I knew I would find love and happiness at Nacho Town. Always have. When they started building it, the whole place just felt right. It was a strange kismet of emotion. Sometimes you just know when something good is going to happen. Nacho Town just had that feel to it -- in all of its plastic yellow and red, oily glory.
It was one of those miracle days you know. There were no clouds messing up the perfect blue sky. It was the kind of day where you could just stick your hand out of the window, make a finger like a perch and have a jay of some kind come by and sit on it as you sing a merry little tune together. I tried that, but all I got was a gentle breeze.
I was dressed only in my tow truck boxers and "Take this job and shove it" T-shirt as I looked out at my neighborhood. It sure is small and dirty. Today, it seemed a bit more elegant, like some wash had come over everybody and cleaned them of their habits and insanity. Even Mrs. Halibute seemed alright.
"Good morning Mrs. Halibute," I cried out. She was smoking on her porch and glooming out at the passing world. "What a beautiful day."
Mrs. Halibute looked up at me, blowing a smoke bomb out of her frown. "What? What the fuck did you say," she threw back at me.
"Nice day huh? Sure wish there was a swimmin' hole nearby."
Mrs. Halibute just stared at me for a moment. "God damn queer. Why don't you go get a fuckin' job?" She then returned to her brooding and cigarette.
Whatever. I let her be. There is no way I can be swayed on a day like this. It's too perfect. Sure glad I don't have to sit in an office today. Or serve folks crappy food and get all hot and sweaty doing it. Yep, a Tuesday is a fine day to have off, especially when it looks like this.
I returned to my tiny studio and found a pair of jeans and slipped them on. I located my blue thong sandals and slipped them on too. A check of the time said 12:03. Excellent. Lunch time. I know what I need to get this day going, but first I have to make a phone call.
See, a while back I met this girl at the Monster Truck Rally and always meant to call her. Her name is Cheryl ... something. Anyway, she's real cute and was drunk on Old Crow with her girlfriends and date -- some nim-nut that kept calling her sweet cakes and sugar buns. Man, that guy was about to drive me berserk. Anyway, she came up to me as I was purchasing a corndog (yum) and asked me to help her. I had to ask how and what and why.
"My date," she slurred, "is a total hick asshole. He puts his hands on me like a ... like a god damn squid."
I was shocked. "What do you want me to do?"
"Beat him up."
I looked at the man. Six feet and some odd inches of pure backwood barbarian. I mean, he's a guy that brings a date to a monster truck rally. I was here with a buddy who scored tickets from a radio contest when he answered something about Gary Coleman correctly. No way, that guy would pound me into silt. I told Cheryl so.
"OK," she said. "then act like my brother and go along with what I do."
I wasn't too sure what she was going to do when suddenly Cheryl burst into tears. I stood there with my corndog trying to find a way to go along with it. She then runs up to the guy and says in mock hysterics: "My brother just told me that our mother went into the hospital for emergency surgery! I ... I have to go."
The big man looked at her and said, "Well sweetcakes, I'll drive you."
"No! No, I ... I have to go with him. Goodbye." With that, she left. With me.
In the parking lot we talked a bit and exchanged numbers. She took off with her girlfriends and I was left with the monster truck rally and my luke warm corndog. No matter. I had gotten the number of a sexy mama and I was going to call her sometime soon. I went back into the arena and was met with her ex-date.
"I thought you was goin' to the hospital with your sister," he said.
"Yes," I said back. "I thought so too. But visiting hours are over and the Crushing Marauder is about to take court." I went to find my buddy and the big guy was left dateless and wondering.
That was almost a month ago. But, today is the day, so I go through my collection of random bits of paper shoved in a drawer. I eventually found Cheryl's number and called it.
The phone rings a bit and a girl picks up. "Cheryl?" I asked.
"No," said the girl rather drowsily, "she's at work."
"Oh. Then, can I have her work number?"
The girl paused for a moment. "No," she said.
"Aww, come on. Please? This is Max, the guy she met at the monster truck rally. We exchanged numbers."
