They Don't Have Tacos In the Suck, Part 4

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
The ultimate taco.
This is the last installment of a four-part series: They Don't Have Tacos In the Suck, which chronicles an afternoon taco truck crawl with my best friend from college, an Air Force EOD sergeant whom I hadn't seen in 10 years. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

Ryan and I had been driving for a while, for many blocks since our "palate cleanser" of elotes at Refresqueria Rio Verde. I knew he was wondering why I passed other taco trucks and failed to pull up to them, but I had a plan.

In my mind, I knew this stop would be our last taco truck of the day. I had to pick my cousin up from the airport soon, and Ryan had to get back on the road.

I pulled into our final destination: El Ultimo, a brightly decorated taco truck near Long Point and Wirt. Its parking lot was already busy, a line had already formed outside that was composed entirely of blue collar workers off for lunch, equal parts white, black and Hispanic. I've made no secret of the fact that El Ultimo is my favorite taco truck in town, and have followed it over the years as it moves a few blocks up and down Long Point.

"On the weekends," I told an impressed Ryan, "it has a waitress who takes you order, since the line gets so long."

"So this is your favorite, huh?" he said, eying the simple menu and wondering what exactly made this spot so special.

"Yes. You'll see."

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The wait at El Ultimo was the longest of the afternoon, and Ryan and I had run out of polite conversation. He told me about the few phrases he's learned working in Afghanistan, about how Pashto and Dari only sound alike on the surface. Once you get to know them, he said, you can immediately spot the differences when you hear them spoken, intermingled, on the streets.

He tried to teach me a few phrases in Pashto. "Move it, asshole!" was one of them. I couldn't pick it up. I was too busy laughing absurdly, thinking of Ryan in a wholly foreign country, yelling out practiced Pashto phrases like these to his terp in what must now seem like a completely normal occurrence to him.

We commiserated about how rusty our Spanish had gotten over the years, useful these days only for ordering food at taco trucks. Ryan was even more out of practice, blaming it on the sad dearth of taco trucks back home in Florida. "There are only, like, two where I live," he grumbled. And he told me about how his German wife was startled one morning by the realization that she had started to dream in English.

When our tacos came out, Ryan finally saw what I did in El Ultimo: The tacos here are on soft, homemade flour tortillas -- not corn, interestingly -- and come with more than just the standard handful of cilantro and onions. Green slices of avocado and white crumbles of queso fresco fill the tacos, too, along with our chosen meats: fatty shreds of barbacoa and annatto-hued pastor.

Ryan gulped his taco down, pausing only briefly to admire the avocado and cheese on top. Then he ordered three more.

"This is your favorite, huh?" he asked again.

I nodded once more, pleased.

"Well, it's my favorite too." He smiled. And then: "I don't think I can eat any more tacos."

"Neither can I," I laughed back. We went back to the car with his extra tacos, and were nearly ready to go when Ryan said: "Katie, aren't you forgetting something?"

Only a few people call me Katie anymore; I thrilled to the sound of hearing the adolescent version of my name, as if time hadn't passed at all and I was still Katie, still 17-years-old and big-eyed and strong.

I was forgetting something: I hadn't taken his photo in front of the truck, as I'd done with all the others. I dug my camera back out of my purse as Ryan posed, hand out and thumb up, grinning. I snapped one final picture, and we packed it in.

The car ride back to Ryan's truck seemed to last almost as long as the crawl itself had. I listened hard to every last one of Ryan's words, even the awful ones and the cruel ones that involved horror stories of friends killed in battle. I listened as he told me about watching as weeping fathers carried their children into makeshift hospitals, limbs absent and blood reeling out of charred wounds. I listened as he told me about fathers who strapped bombs to their children's thin chests and sent them out to fight the battles their cowardly parents could not. I listened as he told me about watching a young girl's leg blown off by a crudely designed IED that he had not seen, was not able to defuse.

I listened as he told me about being blown up twice himself. He stared forward the entire time as he spoke, and I noticed for the first time what looked to be shrapnel wounds on his head. The curved wounds were barely noticeable except where the hair had stubbornly refused to grow back. I didn't ask about them. My chest burned as he spoke about being lucky enough to survive both times he was attacked. He'd never shot anyone, he assured me. But he'd shot at them.

