I’m watching a Mexican construction crew. They are working on a friend’s house. It is the weekend, and the sun is twelve kinds of brutal.
At noon, they prepare lunch in the shade of a live oak.
The cook for the outfit connects an electric hot-plate to a power cord. He is pan-frying something strange-looking.
He asks if my friend and I want to join them for lunch.
“What’s that you’re cooking?” asks my friend.
I ask what this is, exactly.
The other men giggle.
“I think,” the man explains. “You call them chitlins in Americano. You wanna try?”
Chitlins. I’d rather lick a possum between the ears. However, my saintly mother spent her entire youth popping me with a hairbrush for the express purpose of teaching me to do “nice things.”
So I agreed to try some.
As it happens, I’ve seen some other nice things recently.
For instance, yesterday, in the Walmart checkout lane. I saw a woman with a full cart. She had four children.
She tried to pay with a card. It was declined.
Her teenage daughter removed a wad of bills and said, “Lemme pay, Mama. I got babysitting money.”
“That’s a REEEEAL good daughter,” said the cashier.
“The best,” said her mother.
Here’s another: I was at a traffic light. I saw a man with a long beard and a guitar on his back. I have seen him before. I’ve even given him money. He’s a nice fella who smells like a distillery.
I saw an arm reach from a car window ahead. The hand was holding a What-A-Burger bag.
The man took it, then sat cross-legged in the median to eat.
A Publix parking lot. There was a cart rolling downhill toward a vehicle. I saw a white-haired man run toward it. He caught it before it hit a Range Rover.
A woman jumped out of the SUV and said, “You’re a lifesaver!”
“No way,” said the nice man. “I didn’t save your LIFE. Just doing something nice.”
A young man selling tomatoes on the side of the road. I stood in line behind several people. He was selling out of veggies, making decent money.
In the back of the line: an old woman—gray and bent. The man stood when he saw her. He handed her a bag of several tomatoes.
“How much I owe?” she asked.
“No charge, Miss Loretta. Tell your husband we’re praying for him.”
Then, he walked her to her car.
Anyway, the Mexican men. Here we are. Just two regular gringos, smiling at one another, with no idea what the hell we’re about to eat.
The others hold paper plates, squeezing limes, shaking hot-sauce bottles.
The cook hollers above the laughter and conversation. Men remove hats and bow heads.
One man clears his throat. “Te damos gracias…” the man says. And after his “amen,” ten young men make the Sign of the Cross.
When the prayer is finished I ask a young gentleman what “te damos gracias,” means.
“It means,” he says in broken English. “Like, thank you, for, you know, just whatever. For life, and my daughter, and just everything.”
Works for me.
These tacos aren’t half bad.