“Wow, that place smells great! Let’s go check it out!”, growled my stomach.
The lunch hour was well behind us and the smells of slow-cooked meat were wafting out the door, carried on waves of loud Latin beats. Hidden in the faded paint on the wall we could barely make out the word Barbacoa and a picture of a sheep. My stomach growled again
The place was packed, with rows upon rows of well-worn wooden tables filled to capacity with older men in dirty flannel. A waiter cleared off a small table covered in empty beer bottles and soiled napkins, seating us with an easy view of 3 different soccer matches on the wall-mounted flat screens.
This place was seriously local. My skin color was the palest by several shades, and through the dim light and smoky haze I stood out like a sore thumb. Our neighbors to our right immediately engaged us in conversation in a broken mix of Spanish, Tsotsil, and Tseltal (the 2 most common local Mayan languages) that was truly dizzying. “Where are you from?” “Welcome to Mexico!” “You like it here?”
We sipped our warm stale beer from Dixie cups as we waited for our order of tacos, and did our best to participate in the verbal barrage coming our way. Two of our new friends didn’t speak Spanish any better than we did, and the 3rd as self-appointed ambassador did his best to share their questions, difficult as it might be with alcohol hindered enunciation. For 2:00 pm on a Sunday, he was sauced. Hell, for 2 am on a Friday he was sauced
Our topic of conversation took a hard right with the arrival of another, pressing a rose into Winnie’s hand. “No, I don’t want it”, she said repeatedly, trying to put it back in his floral basket. “No, it is free, please take it.” After 4 or 5 bouts of this, she finally gave up and placed the rose on our table.
“Throw it on the floor!”, said our ambassador, making an aggressive stomping gesture, completely obliterating his imaginary rose. His message was clear even if his words were not, but why? This whole experience was confusing. A goal was scored in one of the soccer matches and the whole room erupted in cheers and whistles, back-slapping and high-fives, and just at that moment our meal arrived
We devoured our meal in seconds. For sure people came to watch the matches, but these tacos must be why they returned and stayed. The meat was cooked to perfection with a delicious blend of spices. Juice dripped down our chins, hands, and arms, and soon our table was once again covered in beer bottles and soiled napkins.
We took turns going to the restroom to clean up, and I returned to find a guy in his 70’s talking with Winnie with all the confidence that comes at the bottom of 3 40-oz beers, my absence, and the full knowledge that Viagra is sold over-the-counter. He was slapping his right elbow with his left hand, and I understood him saying that he sent the rose. Smartly, Winnie just said, “No entiendo… I don’t understand.” As I approached, I rested my hand on his shoulder as I said hello
BAM!!!! A look of complete hatred filled his eyes as he took a swing at my face with his elbow. He meant to hurt me or die trying. All those years of martial arts and high school wrestling took over and I responded the best way I knew how…
… by simply stepping aside and letting his momentum carry his drunk ass to the floor.
His friends stepped forward, simultaneously helping him to his feet and holding him back. Our friendly ambassador prompted me with “Go get him, we got your back!” I just looked at our waiter and said, “Check!”
I learned later that the conversation while I was in the bathroom had a theme of “That white guy doesn’t belong here” and “You are only with the white guy because of his dollars, you should be with me.” Much to my surprise, not everybody loves me.
As we were walking down the street back towards home, we heard someone yelling to get our attention. “Oh shit!”, I thought, “Here it comes.” I told Winnie to get ready to run as I clenched my fists and turned to see what was coming
It was our waiter. Slightly out of breath, he approached and handed something to Winnie.
“You forgot your rose”, he said.
(Life on the road is incredible, but we would be naive to assume that everything would always go smoothly and exactly as planned. Sometimes, things have an interesting twist. Sometimes, even roses don’t smell sweet)