Spanish Harlem are not
Just pretty words to say.
I thought I knew,
But now I know that rose trees
Never grow, in New York City.
Until you've seen
This trash can dream come true?
You stand at the edge,
While people run you through.
And I thank the Lord,
There's people out there like you.
I thank the Lord
There's people out there like you ...
... while Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers,
Turn around and say good morning
To the night.
For unless they see the sky?
But they can't and that is why,
They know not if it's dark outside,
Or light ..."
-- "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" by Elton John. Mr. John has said this is one of his all time favorite recordings. Other than "Levon", and possibly "Made In England" (one of THE greatest "eff you!!!" songs of all time)? This is my favorite by Mr. John. God above, this song gets to me in ways no song ever should ...
I have put this off for as long as humanly possible. I have delayed, rescheduled, postponed, hell -- I've taken PTO days, work from home days, dial in drunk days, to avoid what happened yesterday.
But sometimes? Sometimes you have to do what you don't want to do, what you don't feel like doing, because it's the right thing to do. The right thing to do, doesn't always feel good. The right thing to do, isn't always easy. Sometimes, the right thing to do, requires you to sacrifice of yourself, for the benefit of someone else. Sometimes, the right thing to do repulses you, goes against your nature. But you should do it anyway. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.
And the right thing for this (not even remotely) humble blogger to do ... was swallow hard, hop in a car, and travel fifteen minutes from the office, to try out a restaurant that, if I'd ever been there before*, it had been at least twenty five years ago. It is without question -- (allard baird voice) without question! -- the one Mexican restaurant I have flat out refused to step foot in.
Yesterday, I went with "The Voice of Reason", for lunch at Don Chilito's.
Here ... is your recap.
(*: note: I know I went at least once when I was in high school, because as soon as I walked in, I remembered the interior. But I'll be damned if I can recall ever stepping foot in that place post-1993ish.)
* I have avoided this place, because quite frankly, the whole setup repulses me. For starters, they're known for this special cheezy sauce called CCQ Style. Basically it's Velveeta loaded with more Velveeta, topped with a third helping of Velveeta. I am what the kids call "lactose intolerant". Me and Velveeta = BAD THINGS HAPPENING. Especially for my toilet. But again -- this is what I'm willing to do for you, my readers and friends. I'm willing to eat at Don Chilito's ... so that you don't have to*.
(*: unless you happen to like the place. In which case, eat away!)
* I prepped as best I knew how: I ate a 16oz bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. My typical breakfast is a bagel with regular creme cheese and a 32oz Gold Peak iced tea. I knew I needed something to, uuh, "harden the stools", if I was going to do this.
And I gotta admit, if you load enough brown sugar, raisins, and walnuts into oatmeal? It's edible. Barely, but it is edible. Especially if you layer it like I did. Scoop of oatmeal, spoonful of brown sugar, spoonful of raisins, spoonful of nuts, then another scoop of oatmeal, and repeat.
* "The Voice of Reason" picked me up at 11:15. We took the freeway to get there. As events unfolded ... we should have taken the freeway back.
* We arrived about 11:30. I could not believe that the parking lot was jammed packed. I honestly could not understand, entering this yesterday, why anyone would want to eat at this place. I mean, how can I put this in a way that expresses how much this place repulsed me ... I know. ("the voice of reason" voice) It's Don Chilitos!
* Yes, yes it is:
(image: me, via my iPhone.)
* When you first walk in the door, you notice the lovely 1970s era decor ... that hasn't been updated since Don's opened in 1971:
(Wait ... the Kiwanis still exist?!?!?! image: me, via my iPhone.)
* Sadly, my pictures of the menu, and the original menu, that grace the wall as you enter, didn't take for some reason. But when you walk in the door, you enter a cafeteria style line, with the menu hanging on the wall. I can only assume, this is how my grandparents used to feel, when they entered Furr's every night for dinner twenty years ago.
* The first sign this was happening:
("the voice of reason") so, you going enchilada, you going burrito, what are you thinking?
(stevo) I'm thinking I feel sorry for the lady who cleans our bathroom at work.
* "The Voice of Reason" went for the enchilada platter. He even knew exactly how to order it. All-Pro Don Chilito's Guest, that's for sure. Me? I had my reservations. Especially after seeing the soft taco the lady behind me in line ordered. It looked atrocious. The taco itself looked good ... but she had three scoops of sour cream and half a plate of black olives next to it. I almost puked in line.
