Thursday, October 27, 2005

Something about seeing old friends...

... and being in familiar places from my younger years created an incredibley
strong, powerful, and absolutely undeniable urge to "go home". I needed to
see my hometown again. The beautiful little town that I was so fortunate to have
grown up in was calling out to me. I phoned my best friend, William, and asked
him to come along. He happily accepted my invitation and we arranged to leave
at 10 o'clock the next morning.
While I was getting ready to leave, I started to have second thoughts about
the idea, questioning the sanity and rationality of the trip. After all, I hadn't
been back to "Cucaracha" (as Willy had humorously nicknamed the place) in
over 10 years. But then again, I had never felt such a strong need to go back
either. When I heard Willy's car horn beeping from outside, I knew it was too
late to change my mind. Besides, it was the first time that Willy was on time for
anything since I met him. There were some sort of extraordinary
forces at play here. In a matter of minutes, we were zipping across the
metropolitan freeways and the hour and a half drive went by very quickly.
It was literally a trip down "Memory Lane" as we drove. I pointed out places
I worked in, schools I attended, bars I drank in when I was underage, and the
neighborhoods that I terrorized in my semi-deliquent years. We even stopped
in front of my old house for a few minutes.
Like I said, there were extraordinary forces at work here and when we got
hungry, a craving hit. It wasn't just any craving either. It was a craving for
something special, something unique, something uniquely "Cucaracha". We
walked into LIPUMA'S CONEY ISLAND just before the lunch crowd arrived.
When Bill Lipuma opened his restaurant 35 years ago, there weren't any of
those corporate giant fast food joints around. He perfected his recipes and
developed his menu with tender loving care. And when those fast food kings
and queens arrived, the real "townies" didn't even notice, they just kept eating
at Lipuma's. While my high school classmates raced off to the newly
erected Golden Arches, those of us with more refined tastes piled into my
Ford Galaxy 500 and sped down to the Coney Island. That car could comfortably
accomodate 8 people, and, it often did! I felt sort of nostalgic as I opened the front
door for Willy.
Hospitality that other places wish they could create was always the Lipuma
trademark. Warm and sincere, it's a rare commodity. We ordered, got the food,
and luckily, the best booth, in the back of the restaurant, was open. I looked up
from my taco and saw Bill Lipuma sitting at the "employee table", the one he
always sat at, with his son, Tony, hovering lovingly near his dad.
"You gotta add oregano and garlic to that soup!" Bill exclaimed. "That's the
I noticed that Bill wasn't dressed for work. He was retired, and Tony, whose grey
hair was filling in quite nicely, was obviously in charge. Bill just happened to have
stopped by that afternoon to tell Tony that he was heading up north on a "color tour".
He had the headset for his cell phone with him. He would leave his hearing aid
in his ear and turned on.
As William and I drove out of town, I felt as if a bridge between my past and
present had built, or rather, strengthened. Both my stomach and my heart were
filled. They were good tacos!