The Lone Soldier!

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I first saw Jose, that’s not his real name, eleven months ago on my way to my daily work out. My main reason to join the gym is so that I can keep in shape and lose a few pounds here and there, but I am convinced Jose has a different agenda; I am pretty sure his end does not liken mine.

I never had the opportunity to personally meet, talk or ask Jose to learn what he is up to since I never summoned enough courage to do it. I had the opportunity the other day to do just that but I chickened out; I caved in fearful of approaching a stranger.

I was on my way home and was this close to stopping but was too afraid he would chide me. It just so happened that I was not in position of a camera and so I resorted to snatching his picture from behind with my cell phone  – hurray to technology.

We used to cross paths every day; he would go north and I south but in my car. You see, the very first time I saw Jose, he was out there going in circle, around the neighborhood, in the sun walking patiently in a straight line with perspiration marks carved all over his back; not hurried, striding at his own pace, very focused as if he knew for sure where he was going but just didn’t know when he was going to get there. The measuring stick could not stretch fast enough for him.

I have never seen him turning for any car, I have never seen him smiling, I have never seen him with a buddy, I have never seen with a bottle of water; he was just there, one lone man walking by with his three hundred plus pound self and a resolve.

That was yesterday and this is today.

After not seeing him for a month, today Jose is half his size but very determined. He is still strutting along the same corridor, at his own drum. I am pretty sure there will be another break some day as I hope to learn his driving force but for now, I pretend and am content to share his “story”. Real or not, I look forward to authenticate what I know for sure in his own words. What an achievement! Congratulations Jose and keep up the good work. Until we meet again.

Lakes Café Ruined My Sunday

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Last December, after our Christmas’s concert rehearsals, we decided to meet at the Lakes Café only minutes away from the church to celebrate Laurie’s birthday.

The gathering at the café after church for brunch – it offers a breakfast menu for all taste alike – has become a Sunday ritual of sorts, unless we are unable to persuade the ladies from going to Subway.  For some reason they prefer Subway to Lakes Café; who can argue with them on that! The majority of the ladies have breakfast prior to attending mass, I don’t. I still believe in one of the old Catholic rituals of fasting prior to communion.  So, in my mind, I am going there for my first meal of the day, breakfast and not lunch or dinner; I am going there for my first meal of the day, breakfast and breakfast I want. Even though, it is past midday by our arrival but breakfast I want.

I went ahead of the pack, there were ten of us, to secure us tables. Everyone was running late as we had just learned of one of the Caroline’s dad passing. She came to church to finalize his funeral arrangements so everyone was offering their condolences. In situations as this, what to say to the All Exclusive Club?! Other than those who have experienced it, no one knows what to say or do besides giving our sympathies. Under the circumstances, the archetypal warm words are always welcomed: “my condolences to you or your family” or “I’m sorry for your loss”.

No reservation is needed at Lakes Café; it is first come, first serve. I was walking towards the door when a lady on the esplanade complemented me on my dress. According to her, I always look gorgeous. I smiled and thanked her for her precious words. I too have seen her a couple of times, she and a gentleman whom I am assuming to be her husband, always outside munching on something and often with a cigarette on her hand.

The waitress, a blond lady – she seemed to be in her mid fifties – notices me, and smiles. We were a contingent so I walked up to her and requested a table. She points to the two standard size tables at the end, one round and another square located between the kitchen and the entrance to the loo. The spot was large but not comfortable enough to hold two huge tables as space is narrowed on the dining section.  There is space on the other side, the bar, but as you can imagine with the football game going, you will need a trombone to manage your pain. It can get a tad rowdy and if you are looking for to have a serene breakfast with your friends, you are out of luck. It is not the most excellent place to land.

I gently told the lady that the two tables were not ample enough for us; we needed something that could cuddle all of us and not feel like sardines. I pointed to an empty table muscled in between two others occupied by other parties but she quickly rejected it. She replied that it was taken, “it is reserved”, she said. To whom, we soon found out – no one, I stiffly learned.

