This is Part 3 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 and Part 2 here.
"Let's get a palate cleanser," I told Ryan as we pulled into the parking lot of the New Flea Market on Long Point at Pech. On the weekends, you can't find a space to park in the asphalt lot. But today, on an overcast Thursday afternoon, it was empty except for a few trucks parked haphazardly around Refresqueria Rio Verde.
"What are we getting here?" asked Ryan as we climbed out. "Do they have tacos?"
"Sure, they have tacos," I said. "But I thought we'd get something different in between. Do you like elotes?"
Elote, as I explained to Ryan, is basically corn on the cob. But instead of serving it with butter and salt, as us white folks tend to do, elote is served with crema, chile powder, lime juice and a host of other condiments that only seem foreign until you taste them all mixed together. Elote in a cup, the shaved kernels topped with a thick dollop of cream and a rough shake of chile powder, is mystifyingly comforting even if you've never had it before.
I ordered a cup for myself and a giant glass of tamarindo for us to split, while Ryan went whole hog and got an elote-on-the-cob. "I have corn on a stick!" he called out to me like a little kid. And between swigs of the sweet, apple-like tamarind juice, Ryan bluntly asked: "So, what happened? You were married for, like, a second."
Ryan himself has been married for six years. As so often happens with Air Force men, he met a pretty German girl while stationed at the Rammstein Air Base in southwestern Germany on the edge of the hilly, green Pfälzerwald forest. They were married in a castle. She is beautiful, with expressive blue eyes and a kind face.
I gave Ryan a brief rundown of my own fumbling attempt at marriage, the millions of tiny ways in which my ex-husband and I both failed at the institution every single day until we were both relieved to finally call it quits a year and a half later. Ryan listened with a playful smirk on his face as I explained how I fell into the trap of being pursued by a good-looking athletic-type -- the weak spot of too many nerdy wallflowers the world over, men and women alike -- and refuted at least one point.
"You're not really a nerd," he laughed. "You're more of a pop culture dork. You're a female Chuck Klosterman."
"I don't know that being a female Chuck Klosterman is such a great thing!" I replied. The smirk was still on his face. He was waiting for his turn; I could tell. I promptly shut my mouth and let him have it.
"Well, the missus and I," he began grandly, "have been together since day one." He told me the story of their brief courtship and the mutually agreed-upon eventuality that they were destined to be together, so why spend useless years dating? It was sweeping and romantic and beautiful and everything you could want for your best friend, or for anyone with a good heart who deserves to meet another good-hearted soul in this world.
"When we got married," he told me, "I asked her: 'How much of what happens over there do you want me to tell you?'" It suddenly occurred to me that I wouldn't know the answer to that question were I married to a military man myself. But Ryan's wife knew the answer immediately: She wanted to know everything.
Those shared experiences became a bond between them, and Ryan grew even closer to her over time than he imagined possible. One day he told her: "You're my reason."
"My reason?" she wanted to know.
"You're the reason I want to come home after every deployment," he told her. "When I'm sent away on a six-month deployment, I just picture myself walking home to you. It's what gets me through. I picture myself walking over a huge mountain for six months until I see you again."
We sat and grinned goofily at the mountain Ryan had traced in the air with his hands. His corn-on-a-stick was gone, my cup was empty.
"My palate is cleansed," he announced happily. It was time to move on.
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