to the bout of jungle dysentery that I suffered when back in ‘Nam battling Vietcong Communists. With a polite but uneasy nod to my better half, I excused myself after quickly mapping the route to the facilities far at the other end of the establishment.
I was in fear of rising from the table to make my way to the restroom, afraid of accidentally blocking one of the wild kids as they ran through the restaurant aisles. What would happen if one clunked my knee or thigh and pummeled to the floor in a bawling fit? I was more than 20 to 1 outnumbered and my concealed Ruger six shot wheel gun only had 2 rounds in it, hardly the firepower I would need to escape the place should it come to a race confrontation. My wife in her zeal to eat dinner out had left her pistol at home.
Fortunately, I didn’t bump into any of the children in my hurried jaunt to the restroom. I pulled open the metal door marked “hombres” and entered. An acidic scent and failing urine cakes from the three standing stalls caused a feeling of nausea as I crouched to relieve myself, holding my posterior inches above the stained toilet seat and almost slipping on the greasy floor. After 5 minutes, I returned to my anxious wife. We quietly discussed my predicament and a look of concern showed on her face.
The waitress asked us if we require any drink refills or take home boxes. I declined. My wife had another Corona. My agitation was now worsened. 10 minutes and another alarming rush to the restroom later, we were ready to pay the bill and leave. We took the waitress up on the “to-go” boxes as I had one taco left and my wife had half her burrito and side dishes unconsumed after reaching her fill. I was only too happy that a confrontational incident didn’t occur. My wife seemed embarrassed at my agitation, but I could do nothing to quell it.
Our car was safe and unharmed as we made our way home. We discussed the adventurous evening. The great melting pot sentiment of America notwithstanding, I didn’t have the most noble feelings for cultural diversity. The concluding thought has to be that nobility is not necessarily defined by conscience lifting excursions of the sort that compels one to attempt foreign culture sampling and urban exploration, but one of the tolerances that is shown by an older white American such as I in the quest to coexist in a society with tremendous diversities. The fact that I didn’t stand up and scream in the middle of the restaurant is a direct testimony to my tolerance.