When I was a kid growing up in Hayward, there was this little restaurant in town called El Taco. El Taco was one of the three Mexican-style fast-food places nearby; the other two were Taco Bell, which was still pretty small at the time, and a place called — I swear I’m not making this up — Taco Charley. Not surprisingly, Taco Charley was the first to bite the big burrito — Taco Bell bought them and took over the building. But El Taco, spirited little chain that it was, kept fighting the good fight, even as Taco Bell kept ringing its taco bells until there was practically one on every street corner.
There were three El Tacos in the area. I have fond memories of the one in Castro Valley. When I was six years old, my dad took me there for dinner. I bit into a burrito, and one of my teeth fell out. (Back then, it wasn’t all that big of a deal when one of my teeth fell out. When it happens these days, I get a little nervous.) Exactly one week later, my dad took me to the same El Taco. I bit into a burrito, and another one of my teeth fell out. El Taco apparently had some sort of back-room handshake deal with my dad, the tooth fairy, or both.
As the years drifted away, the three El Tacos eventually became two, and the two El Tacos eventually became one. The El Taco that stole my teeth became some other Mexican restaurant, and the one in San Leandro where we usually went morphed into a sushi restaurant. (Nothing says sushi quite like a restaurant with an adobe façade.) But the one lonely El Taco in South Hayward braved on like a modern-day Don Quixote, struggling to stay afloat amidst the sea of enchiritos, cinnamon crispas, and other faux Mexican foodstuffs served up by the Taco Bell drones that surrounded it.
I have plenty of nice memories about the South Hayward El Taco. I used to go there with my high-school girlfriend, who would never fail to spill some sort of El Taco product all over her whenever we visited. This was very much out of character for her, which is part of the reason I found it so funny. (She, on the other hand, was not as amused.) One time, she decided to order only a beverage and no food in silent protest. I have no idea how, but she managed to spill the entire drink on her sweater. El Taco had struck again. Do not mock El Taco.
As I grew older (and got different girlfriends who the spirit of El Taco did not hate), I’d still stop in there two or three times a year to pick up some food. It’s not necessarily that El Taco was particularly good, because it really wasn’t. It was one or two tiny notches above edible, but the flavor of the food never changed from the time it made my teeth fall out so many years earlier. If anything, I was stopping by to order memories for dinner. I liked that. I also liked how it was the same guy there taking my order every time and how he never once recognized me, and I liked how they actually had a Centipede arcade game by the order counter that had an out-of-order sign on it for more than five years. Centipedes? We don't need no steenkin' Centipedes.
Anyway, since I’m talking about El Taco in the past tense, you probably know where this is going. El Taco changed owners a couple of years ago and became a taqueria with a real Mexican name, presumably serving real Mexican food. I never made it in there, but I noticed over the weekend that it had changed names once again. It’s now called Pepe’s. Driving past the place last weekend, it occurred to me that perhaps the food hadn’t changed — maybe El Taco just changed names because, let’s face it, it’s a stupid name. (Not as stupid as Taco Charley, but that little situation resolved itself way back in the '70s.) I figured it was worth a shot, so I pulled into the empty parking lot — just like old times, I thought — and walked in.
The first thing I noticed, sadly, was that this definitely was no El Taco. Pepe had changed the menu. But the second thing I noticed was even more surprising. There’s a Mexican food chain here in the Bay Area called Una Mas that serves big, flavorless burritos and rubbery tacos on stale corn tortillas. Some of its buzz has died down over the last couple of years, but not too long ago Una Mas was one popular place. And it must be pretty popular with old Pepe, because he stole the Una Mas menu and is using it at his own restaurant.
Mind you, I’m not saying, “Una Mas sells steak burritos, and Pepe sells steak burritos.” It’s much more flagrant than that. Pepe has “borrowed” the actual names of the different burritos as well as the actual descriptions of each menu item, word for word. Granted, Pepe has a couple of things on the menu that Una Mas does not, but everything on Una Mas’s menu has found its way to Pepe’s place. Bad Pepe.
