Indian Tacos, Uncertainty, and Burger King
CB Bassity, ©2001, all rights reserved
     Medicine Park is a quaint little community in southwest Oklahoma, home to a state fish
hatchery, which is why I happened to have business there on the last Saturday in August.  On my
way into town around noon, I noticed a small sign, spray-painted in red through a stencil—Indian
taco sale—although further details escaped my notice.
     An Indian taco, for the uninitiated, amounts to a generous slab of bread dough deep-fried
until it turns light gold and somewhat crunchy on the outside, and light and white as a cloud
inside.  Next it is layered with browned hamburger-meat and grated cheese, then with lettuce,
minced onions, diced tomato, salsa, and assorted other goodies.  Pity the poor uninitiated.  This is
food for the soul.
     For some reason, it seems sales of Indian tacos nearly always amount to fund-raisers.
Where in some parts of the country you have bake sales, in western Oklahoma it’s Indian tacos.
They may also accompany a pow-wow or tribal ceremony, but still the proceeds usually end up in
worthy hands.  Maybe this is how we rationalize eating a meal that would otherwise invoke the
wrath of cardiologists.  And rationalization was uppermost as I cruised into Medicine Park the
other day around noon.  Buoying rationalization was the thought of eating a “home-cooked”
meal, as well.
     One could easily have missed the taco sale, however.  I nearly drove right past it.  But just
off the road was another, even smaller, stenciled sign—TACO SALE—propped on the ground
outside what may have been the Medicine Park community center.  The little white concrete-
block building was unmarked, attended only by six or seven vehicles parked in the gravel lot
outside.  I pulled in and parked in the shade of a mulberry tree.  (It was ninety-something-high
degrees.)
     No one was coming or going from the taco sale.  I approached the front door, then, with
uncertainty.  What windows the place had were obscured by blinds and by one humming air-
conditioner that had its work cut out for it.   Had I missed critical details on the first sign?  Was
the taco sale today—or maybe yesterday or last week?  (You have to understand another aspect
of Indian culture: nonchalance about time.)  Maybe the signs just happened to have been left in
place.
     The front door opened merely into an entryway.  I stood staring at another door.  It was
solid wood, without a window.  I listened for hints of activity inside, but could hear only the busy
air conditioner outside.  I hesitated about going in—for all I knew I might walk into the middle of
a private meeting or a wedding.  Should I knock?
     I eased the door open and walked in.
     The room I entered was close, the kind of place built by a marginal little town pooling
meager funds—low ceiling, cheap wall paneling, darkish, and seemingly untouched since the
fifties.  It was set with several café-size tables with chairs.  Scanning the room expectantly, I
found eight people situated here and there, but no one said a word.  At one table sat an older
couple, tucking away quietly into their dinner. At another sat a relaxed fifty-ish man smoking a
cigarette, and two guys looking like a building contractor with his helper sat on a bench near the
door.  Three elderly women—only one of whom looked remotely Indian—because they sat
grouped around a desk, appeared the most proprietary.  Yet everyone in the place looked at me as
if I ought to say: Hey, I checked with the guys at the post office, and they said it’ll be here
Tuesday.
     I was no less expectant, hoping maybe someone would ask, Are you here for the tacos?
     But no.
     So I asked, Are you selling tacos?
     One of the women at the desk allowed that I’d come to the right place.  But that’s all I got
out of her.
     How much are they? I asked.
     Three-fifty.
     I wondered, Will one fill me up?
     Yes, unless you’ve got a hollow leg.
     Not since I was seventeen, I said.  I extended a five-dollar bill and the woman behind the
desk produced a dollar and a half in change.  Have you got coffee? I said, holding out the dollar.
     Yes.  Your drink is included, she said.  You get your taco, beans, dessert, and a drink, all
included in the price.
     I thought, either this is one hell of a deal, or I wonder what I’m in for.
     What I was immediately in for, was more uncertainty.  Having paid for a meal, I now had
to figure out how to get it.  The three women had lapsed into silence again; and no one else had
said anything yet.  Laid out on a table across the room were dishes of lettuce, tomato, onion,
salsa, and a dessert plate—the fixings for a taco dinner.  I edged in that direction, but I saw no
tacos.