* This is what I wound up going with:
(Hey -- I paid with a $20. Where's my change? Image: me, via my iPhone.)
* Lunch combo one was an enchilada and a taco, with beans or rice. Toss in $2 for an iced tea and tax, and I shelled out $8 for this meal. For comparison's sake, the cafeteria at work on Friday had pasta cooked to order for $5.70 after tax, and my iced tea would have set me back another $.86. I paid more to go to Don's, than I would have to have stayed put. (Pause). Well of course my readers should question my sanity! Even I question my own sanity!
* Sadly, another pic that didn't take, was the highlight of the visit. Oh yes, peoples and peepettes: Don Chilitos has a chip trough. No, that is not a typo. Chip. Trough. It's literally a salad bar, filled with tortilla chips, and at the end, you have four salsa types to choose from.
I loaded up some chips, with the hot and chunky salsa. Food review upcoming.
* I got back to our booth, and (again, I really botched the picture taking yesterday) thought I'd snapped the two plates we ordered. I apparently didn't, because I'm a dumb ass who can't hit the capture button on his iPhone.
But before I dug in, I looked at Mr. Reason, paused, and said "hang on. I rarely do this, but I think it's called for in this situation" ... and said grace. I prayed over my food. Let's just say, I was not looking forward to that fork, plowing into that microwaved enchilada, smothered with three freaking layers of imitation Velveeta cheese.
* And no, that is not a typo -- microwaved. That's how Don's makes their food. They re-heat it when you order it. They had five freaking microwaves piled on top of each other, and the way they moved the plates around, it's like the first microwave was to unfreeze the food, the second was to heat it, the third was to get the sauce right. Because both Mr. Reason and my plates passed through all three "layers" of microwaves.
* Which is why the next sentence to come out of my mouth, stunned me.
("the voice of reason") well?
(stevo) It's actually edible.
("the voice of reason") that's their ad campaign -- Don Chilitos! We're Edible!
(stevo) (loses it with laughter).
* The enchilada was actually ... good. And by good, I mean "I wished I'd ordered the enchilada plate, instead of Lunch Combo #1, because I wanted a second one." Even the imitation Velveeta sauce was (and God, I cannot believe I'm about to type this), even that was tasty. It perfectly matched the beef enchilada.
* The taco on the other hand ... ugh. Avoid the tacos people. It was atrocious. I literally wound up breaking the shell in half, dumping a ton of hot and chunky salsa on top, and just eating the meat like it was a crappy taco salad.
* The tortilla chips weren't half bad. They needed more salt, but not half bad. And I gotta admit -- the hot and chunky salsa actually had some kick to it. I liked it.
* I did not try their dessert item. Although at the chip trough, they have some kind of cinnamon bun thingy for dessert. It did not look good. So I avoided it.
* Oh, the interior shot did take:
(Hey, is that Horshack in the back? And where's Barbarino? You have to love a restaurant that hasn't remodeled since I was (pick one) a broken condom / forgotten pill / night of drunken fun / gigantic mistake, in my parents' imagination. image: me, via my iPhone.)
* In case anyone doubts I went ... "The Voice of Reason" demanded I take a picture, to immortalize this day for eternity:
(I know, I know -- how is someone this damned hot as hell, still single? Ladies, you are missing out! I mean, look at me! I still think it's 1996 with the collared shirt over exposed t-shirt with khaki pants look! How can you resist someone that damned sexy! image: "The Voice of Reason", via my iPhone.)
* And yes, in the words of Dan Dierdorf, "I'm just happy to be here", as my facial expression clearly demonstrates.
* My Don Chilito's Food Grades:
Iced Tea: B+. You could tell it was just brewed, as it was still kind of warm entering the glass. Nothing wrong with that.
Taco: D. Saved only by turning into a taco salad minus the shell.
Enchilada: B+. I actually wish I'd tried a chicken one too; the beef was actually really good.
Chips: C. It's tortilla chips. You're not getting above a C unless it's those Lil' Scoops from Tostitos.
Salsa: A. I liked the hot and chunky. I'd eat it again.
Ambiance: A+. Anyplace that looks like my parents family room* the first four years I existed on this planet, has my respect.
Service: A. Was fast, efficient, and friendly.
Overall: B. I cannot believe I am about to type the four words at the end of this sentence ... but I'd go back.
