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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Veteran"s Day - A Time to Remember my Grandpa

My grandpa died when I was nineteen years of age, but I was fortunate to have gotten to know him a bit before he passed. Many of my siblings and cousins never got that chance. He was a quiet and hardworking guy who worked hard all day long and he always had a smile for me.

I spent the summer before my senior of high school living with my grandparents in their East Dallas home. My grandpa served in the South Pacific during World Way II, shipping out the night after he married his bride, my grandmother Elvira Portugal Leal.

He never talked to me about his days serving his country. To me, he was just my grandpa, who owned a tortilla and tamale factory in Downtown Dallas. I did not have an inkling of him as a soldier, as a young teenage boy who fought the enemy clear across the world from his family in Dallas, Texas. It did dawn on me that my sweet grandpa was someone important to others, people other than me, and my family, and his customers. At his funeral in downtown Dallas at the Cathredal of our Lady of Guadalupe, when I could not find a place to sit and hand to stand in the aisle, I got a clue.

Since he did not talk to me about those times, I have to share second hand a story my dad told me after he passed away.

As my father tells it, "One day, your grandpa said to me. Come on, son. We are going to Longview, there is a tortilla machine out there I want to take a look at. My dad said he did not want to drive all the way out to Longview, but my grandpa made him go. After looking at the machine, my grandpa stopped to refill at the gas station on Main St. After filling up, he went in and asked the person behind the counter if he knew Mr. Gray and if he knew where he lived. The guy said "Sure do", and gave my grandfather the directions. According to my father, they drove way out into the country and down a long rocky road. They stopped in front of a mailbox that said "Gray" on it. My grandpa got out of the truck and began to walk up the long hill towards the house when a dog came out and started barking and running for my grandpa. A bow legged man came out of the house and told the dog to heel. He put his hand up to shield the sun from his eyes and called out "Ruben, is that you?"

My father later asked Mr. Gray. "Sir, how did you know so quickly that was my dad?" Mr. Gray answered him with this, "Son, I walked behind your father for 4 years, if he walked, I walked, if he hit the ground, I hit the ground, if he said we could sit still and smoke a cigarette, I smoked a cigarette, if he slept, I slept. Your dad kept me alive all those years, so son, I would know your father's walk anywhere in this world."

Ruben Leal, Point man, Infantry Sergeant in the United States Army, served in the South Pacific, Honorable Discharge, Purple Heart, Bronze Star.

Thanks Grandpa, I love you and miss you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why Can't We Be Friends....It's Campaign Overload again!

I was just called a closet Republican or a confused Democrat. How is that possible? Not exactly sure but I can see where they are trying to go with that statement. You may have seen me click Like on FACE BOOK on the NO LABELS Campaign started by StarBucks CEO, Howard Schultz. I prefer the No Labels approach. With the political season cranking up and about to be full blown, I want to retain my right to ambivalent. Yes, I said it out loud and I meant it. Ambivalence to some is an outrage! Your a fence sitter, wishy washy, unstable etc, etc.

Nonsense, Hogwash. Ambivalence is a sign (at least to me) that you are considerate, that you like to weigh all the information received, weigh it again and consider it some more.

Isn't ambivalence better than a knee jerk reaction?

I am not telling you to be any way but the way you want to be. If you vote, Repo, fine ~ vote demo, fine. If you don't want a label, well then, now we are talking.

Just consider both sides of the equation.  Don;t get all your information from one source, listen to people that you may not agree with. Keep an open mind and especially an open heart. But participate, please!

What does a small business owner with a small blog got to do with any of this? The candidates sure are throwing out our names out like candy in a parade. Small Business Owners, Main St. America. So, I would ask all of you to get involved this year. I can tell you from my heart, and I am not some market analysis, think tank, expensive shoes, consultant yahoo out there running scams. Small business in America and yes, here in Texas is not doing so well. Not so well at all.

We need all of you to get involved, visit a mom and pop shop every once in a while. No, I am not asking you to give up your Wal-Mart, and Target, but put us in the mix too.
There is a great website called the 3/50 Project. Go look it up, see what you can do to help us.

Main Street America needs to to thrive, not just survive. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Remember When....It's gonna be a tough weekend....Get your kleenex ready...

9/9/11

Two more days before we will relive the horror of 9/11. I am emotional already, given the last few weeks with the City of Lewisville, and now the TV screen showing all the news coverage of the tradegies that happened here on our soil. The images of the destruction, of people crying are absolutely killing me and yet I cannot turn away from watching it.  9/11 is also my wedding anniversary and it is bittersweet to feel happy that I am still in love with my husband and that we are still together. Ten years ago when it happened, we did not celebrate that night.  Neither of us wanted to. For several years following the aftermath of 9/11, we declined to enjoy ourselves, rather we joined hands with the rest of the nation in somber remembrance of our fallen heroes.

