The marigold colored walls of Barragan’s main room screamed sunshine. Rhea headed for the darkness of the bar. It was a little after seven on “Dollar Taco Monday” – an easy choice for her first review. The tacos were OK – somewhere between the fresh grilled asada ones at the Saturday night Pop-ups on Yale St. and the ones at Taco Bell. And at a buck a piece she could easily meet Manny’s five dollar limit.
She sat at the end bar stool next to a long verticle window. where she had a sliver of a view of the street outside. Sunset Boulevard started in heart of Boyle Heights – as Cesar Chavez Boulevard – it danced west through the brightly colored hood that defined LA’s origins; it shot past Chinatown where its name changed to Sunset then wove through the hip haunts of Hollywood – gliding past the glitz of the strip, winding through half a dozen stately hoods dripping with the trappings of wealth glimpsed through high hedges and iron gates before it sailed down its final hill and ended at the Pacific. Quite a street. And her view of the Hollywood boys strutting down it was a treat.
“San Miguel dark, right?” The bartender smiled at her. She smiled back,
“Yeah Ernie, thanks. And five tacos. Mixed.”
He slid her the beer and wrote up her order. She took a swig. After thinking a little, she took out her phone. She opened her notepad app and wrote a few words: “Dollar tacos. Back room. Sunset Boys. San Miguel.” She looked out the window, straining to see the boys on the street. It was a good spot to check them out – and maybe she’d find one to share a few tacos with. Several potentials hustled by. But it was still light out and she could see the frays on the edges of their strut and the tired in their eyes. This glimpse of reality sometimes made her wonder what the hell she was doing. Sometimes it even made her vow to quit. She wanted someone with hope and plans and laughter and sincere lust for her. But then dusk would fall and the boys looked better and her need overcame her vow.
A waiter brought Rhea her tacos, a display of chorizo, beefy oxtail, lime chicken, herbs, beans and cacique cream encased in fried tortillas. Heaven. She looked back out the window, maybe someone to share with would walk by. A scruffy girl about sixteen came into view, carrying an overstuffed blue IKEA bag. Rhea drained half the beer in a single gulp, wrapped the tacos in a few napkins, slapped ten dollars on the counter, took the tacos and left.
Outside, Rhea looked for the girl. She hurried past a mobile covid vax truck and two food trucks parked behind it, selling fried chicken, plantains and waffles to the newly vaxxed.
Rhea spotted the girl on the corner. She approached her.
“Sheena?” Rhea said, close behind. The girl turned.
“Officer Porter!” she cried out, recognizing Rhea.
The girl seemed shaky. Are you OK?” Rhea asked her.
“Yeah. Yeah…” Sheena answered, unconvincingly then looked at the napkin-wrapped bundle Rhea was holding. “Those tacos?”
Rhea offered them to her, “One is chorizo.”
Sheena flashed a brief smile as she took four of the little tacos, leaving the chorizo one. “I’ve been looking for you. Where’ve you been?”
“Sorta on a break.” Rhea explained then asked again, “Everything OK?”
Sheena wolfed a taco. Finally she answered, “No.”
“What happened?” Rhea asked.
“Nothing happened really, it’s just… There’s this smell…”
“Down by camp.”
Rhea looked at Sheena’s IKEA bag, “So you’re moving?”
She nodded “Just until it goes away… ”
“It’s that bad?”
“Yeah.” Sheena confirmed.
Rhea tried to offer an explanation, “It’s probably just all the trash there. Or maybe all the piss, soaking the ground.”
“No…” Sheena said, kind of slow. Something was bothering her.
“Could be the muck in the L.A. River.” was Rhea’s next idea.
Sheena looked her in the eye, “It’s kind of a scary smell.”