     The woman who handled the money asked if I’d been here before.  No, I said, relieved
that I’d established myself as unfamiliar with whatever routine they followed.
     Well, she said, would you sign in?  And she slid a yellow pad toward me with a pen on it.
     I added my name to a list of about eight names on the pad, and then waited for direction.  None
came.  Now I wondered if maybe I were crashing a senior-citizens dinner or some such.
     It has always seemed to me that part of selling something is to cater to customers, to make
them feel at home, to relieve any anxiety or inhibition on their part and thus loosen up their purse
strings.  Talk, patter, salesmanship—are they not synonymous?  Yet here the natural order
seemed reversed, as if it were up to me as patron to tease out the particulars of our transaction.
Maybe they hadn’t expected out-of-towners.
     An old woman with an apron appeared in the doorway to the kitchen.  She looked me
over, turned around, and disappeared.
     I motioned toward the table of fixings—Do I just . . . ?
     The woman behind the desk, the only one I knew to have vocal chords, said that Ramona
(I think, the name was slurred) would bring my taco.
     I located a little coffee pot, filled a Styrofoam cup, and pulled out a chair from one of the
tables.  The old couple at the table next to me continued with their meal, and everyone else
resumed their impersonation of statues.  I busied myself with sipping coffee and vowed never
again to be anywhere without reading material in my pocket.
     After a little, the aproned woman emerged from the kitchen and said, Takeout.  I started
up from my seat, uncertainly, then sat down again as the two guys from the bench by the door
behind me rose to claim their dinner.  Then they left.
     Not too much later she came out bearing my taco on a plastic plate.  It covered the plate,
steaming and golden on the edges beyond the browned and crumbled hamburger, which was
crowned with a perfect square orange slice of processed American cheese food product (or
whatever they call that stuff)—not something I’d hoped for.  But, gamely, I piled on lettuce,
shredded onion, tomato chunks, and salsa.  Scooping up a napkin and plastic tableware, I turned
toward my seat.  Ramona, if that was her name, standing in the kitchen door watching, said, Get
you a bowl of beans.  So I ladled beans out of a pot into a plastic bowl and took the whole
business to my table.
     Almost out of obligation I tried a spoonful of beans.  Then I took another, unobligated.
And another.  Then I began to meditate upon what anyone could have done with beans to
produce such savory fare drowned in brown liquor.  I haven’t a clue, but the gods must have been
intimately involved.
     The taco was much the same—perfect.  Crunchy golden outside, fluffy light inside, with
flavor to make words inadequate.  The little square of processed cheese had melted to
insignificance.  It’s been some time since I enjoyed a meal so thoroughly.
     As I started on the taco, the old fellow at the next table leaned back, wiped his mouth with
a napkin, slipped a thumb beneath his suspenders and probed the table edge with his other hand.
There’s a nail head here, he said.  Someone might catch theirself on it.  Have you got a hammer?
     The man sitting by himself against the far wall, and finished with his cigarette, came to
have a look.  He got a hammer from the kitchen, knocked the nail in flush, and went back to his
station.  The women at the desk made small talk, the kind that’s meaningless and indecipherable
to an outsider: I guess Maude’s back by now, ain’t she?—Well, Ed would know.—They ain’t
done with the place, are they?  That sort of thing.
     If I weren’t watching calories, trying to keep my belt visible, I would have gone back for
more beans—and possibly another taco.  But I didn’t.  And I passed up dessert as well.  On a
platter were a dozen or so little pastry-looking things laced with the oddest bright-colored icing
I’d ever seen, which made them easier to resist.  Although judging by the rest of the meal, there’s
no telling what I missed out on.
     I gathered my plastic-ware for the trash and poked my head in the kitchen to leave a
compliment, and found Ramona and another woman in there.  Dinner was wonderful, I said, but
those beans—those are the best beans I’ve ever had.  Ramona nodded and the other woman
beamed.
     Then I left.
                                                        *****
     I haven’t been to McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, or any other fast-food franchise in I
don’t know how long.  But I gather that part of their appeal is predictability, familiarity.  Patrons
know exactly what to expect.  No surprises.  But surprise and unfamiliarity can yield wonderful
results.  They did in Medicine Park.
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