My instinct told me that something was cooking that she was not being forthcoming. I smelled a rat but could not point my fingers at it, verify nor argue until patrons were seated. It was evident to me. I mean, the usual suspects were already seated, so why would she need another table? Besides, there are booths everywhere surrounding the place and they were all available. What made me a tad suspicious was her insinuation to another patron “another group was just setting over there so I guess, they can do it too”. She could not see the reasons why we needed an additional table. Terrific! Nice going, hurray to customer service my friend. “I bet you will argue with anyone that you did not say that but you did. I heard it!” I brushed her remark aside, pretended like I did not hear it and dumped it in a hamper. I made the decision to make the best of my day.

She had the “what is her problem” attitude instead of “she is my customer” attitude, “so let me do whatever I can to accommodate her and her party” face.  Her ruling on sitting us at these tables, were made prior to her learning that there were ten of us instead of eight as I previously cited.  Regardless, we were nine plus one child that made us ten.

Her waitress light bulb should have gone up or tipped her off immediately that another table was needed. Instead, she had us all seated like scrambled eggs, piled like sushi while the other table sat empty the whole afternoon. I could not comprehend and gave up comprehending. As I said, I committed myself to make the best of the day so I was not going to worry. However, circumstances were not making it easy for me; it was not to be.

She began taking our drink orders. I asked for orange juice and water. She comes back later to inform me that they run out of orange juice but “don’t to worry, someone is stepping out to get some.” So, I wait. A few minutes later, a server walks by to serve coffee. I told him that I did not care for coffee but was waiting on the orange juice. He comes back a few seconds later to tell me that they ran out of it. “I know! She told me that someone has stepped out to get some.” I did not mind waiting for the orange juice. So, I waited.

I learned later that in fact, no one had stepped out to buy any juice. So instead of telling me the truth – the supermarket is just around the corner – he came back to offer me apple juice. Feeling affronted and annoyed, my attitude level begun to heat up. I wondered who was running the show. I began sensing my tolerance mercury going up. I do not like apple juice, I did not want apple juice, I did not ask for apple juice. I wanted orange juice and orange juice I wanted to have with my hotcakes, sausage and eggs and no one was going to mess that up for me. I had already waited twenty minutes for the damn juice, what was half hour more?

I was hoping to see my waitress. I was hoping she could have come by to tell me that no one had actually gone to get orange juice as she cleverly indicated to me. She did not even apologise for her error or the switch but came by later, this time to take our food orders. I asked for number one, my usual – two hotcakes, two link sausages and one scrambled egg.

She returned twenty minutes later with our plates; perhaps, a little longer (it felt like eternity). I don’t know what to say other that I was disappointed. She left me a number one all right but it was definitely not the one I asked for. The plate she delivered contained two hotcakes, two bacons not sausages and one basic fried egg, not scrambled.

I gave the plate back to her and asked to please replace the eggs and bacon. I don’t do bacon and hate yolk, so my eggs have to be scrambled so I won’t feel the yolk.

She kinda stood there, perplexed wondering, searching for the plate’s rightful owner. Huh?! Wait a minute, should she know? Didn’t she take our orders? Now she does not even know who ordered it? Ok!  She takes the plate back to the kitchen as I suspected it, no one asked for it. Meanwhile, one of the ladies tired of waiting and with place to go, left without having her breakfast and only a cup of coffee.

She comes back later with another round, cleverly dumps it in front of me and walks away; this time with two hotcakes, two bacons and one scrambled egg. Stand by, it is getting close; I now have the hotcakes and the eggs right but I still have to deal with the bacon. I quickly raised my hands to tell her that the order was incorrect once again and this time, I was not going to “just” take it.

I was about to give it back to her when Laurie pointed out that it was hers. She was sitting just across from me so I just handed it over to her. The waitress gave me the “not to worry sign” signal once again, so patiently, I complied; I hoped with the right order this time. My patience was running a little thinner at this point yet hopeful. I knew my fuses were cranking up but I was determined to continue embracing the calmness at all costs. An hour later, I was still at the table and no breakfast. At this point all friends minus Louise, she was also waiting, were eating and I was left to wait for two hotcakes, two link sausages and one scrambled egg… and I was the first one to arrive.

She resurfaced a few minutes later to begin yet another round, with the same exact plates, two hotcakes, two bacons and a scrambled egg but this time however, the hotcakes looked like they were leftovers and were coming from the bottom of the pan. There were burnt, marks all over and to make matters worse, they were smaller then their usual size.

