Snowstorm


The Big Snow of 1967

The Chicago snowstorm is more than just a meteorological event. For my brothers and me, this was the perfect time to go out to play in the snow and make snowmen and snow forts. We actually enjoyed staying out all day in the snow if possible. My mother would send me to the store so we could stock up on milk and bread. She was afraid the stores would run out of milk whenever she saw the first snowflake falling. I had to buy at least two gallons of milk and bread. We were tortilla eaters. We never really ate bread at home unless there was a snowstorm. So I had to buy as many loaves of bread as my mother could afford. We would eat sandwiches and toast for weeks after a snowstorm. My brother Jerry and I used to go door to door with shovels knocking to see who wanted us to shovel their sidewalk. We would earn some money that way. We watched Ray Rayner to see if our school would close for a snow day. But they never did. All the teachers at Holy Cross were nuns who lived in the convent next to the school and most of the students lived within a three-block radius anyway. Ray Rayner would announce school after school closing, but he never called out Holy Cross! Going to school cut into our snow playtime.

So it’s snowing now, and has been since early this morning. I’m hoping for an e-mail from UIC telling the their calling a snow day. But they can’t close down the campus because they also have a hospital. UIC has never shut down the campus for a mere snowstorm. Not even the Big Snow of 1967. So, I better get up early tomorrow morning so I can shovel my car out and drive to school. Actually, I don’t mind going to school in the snow. I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life, so I actually enjoy the snowfall. I enjoy shoveling the snow. As an adult, that’s how I now play in the snow. And I love it!

Burritos


I’ve mentioned this before, but burritos are not a traditional Mexican food. My abuelita never made even one burrito in her entire ninety years on the face of this earth. Not even my mother made burritos. My father didn’t make burritos either and he used to cook up some weird combinations of ingredients that no one in our family ever ate even though he said it was delicious. Only my father would eat his concoctions, which were only made palatable by adding profuse amounts of salsa and/or jalapeño peppers. And sometimes even he didn’t finish the entire serving. Despite his creativity, he never neared anything resembling a burrito. I guess because no one had invented giant tortillas back then.

Flash forward to the present. Somehow, mysteriously, burritos became American fast food. Yes, I’ve been known to eat a burrito or two on the go. Unlike traditional Mexican food that must be eaten sitting a table–picture yourself eating tostadas with all the trimmings on top–the burrito is the perfect driving food! It is one of the staple foods of American youth today. Including my oldest son. I think my son loves burritos almost as much as me. I think I once saved his life by throwing away a three-week-old burrito he had in the refrigerator. So, last week, he says we should go out to eat together. You know, so we can catch up on things, which usually means we hurry up and eat and then pull out our smart phones and ignore each other. However, we really do enjoy our time together.

Anyway, we ate a place called El Famous Burrito¡ with the exclamation point upside down at the end of the sentence instead of the beginning!  We were in a hurry and there was parking out in front, at Madison and Peoria. The most eye-opening revelation of our whole fine dining experience was learning that burritos could come in different sizes! They were offered in large, medium, and mini. But the mini burrito looked more like an egg roll! When I used to eat burritos before my son was born, they only came in one size. Large! I would usually eat one burrito along with three tostadas. Now, I don’t always finish a burrito. So I ordered a medium. Well, the medium was just right for me. Although back in my younger days, I’m sure I would have ordered something else. But these burritos passed the most important taste test of all. They tasted Mexican!

Tortillas in space


 

Tortillas de Chicago

Well, I was watching the ABC World News the other night when the announcer told me not to go away because the next segment would feature the latest space shuttle mission to repair the Hubble space telescope. Of course, I continued watching because I have always been fascinated by space stories and not because I was merely obeying the announcer’s order to stay tuned. So they talked about how the astronauts trained for the mission and how they picked different foods over the course of a year. The astronauts got to choose foods they liked, but the foods had to be practical. I was extremely surprised that one food to make the trip to outer space was the tortilla, which the astronauts really liked. And it was practical because it didn’t leave many crumbs and they take up less space than bread. I really didn’t think the NASA would be all that concerned about space since they can fit the Hubble space telescope, the size of a school bus, in the cargo bay. Bread wouldn’t take up that much space. Besides, they were going to outer space that extends to infinity. Or even further. But tortillas beat out the bread anyway. Knowing the average intelligence of the average American, I would be surprised if any Americans even know that tortillas are the staple food of México.

There's no such thing as a stale tortilla.

