Part of my amazement was how easily the shockingly life-changing was embedded so smoothly in the familiar. I mean, that’s part of the point, isn’t it, to have enough of the basic need for safety and security met so we can springboard from there to the various escapades that the more adventurous parts of us are clamoring for?
It was Tuesday, so Mexican food, and the only decision was which of our pair of go-tos would win tonight. We picked the Patton Ave place, which had the better tostadas and a more upbeat atmosphere, thanks in part to the (albeit cheesy, but hey, where better?) Mexican musician and his slate of pre-programmed keyboard rhythm, bass and chordal accompaniments.
My first recollections of Mexican food were from El Chico in the Seminary South shopping center in Fort Worth, TX when I was around 5. Either I wasn’t ready for the spicy food, or my parents didn’t think I was, so I always got a child’s plate burger, and my brother Dana, 10 years older, would get an “enchilada dinner with three enchiladas” (b/c two wasn’t enough). Dad would get three meat tacos. Throughout the entire time I lived in his house, and for years afterwards, he would always, every week, every time, appear to look carefully over the menu, and then order three meat tacos. Now, about to turn 97, he and mom (now married for almost 76 years) still do Mexican for lunch on Tuesdays, but now it’s El Rancho Grande and tortilla soup.
So Mexican food is pre-cognitive and somehow primordial, lulling me with smells, hot plates and hot pepper to where food, family and security simply are. And even though no North Carolina Mexican food has ever matched up with the Tex-Mex of my 30+ years in Texas, the experience of being in one of those places is forever associated with the familiar, the known and the reliable.
I don’t remember what I ordered, but on cue my mouth exploded with juicy anticipation when the hot plate with salsa-topped “something” arrived. My wife and I both dug in and enjoyed a couple of bites and then she looked straight at me said, “I don’t think this is going to work out.”
As beginnings go, it seemed like it left a lot to be desired.