"Who?" the girl asked.
"Look, I'm not a weirdo or anything, I just wanted to take Cheryl out to the movies or karaoke or lawn bowling or something. Really. It's such a beautiful day."
"It is," she agreed. "Did you say karaoke?"
There was this blankness on the phone. "Look, just give me your phone number and I'll have her call you back."
So I did. I felt like a chump, but I had to do what I had to do. For some odd reason, Cheryl was on my mind today. Was it the sun, the beautiful weather, or was it the fact that she was the first girl to not laugh in my face for about year or so? Whatever it was, I had her image in my head -- albeit blurry and somewhat brief.
Eventually I left my tiny hovel and stepped out into the beautiful sun and light warm breeze. Mrs. Halibute was still on her porch, still smoking, and still looking at the world as if it farted on her best frock. I don't get it. Perhaps if I baked her some cookies or something she might calm down. I don't know. Anyway, she looked at me and I waved.
"You goin' to get a job I hope," she asked. At least she didn't curse.
"Nope," I say back. "I'm going to celebrate this day with a trip to my favorite food establishment."
"What's that?" she asked. "Der Wiener-sucker?" Then she laughed. Mrs. Halibute was actually laughing. It was a cavalcade of dry heaves and the flapping of under arm fat that ended in her coughing a lot. I know she was laughing at me, but it didn't matter. See that day just had some weird effect of folks. I watched as she coughed her way back into her house and shut the door. With that, I turned to walk up to get some lunch at my favorite place: Nacho Town.
Passing by the Gas Depot, I waved hello to my favorite employee there, Do. Do is from, well, I'm not sure, but he is rather friendly and always has a nice thing to say.
"Hello Do," I said. "How are you this fine afternoon?"
He peered up from this oily rag he was staring at. It was deep red and smeared with black gunk. His suit was covered in the same muck. Eventually his expression changed from thoughtful to glee.
"Oh. Max," he said in his crazy accent. He looks Asian, basically, but there is something about his eyes that say Slavic. "I'm doing fine. Yes. Oh, business is good. Many cars to fill full of my gas."
"That's great man," I said. "I'm going to Nacho Town. If you get a break, I'm gonna be there."
"Oh. Nacho Town. Very good," Do said rather excited. He was kind of quivering. "What ... what you going to get?"
I had to think. I hadn't though that far ahead. "I'm not sure. Maybe the Quetzalcuatal. Or the High on Myan."
The Quetzalcuatal is the red hot fiery one, full of chilies and this spicy cheese stuff. The High on Myan is a pyramid of chips and cheese and sour cream and other fine flavors to melt in your mouth. Man, I wasn't sure what to get.
"Ohhh," said Do. The quivering became more visible. "I ... I like the Quetzalcuatal. It is so ... hot," he said with a giggle. He was quivering and giggling. I like this guy, but right now he was kind of freaking me out.
"Yeah man," I said. "Um, I gotta go. Have fun in the sun. I'll see you later."
Up a bit I could see the yellow and red sign that indicated Nacho Town. Nacho Town was built about a year after I moved in. I remember the whole month it took to construct the thing. Lots of tough looking guys were moving big slabs of plastic, plaster, and steel girders. Big machines. One time, just bumming around, I decided to ask the foreman what they were building.
"Some restaurant called Nacho Town," he said. "It's a small chain. There's one in Blatterville. Another in Chinsce. It started in Chinsce. Now it's here."
I immediately became engaged in the whole process of Nacho Town from there. I wanted to be the first customer. I like nachos. So when it got closer to opening day, I became very excited. Not enough to want to work there, but enough to write a letter to the head office in Chinsce and request that I be the first customer on their opening day. There was just this magical feeling about the whole place. It blossomed from a debris littered parking lot to a yellow and red vision of greatness. The old neighborhood was looking up. First a laundromat, then a mall, and now this.
