He was smiling toothy at me, but clearly didn’t want me there.
“Coffee? Down there,” he said, pointing west toward Foster and Western. “Down there you have coffee, hamburger, everything you want.”
He had a perfect coif of white hair to match his toothy smile. He was handsome once, you could tell. He was handsome now. But he wanted me out of Fiesta Time.
Fiesta Time is, well I don’t really know what Fiesta Time is. It’s on Foster a few blocks east of Western and it appears to be a convenience store that also sells or used to sell decorations and party goods for weddings, confirmations, quinceañeras and other milestones of a Hispanic life.
You can also buy hot sauce and Bimbo bread there.
The stretch of Foster was mostly residential, but with this oversized bodega plopped among the homes. A plywood sign marked with the store’s name in a party-store-appropriate font was sitting on the floor behind the storefront window, just leaning there behind the glass, propped up against the back wall of the counter area.
The windows were covered with handmade signs I don’t recall.
One by the door on the west corner of the building said “We Have Lotto Machine.” The door lacked the usual static stickers letting potential customers know credit cards would be accepted. I walked in to explore with a lie about wanting coffee.
Fliers in Spanish about church fundraisers were slapped to various surfaces around the store. The front of the glass counter. A wall. A machine that either gave gumballs or lotto tickets. On the counter in front of the man was a tray of homemade cookies for sale. They were khaki-colored, dusted with powdered sugar.
The man was kind to me, I admit. He let me poke around a bit even after realizing I was just another white man looking at his business and heritage as a kitschy oddity. The snow outside was upgrading from blowing to blasting, so maybe he wanted me out of there so he could go home, so I could stop wasting his time.
Or maybe his English just wasn’t very good.
“On this side, nothing,” he said as I started to walk down the first aisle, the one stacked high with various white and pink party goods.
He said it with a stern voice, but he didn’t stop that kind, toothy smile the entire time.
I poked around the grocery store part a bit, but I’ve seen food before. The back wall was covered with re-bagged bags of candy and nuts. More party goods poking out of boxes separated the grocery area and the wall. A “Dora the Explorer” piñata smiled at me.
I ambled up to the counter, doing that thankful, grateful, nerdy, affable, harmless thing I do so well. I casually asked the man how long the store has been there.
He said “OK” and kept staring at me. I asked again.
He said “OK” again and stared, that handsome, toothy, wise, kind smile on his handsome, toothy, wise, kind face the whole time.
I got the hint. The Dora piñata watched me go.