With Good Luck, One Of Hundreds
We had never owned a business, much less one that required so much from every single member of our family. Early in the dawn hours my mother would awake to begin the process of preparing the food she would sell that day. My father would drive over to the parking lot where our mobile unit was parked and unload the gas tank inside before heading to his real job. Once the tortillas were ready my mother would make trip after trip loading up her car: car, kitchen, car, kitchen, car, kitchen…
Soon after, silence would reign and we’d stay behind lying on our beds, grasping those last moments of sleep, smothered by the intoxicating scent of her cooking. By the time I’d make it over to the taqueria before my shift at work she’d already be dispatching customers left and right. Those months were some of the happiest I’ve ever seen my mother – despite the episodes of frustration she’d sometimes unleash on us. She had achieved her American Dream. She was working for herself, turning a minimal profit, and planning for the future. This was a long way from our days of toting tamales and tortillas wrapped in aluminum around the parking lots of local Walmart’s and Fiesta grocery stores trying to sell them for a few bucks.
Customers now came to us, even if in sporadic bursts.
My youngest sisters were her sidekicks. They were too young to stay at home by themselves and just old enough to understand how they should behave while at work. Unfortunately they were so bored the pair would take turns coming in and out of the taqueria, playing in what little space there was. There wasn’t much because although the unit was larger than most, it had a small stove inside, a refrigerator, a food preparation area, a storage area, and lots of stacks of Styrofoam cups and plates along the wall. We even managed to get a small television and a phone set inside, so for fun my mother would let them sometimes charge customers for their orders. The public always seemed to enjoy their presence and interaction.
Quite soon after, however, we realized our biggest impediment was our location. People could not see Taqueria Cerritos as they drove by. We bought signs and placed them in the median and along the strips of grass running parallel to the sidewalk, but it was all to no avail. We were sinking, and we were sinking fast. Sometimes my mother had to leave me or one of my siblings in charge (mostly when she ran out of supplies and had to hurry back home to pick up more) and, at least for my part, I’d make a lot of customers mad: either because the tortillas would not be soft enough or warm enough, or because I’d forget to add in the right condiments. I was 20 and had never worked at a restaurant. I was lost.
When they would complain I would just freeze and apologize.
My guilty conscious caught the better of me and I decided that year I’d use my vacation time to help out in the taqueria. Two weeks straight I handed out flyers at local businesses, took orders over the phone, and delivered food within a 15 minute radius of our business. Things began to pick up, but the question then became who would take over my place once I went back to work. My father and all of my siblings could not do so because of work or school, my mother could not leave the business unattended, and our profit was not enough to hire anyone. Slowly we started to realize Taqueria Cerritos was not going to make it.
The weeks that followed were difficult to say the least.
With the passing of each day the twinkle in my mother’s eyes began to lessen. Her excitement replaced by stress; her energy usurped by fatigue; her dream breaking into pieces before her very eyes. The only thing left to grasp onto were the memories inside those four walls on wheels. One evening, my father’s truck just turned into our driveway with the restaurant attached to it. That purple taqueria sat in our back yard, locked up, and untouched for several months until one day a younger couple turned up, attached Taqueria Cerritos to their truck, and drove away with our business.
My mother never again attempted to open a food service business. Neither did we resort to our regular practice of selling tamales and tortillas in parking lots. Instead she chalked it up to bad luck, thanked God for allowing her to makeup part of her investment, and continued her role as our matriarch. She taught us to never give up no matter how heartbreaking the defeat.