About two weeks later, Nacho Town sent back this letter:
I was almost the first customer. I overslept and had to rush there barefoot and hungover. When I arrived at 11:07, this rather large woman was looking at the menu above the registers and kitchen, trying to decide what she wanted. See, I already knew what I wanted. The day before opening, I wandered by and took a peek at the menu. I jotted down all of the stuff that I may want to order: The Quetzalcuatal, The Nacho Mama (a combo of chicken and ox tail), The Ay Carramba (which is enough to feed a family of 4 so I would have to be really stoned for that one) and The High on Myan. I liked the Quetzalcuatal, so that was on my mind when I ran through the door. I was out of breath when I looked up at the woman who was deciding what to order.
"Do you ... do you know what you want," I panted to her.
The large woman slowly peered at me. She looked miffed.
"Would you mind. I was here first," she said.
"Yeah ... yeah, I know. But ... I know ... I know what I want."
Her expression turned even more sour. "So what! You can order after me."
The large woman then turned back around and continued to decide. It was madness. I was there, seven minutes late, ready to go. The smell of melted cheese and fried chips wafted into my nose and pierced my heart. The young girl behind the counter paid little attention to the situation. She looked bored, even on the first day, waiting for the woman to order a plate of nachos. The kitchen staff was at the ready -- three young men all trained in the art of stacking, dripping, and serving. They looked dedicated and hungry. I felt around my pockets and discovered something bad. An emptiness. I had forgotten my coupon. I put my hands on my head and let out a frustrated scream.
The kitchen staff, the counter girl, and the large woman all turned to look at me.
"I forgot my coupon!"
The large woman just sneered. "Well, you better go back and get it."
There was nothing I could do. She was evil, but she was right. At first I thought of just paying the full price for a soda, but then the heartfelt gift from Ms. Fisk would haunt me later on. I couldn't let her down, not after the relationship we had concreted.
When I returned to Nacho Town, there was something even more horrible to compete with: a line! Yes, there was an actual line formed, one that stretched almost to the door where I was standing. I would have to wait my turn. Which I did. Ms. Fisk put her trust in me and I had to make my dream come true. No matter. When I got to the counter and ordered my Quetzalcuatal, all was well in the tiny universe of my neighborhood and my new favorite place to eat. Unfortunately, when I sat down at one of the brown thick plastic booths, I looked over and saw the large woman, finishing up her pile of grease and chip remnants, grinning.
"Mmmm. Nothing like the first, fresh plate of nachos," she said.
All I have to say is when I bit into the pile of cheese and chip in my hand, the sky lit up. Angels did little dances in my head and my stomach came to life. It was magic.
"Oh man. Yeah!" I yelled. "Yes!"
The rest of the folks in Nacho Town turned to look at me. But I didn't care. I was in bliss. I had found my special place.
It's that memory I keep with me after all this time. Even now, as I open the door and I am met with that familiar fragrance of melted cheddar and jack, jalapenos and sour cream, it still feels like two years ago. When I walk through the doors, I am young again and life has a special meaning.
The staff is always changing. I always thought this would be the ideal place to stay. I always thought if you were a chef or counter person, this would be the end of the line. People are strange.
"Back again?" says the girl at the counter. Her name is Margarita. If she were of age, I'd probably ask her to marry me.
"Oh yeah. Have you seen this day?" I ask.
Margarita looks over my shoulder. "It's nice," she says.
"Nice!? Oh man, it's perfect. There will never be another nicer day."
"Never?" she asked.
"Well. I hope so. Just, you know. Just not today."
There was a pause as I locked eyes with her. I was smiling and she was just kind of blank. Long day I guess.
"What can I get you?"
"Oh man. The eternal question."
"You usually get the Quetzalcuatal."
"Oh I know. But I want to celebrate. Let's get the High on Myan."
"Are you sure?" she asks.
"Oh yeah baby. I'm sure."
Margarita rings it up and I throw a big root beer on top of that. It came to around six bucks. What a deal.
"What are you celebrating?" asks Margarita.
