Last Spring I was in Chicago, waiting for some tortilla soup in a little Mexican restaurant near my friend Nayt’s apartment. It was my last night in town, and we’d had a mild disagreement, after which I told him that I loved him unconditionally, but was going out for something to eat.
I initially sat outside with my book and margarita, enjoying the glorious fresh, warm humidity that only a Midwestern evening can accomplish. There were two other guests at one other table, it was late at night, and the staff was accommodating and friendly, but obviously ready to call it an evening. When it started pouring rain several of them fell upon us and had our chips and salsa and all other perishables moved inside within seconds. I chose a table in the back corner; the other two sat by the window.
When my soup arrived, I was immediately satisfied just looking at it. Fresh avocado, crispy strips of tortilla, cheese. So much cheese! With the first bite, all was right with the world. I moved in to take a second, and the entire staff of the little restaurant along with the women seated by the window took a collective gasp and started running out the door. I paused, spoon mid-air, and thought oh fuck, what the hell?!
Apparently some reckless bicyclist had been totally smacked down by a car. In the car’s defense, it was Crazy Pouring Down Rain, and the guy was dressed all in browns and blacks. He was also not wearing a helmet. I discovered these facts when I reluctantly left my hot soup to join all of the other concerned people crowded outside the restaurant – under the dry safety of the awning.
That guy was just splayed out in the busy street, cars careening around him and his mangled bike, not looking so good. One of the women from the other table ran over to help, kneeling down beside him in the rain, telling him to stay still, holding his hand. Show off, I thought. Two bus boys hurried over to the patio and dislodged a couple of umbrellas, then hustled over and covered the man and those now gathered around him. A waiter stood in the rain trying to direct traffic, his white button-down shirt clinging to the brown skin beneath it.
Well, this seems to be pretty much under control, I thought. I wonder if it would look bad if I sat back down and finished my soup. It’s totally going to be cold by the time the ambulance comes.
A little tiny lady who I guessed to be one of the cooks seemed to read my mind. “When ambulance come?!”
“Seriously, I have no idea. It’s been a long time, right?”
I was about to continue about how I was starving and wished they’d get there when she said “that poor man, his bike it crash?” and made clucking noises while making the sign of the cross over her salsa-stained bosom.
“Well, I think someone hit him. But I’m pretty sure he was drunk.” I crossed my arms and tried to look worried, when all I could think was this is taking for-fucking-EVER! I looked longingly over at my margarita sweating on the table inside.
Eventually, the ambulance did show up. It had been at least 40 minutes. I waited until the woman from the other table, the saintly one who had stood vigil beside the maimed the entire time, went back into the restaurant with her friend and sat down. That way I could appear to be just as distraught by staying outside longer than her.
When my server came over, flustered and aiming to please, I assessed my priorities and acted accordingly.
“Has anyone ever told you that you look like Javier Bardem?” I asked him. He blushed and told me in his broken English that sometimes people said he looked like Marc Anthony. I snorted. “Hunonono,” I chuckled. “Definitely Javier Bardem”.
It was late May. I hadn’t had sex since December, and that was when I didn’t even like sex. I was pretty sure that I was getting to the point where I would like it. My waiter’s humble backing away from the table made me want to drag him into the dark, garishly-painted hallway with the dirty dishes and the mucky floors and tell him to fuck me up against the wall. Instead I called after him to please bring me a to-go container for my soup. I could tell that the staff were all ready to go after the ordeal they’d had that night. The ladies at the other table had left.
When Javier returned, I poured my soup into the container and batted my eyelashes at him. “Feel free to say no, but is there any way I could get another margarita? To go? This one is warm, and I know you want to leave.” I assured him that I was staying just across the street and wouldn’t be driving and plowing down any bicyclists that night, ha ha. He grinned nervously and disappeared.
He came back carrying a styrofoam cup just shy of being the size of a 7-11 Slurpee. “It is on our house” he said, pointing to the ceiling. “No charge.” This made me want him even more, but I just gave him a ‘come hither’ look with my thank you and then left, still too chicken to proposition Spanish-speaking wait staff in strange cities.
When I got back to Nayt’s apartment, I warmed up my soup and drank about a third of my jumbo margarita. When the sweetness of it started to make me feel sick to my stomach, I dumped it out and climbed under the covers next to Nayt. He woke for a minute and asked how my night had been. “It was great!” I told him. “Some dude on a bike got plowed down by a car right outside the Mexican place across the street? And so I got a huge margarita to go, for FREE! I couldn’t believe it, it was awesome.”
He didn’t respond. But I’m pretty sure I could hear him blinking slowly in the dark, loving me unconditionally.