The Absurd and Amazing Adventures of Cafe Girl: Waiting For Dinner at Baja Fresh

August 20, 2009

Waiting For Dinner at Baja Fresh

I found myself at the Baja Fresh blocks from my house at 8PM on a Thursday night. I had an inexplicable craving for Mexican and alcohol right in the middle of Very Expensive Therapy, so on the way home I stopped by the Baja Fresh, ordered a Triple Taco plate with black beans and rice and gave my credit card to the cashier.

As I waited for my dinner, I realized that there was some hold up in the line that had formed. There was an Indian family in line, Father, Mother and pre-teen son. The Father was trying to understand what exactly came with a Triple Taco plate -- what's in it, how much did it cost? He had a stack of coupons with him and handed each one to the guy at the register. When they finally ordered, they didn't want any rice or beans, made exactly sure that the coupon was applied to their meal, and then tried to use a second coupon.

The guy at the register squirmed uncomfortably, trying to explain that each coupon had to be applied to a separate meal, that some coupons could not be used together. The Father didn't seem to understand why when a coupon said $1.99 tacos with a purchase of one meal, it didn't apply to the one meal he just purchased -- using another coupon. Between trying to get the cashier to accept the coupon, the Father muttered to the Mother in their native tongue.

Meanwhile, his son, back half turned from his family, stared off into space, face a complete blank.

I know that look. That look, to the world, is a complete blank slate, but what it really hides is acute embarrassment. If I could have put thought bubble over the boy's head, it would have read, "My parents embarrass me. I wish I were somewhere else."

I know only because I had that look pretty much all of growing up. Twenty years ago, this would have been my family. Except that it would have been my mother arguing with the cashier and my father standing mutely beside her. My parents would have ordered a Mexican plate without the quintessential Mexican rice and beans. They would have tried to use multiple coupons on the same meal and thought that it was ridiculous coupons had to be used one at a time. They would have eaten tacos and decided that Chinese (or my mother's cooking to be exact) was much better. They would have declared never to patronize a Baja Fresh, or indeed, any other Mexican fast food restaurant again.

Meanwhile, I would have sat with them, my face a complete blank, my mind a million miles away wishing that my body could somehow find a way to the magical place (read sans parents) my mind had conjured.

Twenty years later, I actually have managed to place my being an entire continent away from my parents. My mind no longer has to conjure some magical place to escape to. I'm in Los Angeles, the land that conjures up countless methods of escape from reality.

Except, twenty years later, after my initial wave of embarrassment on behalf on that boy, I found myself sympathizing with the Father. I found myself thinking that perhaps times were hard. And perhaps the trip to Baja Fresh was indeed a treat that could only happen with the help of coupons. I could see how American English and the intricacies of fine print are confusing for someone who may never have had coupons as part of their culture. And perhaps, they just didn't enjoy rice and beans.

Most of all, I was struck by how easily I could walk into a fast food joint on a whim and order whatever I wanted without thinking twice about it. Twenty years ago, my parents would have ordered two meals and shared it among our family of four. They probably could have afforded a meal for each of us, but it would have been a waste to order more food than we were able to consume. Now I order a meal all for myself and throw out the leftovers. It struck me that I used to mock the frugality of my parents but now, twenty years later, I wonder if it's a trait I should start to cultivate in myself, even if my future children mock me for it.

Twenty years later, I've not just grown up. I think I may have actually grown.

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