"Why, this day of course. I don't think people do that too often. It's a shame. Maybe if folks just went out and said 'Hey, I'm celebrating because it's sunny,' more of them wouldn't be so down."
Margarita walked away. But there I was, standing and waiting for my plate of chip-laden spicyness. It was then I noticed something.
At a two-seat table by the window was a very familiar person. A girl. I knew I knew her. When I walked up a bit closer, my instinct was right. I did know her. What luck! It was Cheryl, sitting there with a girl who wore too much makeup.
"Hey. Cheryl," I said.
She turned around and looked up at me. Then she squinted. Maybe she couldn't see to well due to the hot glare of the sun on the shiny linoleum floor. It seemed to take a while.
"I know you right," she said.
"It's me. Max."
Cheryl stared out into space for a moment. "Max ..." she pondered.
"Remember? From the monster truck rally? I saved you from that jack-off ... I mean jerk-off, who was bothering you." That got her.
"Oh yeah. Max. Cool. How are you?"
"I'm good. What a beautiful day huh?"
"This is Angelina. We work together at the mall."
Oh boy, she introduced me to her friend. She really does like me. Angelina said a quiet "hi" and went back to her small plate of nachos. She looked kind of snotty.
"How's it going?" I had to ask.
"How come you never called?"
Boy that got me. I threw my hands in my jean pockets, shrugged, and looked around. "I ... was gonna call, but ... I uh ..."
"I did give you my number right?" she asked with some attitude. I was really boiling now. You know, like in hot water.
"Umm ... yes, you did. I, uh, I just kind of ... you know. Lost it."
"Ohh," she said. "I see. So, I guess I wasn't that important to you?"
"No, no! It's nothing like that. It's not even close to being that. It's just. Well ... I'm kind of disorganized. I have a hard enough time finding my shoes."
Both Cheryl and Angelina looked down. There I was, not wearing shoes, only my blue thongs. See, I was right.
"Well, I guess I'll forgive you," she said.
This was great. What a perfect day. The sun, the nachos, and now Cheryl. If Cheryl changes her name to Margarita, I will be on bended knee in no time.
"Cool," I said. "So, can I ask you out then?"
Cheryl was quiet for a moment after sipping her drink, then looked up at me and blurted out: "No."
Shock. That's all I can say about the state I was in when she said that. I thought she liked me. I was sure that she picked me out of a crowd and tried to get together with me. I thought just now she was being nice and forgiving me for not calling. Man, what do I know? She had a right to be steamed. Angelina was giggling a bit. Boy, I sure didn't like her much. And I don't even know her. I visualized Angelina in a pool filled with electric eels and no lifeguard on duty. It made me smile. But I was still pretty upset.
"Are you sure?" I had to ask.
"Oh yes. Very much. Next time, call a girl when they give you their number. Don't wait weeks later like most men seemed to have learned from bad frat-boy movies or something."
Well, there was not much I could do after she said that. The girl at the counter called my number and my nachos were ready. I walked, no moped over to the counter and grabbed the tray.
"What's wrong," asked Margarita. "A second ago you were all like happy and stuff."
"Yeah. But that was the old me. The new me is down in the dumps."
I strolled over to a table and sat down. The nachos kind of looked different. Not as good. Sort of tired and dull. I guess I lost my gusto after Cheryl told me off. The day was sunny all right, but it was just a day. People always ruin stuff for you.
I could see Cheryl and her rat friend Angelina gabbing and giggling over by the window. A good looking guy walked by and they made eye contact with him. He walked by slow and peered in at them. He smiled his perfect smile. She smiled back. He had muscles and a job somewhere. He came in and began to talk to them. Talk about twisting the knife slower. I was aching all over. Love stinks. I grabbed a huge chunk o' nacho and heaved it in. Then I slugged down my root beer.
The guy was perfect. I bet he never loses girls' phone numbers. I mean, I didn't lose hers, it was just ... ah, forget it. I kept eating my "celebration" meal. I decided that it was the celebration of the new me, the new Max Winsleydale! From now on, I'm gonna call girls when they give me their numbers. And be more organized.