La cocina


enchiladas
Enchiladas suizas

In Mexico, I was surprised when my cousin handed me a bag of potatoes and a potato peeler. She actually wanted me to peel potatoes! In the past, whenever I went to Mexico, I was never allowed in the kitchen while the women cooked. So I sat down at the kitchen table and actually peeled potatoes while my cousin and my aunt prepared the New Year’s Eve dinner. Amazingly, there were two other males in the kitchen helping with the cooking. Mexico is changing. I remember when I was a boy and my mother and aunts were making tamales, I got kicked out of the kitchen while they were preparing the tamales. Once my mother made tortillas and she let me roll one tortilla, but then she kicked me out of the kitchen. My abuelita never even let me try to cook anything when she lived with us in Chicago. Now that I think back, most Mexicanas always tried to discourage me from helping in the kitchen. But I think that it’s a conspiracy. Because then when you meet American girls, one of the first things they ask is, “What can you cook?” And if you ever go to their place for dinner, they test your culinary talents by making you help with the dinner. They’ll let you cook the entire meal if you’re able. But if you’re like me and grew up in a traditional Mexican family, you won’t be able to do much more than warm up tortillas! And they’ll settle for you washing the lettuce.

Wow! That was deep!

Rebeca


Con mi prima Bequi en su fiesta de graduación, México DF.

One of the highlights of my trip to Mexico was going to my cousin Becky’s college graduation party! Becky invited me last summer when I visited with my sons, so I planned to go to México for it. She graduated as an engineer in December and from now on she will be addressed by her official title of ingeniera. As part of her curriculum, she had to learn English because it’s an international business language. So when she couldn’t take courses she needed in Spanish because they were closed, she would take them in English. We went to see The Day the Earth Stood Still, El día que se detuvo la Tierra in Spanish, and Becky insisted that we see it in English with Spanish subtitles. In many Mexican theaters you have the option of watching movies dubbed in Spanish or in the original English language with Spanish subtitles. Unlike when I was boy, the movies come out at the same time in Mexico as in the U.S.

This was such a cool graduation party! We went to the Ex-Convento de San Hipólito near the Zócalo in downtown México City. There is a courtyard in the middle of the building, but they put up a temporary roof in case it rained. We arrived at 9:30 pm, even though the party officially started at 9:00, and many graduates and their guests were still arriving. Becky had a table for ten reserved for her. Her parents, my cousin Mara and her husband Enrique, Becky, six of Becky’s friends, and me sat at that table. There was a DJ playing music until the evening program began. A few students gave speeches and each table cheered on their graduate. Click on the link below to hear Becky’s. And, of course, there were Mariachis. Everyone who wanted to drink brought their own liquor. The waiters for our table would then mix our drinks. We had tequila, so the waiter made me a Paloma, tequila with Squirt (Esquirt in México). This custom was something foreign to me. For some strange reason, one of the waiters kept speaking to me in English. The waiters served us our dinner, but I can’t even remember what we ate! After dinner, there was dancing. Everyone danced except me. That is until Mara asked me to dance. My cousin-in-law Enrique commented that I danced like an American because I didn’t raise my hands above my head.

Each graduate was seated at a table for ten, for family and guests. Throughout the night, tables would cheer on their graduate. They would erupt into cheer unexpectedly. Click the link below to hear our table cheering Rebeca proudly.

http://davidrodriguez.us/media/Becky.aiff

The party roared all night long. About 6:30 am, the waiters started asking us if we wanted coffee and chilaquiles, fried tortillas with eggs. That was the one thing I loved about the party. We didn’t have to forage for food after the party as we usually do in Chicago. As the evening progressed, the waiters became friendlier with us and talked with us when they weren’t busy. The one who spoke English to me was especially friendly. I told him I could tell he had lived in the U.S. At first he denied it, but then admitted to living and working in Las Vegas for about eight years. But he came back to Mexico because he missed his family. I asked him why he spoke to me in English. He told me that he thought I was Canadian! Go figure!

Well, the party was a lot of fun! When we got home, we immediately went to bed because when we woke up, we were driving to Ixtapa Zihuatanejo!

Mexican food


Now this is real Mexican food in America!

While in Mexico with my sons, we ate a lot of Mexican food. Even though I had warned them in advance that Mexican food in Mexico was different from Mexican food in America, my sons were shocked that everyone served them Mexican food. But it was nothing like what they had expected. They were surprised that very few restaurants served steak tacos (de carne asada). And all the food was cooked with the spices already in them. They didn’t want any spicy food. They didn’t even want to try the tamales because they had never seen them or heard of them before, although you really can’t have a Mexican party in the U.S. without tamales. It’s the law. When we were at a Mexican restaurant while we were on the road, I also warned them not to expect the waitress to put a basket of tortilla chips on the table. That’s an American custom!