Ever so slowly we began to go back out again. We started with Grapefest, going on the first night the festival opens and we quietly had a blast. Rain killed the attendance that year, but we walked hand in hand with the soft raindrops falling on us, laughing, shopping and drinking our wine. That became our new anniversary tradition. Some years, we would go twice to the festival. Gradually over the years, we felt like it was ok to be happy on that day and to do our own remembering.

I am also strolling down memory lane a lot more lately, or actually strolling down Mill St.
A lot of the old businesses are gone and the new ones don't stay around for very long.
I am in a very weird position with my own customers, now as well....They want to know when the Tamale Eating Contest is and if I am doing it again this year.

I find I am a bit tongue tied.

I pulled out my water proof mascara this morning, I plan to wear it all weekend. Got my kleenex box ready. Hey , it gets ugly. Remember that scene in You've Got Mail, where Meg Ryan has a cold and she is depressed that her bookstore has closed. Tom Hanks brings daisies to her apartment and finds her sobbing into her kleenex, yeah that's me. I get pretty pathetic when I cry. I walked into the shop today holding my kleenex and crying, crying for New York, for the firemen, for those who had to jump out of a burning building, for the widows, for the kids, for us all and for me too.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rodeos, Rubens and Reverse Warriors

Leaving the shop late Friday evening, I had forgotten that the Labor Day Rodeo was set to start. I have always enjoyed this event, and used to attend it regularly. My father was quite the horseman in the Mexican rodeos and he and my uncles used to ride in the Deiz Y Seis parades in downtown Dallas on horseback.
Growing up in Dallas, of course I have a keen affiliation for Cowboys, both rodeo and the football kind.  As I was tooling down the back roads of Old Town, Kealy St. that is, I caught sight of a handsome cowboy sitting tall in his saddle with the sun setting behind his back.  I just had to smile.

Times are a changing, but at least for the time being, we still have a rodeo here in town.

Labor Day is a national day away from the J.O.B.'s and I almost always take my day off seriously. This past year, we decided to go out to Canton, home of the World Famous First Monday Trade Days. My grandparents used to own a farm out there many moons ago and my Grandpa Ruben used to love to go to the Trade Days. I do too. I love to spend the day walking and shopping with my husband, eating Texas Tornado Tater's, turkey legs, drinking ice cold lemonade and sweet tea. And sometimes, I even find some impressive deals and steals! We taste new and interesting food products, see the latest big thing.  We've made friends out there over the years and try to visit some of the same vendors. This month, they had a heck of a time with the heat on Thurs, Fri and Saturday and then on Sunday came the north winds. I have a special place in my heart for vendors, they are an adventurous lot, fired up with the entrepreneurial spirit, hopeful to make their fame and fortune, many times not breaking even.
It's the chase, the hope that springs eternal that just maybe there is a pot of gold to be found by vending at some of these events. Truth be told, that is a myth, a pipe dream. The days of "making a killing" are gone. What with the overhead costs for tents, tables, insurance, event fees, event percentages plus your product, mixed in with the extreme weather here in Texas and a sluggish economy, it is damn hard to make your expenses and make a profit. Even at the World's Largest Flea Market and Trade Days, there are plenty of broken dreams to go around.
We have seen a lot of the vendors just disappear, some move around to a better "spot", some go to other more fertile ground (ie, a new event somewhere else). With the glut of so many festivals in the DFW area, our economy, and all the gloom and doom we hear on the tube, this is not gonna be a great year for special events and outdoor festivals.

I have sold tamales out in Canton more than a couple of times. But gave up after a few months, after the work, the weather, the tiredness, the losing money woke me up. I still intend to be there again one day, I am just waiting for the right spot at the right time.

I can always see the value of re thinking, reworking and reversing old values, opinions and ideas. Sometimes a break is all you need to see the forest for the trees. Hope yall all had a good little break with the long Labor Day Weekend.

About time to Fall...Yeehaw....And Go Cowboys!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Don't Hate, Appreciate.

Oh Lord, it's hard to humble....you know the song.  Gotta love the attitude in it. While I am not always braggadocius, I' m not against doing a shameless bit of self promotion when it's called for!
2007 - what a year! Not saying it was a lucky number 7 kind of a year in all aspects, but when it came to the World Tamale Eating Championship, it was a great year for us.

You know what they say ~ Third time's a charm.