"YEAH!" I found my self yelling out loud. The place got quiet again.
"Who's that?" asked the perfect guy.
"Just some loser asshole who can't find his shoes," said Cheryl.
I sat there, eating and planning my new life. Just me and Nacho Town, the rest will come easy.
"RIGHT! DON'T ANYONE FUCKING MOVE! STAY WHERE YOU ARE AND NOBODY GETS HURT!"
I looked up from my half-eaten plate and root-beer flavored ice to see what was going on. A guy in a red ski mask, bright Hawaiian shirt, cut offs, brandishing a shotgun, was standing by the side entrance. He moved toward the counter. Just great.
"Listen up people! Stay where you are and I wont have to use this thing! Put your wallets and valuables on the table and then stick your hands in the air!"
He sounded kind of menacing. That's the problem with my neighborhood. It attracts a bad crowd. Like folks think they can pass through, rob a Nacho Town, and still make the border by sundown.
"Hey you! Open the fucking cash register!"
He was yelling at Margarita, who looked terrified. I felt bad. I wanted to help. I didn't want to discover what a shotgun blast felt like. I'm kind of a pacifist.
Margarita opened the drawer and just sort of stared in, fumbling with bills. The ski mask guy helped himself to the contents. I guess she was moving too slow.
"Excuse me sir," came a voice from the back. "I am the manager here. We will cooperate with all of your demands." He was a chubby, brown skinned guy in a collared shirt. There was a sheen of sweat glisten on his head.
"Fuckin' A right," said our tormenter. "You got a safe around here?"
The manager shook a bit. "Nnnno."
That pissed the ski mask off. He cocked the gun and pointed it at him. Margarita was in the way, so she had the gun in her face. She began to cry. She was around 16, probably in high school at this job to buy gas and pay for shoes and a CD now and then. I felt really bad.
"Bullshit you beaner asshole! Go get the safe money! NOW!"
The manager walked off.
"And don't trip anything to let the pigs know I'm here! Or I'll start to randomly blow shit and customers away!"
Gosh, he was an angry sort and a bit of a racist. I always felt kind of sorry for racists. They had or have a bad way growing up. Lost and unloved. This guy made me depressed. I looked over at Cheryl. Boy, she was plenty scared. Her hands were in the air. So was her jerk buddy's. The male model tried to look tough, like some Viking protecting his fleet. What a dork. Deep inside, I could see his fear. His lower lip was spasming. I wanted to eat him. He'd taste like bullshit.
"All right people. Now here's what we're gonna do. I'm gonna walk around and collect your goodies, and you're gonna sit there and continue to be frightened of the bad man with the loaded shotgun."
He began to walk to tables. It was packed so he would make out with quite a load of cash. If he did make it to Tijuana, he would be all right for a week. Just lay low and find a beach somewhere and stay drunk. Then go back to Texas or California, rob, and go back. I kind of admired him.
The guy made the rounds, plopped wallets, wads of dough and watches and necklaces in the sack, which was pretty big and white. I wondered where one could get a sack like that.
"Hey, where's your money," he asked. It was the Calvin Klein poster boy. He kept his hands up and stared right into the eyes of the ski mask.
"I ... I don't have any."
"What? What the fuck did you say?"
"I don't have any. I was on break and came inside to talk to these ladies. My wallet is at the office."
The masked marauder began to laugh. It was a good laugh. Hearty and full.
"Alright man," he said. "That's cool. I want you to jump on this table and take off your clothes."
The model man didn't say a word. He just stood there, shaking a bit and looking around.
"Did you hear me?"
"What are you? Some kind of homo?"
The robber jumped in his face.
"Fuck you perfect boy! It was dickheads like you that always pissed me off! Think you can get away without giving me your money? Think you can impress these girls with your plastic body horseshit? You're so boring I can taste it. Now dance!"