The last time I went to Mexico in December, I didn’t worry about food because I was alone and I adapt well to different environments.  I ate everything my family served me, causing my one cousin to note that I was really Mexican. Anyway, feeding my sons posed a unique challenge. My cousin suggested taking them to a pushcart vender who sold hot dogs and hamburgers our first night in Celaya. I thought it was an excellent idea. Until I saw the vender preparing a wiener with a strip of bacon wrapped around it. I thought for sure that my son wouldn’t like it. But he ate it and said that he liked the way the hot dog tasted with bacon. We also went to Pizza Hut, Burger King, and McDonald’s quite often while in Mexico, much to my disappointment. I really thought that I would get away from fast-food restaurants for a while. Well, I wanted to take my sons so they could experience Mexico, and despite the culture shock, they enjoyed the trip and said they would go back again. 🙂

The peppers are so hot!

Moving to Mexico


Could I actually live in a condo in a tourist area? I don't think so!

Over the years, I have had one identity crisis after another. The identity crisis recurs most often is the one in which I can’t decide if I should live in Chicago or Mexico because I’m not sure if I’m Mexican or American. Sometimes I feel as if I don’t belong here in the U.S. because I feel so Mexican and like a foreigner here. When I’m Mexico, I feel very comfortable there. Of course, that could be merely because I’m a guest there and the excitement and the newness of my being there hasn’t worn off yet. If I stayed much longer, everyone might not be as friendly toward me. I’ve mentioned to some of my friends that I was thinking of moving to Mexico and they immediately offered to help me pack! Wow! What friends!

I went to Mexico when I was 22 and I seriously considered staying there. But then I realized that I would have to get a job in order to support myself. But Mexicans don’t really want foreigners coming in and taking away their jobs. Besides, I didn’t really want to work a back-breaking job in Mexico when I already had a back-breaking job in Chicago. So I went back home to Chicago. However, I often daydreamed about living in Mexico.

Now, I am actually in a position where I can afford to move to Mexico since I have a small pension. I now have to work a job in order to live comfortably in Chicago, but I could live more than comfortably if I moved to Mexico. And I won’t have to work at all if I lived in Mexico. I could sit at home all day writing blog entry after blog entry. Wait, that’s what I’m doing now! But I have to teach in order to supplement my pension. In Mexico, I would always find something to keep me busy since they do have the Internet down there. And I wouldn’t be lonely because I have a lot of family in Mexico in several cities. Our family, both on my father’s and mother’s side, was very prolific. That’s why Rodriguez and Martinez are some of the most common Spanish last names in the world. So I wouldn’t be lonely. And even though I’m American, Mexicans–my family in particular–consider me Mexican, sort of. Since I’m American, everyone in Mexico was surprised that I spoke Spanish and ate tortillas. I’m glad that Mexicans thought of me as a Mexican, at least most of the time.

When I go back to Mexico in July, I’ll take another look at where I could possibly live in Mexico. I really love Celaya, Guanajuato, the home of my father’s family. It’s a fairly big city with a small-town feel to it. And, I have an uncle, two aunts, and fifteen cousins who live there! Plus, there’s a university in the city where I could possibly find a teaching position if I ever have the urge to teach again. That would be quite an adventure for me. So now I’m struggling to redefine myself and resolve my latest identity crisis. I’m sure that this time I’ll find myself. Or, maybe not.

¿Dónde debo vivir? ¿Chicago o México?

Going to Mexico


Some of my home cooking.

Okay, I’ve been preparing my sons to go to Mexico. They’re still excited about going even though I told them that in Mexico everyone speaks Spanish. My oldest son used to speak Spanish when he was little because I always talked to him in Spanish and he went to Cordi Marian and was taught by Mexican nuns. The twins are learning Spanish in school now. For the past few years, I’ve tried to get them to speak Spanish at home, but they won’t. If they sneezed, I said, “Salud” and they were supposed to respond, “Gracias.” But they wouldn’t. Ever since I told them that we were going to Mexico, they speak a little Spanish with me. I’m glad their attitude has changed a little bit. If I’m writing something in Spanish, Adam will read it aloud and ask me if he pronounced it correctly. I’m happy that they’re trying because now I know they really want to go to Mexico.

I’ve also tried to explain some of the cultural differences between our two countries.They shouldn’t have any problems, but I want them to know in advance that they shoul expect some differences. They probably won’t play any video games while we’re in Mexico. But my sons are very adaptable. They’ll manage somehow. We’ve taken driving vacations before and we always adapt to every situation. I’m really not worried about much. Well, except maybe Montezuma’s Revenge. If they get it, I hope they get it right away and they won’t get too ill. After that, they’ll build up their immune system. I warned them about how the food will be different, too. We won’t be going to McDonald’s or Burger King once we cross the border. They won’t see a burger or chicken nugget until we get back to the U.S. And, all the food will be spicy. In Mexico, even the candy is spicy. On Sunday mornings, I make huevos con chorizo and tell them to eat them with tortillas because that’s how Mexicans eat–without silverware. So far, they’re still excited about going to Mexico.

Speed Racer


Great movie theater snack!

