“Morelia is a taco town”, Molly remarked over morning coffee a few months ago. I didn’t say anything because I knew her remark wasn’t meant to be critical. It’s just that after living in Morelia for a full year, we had realized that every time we went out for dinner, we always wound up eating tacos. Tacos, in various forms, were always on the menu. No burritos ‘enchalada style’ like Arizona. No tamales in our part of town.
“I have a terrific idea,” Molly smiled. I closed my eyes, almost afraid to ask. “And what is it this time?” I grumbled.
“I’ve decided to open my own food business,” she announced, her voice laced with enthusiasm. “There are lots of taco stands everywhere you look, so I’ve decided I’m going to operate a tamale stand!”
I closed my eyes again as she told me about her latest venture. I shook my head in despair as she explained how she would have a portable stand built in front of our house. “We live on a corner,” she reminded me, “and we get lots of foot traffic. It would be a natural and it would give me something to do.”
Since Molly spends her day in a wheelchair, I wasn’t about to argue. Maybe it would be good for her, I thought. A perfect chance to meet friendly people. An opportunity to learn a little more Spanish. And, more importantly, I reasoned, if it would be anything like her past ideas, it wouldn’t last long anyway.
I was wrong. For one thing, I didn’t know Molly could make such delicious tamales! Nor did I know that tamales were first invented in a small village on the outskirts of Dublin hundreds of years ago. Molly told me that. She also told me that the Irish used a special ingredient in their tamales, and, thanks to her grandmother’s recipe, she knew exactly how to make them.
Two weeks later her stand was open for business. A shiny green stand with a canvass roof, and a large sign on the top that proudly proclaimed “MOLLY’S TAMALES”! I now spent my days making tamales exactly as prescribed by Molly, and then I would have to hide in the bathroom while she added her ‘secret’ ingredients.
Business was slow. But only until the word spread throughout the neighborhood that Molly’s tamales were truly different. They had never tasted such flavor, and they begged Molly in vain to divulge the ‘secret’ ingredients. Most of the customers found that one tamale wasn’t enough. And each time they ate another, the happier they became! On weekends, our street corner would be full of people dancing and singing while clutching a prized tamale.
But eventually, things began to turn sour. Molly accidentally dropped a few tamales on the pavement one afternoon, and a nearby dog quickly devoured them. Suddenly the dog weaved his way to the middle of the intersection and took a nap. A three hour nap which didn’t do much to ease the traffic flow. His nap finally over, he yawned, stood up on wobbly legs, and made his way back to the tamale stand with a pack of other dogs, all waiting patiently for Molly to drop more tamales.
Since Molly has MS, it’s only natural that she would drop tamales from time to time. The dogs seemed to sense this. Mexican dogs, as we all know, are very, very smart. It wasn’t long before the dogs were napping in the middle of the street. All thirty of them. They now outnumbered the customers two to one. This is not exactly an exciting way to run a profitable business.
Our reputation was beginning to slide. Late one afternoon, a middle-aged bearded man rode up to the stand on his bike. He ate a tamale. Then another. And yet another. By the time he was finished, he stared at his bike through glazed eyes, then decided to call a cab. Unfortunately, when the cab driver pulled up to the curb, he eyed Molly’s tamales for the first time.
Cab drivers in Mexico, as you know, have a reputation for two things; they like to drive all day long; and they like to eat whenever they get the chance. Since this driver hadn’t eaten for at least an hour, he downed half a dozen tamales in record time. With bleary eyes, he too decided not to drive. So he joined the bearded man on the curb where they both waited for yet another cab. This scenario continued to the point that, an hour later, thirteen empty cabs were parked at the curb, with all the drivers waiting for another cab.
The final blow came rather unexpectedly. By now, we were getting customers from all over Morelia. Even Patzcuaro, not to mention a chartered bus from Guadalajara. We even had a chartered bus from Mexico City with a banner proclaiming “Viva Mexico!” and “Viva Molly’s Tamales!” The word had gotten around fast. But then, late one evening someone rang the doorbell. I peeked through the window, spotting a vehicle with a familiar emblem on the side. Soon we were asked to show our passports, work permits and other documents.
“All we have are FM-3’s”, I answered nervously. They gave me a blank stare. “And besides,” I added defensively, “our tamale stand is closed for the night. You’ll have to come back tomorrow. And thank you for showing an interest in Molly’s tamales.”
Unfortunately, they were more interested in the tamale stand, which they quickly hooked to the rear bumper and disappeared into the night.
Molly was crushed. But not for long. We still had a dozen tamales left in the refrigerator which we washed down with cold Mexican beer. We found ourselves laughing well into the night, toasting to a venture we would not soon forget!
As we crawled into bed, only then did it occur to me that I was glad it was all over. The food stands on the corners had always provided a vital means of income for the Mexican people, and we had no right to compete in such a manner. We suddenly remembered we were only guests of Mexico, yet grateful to be living in beautiful Morelia, tucked away in such a proud and magnificent land.
As I closed my eyes for the last time that night, I barely remember Molly speaking in an excited voice. “Tomorrow,” she whispered, “I’m going to tell you about another idea I have that will blow your socks off!”
Needless to say, I had a restless night, recounting all the ideas she had come up with since our move to Morelia. So many ideas, in fact, that I realized I was now down to my last pair of socks. Mexicans, as you all know, do not appreciate foreigners flitting around town with no socks.
Especially in Morelia. I don’t know why. They just don’t…