From Ciao to Chuy's in 24 Hours

August 2001

There travels a young rebel named Jack
On the road, packing only a sack.
No one knows his location
Save one friend in the nation,
So send mail to Jack, care o’ Wack.

(Van Horn, TX)   Pulled into town about 1:30pm, after leaving Phoenix at 3:15am. Terrific clear sky star scenery. Decided not to kill myself driving back, plus I wanted to watch the final round of the PGA championship, so I stopped. Very ironic that David Toms beat Phil Mickelson by one shot when he ‘gambled’ by ‘playing it safe’ on the last hole. (Note: good example of “irony”, vs. a simple coincidence which most people mistakenly label as “irony”.)

Sat outside on my bike this evening, becoming part of the cool summer’s sunset behind the mountains, licking a peppermint ice cream cone next to the Fast Stop Phillips 66 service station’s “Sweet 16 Ice Cream Parlor” on the near-deserted dusty old highway, a few hundred yards off I-10. Aren’t too many places left where you can get the full-scale “Lonesome Doppler Effect” of a passing car.

Kept thinking about my predicament … I haven’t worked in 4 months, I sold my house, put my stuff in storage, don’t have a place to call ‘home’, the money from the house sale is going fast … but for now, I can pretty much do whatever I want. No, it’s not THAT so much … it’s more like, I don’t HAVE to do anything I DON’T want to do. But after I get Stacy moved to college on Wednesday, I’ve got to figure out something – Cheryl will want me gone after Stacy leaves. And sooner or later I’ve got to do something to make some money. But like Scarlett shaking her fist in the potato field, I vow I’ll never go back to a “just-a-job” job like I just quit. I followed Johnny Paycheck’s advice — I took the job and shoved it. It felt — and it still feels — good. But what do I reach for now, now that I’ve shoved away that shitful job? I don’t know.

Ate at the locally-famous Chuy’s (“You missed Chuy’s! Turn back 2 blocks”, the sign said), a short bike ride from the Econolodge. The sign out front proclaims: We’re not affiliated with any other Chuy’s restaurants! As if anybody would ever confuse them with the chain. Went there because they had a patio. I wanted to continue to experience the evening’s sunset and thought an outdoor margarita, chips and dip would sit nicely atop the peppermint ice cream. Asked the guy (was that Chuy, I wonder?) for a margarita and he said it would have to be a “wine margarita”. Whatever that is. He didn’t offer chips but gave me a menu, so I glanced at it and ordered a combination burrito for $1.99, just like at Taco Bueno. (Except this place had actual metal silverware that looked like it might have been held pretty close to a dishwasher sometime in the past calendar month.)

The menu included an insert of a photocopied 6-year old newspaper article about how the Van Horn Chuy’s had been mentioned by John Madden (the football analyst on TV) on his “All Haul Team”. Madden doesn’t fly anywhere, instead he tools around the country in a custom-designed bus and apparently samples a lot of off-the-beaten-path places. I read the article twice, and it wasn’t clear to me that he necessarily liked the place, but it was clear to me he found it … unique.

No need for “Upon further review …” on that call.

The guy (Chuy?) brought out a basket of chips with the drink and burrito. Store bought. The ‘dip’ (I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt) came in a clear plastic squirtable bottle like cafes normally use for diluted ketchup. The “wine margarita” tasted like a Gatorade snow cone. Or, at least what I suspect a Gatorade snow cone would taste like if I had ever in my life come across one.

Van Horn’s the kind of place where two local families eat dinner out together and a teenaged boy actually participates in the conversation with the adults. Something having to do with the type of air filter that goes on a certain model of John Deere tractor. And the table couldn’t muffle their snickers when a too-neat-for-this-town traveler seated near them politely asked his waitress (Mrs. Chuy?) for an ashtray. I was right there with ’em, as if to say, “Mister, this whole damn place ain’t nuthin’ BUT an ash tray!”

What a difference from just 24 hours ago, when I was luxuriously finishing dessert at the trendy, upscale Cowboy Ciao ristorante in Scottsdale, Arizona, with my brother and his wife. And then just two days before that, when I sat at a Bally’s roulette table in Las Vegas at 3 in the morning, after four hours and four comp’ed Bourbon&Seven’s. Tonight I looked back on that, trying to figure out the right metaphor for the roulette wheel and my life. Haven’t figured out the odds yet.

I don’t know. But something about the ice cream, the bike, the cool sunset, and maybe even the Gatorade snow cone got me wondering if there might not be at least a few people I know who might feel a pang of envy at my freedom. (Yeah, that’s the ticket … like my old boss Frank Baumann used to say, “If you can’t fix it, feature it!”) There’s at least two people who have told me as much, that they enjoy keeping up with me because they “live vicariously” through my travails. Or was it my travels? Maybe both. Whatever. It sure as hell says something about THEIR lives to want to live anywhere NEAR mine.

But the thought tonight is, I think I’ll open up my diary/journal/whatever-it-is. Maybe it will help me get a better perspective on my plight to go back through my various notes and stuff with an eye/ear toward making it public, in some kind of context. Maybe it’ll amuse a few folks. And instead of feeling guilty for not communicating more with everybody, I can reply to all those “What’s up with you?” questions by referring them to my online diary with the challenge … “You REALLY want to know what’s going on with me? You’re sure you REALLY want to know?”

Heh, heh.

p.s. Make sure to give everybody who got the limerick a nice virtual wack on the back … 🙂