Indian Tacos, Uncertainty, and Burger King
CB Bassity, ©2001, all rights reserved
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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
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
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
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
I was no less expectant, hoping maybe someone
would ask, Are you here for the tacos?
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.