We were changing the location of event again, but this time it was going to be held on the steps of City Hall.  I was working more closely with the City Staff who were now heading up the Western Days Festival and we were definitely on the same page with the layout and scope of the event.  We worked through the small details that needed to ironed out before the contest with no problems. I had several of the Hot Tamale girls returning and had even talked another long time customer into letting her daughter join us.  We really are a family here at Dallas Tortilla & Tamale Factory!

The event was still going to be held in conjunction with the Labor Day Rodeo that had been happening at the rodeo grounds for over 40 some odd years. Western Days had been the brainchild between the Lewisville Saddle Club and our business association, the OTBA.  Although I loved the rodeo and and had sponsored many a junior rodeo queen over the years, I was suggesting that we consider another date, since the heat and last minute summer travel plans seemed to work against us in the attendance of our event.

But that year it was still Labor Day Weekend and I was excited to be sponsoring the event as well as holding a customer appreciation party for my customers at the shop.  Plus the added bonus of having City Staff do a lot of the ground work for the overall event was awesome. As I was no longer serving on the Board of Directors of the OTBA, and frankly just plumb wore out, I was glad to have them taking over much of the grunt work. I could finally just focus on our  business and the Tamales!

Things were looking up for us. Eater X wanted to return to the event and other ranked eaters began to take interest in our little event. The City was going to even give us a tent to use in exchange for our donations of the tamales and of all the work that I was doing. This was going to be our year, I thought. My husband was even going to help again, and I had developed a well woven team of family, friends and customers to help me execute the event. Everyone  was excited with how the event was growing and wanted to be a part of it.  My father and uncles were proud of me.

Driving up to the event site that morning on Mill St., I drove along with several tractors carrying bales of hay and young people riding on their floats getting ready for the parade. I heard a few excited YEEHAW's floating down the streets in Old Town.  It was a beautiful September morning and the world was right.  Yessir, things were looking up for Dallas Tortilla & Tamale Factory....


Closing time...time for me to fly...stay tuned for more about the actual event known as the World Tamale Eating Championship.



Thursday, September 1, 2011

Football, Fear and Flying Donkeys

September is back and that means football here in Texas!  The high schoolers started last week playing in over 100 degree temperatures. NFL Pre Season and Saturday College Games on the tube.  And every year I say the same thing. Give pizza a rest and eat some hot tamales from Dallas Tortilla & Tamale Factory with your coca-cola or your cold beer. Change it up a bit. Skip the BBQ too. Live a little...Latin Style.

Football is good for our economy here in Texas. Say what you will, but it is Big Business and frankly I look forward to having footbal back in my life for the next four months. And yes, every year, I start up with the mantra...maybe this is the year, maybe this is our year. All you true blue Cowboy fans know exactly what I am saying.

Maybe Football will save us from the pervasive fear that is floating in the air, like foul bad breath. Watching a game, eating some good food, hanging out with friends and family, we can relax a bit and take a break from fires, floods, falling stock markets and fear of the future.

Can't hurt.

Several years ago, my husband and I were doing our Christmas Eve ritual, waking up at 3:45 am, dressing in the dark, grabbing our coats and driving to the Tamale factory in the pitch darkness. We are usually one of a few cars or maybe the only car on the road at that time on Christmas Eve. We made it to Dallas with no problem, loaded up the truck with piping hot tamales. We had gotten there before my father even, so we did not get to see him.
Heading back to the shop, I was fiddling with the radio, like I usually do, trying to find some loud rock n roll to get my blood pumping when all of my sudden, my hubby screams "Oh Shit"! and in a voice I had never heard him use before.

You have to understand this first. Because it is important. My husband very rarely curses. The only time I have seen him lose his temper and swear like a sailor is on the golf course!  I think it was the sound of his voice that made my blood run cold and I looked up just in time to see a small white import on my side of the car, but that wasn't what made my husband scream. He had seen it before I had. There was a large donkey, wide eyed, transfixed staring down from at least 6-7 foot high in our lane. The import who had come up from behind us blazing had changed lanes at the same time my husband was changing lanes to avoid hitting the donkey. I screamed in horror as right before my very eyes, I saw the import hit the donkey head on.  The small car flipped in the most amazing cloud of sparks and fireworks I had ever witnessed. My husband  and I were both screaming at this point as he continued to swerve over into the far left lane to avoid running over the now fallen donkey and the rolling tumbling white car.
I started crying hysterically, crying, and shaking. I could still see the donkey's eyes looking at me in confusion. I realized that he was lost.
My husband did what he needed to do to get me to stop. Reminding me that it could have been us in that accident and that we were still alive. "We're still alive, Rebecca, you;ve got to stop crying, now." he repeated. quietly.  I got myself under control enough to call the police. They had a real hard time believing me. I think they thought I was a late night party animal and was seeing things. I kept repeating, "the car hit a donkey and flipped over." I think the donkey is dying, please get help here. Please send an ambulance for the driver." 
Neither my husband or I could not see how either the donkey or the driver of the car could have survived. We continued the drive back to our shop in stunned silence. I knew I had to greet my customers who would be waiting for us at the shop, so I busied myself with my compact and lipstick. I noticed my hand was shaking as I tried to apply some mascara to my swollen red eyes,so I gave that up and just started to pray. 

