A New York Minute, Taco Edition

Sometimes New York is the friendliest place on earth.

I was busy eating a taco and basking in the non-New Yorkness of the moment. Maybe that’s not true. Maybe the opposite is true—that I was basking in the New Yorkness of the moment. This is what happened: I forgot my money at the office. Cashless, I asked the man who runs the El Gallo Giro taco truck if I might have two tacos and pay for them tomorrow.

A few days before, I did something odd. After eating two of his characteristically tasty tacos and having a brief conversation about radishes, I went home, picked up a little gift and headed back to him. He looked sort of surprised to see me. “I have something for you,” I said as I handed him a watermelon radish, a beautiful thing he had never seen before. He smiled warmly and thanked me. In truth, I was just trying to get rid of it, since it was sitting in my fridge with little hope of being eaten. But how do you give things to strangers? In this case, I just did it.

So I came back to his truck this night moneyless, and he showed me a kindness. “Don’t worry about it,” he said as he handed me my second taco, which he held off making until I finished my first so that it would be fresh.

“Hey, is that good?” Someone tapped my shoulder. I turned and saw an unfamiliar face.

“Oh yeah. It’s bombs,” I said to him.

“Yeah? How do you know this spot?” He asked a series of questions—where I was from, why I eat here, how I found it. Here; because it’s good; walking out of the train station ten feet over there. He laughed. “You didn’t know I was gonna interrogate you.”

He continued his research, speaking in racing Caribbean Spanish to some of the other customers before turning back to me. “So what should I have?”

I told him to have a taco filled with carne enchilada, a chili-marinated pork. “But I don’t want no enchilada. I want a taco,” he protested.

I assuaged his fears, then asked him where his Spanish was from. “I’m Dominicano! Afro-Latino, whassup!” he chortled. Then I watched an object lesson in the incompatibility of Mexican and Dominican Spanish as he bulldozed his way through the ordering process. Finally successful, he took out his wallet to pay for his taco.

“Put your money away,” I said to him, “Because you’re going to eat that and then you’re just going to want another one anyway.” Then I added, “I’m going to stand here until you take your first bite, and then I’m going to listen to you tell me how good it is.”

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