One of the most interesting things about when I cooked at the little grill inside of the Nuevo Perico, was the complete and almost horrifying way in which the cantineras treated me after I started working there. For so many years I was just another patron, some other gringo who drank on the weekdays, although my Spanish was much better than most. I watched them come and go and come back sometimes, and they showed me the respect and kindness of a paying customer who tipped and chatted occasionally, but mostly I kept to myself and watched.
All that they had to do to get a tip from me was to serve me in a timely manner.
My contract with the owner of the bar was not unusual other than the fact that I was a gringo, I paid him rent and cooked both for patrons and for passers-by out of the small window facing Calle Sexta. It was an enlightening experience, and just as humbling as I expected it to be, for I knew that the relationships that I had with my fellow drinkers would and did change into a completely different dynamic.
And it did.
They were now customers and were free to reprimand me without reprise, for a burger not quite cooked right, or a small portion that deserved more, and especially for the price of my food. I expected that, and accepted the change.
But the cantineras immediately started referring to me as, "Don David."
‘Don’ is a title, something that is supposedly earned by age and wisdom. I never considered myself to be abundant in either attribute. And their endowment was immediate, no coronation required.
Imagine Cervantes’ Quixote becoming a Don by simply operating a grill out of a bar, having never taken a sword to a windmill!
Chapis, my cantinera at La Fuente Cantina, has started to call me, "Don David." I’m not sure how I feel about that, but unlike in the Perico, it has been a gradual thing. Maybe it’s all of the gray hair in my beard, who can say?
It isn’t as horrifying as it was back in the Perico, because it wasn’t so sudden. It’s like aging I suppose - little by little. Or it could be something else.
Maybe I fought a few windmills in recent times.
I saw Don Chuy the other day, his wrinkled face - wizened by so many patient years of waiting - smiled as he left the Perico and he noticed me walking up Sixth Street. We shook hands as we always have, on the not so rare occasion that we cross paths. He would certainly be getting Social Security if he lived in the United States of America, well into his sixties, but up until a week ago, he worked in a hardware store here in Tijuana. For many years he toiled for his patrón, and now his term of indentured servitude was over.
He told me that he finally received his papers from the United States of America that would allow him to travel to Northern California and spend time with his many children scattered across the cities that start with San or Santa something. San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San José, Santa Clara, San Mateo, and so on. This magnificent human being needs some sort of permission to visit cities with names that half of the population of the United States of America struggles to pronounce correctly.
More windmills, I suppose.
He was simply grateful for the opportunity to see his children again. He also assured me that he would be back, and that perhaps we would be lucky enough to toast to a future championship celebrated by our favorite futból team in the Mexican leagues. Atlas.
We have that in common, among other things.
Certainly, there are the windmills.
But I am surely not ready to be called, "Don David".