“This place is too cute for words,” I said to little sister as I tried to get comfortable in the fifties-styled booth at the 59 Diner.
“I knew you’d like it,” she answered with a grin. “You have to try the Reese’s butter cup milkshake. It’s sooo good,” she added. Little sister has a sweet tooth that’s unequaled and legendary. Someone so small has no business having such a love of all things fattening and sweet.
Little sister and I have this unofficial tradition. Whenever we’re out together, we try a restaurant where one of us hasn’t eaten. And then we order the greasiest, messiest food we can find and make a huge mess. As traditions go, this one’s one of my favorites.
Today we were at the Fiestas Patrias celebration sponsored by Heftel Broadcasting. Heftel owns five Spanish radio stations in Houston. My University bought a booth at the celebration. Being one of the Spanish-speaking people in my division, I was volunteered to work the booth by default. I asked little sister if she would be so kind to accompany me and, surprise of surprises, she replied that since she didn’t have anything better to do, why not?
Little sister and I had a very busy afternoon. By the time it was over we were exhausted and hungry. Little sister suggested we try the 59 Diner. It turned out to be a very good suggestion.
“Thanks again for the help,” I said to her as I looked over the menu. I was sincerely grateful. “I can’t believe how busy we were. If you hadn’t have been there there’s no way we could’ve handled the crowd.”
The Heftel representative told us, near the end of the event, that they estimated 85,000 had attended. At our booth we were doing this little trivia game for prizes. Because about 90% of the people spoke only Spanish, there were only three of us who could ask the questions. My boss told me, also near the end, that she hadn’t expected that many people there.
“There should have been more volunteers,” little sister told me. I nodded in agreement. “Didn’t they know how huge this was gonna be?” she asked me. Before I even answered, she began to list the yummy foods I should order.
“The hamburgers are okay, but the fries are great. And you have to order a shake. I think they have Snickers shakes, but I’m gonna order the Reese’s shake. Did you see that they have Buffalo wings? I don’t know how you can eat that stuff, but Stacie says that they’re good here. Can you believe they have a Blue Plate Special?”
The 59 Diner is a cutesy restaurant with a 50s theme going. They have the booths and the music and the decorations going in a way that’s almost obnoxious. They even have their waitresses dressed in pink uniforms with the sneakers and ankle socks with a checkered pattern. And, most importantly, the food is excellent.
Little sister ordered the chili cheeseburger and, of course, the Reese’s milkshake. I ordered the Deluxe Chicken Sandwich and a Diet Coke. My sister always laughs when I order the Diet Coke. She knows that I’m practically addicted to the stuff and don’t order it because of the “diet” part, but it always gets a smirk from the waitstaff when I order it with whatever greasy food I’ve decided to eat. We both ordered a side of mayonnaise to dip our fries in. A disgusting habit, I know, but one that’s become familiar and fun.
“The people in my office barely knew what the big deal with Fiestas Patrias was,” I told her with a confiding smile. “And the fact that they had never heard of the musical groups being headlined didn’t help. I guess they figured if they hadn’t heard of them they must not be very big,” I added, amused. My coworkers are two middle-aged women who would check the “White” box in an application. Not very good judges of what the Houston Hispanic population would find attractive.
The waiter brought our food and we shared a moment of silence. The sandwiches were monstrosities, big in a way that made making a mess part of the experience. “Not the place to bring a date,” a muttered as I viewed little sister’s plate smothered in chili. “I dare you to eat that without getting it all over you.”
Little sister attacked her shake, oohing and aahing with pleasure. Definitely not the place to take a date. She then gave me a smirk and picked up a fork and knife. “No mess,” she explained as she proceeded to eat her burger one piece at a time. All the while I was trying to eat my chicken sandwich, with some Mayo-mustard combination dripping down my hands.
“But then,” I said, getting back to our conversation, “they thought that Cinco de Mayo was independence day,” I told her. “I had to explain to them, last May, that Cinco de Mayo isn’t a big deal in México. That’s a U.S. thing. Neither of them had ever heard of 16 de Septiembre,” I continued. “And neither of them even knew that France once occupied México.”
I’m tired of having to educate the people around me about who I am and what’s important to me. I didn’t bother saying that to little sister. She knows. She feels the same way. I don’t know everything, but I knew enough to ask my boss if she exchanged gifts at Christmas. I knew enough to ask my coworker if she had learned her husband’s Cajun French when they got married. I know enough not to assume that everyone with a Spanish surname can speak Spanish and not everyone who can speak English prefers it.
Little sister ate most of her fries and a quarter of her burger, in addition to all of her shake. I ate a few fries and half of my chicken sandwich. By the way, it was the best chicken sandwich I’ve had in a long time. We both took the leftovers home with us. We were both so full we were almost sorry. Almost. But then, eating too much is part of the tradition.
“We gotta bring our brother here,” little sister said, referring to younger brother. “He’ll love it,” she said as we paid and left the restaurant. I agreed, knowing that we would probably be giving him the leftovers when we got home. And we left, dressed in identical UH tee shirts, with the sponsor badges still hanging from our necks, with full stomachs and carry-out boxes, getting along and driving home.