For a few months now I have wanted to eat at a Mexican restaurant only a block or so from our church because I have read really good reviews. It’s a hole-in-the-wall place where the owner also does the waitstaff and cooking duties. It’s attached to an old, run-down motel that gets sketchy trade in a neighborhood that is known for crime. This was once prime city real estate but the good days are long gone. The buildings and parking lots are well worn. The people who live in the area are there because they are on some sort of government program, many on the first step out of homelessness.
Today, after a funeral at our church, Terry and I made our way to La Enchilada for lunch. There were a number of people already eating there. The phone was ringing. People were picking up orders to go. We had to wait a bit to get menus and the owner/waiter/cook explained that it would be awhile before our food would be served as it was very busy. We told him we weren’t in any hurry as we had no where else to be today. The luxury of retirement. I could not have said that five years ago when every minute of my weekend was filled with chores.
It was over a half hour before our meals came out of the kitchen where one other cook was working. While waiting we watched homeless people shuffle by with all they owned stuffed in plastic bags. We saw prostitutes coming and going from the motel in their skin-tight clothing, ridiculously high heeled shoes, and painted faces. We occasionally saw the very poor who are living in the motel come out and set off on foot, looking worn out before even getting started.
Terry and I had both ordered burritos. Mine with carnitas; Terry’s made with carne asada. They were stuffed with beans, avocado, tomato, cilantro, sour cream, and in Terry’s, rice. I couldn’t eat all of mine so Terry finished it off and left about 1/3 of his to take home. A big family of grandparents, parents, and three children came in to fill a corner booth as the waiter/owner/cook brought our ticket and explained how he had deducted half the price of one burrito because we had to wait so long. Terry and I were incredulous.
As I waited, money in hand, at the cash register, to pay our bill and get some foil for Terry’s leftovers, I perused the wall behind the counter. The owner runs tabs for people. They pay when they can. He notes all of this by hand. When he was finally able to get to me, I handed him the money and told him I didn’t need change and to use the remainder to pay for someone else’s meal.
I pointed towards that wall of chits and said, “I gather you get hungry people in here who can’t pay.”
He nodded, shyly, and said, “yes, but you shouldn’t leave that much.”
Oh yes, I should. I’m grateful for people like this man who feeds the neighborhood where many are afraid to tread. I’m hoping we can return soon for another burrito.