We shuffle past the whores lining the parking lot and head toward the entrance. They’re dirty men and women—mostly young, but not all. Desperate sorts who will do just about anything you ask for a burrito or a bowl. I say “just about” because every once in a while, you’ll hear one of them putting on airs. “I ain’t about all that, gov’nor. I just need a couple a dollars to get a bowl until I get a job inside. Then I’ll be eatin’ fine, I will.” They’re always the newer ones. The ones who haven’t learned that no respectable high-end Mexican grill chain is going to hire anyone who doesn’t even have a phone to mobile order with. These are society’s forgotten diners, looking for a tub of salsa to salve their hunger.
It’s a sensory assault. A collection of smudged faces, bad smells, and horrific sounds. I start to question whether this was an ideal location for a first date, but she had told me that she wanted to know about my life. Beautiful and sharp, she easily outclasses the other diners, who are mostly lonely businessmen from out of town. She struggles with the menu, unfamiliar with the various options of rice, beans, meats. I explain to her the merits of each salsa and suggest that she not get too adventurous on her first outing. “If all goes well, you’ll be eating this food half a dozen times per week.” If she finds that she can’t handle the rich assortment of ingredients, it could destroy the fragile romance.
She does a competent if not perfect job of ordering. It’s not what I would have ordered, mind you, but she avoids all of the pitfalls that I would consider “dealbreakers.” When the cashier rings up the order, I scan the app and receive double my usual points. She has enough to take home, so I ask for a lid. “Bowls without lids tend to spill.” I can’t remember who said it first, but it’s become somewhat of a cliché in the circles I run in.
When we leave, the tortilla urchins have been replaced by harsh men wearing black and white pajamas. There are two panda vans with metal grates on the windows instead of glass. Dirty hands extend towards us as we walk by. These roundups always seem needlessly brutal, but if you say anything—if you try to step up to the panda patrol—they’ll pin a charge to your chest. If you have the money, they may take it back but there are no guarantees.
“You fine folks needn’t worry about the likes of them,” says one of the older men with mock politeness. “You just dodder off to your buggy and leave the enforcin’ to us.”
I tell the car to bring us home and it reverses from the parking space. Once we’re clear of the lot, she asks me whether I think it’s worth. “It’s just a meal,” she says.
“No, baby. It’s Chipotle.”