I have a confession to make.
I have never been to the Burrito Cart.
That’s right. Never.
I’ve never been to either of them, but for the purposes of this column I’ll focus on my relationship with Tijuana Taco Company, the one on the north-east corner of the intersection of Elm and York, the “TJ” logo (does that stand for Tijuana? “Taco Joy?” “Terrifically Juicy?”) emblazoned in big red letters on the side. I can see it right now, from my perch in the ABP window. As usual, its operator is running a brisk business, clad in his spectacular red pajamas. He and his customers look irrepressibly cheery, defying the rain that makes everyone else at this intersection look miserable and withdrawn. It never rains in Tijuana.
I know that it would be SO EASY to just go over and land at that little isle of happiness, to forget the dismal shopping-period weather and wrap my gums around a freshly-wrapped packet of TexMex goodness. But I won’t. I can’t. It’s been three years and counting, and at this rate I don’t think I ever will.
I could offer excuses. I could say that I’m a lactose-intolerant vegetarian, which is true (but does not make me a vegan). But there are vegetarian burritos. I’ve eaten plenty of them and enjoyed them.
I could say that I am on the meal plan and that therefore it doesn’t make sense for me to purchase extra food. This, however, is not at all true, because I’m not on the meal plan. I’m one of those grungy off-campus types who would probably eat an apple core out of the gutter (as one of my dear off-campus friends actually did) if it didn’t have a price tag and a visible invertebrate on it. I’ve memorized the prices of egg sandwiches at every place in downtown New Haven that sells egg sandwiches with memorizable prices (GHeav does not count, because its egg sandwiches are priced according to the fluctuations of the Dow Jones Industrial Egg Index, the amount of rainfall in Croatia, and how drunk I am when I order one).
I could say that I think it’s just a little weird that burrito means “little donkey” in Spanish, which I do actually think, but doesn’t really affect my culinary choices. (While we’re on the subject though, it IS weirder than “hot dog,” because there are dogs that vaguely resemble hot dogs, but I have yet to see a donkey of any size that resembles a burrito.)
But really, there are no excuses, because what’s preventing me from buying a burrito at the Burrito Cart is much greater than preference, digestive disorder, economics or linguistics. It is – dare I say it – fate.
I’ve shown up with insufficient funds. I’ve shown up on the wrong day. I’ve shown up and the line has been too long for the time I have. I’ve shown up and suddenly just not felt like it.
But finally there came a time last week when I decided I would do it. I decided that I would buy a burrito from the Burrito Cart, and enjoy it, and be able to talk about it at parties rather than shuffling my feet and reading imaginary texts on my phone, which is what I do when I’m at parties and people start talking about things I don’t know anything about, like Entourage, or not being awkward at parties.
I did all my research. I glanced at the menu whenever I passed, so I knew what I would order. I learned about the price increase, so I prepared my six dollars, in cash. I didn’t eat beforehand, so I was hungry and raring to go. It was a beautiful, clear evening, the dining halls hadn’t opened yet so there were thousands of Yalies on the prowl for good, cheap food. I expected a line a mile long.
But no. The corner was empty, save for the burrito-maker himself, who was slowly and steadily closing cart. The stove was off, the tortillas gone, the condiments neatly packed in their containers. I stood and stared.
“Yes?” he asked, gold teeth glinting, spectacular red pajamas even more spectacular close up. I gulped.
“Are you … closed?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, a little wistfully. “I’ve been here for two hours, and no one’s come. So — closed.”
“Really?” I said. “But — all the people. All the students. This is Camp Yale. Where could they possibly be?”
He smiled and shrugged. “I don’t know. Not today.”
I averted my face, because I didn’t want him to see the dread on my face, the dread of a man running smack into the glass sliding door of cruel destiny. “I’ll come back next time,” I choked, and shuffled meekly down Broadway. But we both knew that wasn’t true. I won’t be back next time, because there will never be a next time. Tidal waves will engulf York Street, Ragnarök itself will unfold, before the forces of the universe allow me to purchase a burrito from the Burrito Cart. On the verge of the transaction, a flight of purple butterflies will swoop down, engulf my body, lift me up, carry me along the street, and deposit me, frustrated but not very surprised, in front of the GHeav deli counter.