I was livid, simmering at this point. I got up, found the next available person and it happens to be the server and gave the plate back to him. I was so peeved, fumigating that I could kill a fly; I felt betrayed and insulted yet I did not raise hell nor got into a tirade. All I did, I never done this before, was to ask for the manager and/or the owner. I have never taking action for poor service but having waited for the orange juice and the number one three times, I just had it. C’mon, give me a break!

I found the waitress coming towards me again and told her to scratch it, I had canceled my order. She was very cold about the whole thing and did not even blink. “Ok” that’s all she said; just like that, indifferent and unconcerned.

Everyone was dumbfounded about what transpired. They looked puzzled and possibly thought that the whole episode did not merit my reaction but I had had enough. C’mom I waited a while, through three different rounds to in the end, ending up without eating a thing.  The thing about Lakes Café is the waiting; you constantly have to wait, I am not saying smoke a cigarette waiting but bathroom waiting. We once had to wait an hour before any waiter showed up but this one was a stretch; my luck I guess. I was miserable and could kill a gorilla if given the chance.  By now, Marylyn was also on her way out. I wanted to do the same but had to wait for Chante to drop her off. She was still eating.

The woman had the gall to approach me with an excuse; not to apologise but to point fingers at someone else. I guess her handkerchief to a confession was to lay the guilt trip on the cooker and brush aside her part in it; as she was too busy and she could not have helped it bla, bla, bla. Nonsense! She attempted to pass the bucket to the cook, which I found to be a joke. Her apology begun to smell like a rat and I wasn’t buying it. Granted, he cooked but she delivered it, no argument there.  She wanted to point the finger at him for having made the meal perhaps, but she was also to blame for not having brought me my order three times. Three times! It is not like I went to the park and walked up to the vendor for a hotdog. I just wanted a simple meal for breakfast, nothing major and she could not even do that. Neither of them cared and she only begun to sugarcoat me – no she went to Louise – once I asked for the manager’s and the owner’s phone number.

I am still wondering what ever happened. I should have been told the truth; they did not have the sausages or the orange juice. Just as I decided on the apple juice I could have easily changed the menu to bacon or scratch it all together. Since I do eat bacon then the decision would have been to bypass it altogether.

It was not the first time they exchanged my beloved hotcakes for something else; I once had to have French toast when it “mysteriously” landed on my table. Curiously, I accepted it even though, I was not told in advance of the switch. I was being polite and look at where it took me.  There was no reason for the deceit; there was no reason for the run around, the make believe or insinuation. I am customer and should have been treated as such. The trickery really got to me! I was there at 12:15 and left around what?!. Just to say that I got home around two, after I had dropped Antonia who only lives fifteen minutes away from me.

I still have yet to join the ladies at the Submay but swore to steer clear of Lakes Café as long as I can and at all cost. What ever happened to customer service? I wished I had an answer.

I Nodded Off To La La Land!

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I despise traffic then again who likes it; so as many mornings go to steer clear of the maniac highways, I escape to the back roads whenever it turns ugly in search of harmony and sanity.

Father Sardinias, our beloved priest who passed away a few years ago in a house fire, a lengthy and depressing story to recount, referred to one of our major arteries as Purgatory. The truth is not too far fetched.  The rush hour is a demoniac site of major portion and one need to have an enduring fortress, akin to those of Hauk Hogan, to embrace the potent shipment.  The widening of the road did not do help much.  It is still showered by beaucoup automobiles, their unique drivers and long lines of extreme chaos.

My journey took me through the town of Hialeah, Liberty City, Little Havana, Coral Gables then to Coconut Grove my destination. It is a fairly easy drive considering that it takes me approximately the same amount of time going through the highway. Less aggravation however, minus the usual injudicious drivers but it is expected. Who am I to judge? I once got a $100.00 dollars ticket in North Carolina going 100 mph on interstate 95 just because I wanted to get to my destination yesterday.

For weeks my peeps heard me lambasting about the election. No, not that one between Obama and McCain but the one between Lincoln Diaz Ballart, our long time Republican congressman – I myself have a reason to dislike the dude and it has nothing to do with politics but I digress, and the Democrat – I was not even aware of his political affiliation, Raul Martinez, the beloved but tainted long ex- Hialeah Mayor. Two Cuban Americans in their own rights, fighting for the same one Congress seat and it wasn’t pretty.