Not wanting to take a chance on having Pepe’s be my last meal before I died of food poisoning, I ordered one simple bean-and-cheese burrito. The woman taking my order asked me, “Pinto or refried.” I said pinto. I got refried. There are only three ingredients that go into making a bean-and-cheese burrito, and that’s if you count the tortilla. They still screwed it up. They’re more like Una Mas than they think.
As the woman gave me my burrito, I thanked her and smiled. “Have you ever heard of a restaurant named Una Mas?” I asked. She gave me a dirty look and said, “No.”
Sure you haven’t, Mrs. Pepe. Sure you haven’t.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT ME that I’ve rambled on about a Mexican restaurant for several paragraphs before getting to this, but Tiersa and I bought a house last weekend. Here’s a picture of our new next-door neighbor.
OK, that’s probably an exaggeration. He doesn’t live next door. He lives a couple of blocks down the street.
The house is in Tracy, in a nice subdivision called Redbridge. Inspectors have to come out and see if the house is about to get carried away by termites and other assorted vermin. If it’s deemed to be in good shape and if everything turns out well, we move in at the end of July.
We have plenty of friends and family in Tracy and in nearby Mountain House, so that’s good. It’s also a bit detached from the Bay Area, which makes the commute significantly more challenging. That’s not so good. But we got to choose between a large house in a great neighborhood in Tracy or a run-down one-bedroom crack house somewhere in the Bay Area. As much as we like crack, we decided Tracy was the better investment.
We’ll be leaving the apartment in Fremont where we’ve lived for the past five years. I shall miss the geese.
NOT THAT I NEEDED ANY FURTHER PROOF that I’m going insane, but I had a dream last night that I’m still trying to figure out. The only conclusion I have for it is, "you're going nuts."
First off, some background. I do my grocery shopping online. This is great because it makes it easy for me to find out what’s on sale. I’m not cheap, but I get tired of paying really unreasonable prices for things like breakfast cereal. Should a box of Frosted Flakes really be $4.99? Come on. It’s corn, sugar, and cardboard.
Unfortunately, I’m really bad at keeping a household inventory. What this essentially means is that I’ll buy something that’s on sale even if we already have plenty of it here at the apartment. In other words, it’s been a long time since we’ve run out of laundry detergent, dishwasher soap, or razor blades.
But nothing is more pathetic than the anti-perspirant. When the grocery store puts the brand of anti-perspirant that I prefer on sale, it does one of those two-for-one deals. I fall for it every time, no matter how much anti-perspirant I already have, for I am an idiot.
Anyway, I somehow wound up with five full containers of anti-perspirant. They’re all in our medicine cabinet. It looks like a display at a Walgreens. But at least I can take some small amount of comfort in knowing that I have an ample supply of anti-perspirant and won’t be running out anytime soon. I didn’t think that was something I necessarily found comforting, but now I’m not so sure.
Last night, I dreamt I was getting ready to go somewhere. But when I opened the door to the medicine cabinet, all my anti-perspirant was gone. All of it. And, let me tell you, I was not happy with this development. In my dream, I started to get aggravated. In reality, I tossed and turned. The lack of anti-perspirant eventually woke me up, for crying out loud. I had a bad dream – about anti-perspirant.
If anyone knows the number of a good psychotherapist, thank you in advance for sending it along.
FINALLY TONIGHT, another shameless self-promotion. My latest column in WebLogic Pro is available online, and it’s better than the last one. Three of you have already read it because you were “quoted” in it. Thanks for agreeing to be part of the gag.
There’s a fourth individual quoted in the article as well, but most of you don’t know who he is. Let’s just say I can’t wait for my friend Todd to read that column.
That’s all for now. No politics this week. Idiot Boy’s approval ratings continue to dive like a coot looking for minnows and tadpoles. Here’s to keeping the momentum.