The masked guy moved back. The good-looking guy took off his shirt. It was when that I caught the attention of the crowd, including the ski mask. I was laughing.
"What's your problem?" asked the criminal.
"Nothin'. I just wanted to do that since he got here," I said. "That was cool."
The ski mask slowly made his way over to me. He kept the shotgun on model man who was still disrobing. His criminal blue eyes were fixed on me. Finally he made it to my table.
"I hate the beautiful people," he said. "All through school and my life they always got the chicks, the jobs, the magazine covers, the general admiration. Folks like me got the shaft man. A shaft right in the ass."
I had my Velcro wallet and loose change on the table and my hands were up.
"See, I met that girl over there a month ago. I misplaced her phone number. Now she doesn't like me. Then the golden gorilla came by and made googly eyes at her. I woke up in such a good mood and now I'm bummed. Guys like that always get their way."
The ski mask relaxed a bit. "Fuckin' A right," he said. "Who needs chicks that need guys like that?"
The model guy was naked now, except for his jockey underwear, which were bright yellow.
"Did I say you could stop?" screamed the ski mask. "All the way GQ! Then get on the table and shake your rump."
"I didn't do anything to you. It's not my fault I look this way. I had to work hard to get my job," said the good looker. I kind of felt sorry for him then.
The ski mask looked down at me. "Are you finished with this?" he asked. I said yes. He then picked up my root beer and hurled it at the guy.
"Who in their right mind would wear underwear like that? Fuck it. I have work to do."
That's when the manager came out with a small bag. It was gray and zipped up. Now those I've seen.
"Here. This is all. I swear," said the manager.
The ski mask looked in.
"Fine, fine," he said. Then he swiveled around with the gun to let us know he was still in charge. Hands grew stiffer. Scared gasps of air from the crowd.
"Taco World is a lie and deceit! They use monkey meat for their beef. The cheese is processed and gross. The lettuce they buy comes from corporate fields forcing the small farmer to foreclose. You are all worthless cattle driven to the trough by manipulation!"
Then there was a bizarre silence. Or maybe it was me. Nobody said anything. They just kept their mouth shut and wished him away. I glanced around and the faces showed frailty and ignorance. I had nothing to lose.
"Hey man," I said.
The ski mask turned my way. He was about to empty the other register. "What?" and the gun was pointed at me.
"This isn't Taco World."
I could see the brows go down a bit. "What did you say?"
"This isn't Taco World. It's Nacho Town. Taco World is in the mall."
The robber paused, then looked around. He saw the red and yellow colors. Taco World is green and yellow. Close. He saw the sign, he looked at the menu, and he sized up the staff.
"Well shit," he muttered. "I thought ... ah, fuck it. All the same. Down with Nacho Village!"
"Nacho Town," I said.
"Boy, you better shut the fuck up, or I'm gonna blast you!"
He inched closer. I could then see the defeat in his eyes. He was around my age. I saw the bad grades and invisible parents, the smoking pot in a locked and dark room, the dreaming of boats and warm sand, the rejection, the other guys laughing, the unemployment. What I saw was me in a way. Except for the gun thing.
"No you won't," I said. "I'm just like you."
He walked closer. "I'm sorry, what was that?"
"You and me are alike. Lonely guys who just want life. Or at least a better one. To join the rat race would be to kill some vital organ deep inside right? To get a fine looking mama would mean a small victory for our side. But it just doesn't seem to work does it? It just won't come."
He stared at me for a while. The gun drooped a bit. He nodded.
"I like your T-shirt. I loved that movie."
"Remember the monster truck part? Sweet revenge."
We locked eyes for a second, like some weird Hollywood moment between us or something. Then he turned to the crowd.
"Keep your god damn hands UP!"
"Are you really some activist or do you just need the cash?"
"Both. It's appalling what Taco World does to small farmers and what they try to pass off as real food. That is true. So, I figured why not combine the two. Get some travel cash and make a statement. The
ex-jock screwjob over there is just a bonus. I never even heard of Nacho Town."