I love going to the show. And I love to spend quality time bonding with my sons. If I can do both simultaneously, I feel like I have accomplished greatness. At least in my own eyes.

When I compare myself to my twelve-year-old twins, I realize that they’re much more mature than me because emotionally I’m ten. When Horton Hears a Who came out as a movie, I wanted to see it with my sons, but they refused to see it because was a kiddy movie. I was rather disappointed to miss seeing Horton Hears a Who because I remembered really enjoying reading the Dr. Seuss book and watching the TV special as a boy. So I’ve missed out on some very good movies just because my sons thought they were childish. But I never once threw a tantrum.

Anyway, last week I brought up going to see Speed Racer and my sons instantly refused. I was rather disappointed because I remembered watching Speed Racer as a cartoon show on TV when I was a kid. Today, I finally talked them into seeing it. As we drove to the show, they didn’t seem too happy. I knew I was pressuring them to see it.

Well, that got me to thinking about how I used to watch Speed Racer after school. Then, I remembered that I didn’t actually like watching Speed Racer. But my brothers and I had this policy that whoever arrived home first from school could pick the first show to be watched. After that we would all vote on the next show to be watched. If Danny arrived home first, he would watch Dark Shadows. I was the only one who didn’t like Dark Shadows. I liked comedies. After that, everyone except me voted to watch Speed Racer. I remember now! I hated watching Speed Racer! And now I was driving with my sons to see the movie version of Speed Racer at the show.  Well, it was too late to tell them that I didn’t want to see it. However, as I drove, I realized that I liked the show, but I was just upset that my three brothers had voted against me.

But back to the movie today. My sons didn’t seem too happy about going to see Speed Racer today.  Well, I wasn’t either after I recalled all the surrounding cirmcumstances. However, I was determined to have fun with my sons. So we watched the movie with mixed feelings. Once the movie started, we were captivated by the music, the story line, and all the color graphics. Plus, I snuck in a bag of authentic tortilla chips for us to eat during the movie. (I’m becoming more like my father with each passing day!) We talked about many of the movie details afterwards. We really enjoyed the movie! We were all surprised at how much better it was than we had expected. Plus, I think we all grew a little closer through this bonding experience!

Taco Loco


You can’t go to Taco Loco anymore. But I often do. If only in my mind. I remember it well. On the corner of the public parking lot at the northeast corner of Wabash and Balbo, in the shadow of the Conrad Hilton Hotel. Sacrificed to expand the parking lot and Chicago’s dwindling parking availability with four more parking spaces. I should post a picture to show you where it used to be. In the 1960s, we often drove past it. We, as Mexicans, always wondered who would name a Mexican restaurant Taco Loco. We never ate there because Mexicans didn’t eat at Mexican restaurants in the 1960s. They only worked there. In fact, I never even heard of any Mexicans ever eating in a restaurant. If we ate outside of the house it was at someone else’s home or we brought our own tortillas, bolillos, carnitas, peppers, and salsa. When my parents divorced, my father would pick us up for visitation in his flourescent-avocado-green 1971 Ford Maverick. Sometimes we would drive southbound on Wabash past Taco Loco. I was always curious about Taco Loco, a small, white brick building that didn’t look very well-maintained. In fact, it always looked like it was about to fall over until they knocked it down.

As an adult, when I could finally do everything that was prohibited by my parents, I finally went to Taco Loco. I loved their food. Let’s just say that forbidden fruit tastes the best! No one who worked there was a native English speaker, if you know what I mean. Luckily, I spoke Spanish. I ate there whenever I was downtown. The food was really cheap, too, especially if considered that this was a downtown restaurant. In 1992, during the World Cup semifinals, I was eating, sitting near the window. I saw some drunken soccer fans across the street, waving German flags and singing German songs. Suddenly, they ran out of songs to sing and they started shouting, “Baseball sucks!” They were scaring me. Luckily, they didn’t see me and their bus came right away.

When I taught Spanish at Columbia College Chicago, I often ate there after class. Then one day, the Spanish coördinator told me that I had to take my Spanish classes on a field trip. I wasn’t sure where to take them. When I tried to arrange a trip, we couldn’t agree on a time because every student was a full-time student. And many of them also worked. Talk about complications. So I’m sitting in Taco Loco eating enchiladas when it occurred to me that I could take them to Taco Loco! We were only a block away from our classroom and we could meet in Taco Loco instead of going to class. This actually worked out well for everyone. Since Taco Loco was open 24 hours, we met there for our 9:00 a.m. class. Everyone ordered their food in Spanish from the non-English-speaking waitress and they spoke Spanish as much as possible. Even the Spanish coördinator liked our destination for the field trip. No one else had ever thought of going to Taco Loco. I guess I’m just a trailblazer. I can’t help it. 🙂

Where did Taco Loco go?