I’m ready for it to get cold outside. Not because the sensation of constantly being attacked by blow dryers has somehow managed to lose its appeal for me. Not at all. The real reason is because I want breakfast tacos.
Let me explain.
Last fall I was living in a garage apartment in River Oaks, and every Saturday morning I had to wake up at the crack of dawn and drive out to Cypress. So naturally, what ended up happening was this: I’d zoom past the post office on Dunlavy – where the two lanes merge, unforgivingly, onto a bike lane – hook a left on West Dallas, turn right on Shepherd, and vault over Memorial Park, only to find myself stranded in the usual Saturday morning, crack of dawn line at Laredo Taqueria: out the door.
With its orange-on-orange exterior and wild lettering shouting “tacos” and “tortas” and “barbacoa,” from outside, the place sort of looks like an icehouse on acid. (Think the building looks run down? Check out the condos next door – you’ve never seen such sloppy construction.)
Inside, the walls are red. Very red. It’s the blood red of Saturday morning. And everywhere you look are license plate-looking signs, scolding you in red: “Please order corn tortillas before stepping up to the counter”; “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, no matter who you are or who you think you are or who you know”; “Prices are subject to change depending on the customer’s attitude”; “All Sales Final (once you leave the counter)”; “We I.D.”
Not much change
This fall, not much will have changed. At 7 o’clock, Washington Avenue will be empty but the parking lot will be full, the back of the line reaching out into the cold, and the guy in front of me will still try and fit half his body inside the warm, built out patio. Watching the door shut in front of me, I’ll catch a whiff of steak.
Gently materializing inside will be the heady aroma of jalapenos frying in vegetable oil. Everything will be quietly in full swing. Seated alone at a table beneath a large painting of Mary wreathed with pink carnations will be a woman in an apron eating pasta out of Tupperware, while up on the TV mounted in the corner ESPN analysts will be dissecting the day ahead in college football.
Dishes will clatter and receipts’ll rip, while hands behind the counter pluck at towers of empty, baby salsa-to-go containers and stacks of lids. Someone’ll exit, rousing chimes.
And it’ll hit me. There will be tacos. Gorgeous, jaw-dropping tacos.
In just a few minutes, my teeth will rip through a warm flour tortilla and my whole mouth will instantly fill with smoky beans, moist eggs, and hot, glistening potatoes, all of it drenched in creamy avocado salsa and dripping red – that red salsa with its vivacious and light-hearted heat, sweet hitting your tongue, downright hot thereafter.
By the time I’ll have stepped foot in the dining area – with its steamy counter and neon Laredo sign the color of the rising sun – I’ll have gotten restless.
Maybe that’s why people are always blocking the waitresses’ path. If you’ve been to Laredo Taqueria, you know what I’m talking about: The wait station sits at the end of the counter, and waitresses – who regularly come flying out of the kitchen balancing steaming bowls of menudo over their heads – are forever getting stopped dead in their tracks by these grown men who can’t help falling under a spell the moment their boots land in someone’s way.
I recognize them instantly. They were the boys in middle school who blocked girls’ lockers hoping for a nuzzle. They never bothered hitting “pause” whenever their moms served lunch to them and their friends in front of their miserable video games.
Now that I think about it, with my miserable Spanish, how am I any better? When I order, half the time the woman behind the counter has to to switch to English because I refuse to learn a language that half the city speaks.
This fall, when the chimes sound and the cold smacks us across the face, it’s a miracle that we poor souls set in our ways will have gotten what we wanted. That’s the beauty of Laredo Taqueria.
I can already feel in my hand that warm, surprisingly heavy, brown paper sack.
Curtis D'Costa teaches English at Houston CAN Academy - Hobby and is a professor of English at Houston Community College.