"It's good. Really. It's small too, only three stores."
The ski mask looked down at my plate; it was glowing with mouth-watering goodness. He then turned to the counter staff. "Hey! Make me a plate of nachos man! I wanna try this shit."
There was another silence.
"What would you like sir?" asked the manager. He was alright.
The ski mask turned to the menu. "Oh," he said.
He looked back and forth and made a series of "ums" and "hmms", then he turned to me.
"So what's good here?"
"Oh, I really like the Quetzalcuatal. But today I'm having the High on Myan."
"Why?" he asked.
"Because I'm celebrating this beautiful day."
The ski mask looked out. "Yeah. It's pretty alright."
"Would you just rob us and get out," yelled a voice. It was this group of kids that I hadn't even noticed. They were kind of punky, backward baseball caps and baggy pants. They were trying to be tough or something. They figured this guy had some soft spot so they went for it. They were wrong. The ski mask ran over and pointed the huge gun in their faces.
"One more fucking word from table five here and you will all have your caps pulled back yo! Under-fucking-stand?!!!"
The kids shook and rattled off yeahs. He loomed over them for a moment before returning to the counter.
"OK, give me a Quetzalcuatal. Who is your supplier?"
The manager looked perplexed.
"Your produce supplier buttlick! Who does Nacho Town buy produce from?"
"Oh ... from Magnolia Farms in Salinas. It is not corporate. Family owned since 1932."
"Good, good," said the ski mask. "That's fine. And what about the beef?"
"Anderson. Pure grade A beef all the way."
"Anderson? Aww man, they use steroids!"
"But our poultry is from Keck and Randol. Free range."
"OK. This place is cool. Sorry I hafta rob you though. It's kinda my job."
Just then a familiar face appeared. It was that guy Do. He walked in and saw all of the hands up. He heard only the bad Mexican-style Muzak coming from the small, crackling speakers. He saw the ski mask. He saw me.
"Oh Max. What is all this?"
"Hey! You! Sit down and put your hands up!"
But Do didn't do that. He split, real quick. Like a flash. The robber didn't have a chance. He chased after him but Do was down the street. Like grease-stained lightning.
"Shit! SHIT! SHIT!!!" cried the ski mask. "Now we're fucked."
"No. You are," I said.
"Look, I gotta get outta here. Can you make that order to go?"
The panic behind the counter grew kind of odd. Like they wanted to help this guy get out quick or something. People sure are strange.
"Look, where are you going?" I asked.
"What do you care," he spit back. He was busy collecting the last bit of wallets and such.
"I don't really. I just thought if you were heading for Mexico that I might come along."
That stopped him. The ski mask turned around and glanced at me. "Did ... I hear right? You're name is Max?"
"Uh ... yeah."
"You're not a cop are you?"
I just sort of looked at him, gave him this 'Now, would a cop dress like this?' stare.
"Yeah," he said. "Why do you wanna come with me? You look OK. I don't wanna give you some criminal record or anything."
"Don't worry about it. I need the vacation. It's such a beautiful day, I just thought a road trip to Mexico would be nice. Besides, I don't care if I lose my job. And Cheryl won't go out with me. She likes beefy idiots with yellow briefs."
"These are DKNY for men!" the model guy said.
Both ski mask and I said in unison: "Shut up!"
"Besides, I know this guy in Monterey. We could hang out there."
The counter folk scramble to give him his nachos. He takes the crinkly bag full of the steamy goodness and looks at me.
"You seem OK. You were right about all of that stuff you said about me earlier. I'm alright too. It's just that ... well, I have this violent streak. Always have."
I put my hands down, shove them in my pockets. Walked up to the ski mask.
"It's cool man. What you need is the sandy beaches of Mexico to calm you down. You have a good start with the nachos."
He looked down at the bag. "Yeah. Think of all the nachos we can get there. My name is Herb."