(*: the next time I'm at the 'rents, I'm gonna steal my baby book. You would not believe how sweet my folks' pad was back in 1977. Hideous greenish shag carpet? Check. Plaid checkerboard couch? Check. No, really -- Plaid. Checkerboard. Couch. How did they ever let that thing go?!?!?!?!
For my first Christmas, me decked out in a Winnie the Pooh stocking cap, some kind of flannel pajamas with a butterfly collar, AND a "Welcome Back Kotter" toy in the background? Check, check, check!!!
And if you think that's sweet ... just wait until I post the "Words Stevo Could Say When He Was One / Two / Three / Etc." lists my mom put in there. Every damned word is either (a) a family member, (b) a TV show or character, or (c) a store people shopped at back then. (Pause). Yeah, that does explain a lot, doesn't it.)
* Oh, and one thing. Yes, I did check out the men's room. I had my doubts. I was picturing a Homer's Bucket from the Home Depot, a garden hose, and a soiled towel. But it had actual tile! And actual urinals! And an actual stool! With a functioning sink! I cannot believe the health department keeps finding things wrong with this place!
* Had the Don's Experience ended there? It would have been a pretty sweet day. Brought back memories of meeting Mr. Reason down in the City Market a couple times a month for lunch at Cascone's or Minsky's or Winslow's when we both worked downtown.
Oh, but no. Because apparently nothing in my life in 2013 is allowed to be an absolute good.
So, we're headed down Metcalf, headed back to the office. When all of a sudden, the car in front of us slams on the breaks, because the car in front of him didn't go through the yellow at 95th Street. Mr. Reason safely stops us, and the truck behind us barely manages to stop, but does. We thought the worst was over.
BOOM! Not even five seconds after the dude in the pickup barely avoided plowing into us, some 60ish year old woman, who was looking at the K-Mart instead of the road, slams into that pickup at 45mph, which then sends the pickup into us. By some act of God, we didn't slam into the car in front of us.
* To say Mr. Reason was not happy, is an understatement.
(Well, the trunk won't open or close, the right taillight is dislodged, there's two gigantic holes in the bumper ... but the radio works, strangely enough. Clear as a bell! image: "The Voice of Reason", via his iPhone.)
* It could have been worse. Here's the pickup that got pushed into us:
(images: "The Voice of Reason", via his iPhone.)
* And here's the culprit, and what's left of her SUV:
(she got ... JACKED UP! image: "The Voice of Reason", via his iPhone.)
* From the "Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining" Department: I believe this is the first time I have talked to a police officer, in uniform, and NOT been ticketed or arrested, in at least a decade. So that's cool! Woot Woot! Party on!
* Also from the "Good News Makes the Compass Point North" Department: the lady at fault never dodged, ducked, or denied responsibility for what happened. She took the full blame (since it was her fault), and had ready explanations, answers, apologies, and insurance information available, which sped the process up, kept it from getting ugly (nobody was happy, obviously), and calmed down a potentially volatile situation. She handled it perfectly, and everyone left at least satisfied that as much as it could be, right was done by and for everyone.
* (peter griffin voice) Really? No one else is willing to say it? (Frustrated sigh ...) Fine, it's on me. I'll say it. "WOMEN DRIVERS!!!!!"
* Yes, her excuse really was that she was "looking off to the side of the road". Because that K-Mart parking lot is a thing of beauty. To say nothing of the (isiah thomas voice) Red Lobster and abandoned Valvoline Oil & Lube place in said parking lot.
* Funniest line of the day -- I finally get out of the car (I didn't want Mr. Reason to lose his passenger side door to oncoming traffic, in addition to the rear end of his vehicle), walk over to where he's standing. He's talking to the pickup dude, we exchange pleasantries, talk for a minute about how ridiculous this woman who plowed into us was ... and then? Well, I had to.
(stevo) You know, this would be the worst time imaginable for Don's to hit us.
("the voice of reason") (loses it)
(stevo) (loses it)
For the record, Don's didn't really hit me until about five hours ago. It took that second frosty cold Coors Light this afternoon, to trigger the reflex. (Pause) What? (Pause). Oh, I just finished round five. I figure I have at least one more in me, based on how my stomach and intestinal regions feel.
* Oh, and the OPPD cop who handled the accident? I swear to God, he looked just like Jasson when he exited the car. (He's in there ... and you should watch the whole episode; it's fascinating, actually. Jobb well donne, Mr. Wakkeffield! Jobb well donne!)
* I finally got back to the office around 1pm. I was gone for less than two hours. In less than two hours, I had five voicemails, eleven emails, and three Sametime (aka "instant messages"), waiting for me on my return, regarding month and quarter end close.