To understand the story, one needs to understand the history; the passion of what is Hialeah.

Hialeah is its own brand and has its unique flavor. It is an augmentation of embedded cultural settlement, an enigmatic and perplex town indicative of Cuba in American. If one cite Hialeah, good, bad or/and the ugly, aside from Little Havana, it denotes no pond intended Cuban Americans. So, without giving too much of their colorful characters, they were two candidates outstanding or not, and sons of Cuba, and the fever pitch could not have been higher.

Everyone was stalking for position and it was brazen. The laundry baskets were full and unloading freckles of soap and water mustering creative mammography.

The ads were colorful. One injected fraud, the other responded with fraud. One injected macaroni and the other cheese; one injected that the other’s nose is a mile long, the other injected that the other was wicked. And so they went on like table tennis and my head kept flipping from side to side, going like a yoyo.

The festivities did not stop there; it extended to their constituents with everyone positioning for territory.  Their passion depicted in their front lawns, and their car’s and tracks (big, small of every shape and form) bumpers. The best two one’s for me were a small sign on the middle of a big trash truck – it was so small almost invisible to the naked eye, and the big flaggy waving on the back of an open van, and huge truck with the candidate’s name splashed all over.

The scenes reminded me of Christmas decoration and a boxing match. Everyone gesticulated for position in the form of posters: big or small. In one corner were Raul Martinez, Obama Biden and the other Lincoln Diaz Ballart. McCain ballots.

Posters were mounted not apart from each other but staked like sardines, like aunts and their queen: one after another in a margarita mix. It was impressive and interesting unlike no other. I drove around surrounded neighborhoods and their passions were not effusive as that of Hialeah. It rained posters. It ate posters. It breathed posters. You blinked and it was still raining posters.

The same zeal and fervor that resonated Hialeah residents, impregnated me, moving me to chronicle the fixture in pictures.

I set sail loaded with a digital camera to do the irrational: driving while taking pictures. Yeah me, miss perfect braking the rules. I took the camera with me the previous day only to realize that the battery had not been charged. I was obviously disappointed but it did not deter me from my mission.

I headed to it again the day after. I summoned the road and made it mine, canvassing every corner for the torrential pageantry of signs. I drove around snapping pictures here and there as they came into view enthusiastic about my goods. It was not the best and wisest thing to do whilst mindful of the ominous road but I did.

I recall browsing the neighborhood for one last picture and just kept on going and going to the point that I missed my turn. It did not register with me that I was way, way off when I found myself under the I95 bridge at the opposite end of the city. I must have gotten so absorbed in whatever I was thinking at the time that it completely drove me into a doom. It blindsided me.

I came to notice that the environment was different and that the usual ocean of small businesses was not there.  It was replaced by a sea of unusual greenery and well-tailored, and manicured lawns. It only took the town’s welcome sign for me to realize that I was fifteen minutes off my course and entering a neighboring city.  It shook me! I felt like I had woken from a deep sleep. I was shaken by the whole incident. It was a scary moment to say the least, one that made me pause, one that made me breathe heavily. When did I end up there? How did I drive miles and miles without noticing that I was off course? How was I so blindsided that I did not realize I had tipped the pot? The water was leaking everywhere and I still did not feel the grip of it.

I pondered and pondered about the crack as I drove back. The conclusion I came to was that I must have submersed myself deeply into my thoughts and unconsciously kept driving. The unconscious part, that’s what makes me cringe and hide away in a cage or behind the gauze.  I needed to shield away my horror but could not find a cool enough refrigerator to house it, and chose instead to hang from an iceberg. Still, it did not cool off my brain temperature.

There are no answers, there are no excuses, there are no basis for what transpired other then I was very fortunate and that I nodded off to lala land. I could have gotten into an accident and/or a long list of things could have happened but thankfully, none of it transpired; I did not jeopardize anybody. In the end, after all the nastiness and million of dollars injected, the incumbent kept his office and the challenger succumbed to the reality of his own demise and evaporated just as the signs, as soon as the contest was over.