He shoved the nachos in with the loot, raises the gun, and turns to the crowd. "All right! Just keep them up until we are gone, OK. I want to thank you for your courtesy and your currency. Enjoy this warm and sunny day."
He turned to me and said, "Let's go."
"Wait," I said. "Before we go there are just two things that I need." I turned to Cheryl, who was looking beautiful with the sun halo around her golden hair and that stark look of terror.
"Look, maybe sometime I can call you. I have the number. We could meet up in Mexico."
"Fuck that man," said Herb. "She'll rat on us!"
"No she won't." I looked back at Cheryl. "Would you?"
She just kind of grinned a bit. There was a different feel to her. Her eyes lit up the place, took the place of the sun for a bit. That first glance and trust she gave me a month back returned and shot over all of the fear and violence behind me.
"No. I won't tell. I love Mexico."
My heart jumped. I knew I would find love and happiness at Nacho Town. Always have. When they started building it, the whole place just felt right. It was a strange kismet of emotion. Sometimes you just know when something good is going to happen. Nacho Town just had that feel to it, in all of its plastic yellow and red, oily glory. To boot, I made a new friend. On top of that, I had a giggle at the good looking model guy, who represented all of my past torment. The jocks, the ladies men, the gigolos, the rich and powerful, the sensitive artist types, all of them who ruined a good mood or possible date. Nacho Town is pure magic. I sure was gonna miss it.
"C'mon man. Let's go!"
I could hear sirens up the street. I backed away. "I'll call you."
"You better," she said.
Herb had the side door open. I met up with him.
"Oh wait," I said. "There was another thing."
I jumped over the stainless steel counter and headed for the cheese bins. There was a line of them. They ranged from Mild to Mas Caliente. The guys in the back would cook up the cheese then pour the liquid heaven into the bins where the counter people would poured it on the chips by plunging this handle down. I had to have one.
"Look, if we're gonna do this, let's do this right."
"Well hurry the fuck up man. Mexico is waiting."
I went for the Mas Caliente. I grabbed the sides of the bin and lifted. It was heavy. It was full of spicy, drippy wonder. I tried to manage, but couldn't. Just then, a kid from the back came out. He grabbed the front and the back while I still maintained the sides. Together we made it. It came out of the slot with a heave and I held it tight against my chest. It was warm and smelled like home.
"Thanks man. You're the best. You all are the best. I'm gonna miss this place, and all of you. Especially you Margarita. You were always so nice."
Margarita had a look of surprise. She then smiled. "You were our best customer," said the manager.
"Sorry I'm taking this. I just want one souvenir."
"We can always order another one."
With that, Herb and I headed out. The cops were right behind us but we managed to make it out of town. By nightfall we were through the border and in Tijuana.
"You were right about those nachos," said Herb. "Fuckin' great."
"And we have more to come. As long as the bin holds out."
Herb was alright. Kind of scruffy and desperate, but a good guy and a lot of fun. We made out with almost two grand. Not bad. We got really drunk that night and headed to the coast in the morning. We lived in a shack for three weeks by the beach. Hung around. Eventually, the money ran out. So did the melted Nacho Town cheese. For extra cash I bartended at this beach-side cabana. Herb started to work on this fishing boat. I thought about going back to the old neighborhood, but I remembered Mrs. Halibute. I remembered how dirty it was. I decided to forget about it. But I never forgot Cheryl.
I called her one day and we spoke. A week later she was with us and she and I fell madly in love. Herb had to move on though and do what he had to do. He didn't say what or why or where, but we understood. Herb was, well, an outlaw -- that rare breed society could do without but needs desperately to keep the spice flowing in an otherwise drab existence. It was sad to see him go, but I knew we would see each other again. He rode off into the sunset, which reminded me of Nacho Town, all red and yellow, hot and full of magic. I missed Nacho Town; a mystical place that I would hopefully return to someday. But for now, we basked in the glory of our love and adventure and knew darn well there was something about that special day that brought us all together. It was just one of those necessary miracles I guess.
Cheryl and I married and had a daughter. We named her Margarita.