I thought back to something he'd said earlier that day: "I'm happy to get bad guys and help people," he'd put it, simply and succinctly. This terrifying job makes him happy. This job that could wipe him out of existence in one trembling second makes him happy. Instead of happy thoughts, my mind was filled with horrific visions of Ryan dying in battle. I was ashamed of myself for thinking such a thing.

Before I could get a word out, we were back at his truck. Ryan was unstrapping his seat belt. Here was 10 years, gone in an afternoon.

"You know, I looked for you," he said, suddenly and without warning. Ryan had entered the Air Force on a whim between our junior and senior years of college, finally disillusioned enough with college after three years to make the leap. And although we kept in touch for a while, we never saw each other again. We finally lost contact entirely after his first deployment.

"I looked for you everywhere. I looked on Facebook and even MySpace, back in the day, and Googled you and then one day I found you. It was totally by accident. I was reading an article, and you had written it." He had sent me a message on Facebook later that day. I had been thrilled to hear from him, with no idea of how long he'd searched for me.

I had no idea what to say. Finally, all I could get out was: "I'm glad you did."

And then, because the hour was drawing so near: "I've got to get going." And I tried to follow it up with a casual, "What else are you doing to do in Houston today?"

"Nothing," Ryan said. "I'm driving back today. I really just came to see you."

So it wasn't just the tacos. And again, all I could manage was a short: "I'm glad you did." A smile. Unblinking eyes, because if I blinked, the tears would spill over and I'd be done for. I couldn't see Ryan's eyes at all; he never removed his sunglasses all day.

And just like that, his door was open. A brief hug and promises of a future visit -- this time with his wife -- and Ryan was gone. Here was 10 years and two hours, gone. I drove out of the parking lot, unable to look back, and drank the last of the apple-sweet tamarind juice until it was gone and I was home once again.



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54 comments
Lovely Rita
Lovely Rita

 Your friend sounds like a wonderful person, a real hero in my book.  God Bless to him and all those who sacrifice themselves so I can be free.  With this article you made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  My lashes are damp and have a uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.  The kind of feeling that hits me with such emotion, it's like a hard punch in the gut!Very touching, keep up the good work and keep it coming!  I look forward to your next writing.

Otiris
Otiris

Wonderful writing Katharine. :) I felt inspired with every word. This is a really well composed piece. Thank you!

Srspc
Srspc

Great story and taco truck reviews, to boot. Thanks for sharing such a sweet, sad and happy event.

Diane
Diane

  Such a range of raw emotions as I read this well written series. Thank you for letting us ride along on your profound personal journey. 

Creekboy80
Creekboy80

Katherine I have to say you have broken the EOD code and its tacos. I spent a long lunch with my son, a Navy EOD tech following his return from AFG. He got a chance to talk about the things he does not share with his wife or mother. I got the opportunity to enjoy some delicious fish tacos as he shared some of his experiences and frustrations. One old veteran with one newly forming veteran.

Nice writing. Keep it up.

bibulb
bibulb

This? This is a manly tear running down my cheek. Followed by my bawling like a manly baby. 

(Much better than Klosterman any day. Wow.)

EricS
EricS

Other ways in which people might miss the point:

Why didn't you go to this other taco truck that's way better than the one you went to?

You didn't list the address or prices for the places you visited.

Your friend has shot at people but never hit; sounds like he needs more time on the range.

May this article inspire its readers to remember the pleasure of old friends, and the comfort of shared experiences. I think that's the point.

AwesomeMargie
AwesomeMargie

This series was wonderful.  It makes me want to go a taco crawl.  But mostly, it makes me thankful for people like Ryan.  

Txvet
Txvet

Great writing, Katherine!

Leen
Leen

I just discovered this blog and your four part taco truck crawl has turned me into a teary eyed sniffling mess.  Bless all our servicemen who put their lives on the line to allow us to savor the freedom of walking up to busy taco trucks or go to malls without the fear of a suicide bomber waiting to blow themselves up wherever people congregate.  People in many parts of the world does not have that luxury.  I have lost a couple close childhood friends since 9/11 started the military operations on the other side of the world.  I would give anything to be able to see them again over a drink and a bite of food.  Savor your wonderful friendship, it's so easy to things like that for granted.  I really enjoy your writing and look forward to reading more of it.

