Lunchtime, and the kids were off with their respective sets of friends. With nothing to do but the dishes or work, I did what any self-respecting writer would do: I got in my car and drove to East L.A. for a burrito.
Specifically, the green chili and cheese burrito from Al & Bea’s.
Now, while it’s true that I don’t consider myself a foodie because I don’t care about the “it” restaurant or rush to try things like bull’s pizzle soup like The Minty has been known to do, I will go miles out of my way for a promising burrito.
So would anyone born and raised in Southern California. Burritos and tacos (but more burritos) are our comfort food.
Which is why it was most passing strange that here in East L.A., I had my local girl status questioned. For the first time in my life. Here in Boyle Heights. Where my own great-grandmother, (by way of Ireland, of course) lies buried to this day! ¡Ay, Dios mio!
I ordered my burrito and sat down on a shady bench to wait for them to call my number. There was a gal sitting across from me, Asian-Americanish, with short, Popsicle-colored hair. We smiled at each other.
“So where are you from?” she asked. Her tone was friendly, but clear: You’re not from this neighborhood, obviously.”
“I come from right here,” I said. “I mean, I drove up from Long Beach but I was born right over here at Daniel Freeman.” Then I leaned in. “Why do you ask?”
“Because this is just a little neighborhood place and you look like you’re from somewhere else. You’re look so …bright.”
Oh God no. Bright? I spent 20 years dressed almost entirely in black, and only recently have come to embrace a wider color palette, such as autumnal tones and certain shades of pink. And now look what’s happened. I present like an out-of-towner?
I did a quick wardrobe survey: Hand-me-down red tank top. Same old crappy jeans I wear just about every day of the week. And mommy clogs. Which should have been her first clue that I wasn’t from the West Side or more fashionable zip codes. They won’t even let you off the freeway in parts of Hollywood if you’re wearing mommy clogs…
“Um, can I ask why I look ‘bright?'”
“I dunno. You look sort of dressed up. This is a casual place.”
That’s what I get for washing my jeans for the first time in weeks.
“And you’re blonde.”
Since when am I blonde? And since when is blonde not L.A. anyway? Didn’t we invent the blonde? But and anyway, I’m NOT a blonde, certainly not in the L.A./Hollywood sense of the word. Really she just could have come out and said I’m a little too caucasian for these parts (which I’m not, for the record), and I would have felt less insulted.
“Actually, I’m gray,” I said, sounding every bit as defensive as I felt. “Those blonde streaky-looking things are actually just bleached-out auburn hair color fading back into the gray.”
“You just don’t look like you’re from L.A.”
I tried not to glower. I really did.
“Listen. I just drove 30 miles for an effing burrito,” I said. “Who the hell would do that but a native Los Angeleno?”
She chewed her taco and considered. “That’s a good point,” she said. ”
Just then they called my number. In glorious Español. I grabbed it and split. Back on the freeway, back down home, blaring the Nine Inch Nails the whole way. Sorry lady. I didn’t have any BEACH BOYS.
I fell on it con mucho gusto. And washed it down with a nice cold jamaica agua fresca.
Was it the “best burrito in Los Angeles?” It ranked in the top five. But I didn’t feel it was the best I’d ever eaten. In truth I have to give it more research. Next time, I’ll bring the nits. Neither one of them is a blond.
And I’ll make sure and wear something black.