Grateful to God for sparing us, a whispered Hail Mary for the donkey and the driver. Confused about why the donkey was there in the first place, sad for the poor animal and the driver. I was in a daze the rest of the day, and even though my husband brought me a large coffee and chocolate donuts, my head was fuzzy. I saw myself in the mirror I keep in the back for touch- ups;  I looked scared.

December 2008 ~ I saw a flying donkey amidst a cloud of fireworks. I could'nt help but wonder...was this a sign of things to come? 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Thin Line between Love and Hate.

My mother told me that once. She was a big believer in phrasing everything in a one liner. She loved using quotes. I think I might have inherited that trait from her, I like the ease and economy of it.   So here I sit on a thin line between love and hate, and I go back and forth like a damn seesaw. But I am going to follow the yellow brick road down to my memory bank and share that story I promised you.

The Second Annual World Tamale Eating Championship was still organized by myself and working in conjunction with the OTBA on the scheduling and the fine details. But having worked with this fine group of individuals for several years now, they knew they could count on me showing up and doing what I promised I'd do. We were a good mix, a stellar group of small business people and the OTBA was finally getting some notice up at City Hall and in the community. We had a bit of star dust on our coat tails.

Looking back, I am still impressed that we put on Western Days all by our lonesome. Hell, the City has a staff of about 8-9 plus a hired outfit with a huge staff, plus contractors that costs the tax payers Hundreds of Thousands of dollars and we still ran circles around them. It's true, we did. And probably still could, if we could assemble that dream team.

The WTEC was held on the Community Stage that year. It sat caddy-corner at Main and Church St. Even though it was only our second year doing the championship, I got a call from the IFOCE that Eater X, a top ranked world class eater was interested in flying down. Then I got a call from Tim myself here at the shop. He told me that he was coming in and could he come to my shop to meet me. I called the husband and told him the great news!  

WOW..the big time at last. I was so happy, just bursting with pride and called my dad. He was a bit skeptical, but as he said "If it helps your business in Lewisville, I am all for it." He liked the idea of it, but did not see how it helped us overall as a company, since the focus is on the eaters and how much they could eat.

The big day came and as promised, Tim comes to my shop at about 9:30 well before the contest. I could tell my husband had a touch of the green monster, as Tim turned out to be quite the looker. We were both impressed with how sweet and humble this world class eater was and how impossible thin he was! He sat and watched the parade with us and visited with us for a bit. Then when he took his leave, he told me something I won't soon forget. "When I looked at your website and read your family history, I just had to come. Then I saw all your photos. I came down mostly because of you." I was real glad my hubby had left the premises!

The Mayor wanted to be a part of the action, so we invited him to come up and announce the event this year. The IFOCE brought all their great music and awesome MC and the show began. This year I added jeans to our look and two new "Hot Tamale Girls" for a total of four of us. Raquel, Tyler, Jessica and myself. One of my customers had asked to be a part of the action, so we had him up there on the stage with us!  The crowd was there and into it. Cameras were everywhere, masa was covering the stage. We were slipping and sliding in it! And then it was suddenly so clear that this was no longer a contest but a domination! Eater X was clobbering the tamales and the other competitors! Some of the lightweights were using their slop buckets but I kept my eyes on Tim and his plate.

Suddenly it was over! Drenched in sweat, and beaming from ear to ear, I talked to the press in English and Spanish. This time it was about us, Dad! We had a world class eater eating our tamales, but we stole the show. Dallas Tortilla and Tamale Factory made the local news that night, not City Hall.

And I think that's when the jealousy began. It is amazing how petty people can be, how they don't want to give credit where credit is due, but that's the way of the world. It seems clear to me now, that some in that Taj Mahal began to get a bad case of the big green monster.

I worked my butt off to make that event a success, and I accomplished it with my awesome family, loyal customers and the fab folks at the OTBA and the IFOCE.  The glory was mine and I will wear my crown proudly! 

The next year was still good, but bittersweet....stay tuned.