Krogensagen
Krogensagen

Foodies once wondered about your disdain for their obsession, while this kind of writing puts it into perspective and delivers dallykites to their parade of inconsequential mouthsquats and digiflash.

Sampa Das
Sampa Das

Flowers are the materialized form of sweetest human emotions. No matter how apart you are from your close relations, or whether you had a tough time with our sweetie, a bunch of colorful flowers will melteverything. Slowly, just like its fragrances, a flower makes you feel good for everything. Visit www.flowersdeliveryahmedabad.c... today for more details,

  

Jkl
Jkl

Katherine, you missed the really good one by Glenbrook Valley, the green taco bus on Bellfort just below the Gulf Freeway.  Also there is one that is only there in the evenings on Telephone, on the right, just north of the freeway.  You missed two of the best.  (I was right about the city cafe, don't question my infinite taco bus or diner wisdom)

studnougat
studnougat

One of the most powerful bits of writing I've read in a long time

mom
mom

Tears as I type this .Beautiful.My 27 year old is an Army Capt and deployed for the second time.When he comes home for visits when stationed in the USA he craves Tex-Mex cheese enchiladas.First stop on the way in from the airport is good old greasy La Fiesta ,near where we have lived most of his life,then lunch everyday is a different Tex-Mex place both greasy spoons and upscale they all fit the bill.Smiling now in anticipation of our son coming home and hitting the Tex-Mex trail.Thanks

Ribalding
Ribalding

Anne Miller, bitch/professor, has removed her hat.

dream
dream

best HP article ever! thanks for sharing.

dream

csoakley
csoakley

I was texting with an out of town friend who was in despair at the lack of tacos in her part of the country. As we exchanged our favorite taco memories, she referred wistfully to the 'tales of tacos past' which I immediately claimed as the title of my future autobiography.

After reading this series I think you have more rights to that title than I do.

More writing like this, please.

Terry Alexander
Terry Alexander

Years ago I bought the album The Innocence Age by Dan Fogelberg. There is a beautiful song on it called Same Old Lang Syne that gets heavy play at Christmas. I hate that and I love that, at the same time, because it's about lost love and a chance encounter with said lost love many years later. The song is very moving for me because it came out not real long after an emotional break-up with my first real love. I immediately identified with it's theme of "could have been" that go with learning to move on when things don't work out. For a while I couldn't even listen to the song. After a few years I learned to embrace those overwhelming feelings of emotional conflict and have since been able to appreciate the song for that.

Your series about this quick reconnecting with Ryan reminded me of Same Old Lang Syne all over again and brought back many of those same emotions. Heartfelt writing is a gift and you have done yourself well here, Shilcutt. Hopefully it was cathartic sharing with us.TA

MadMac
MadMac

All too often we met that person again and think "they're not who I remember," only to realize they never were. WE projected an idea they can't live up to. Like most Xmas (XMen?) music, I HATE that song but I love lyrics. Yeah, I'm getting help, soon.

Terry Alexander
Terry Alexander

I see your point and believe it.

Concerning the song, Shilcutt caught me in a weak moment and I shared. How about Leader of The Band instead???

Terry Alexander
Terry Alexander

You know, there is still Michael Bolton out there somewhere...TA

MadMac
MadMac

I'm big believer in amending 1st, (3rd, 105th) impressions, especially after finding out Michael McDonald didn't break up the Doobie Brothers. Mutt Lange did, just saying. I'll check out Mr. Fogelberg's "Nether Lands." Thanks on the tip side, Ms. S.  

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Fogelberg could be a little schmaltzy, but listen to all of Nether Lands some time and you'll see a different side of him...

MadMac
MadMac

Meant to type: It appears you and Ms. Shilcutt had better experiences than most of us. Leader of the Band? Hm, schmaltz makes my agent orange act up. Run for the Roses? I'll go to my room now.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

RIP Dan Fogelberg. That man was a genius. I'm forever thankful to my parents for introducing me to Nether Lands.