* So I'll open the close with this, because it actually is kind of funny ... especially if you know me. Some people handle stress well. 92.4% of the time, I am one of these people. Unless you screw me over or hurt me, I tend to keep my feelings to myself. You screw me over or hurt me, especially on purpose? I'm launching a full on offensive against you. But mistakes, or added work, or ridiculous requests, normally don't get to me.
They did Friday.
I got a Sametime at about 4pm Friday. I was just about ready to start shutting down for the day, when "Person I Despise" in Seattle sent me a query, asking if I had posted a two-line correcting entry he'd asked about earlier that day. (What really irritated me ... is that he was right. I did screw up that entry. I hate being wr ... wr ... wr ... possibly incorrect.)
I saw his message pop up, read it ... and I chucked my pen against my wall, dropped a whole lot of words my mommy would stuff a bar of soap in my mouth, if I ever said to her, and then dropped my favorite swear phrase*, to describe what I thought of this guy, and his request.
I was not happy.
(*: it takes a lot -- and I mean A LOT -- to get me to drop it. I save it for special occasions ... mainly because it is extremely offensive. Even I think it's repulsive, which is why I save it for only the rarest of rarities. "Idiot in Seattle", has drawn nearly every single usage of the phrase, in this calendar year.)
So Shannon, who sits directly ahead of me, and is apparently into Halloween given the witches hats and other assorted stuff she has out, drapes a massive sign that said something like "Enter At Your Own Risk!" over my wall.
(Note: apparently my rare, yet very foul and offensive, outbursts? Amuse the people I sit by. If y'all think me reacting to someone 2,000 miles away is humorous, you should have seen Mary and I go at it (brantley gilbert voice) "back in the day" at TA, when all that separated us was a cubicle wall that we'd chuck sh*t at each other over when we were mildly upset.
We had a fight once in August of 2005 that was so legendary and loud, the claims department literally a city block away, but on our floor, could hear us screaming at each other, and came over to check it out. I really wish someone had snapped JoAnn Banks' or Brett's faces as that fight went down. It was a cross between "holy sh*t, these two might kill each other!", "holy sh*t, I've never seen two people this angry somehow NOT throw down physically before!", and "grab the popcorn, sh*ts 'bout to get crazy!". (Pause). Yeah, I miss that job too.)
I didn't even notice it at first; I got up and did my patented "storm down the hallway, out the door, and vent outside for a couple minutes to calm down" routine that (stunner!) gets made fun of.
I come back, notice the sign ...
And lost it.
In a funny, could not stop laughing, kind of way.
I moved the sign to a more easily visible location inside my cubicle, and then wrote a gigantic "HINT: DON'T!!!!" on my dry-erase board next to it.
My way of saying, you can always find humor, and unexpected surprises, in anything in life. God knows I've had to search for meaning, fun, and importance over the last year and a half of mine. God (and all of you) know I've rolled with more punches these last eighteen months, than any person should have to ... especially since virtually all the punches I've had to roll with, were not my fault.
I've seen co-workers downsized, cars refuse to start, finances that don't balance, mass transit that is never on time (for the ride home anyways), teams fall apart, Red and Gold players kill girlfriends less than two miles from where I spend every summer weekend, and friends not just turn their back on me, but stab me in said back, over these last eighteen months. I got a call last night that my Uncle Skip passed away; I'm trying to get some PTO arranged to head up to Chicago for the funeral on Wednesday. He's the fourth person I personally knew and cared about, to pass away in three weeks. And today? Today is the 9th anniversary of Randy's passing.
It has not been good lately, in the life of Stevo.
And even Friday, for Mr. Reason, was not a good thing in the moment.
But for me? It was.
For one day, things felt right. Cheap Shecky Greene-like throw-away one liner jokes? Check. Lunch at a craptacular Mexican restaurant that never passes health inspections, and looks like a rejected set from season three of "Welcome Back, Kotter"? Check. Lunch not bubbling to the surface while standing in pushing 90 degree heat, and contemplating whether to b*tch about whiplash or not? Check. A fun, ready-made blog post as a result of the day? Check.
Time spent with someone you truly care about, and that you know has your back no matter what? And you know you have his no matter what? Time spent with a friend that is the damned benchmark of the word?
Joe Theismann Don Chilito's Rating: 10-6, dangerous wildcard team at a crappy NFC / AFC Norris squad.