The old woman had ruled this corner of La Roma for over 30 years, and man, that bitch didn’t like outsiders…
Skipper and I had been waiting 20 minutes for the tlacoyos that we ordered, or should I say tried to order from her. This particular grandma had the perfect neighborhood corner from which to ply her made-to-order vittles – the bakery a few feet away had huge pictures of pastries, desserts, and fresh bread covering the windows for about twenty feet in perpendicular directions – meaning that nobody could approach her corner without having been visually bombarded with massive images of delectable treats. Not to mention the muy delicioso aromas.
About twenty minutes ago, Skipper and I had succumbed to the same ploy.
“You gotta try these, dude,” he said as he licked his lips, “these are the kind of street food you can only get from Chilangos.” He explained that that tlacoyos were long, thick torpedo shaped blue corn cakes stuffed with cheese and beans and other goodies. You can find tacos nearly everywhere, but tlacoyos were harder to come by as they took a lot more handiwork and the recipes were proprietary and rooted in family tradition. In a city known for awesome street food, these were the literally the top of the food chain.
“Hey abuelita – what’s in your tlacoyos?” Skipper asked as he walked up. The chef looked to be about a few winters north of 82 years old and her face and hands were the color and texture of dried figs. She carefully completed one of her creations before deigning to answer through a clenched mouth full of gold teeth: “Nopales (prickly pear).”
“Cool. Can I get one?”
“Well, I’m in the middle of an order,” she said with a baleful eye, “it’s going to be awhile.”
Skipper shrugged his shoulders and looked in my direction. I nodded and he passed the nod on to her. She looked us over while continuing to shape and cook. It was clear she marked us as outsiders and potential troublemakers.
But Skip was nothing if not patient – a trait I absorbed from when we were rooming together in Hayes Valley. His quesadillas may have been offered at 10pm and finally served around midnight, but there was no rush, because when you ate them they were the real deal, and super-fuckin’ tasty. He had moved to M-City about a year ago, aided by his dual passport, and I had eventually taken him up on his offer to visit.
Back at the food stand, about ten minutes later on, a local rolled in to pick up his order of five, which she deftly scooped up from the hot grill plate with her hands and bagged for pickup. Why she didn’t just throw another one for us at the same time would soon become painfully clear.
One transaction completed, another two hood rats rolled up and placed their requests. Grandma nodded and proceeded crafting an additional passel of tlacoyos. My buddy waited until they were all on the grill before he asked the chef: “Hey, can you cut ours in half?”
The only reaction came not from grandma, but from the two neighborhood dudes, who both gave him a wide-eyed, unbelieving stare, as if we had propositioned her to take part in a donkey show.
A few moments later, Skip asked again, “Excuse me, can you cut…”
“Ay-ay-ay!” she spat out, “I heard you the first time!”
The two locals guffawed sycophantically, like two toadies in the presence of a wisecracking mob boss.
Properly humbled, Skipper shambled back over to wait with me, the aroma and sight of the delicacies on empty stomachs starting to get us unhinged.
We watched in anticipation as the six tlacoyos on the grill plate neared their lightly browned finish, and a few minutes later were done. She bagged three for hood rat #1, and the other three…you guessed it, went to hood rat #2. The smiles they gave grandma turned to smirks by the time they looked in our direction as they walked past us.
My friend and I couldn’t believe the balls on this woman, but he still managed to approach her again in a tone approaching deferential friendliness; “So, hey, uh, how long do you think for our order?”
“Didn’t I tell you it was going to be awhile??!!” she snarled and shook her head like a perturbed librarian.
Skipper stepped out of the way of her verbal barrage and gave me a hangdog stare. At that moment I sighed deeply, knowing that we had broken some unwritten rule that required her to play us like suckers. We resigned ourselves to the fact that there was no tlacoyo joy to be had that afternoon, and then it hit me…this was our real-life, “No Soup For You” moment…
(To be continued…probably)