The guy in the bandoliers and charro hat looks at me. He checks his bandolier, loaded with shot glasses. I nod. He comes over, pours a tequila. Glugs it down my throat. Blows his whistle. Refills. Glug. Shakes my head about to make sure I swallow, traditional Revolución style. The stuff tastes sweet, as much 7-Up as tequila. I give him a buck. Tip. "No, that's $5," he says. "But I've paid my $15," I say. Okay, I shout it, because that's how much noise there is going on in here.
He shakes his head. Damn. Suckered. I hand over a fiver. What the heck am I doing here anyway?
Looking for free food, that's what. I'd been heading up Tijuana's Avenida del Centenario, heading for the border. I'd been to see my buddy Victor. He told me about this "Tequiza Tuesday" at Señor Frog's. "Free drink, free food. As much as you can eat, buddy..."
I found myself walking past the very place. Saw the sign on the yellow walls of a building in Pueblo Amigo plaza. "Señor Frog's, Martes la Taquiza del Frog's. World famoso." "Taquiza Tuesday at Frog's. From 3 to 9..."
Victor said it cost $15 to get in, and then everything after was free. So I join a line, pay my $15, get issued an orange wristband.
"You're sure it's free food?" I ask this guy Horatio.
"Absolutely, my friend."
"And free drink?"
"You got it. Three to nine."
I head up the stairs, along with some of the most beautiful women I've seen in a long time -- with the exception of Carla, of course. But sophisticated Euro look, man. Jeez. So that's when the charro comes up and I'm out a Lincoln. We're in this way-big square room packed with tall stools and tables, a balcony, and dozens of waiters, all wearing white trousers and white shirts and long colored kerchiefs in their back pockets. The music's loud. It thunka-thunks straight into your chest. Giant pics revolve on screens behind the raised stage.
My whistle-blowing charro friend comes by again. "Why didn't you tell me it'd cost beforehand?" I ask him. "This is your first time, isn't it?" he says, like I was a new boy at school. "Everybody knows you pay the charro." His name's Rolando. Comes from Veracruz. He signals one of the whiteshirt waiters. "Don't worry, my friend. There's plenty of free tequila for you."
The whiteshirt, Raul, says I can have anything from beer to tequila to rum to vodka to gin. So I ask for a beer, and when he brings that, in a smallish tall glass, I down it and ask him for another. "And a tequila too?" he says.
"Why not?" I say. I down the next tequila, too. And another cerveza. "Hey, man," I say. "I need to get some food in me."
Raul looks at me and agrees. "Down there," he says, and points me toward the far end of the room.
So now I'm in a line with a bunch of señorita babes and guys, all pretty suavecito. The food is laid out on a long table with a stack of paper plates up front. A cook behind the tables takes each plate and ladles anything you want onto tortillas to make tacos of them. But which is which? I spot this chef overseeing everything, José Medina, and he leans over and tells me the choices are fish tacos, a birria (beef stew), pork, chicharrón, carne asada, and frijoles. They have sopes (those small masa "trays") loaded with a green mess of stuff in them. I think it's ceviche. Whatever, I come away with a pork taco, the sope, a birria taco, a fish taco, the ceviche, and some frijoles. Rich pickin's. And yes, you can come back and refill anytime, no questions asked.
So I wander back to my table. Next door, this guy José sits down with his girlfriend Guadalupe and two whole bottles of Rémy Martin. Soon Raul brings them four glasses filled with ice and pineapple juice.
"They weren't part of...?" I ask.
"No, no, I bought these," says José. "Eighty dollars each. If you buy, you can reserve a table like this."
Wow. Can't believe that price. I start munching into my food. Chef Medina said the quality up here is exactly the same as their restaurant downstairs. And downstairs, I noticed, a bunch of kinda well-to-do people eating. And yes, it is good-quality stuff. The sope tastes great, and so does the birria, and the pork. Surprisingly filling, too.
Of course, Raul keeps supplying me with bottles of Sol Cerveza. I have to slow him down. Fact is, I have a pretty light head. I need time to catch up with myself.
Thunka-thunka. Music's pile-driving through my body. You can see through the high windows that it's getting dark outside. Then purple fluorescent tubes flick on around the room. Wow. Black light. My watch! For the first time ever, I can see its luminous dots. Girls' bra-straps shine like neon pearl ropes. The white-shirted waiters look like lighthouses bouncing around the room. Suddenly I see the whole stage is packed with guys and gals, dancing to the sounds. "Play that funky music, white boy..." A cheer goes up. Mostly from women. A banda, El Recodo, starts singing "¿Quien te guiera?" "Who will guide you?" Soon this whole room full of luminous people is singing. The place rocks. And my luminous watch tells me it's only 5:59 p.m. Uh, say, seven, San Diego time, now that we have two time zones across the border.
Man. When I finally stumble back down those stairs, stuffed to the gills, I notice a couple of lonely American gents pecking at dinner at their table.
"£Arriba, arriba!" I call out.
"Upstairs, guys. The action's upstairs. All the food you want. Just watch out for a guy in a sombrero wearing bandoliers."