Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Back to the Basics

I live in an urban neighborhood that's trying to turn into an artist's enclave, but it's not quite there yet.
In fact, I am about the only non-100% Mexican American in the 'hood. Still, I like the diversity and all the fucked up, low rider cars and the mix of poverty with Muppies moving in and fixing up their houses.
About a quarter mile from me is the Deco District H-E-B, a supermarket that's part of a huge chain here in Texas.
For fancy groceries, I travel four miles away to H-E-B Central Market, where they have 700 kinds of beer, 20 varieties of apples and 1,000 kinds of cheese. But for bread and soy milk and the usual box of cereal or case of water, the Deco District H-E-B suits me just fine.
I went out for a few groceries this evening, and there in front of the store was a Mexican man, likely illegal, tending a modest silver barbecue barrel. I asked what was in it and the man said, "Roasted corn." I ordered one and he asked what I wanted on it. He had chili powder, lime flavored chili powder, butter, lemon pepper, salt, black pepper and some kind of liquid reddish stuff that probably would take the paint off a car in two seconds flat.
I asked for butter only. No salt, nothing but butter, which was probably margarine anyway.
The man selected a large, perfectly roasted ear, jammed a nice clean stick in one end, cradled it in a piece of foil and squirted butter on one side. I reached out to get it and he said, "No, wait. I have to do the other side."
He painstakingly buttered the other side, folded the foil over it and handed it to me, along with a nice little white paper napkin. I gave him his two bucks, stuck it in my grocery bag and drove home.
Once I arrived home, I removed the foil and sprinkled some nice, grainy sea salt over it.
I bit into it and tasted sunshine and rain and buttery sweetness that can only be found in a perfect ear of spring corn. The kernels popped off the cob and into my mouth in neat rows.
Yeah, big deal, it was an ear of corn bought off a wetback for twenty times what it cost him.
But it represented the ingenuity of a simple man, scraping out a living by selling one modest product at a temporary location, probably breaking ten municipal laws in the process.
A Mexican American wouldn't waste his time selling corn in front of a grocery store, not when he can earn $17 an hour at the local Toyota plant.
With all the hatred from the right aimed toward illegals, it seems clear they've never experienced the innocent pleasure of a perfectly roasted ear of corn, bought off a card table next to a 50-gallon drum turned into a barbecue pit.
They cannot appreciate the entrepreneurial skills of a man with a stake of next-to-nothing.
But I can, and I did.
And for only two bucks, my one-item dinner tonight was absolutely delicious.


lulu maude said...

Delightful post. I'm reading this as the lunch hour approaches, and yes, I do feel lust in my heart.

I love street food, anyway. There's a big fire-oven in a park near here, and various bakers take it over for the day, offering fresh-baked bread. When the town office started to get twitchy about it, one of the bakers ran for selectboard and won. Our supply of delicious bread will continue.

MJ said...

I've got my Tamale Lady. $1 a piece or 6 for $5. Mix and match beef, chicken or pork... piping hot from her cooler. Best goddamn tamales - Evah! I'm seriously crestfallen when she doesn't show up for a while.

Anonymous said...

Zipdrive here...

Man, mj, your tamale lady is making a killing. Here in San Antonio, a dozen meaty, not too greasy tamales come in beef, pork, chicken or bean for about $7 or $8 a dozen.
I find that about four, oven- reheated bean or beef tamales are just about as heavenly as Tex Mex can get.
I have about three favorite tamale joints here in town, each slightly different and suitable for every tamale craving nuance.

MJ said...

Just goes to prove that everything is more expensive in California... Sigh.

MJ said...

By the by, I was just in your fair city. Well, Boerne actually, but we did make into SA on Saturday night, just in time to sit in NIOSA traffic for 2 hours. Went to a place called "Next" I think it was? We were headed for Bonhams but couldn't get there because of the traffic. I love your part of Texas, I really do.

Anonymous said...

Roasted corn is the most underrated delicacy in the world. If someday corn can only be used to fuel our stupid cars, I'd rather walk.

Anonymous said...

I won't waste perfectly good corn in my gas tank.
I'd rather reduce my speed and drive 75 instead of 90.