Txjboy
Txjboy

Speaking of Marine slang, I was watching the movie, "The D.I." starring Jack Webb (he also produced and directed it).  In the film Jack used the term "Pogey Bait".  I had to look it up.  Does anyone know what it means?  It refers to food.

Tara Burkholder
Tara Burkholder

Pogey Bait is snack food you buy before you go to the field or deploy, munchies. It comes from the term "Poge", someone who is bad at the Army, a "shitbag."  This is all according to my husband, a 1LT in the Army who deployed to Iraq as an E4 with the 3d ID.

RJ
RJ

In these almost 11 years we have become numb to and forget about those who live with the realities of war everyday. As a veteran, I can say those realities bring us to look for people and places where we were once comfortable because our "new normal" is, well, new.  We long for things to be like they were before at times, more innocent if you will, knowing all too well they won't be.

"I looked for you everywhere"...powerful stuff.

Great writing.

MadMac
MadMac

And, I'm thinking, he meant more than just social media. Powerful indeed.  I'll spare you my politics and say I agree with all you typed. Stay open, RJ, don't close yourself up with the experiences.

ec
ec

Those tortillas look second rate but the contents looks good.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Those are the corn tortillas on mine. I didn't get a shot of the flour; they're much better.

ec
ec

So you say they are on soft, homemade flour tortillas, not corn, interestingly...but then claim those are corn on mine.   At least be truthful with the original article.  I guess fiction is becoming popular on blogs.

Eric S
Eric S

Thank you very much.

Bradg
Bradg

 Best. comment. ever.  If I had a gold bar, I would award it to you.  Sincerely.

MadMac
MadMac

Sorry, just saw your eloquent response to this troll. He got me and I'm still too miffed to pull my rant. Kudos for your well-thought comment, Eric S.

MadMac
MadMac

How about you show some adherence to your medication schedule? Or, go to the bank, take out a loan, buy a ticket and wait for the clue train. The pinche article WASN'T about tacos. MoMo.

CMN
CMN

what the hell is wrong with you? run out of puppies to kick?

Eric S
Eric S

I'm taking a logic class this semester, and we've reached the lessons about fallacies. One of them is called "missing the point." As in, if someone read the moving account of Katharine and her friend and all he wondered about is whether the picture is of flour or corn tortillas, that person has completely missed the point. Not to shatter anyone's illusions, but this article really isn't meant to be a guide to the best tacos on Long Point.  If you really want a review of El Ultimo, there are lots of reviews online, including one on this site by taco truck superfan Robb Walsh.

Nice try, ec, but no one who sees your comment is thinking "wow, that guy's got a point. I wonder if she made the whole thing up." That statement's ad populem, btw. I can't actually prove that no one agrees with you, and it doesn't really matter whether anyone does or not. Calling you an idiot would be ad hominem abusive. Saying that you're only cutting her down because you wish you had her job would be ad hominem circumstantial. 

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

As anyone will tell you, my imagination is simply not that great.

ec
ec

just reading the article where you state "the tacos here are on soft homemade flour tortillas"....sounds like they aren't.   

At least show some honesty.  I'm not talking about past trips.  i'm just talking about the trip you supposedly went on were the tacos were on soft flour tortillas.  it makes me wonder whether the trip even happened.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Um, do you want photos of past trips to El Ultimo with flour tortillas? I'm not sure what you're hoping to get out of this comment other than standard trolling. In which case, mission accomplished.

In fact, here you go: http://sheeats.wordpress.com/2... It's the second link posted above about El Ultimo. You can see their awesome flour tortillas in the very first photo.

Thanks for reading.

Eric Henao
Eric Henao

All kinds of awesomeness. Great change of pace piece. Thank you.

JB
JB

I want to join in the kudos.  Really terrific writing, Katherine.  I've enjoyed each installment and think the entire piece is a terrific credit to your writing skill, observational abilities, and taco knowledge.  

Marcofromhouston
Marcofromhouston

You have always been such a great listener, Katharine. Great work my friend. Truly some of the best writing ever produced by HPress.

Your Taco Compadre,

-Marco

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