Denny was going to buy me lunch at one of his favorite Mexican restaurants. El Chavo, a quaint little place located on Sunset where it crosses Hollywood Blvd, in the Silver Lake district. Up until this time, my experience with Mexican cuisine had been limited to a dinner at La Comida Mortal in Downtown Detroit when I was in high school (we all came down with food poisoning), El Nibble Nook on old Grand River near 8 Mile, and Trini and Carmen’s in Pontiac , that had to close because of a small botulism issue. Figuring that I could order something resembling a Taco Bell Crunchy Tacarito Supreme, I went along. Little did I realize that I was about to experience a culinary metanoia unlike anything mankind has seen since someone dared to eat a raw oyster. El Chavo’s interior resembles what a finished basement in the MidWest would look like if it had been designed by Bob Mackie, and built by Tim Burton. Upon entering, one notices the subtle use of Christmas lights affixed to every straight surface. What appear to be glowing stalactites are neon sombreros glued to the ceiling. The lack of windows to the outside world gives the place a feeling of both entombment and Old Hollywood adventure. Once we were seated, the waiter brought us a basket of chips and a bowl of a viscous red liquid. He then said, “Would the señores care for a drink?” Denny answered, “Two margaritas.” Hhmmmm. I guess in L.A. they use margaritas instead of the Recess Club’s onion soup. I wasn’t fully prepared for what arrived. The two margaritas I had in my life up until then were pale green in color, and served in something like a small sherbet glass. El Chavo served their margaritas pink, for some unknown reason, and in beer flutes. Maybe they thought it made them look less threatening. It didn’t. Especially when I took a chip, dipped it into the red sauce, and placed it in my mouth. The salsa wasn’t so much hot, as transcendent. The room began to spin. The top of my head turned into a sponge. Suddenly, the writings of Carlos Castaneda made a lot of sense. Shapes began to shift. This was good stuff!!! Denny talked me out of drinking it straight from the bowl, and ordered two more margaritas for us. We made El Chavo one of our regular luncheon stops. The food was good, too.
The Mazda GLC. The Great Little Car. It had saved Mazda from financial disaster when the demand for rotary engines dried up. When we got back from El Chavo, Denny handed me the keys to my new free car…a 1978 Mazda GLC. It was parked in the lot next to our building. I couldn’t wait. Not just for the thrill of driving a free car again, but for the opportunity to actually drive a Japanese car, and to see if the rumor about people who drove Japanese cars developing mental illness was true. Now that I had a free car, I was released from the shackles of ordering hotel room service every night. I called some old friends in Encino and invited myself over for dinner. I was trembling with anticipation as I climbed into my new free car for the trip. Being used to the land yacht rides of my old Chevy Impala, the interior seemed a wee bit cramped. But at least everything seemed to fit together. It was a cold, dark January evening as I set out on my dinner trip. A cold rain was coming. My route would take me up to the Hollywood Freeway, through the Cahuenga Pass to the Ventura Freeway, then off at Balboa Blvd. Pretty straightforward. I strapped myself in. Side mirrors, check. Rearview mirror, check. Headlights, check. Seatbelt, check. Plenty of gas, check. These Japanese cars weren’t so strange. I set out on my way. My first hint of trouble came shortly after I had gotten on the Hollywood Freeway. The skies opened and the rain came down, aided by a nasty wind. I suddenly couldn’t see the cars in front of me. This was a problem as this was rush hour. I frantically grabbed for the button or lever that would turn the wipers on. This one? No, that was the turn signal. This one? No, that turned the radio off. This one? No, I think I just opened the rear tailgate. This one? No, that opened the sunroof. This one? No, nothing happened with that one. I finally found the wiper control. It allowed me to see out the windshield just as I was about to rear-end a stopped car. Whew! Now I had to figure out how to close the sunroof, as I was getting drenched. I had progressed into the Cahuenga Pass, readying for the merge onto the Ventura Freeway. I had to figure out how to close the sunroof. Realizing that I was feeling a little cramped, I decided to adjust the seat back a little, to give me better access to the sunroof. I found a button on the side of the seat, and pushed it. Bad idea! The back of the driver’s seat fell back flat, as did I. I was now going West on the Ventura freeway at 60 MPH on my back! On top of this, the rain pouring in through the open sunroof was as close to waterboarding as I ever want to get. I pulled myself up to a sitting position. I was soon to find out how quickly you get a backache driving without a back rest. I finally found the sunroof control, and closed the sluice. When I got to the dinner, I was soaked and sore. I figured out how to put the seatback up. I told my friends that I was soaked and sore because I had stopped to help a busload of orphans change a tire on their bus. That was the first lie I ever told! Next: “How Can You Eat That? We Don’t Even Like It In Japan.”