My heart and stomach ache today. It was dark last night, unusually brisk. We took a long drive and dreamed of food. We had a happy night. On the way back, I was crying. It happened so fast. If I’d just known, I kept thinking to myself, what if I’d just paused the last time and pulled into the driveway to say hello?
(Photo Credit: Kathy Ford)
At 7:41, last night, when we were driving, my beloved Mexican restaurant, Mi Tierra, caught aflame. They say it could have started from the laundromat next door. They say that maybe, it was a gas leak. Whatever the cause, there were sixty firefighters. One injury. No fatalities. Mi tierra. My land. My earth. My spot.
By midnight, the plaza was gone.
I went through a period of mourning last night. I called it an existential slump, starting with the potential realization that the best tacos in the world were wrenched from my grasp, and ending with the consideration of knowing that it was just the beginning. It starts with tacos, but it will continue ruthlessly, with houses, love, work, pets. Life. I suppose it ends when I do. I flipped though my phone with numb fingers, unable to sleep. Of the 1,296 photos on this- and mind you, this is my new phone, eight of them were roughly the same. Three tacos. A margarita. Extra salsa verde. This was my routine. This was what I loved.
I grew with Mi Tierra. Of course, they were there before I was, how long, I cannot say. They were there when I arrived and they were there when I left. I like to think that we went through a sweet development together until we arrived at our best selves, from the misspellings on the menu gradually corrected over time (“spacy” pork tacos was a favorite) to the short-lived stint of graphic design featuring a full-page color spread of an eagle soaring over a Mexican desert, not unlike my own quickly retired and equally terrible graphic tees. Eventually, they settled on a solid concept. The spelling was perfect, the prices were still damned good. The drinks were strong.
It was punctuated by beautiful, tragic firsts and lasts. I was introduced to Mi Tierra vis-à-vis my first, and only college boyfriend, a perpetually depressive linguistics graduate student with hair like Jesus and two cats. After discovering that there was more to Mexican food than the barbecue chicken quesadillas at the dining hall, I took everyone I knew there. My dad would drive up and speak with the waitresses in Spanish.I started with a blurry, scratched flip phone and graduated to a digital camera, a DSLR.
It was the final thing I ate before I left for Paris, and the first thing I ate upon my return.
I had one of my first dates with Miss Love there, and one of our last.
Before my moped was stolen, my favorite excursion was to the restaurant, winding down Route 9 on my zippy little bike to pick up full soda cups of salsa verde. The first time I asked for it, they were quizzical. The next time, they knew what to expect. And almost every time after, they would have it ready for me after I walked in the door.
After a fumbled series of relationships, I’d bring a reluctant stranger there, or just come alone, relishing the feel of a cold, slick margarita glass around my fingers. I spent three Cinco de Mayo holidays there, where getting a table was harder than getting front-row seats to Ani DiFranco in Northampton. Swagger and Dillinger would sometimes bookend me, eating six tacos to my three and pouring endless beer. One cold winter night, I sat, transfixed, with Miss Love, and we watched the entirety of the infamously awful Bloodsport II: The Next Kumite on a blurry monitor while football fans crowded the next room.
It was a special place. I figured that if it went, it would go in its own time, and that when notice came, I’d be first in line to claim a leather horse head or enormous ceramic pig as a souvenir of beauty in a small, cozy space. I imagined telling people who asked,
“It’s got a good story— quite a few of them, in fact.”
The Bedfellow and I rued never going there enough together, relishing in the last time we were there. It was rushed, we had a play to catch, and we wolfed down our food, happily, vibrantly. The chairs hugged our bodies and the food made us whole. It comforted me. We passed by it on our way to the Lord Jeff the other night, as I marveled at the new developments in the Valley since my move.
“Good,” I said, “Mi Tierra is still here.”
What saddens me most is the perpetuation of mediocrity. If Mi Tierra goes, the average will remain, festering, persistent. The pubs will stay, the commercial Tex-Mex will flourish. Only a few will remember the sweet little joint in the strip mall. I woke up in the morning feeling a little less bright, like a light in my world had dimmed slightly, a loss in my pleasure and a rumble in my stomach that couldn’t quite be satisfied. I’m saddened- this is the end of something, but of what, I don’t know. Certainly not Mi Tierra in spirit and spice. I think they’ll be okay. They’re active on Facebook, they’re hopeful for their future. I want them to be okay. They’re strong and resilient, and damn it, if they can pick up the pieces, I can, too.
Next time, I’ll want it more. In the meantime, Jorge, Dora, and the entire staff of Mi Tierra are on my mind. If anyone has any information about fundraising or crowd support, I’d be grateful to hear it. And you can bet you’ll see me, first in line, whenever and wherever they open. Three tacos, one margarita. Extra salsa verde on the side.