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swensen’s, south of the border

January 22, 2008

So, Melania and I returned to Juarez last night. I’ve been boycotting it; I’ll tell you why in a minute. But Melania doesn’t want to go to Little Manuel’s right now—there’s a waitress there, with a grin on her face, and a psychotic gleam in her eye, who scares her. I kinda don’t blame her.

Juarez has the best food ever. It’s quiet and unassuming and totally friendly, and I love going there. Awhile back, when I first noticed that health ratings were now easy to get to on the county website, I looked it up. They didn’t do very well, not for the structural reasons most older restaurants don’t do well, but on things like “employee handwashing.” Still, their food was fresh and beautiful and delicious, and what does the health department know—I don’t really trust them anyway.

But one day, I asked for a bag to take my food home in, and the lady behind the counter, after looking around for a few seconds, picked one up off the floor that she had just stepped on and handed it to me with a big smile. And well, then I had to quit eating there.

I couldn’t stay away, though. The food is too good, and the people are too nice, and really, it looks just fine. In the end, the bag episode was probably more an aesthetic problem than a health issue, and my immune system can always use a little exercise. So I repent.

Melania and I were reminiscing about when it used to be Swensen’s, because that’s what it was, originally. This was one of the gleaming highlights of my childhood. When they built that place, and opened Swensen’s, the whole town was over the moon. It was the first ice cream parlor of that kind—with what seemed like hundreds of flavors—that most of us had ever seen. And in a glassed-in room to the side, you could watch them make the ice cream right there. They had all kinds of specialty flavors, like Pink Squirrel, or Bubble Gum, the kid’s dream come true, or things with fresh fruit. It was like choosing heaven, deciding to drive down there after dinner. After a few years, they got rid of the ice- cream-making exhibit, sadly. But Swensen’s stayed around for a long long time, and when it was gone, a certain part of our shared experience lost its beacon.

But Juarez is good too. It’s really good, and if I have to, I’m just going to keep my eyes shut, because I can’t do without it.

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