My mom sends me to Gordo’s when she works late. It’s just a couple of blocks from my house, and the line there always stretches out the door. Inside, it always smells like carnitas and melting cheese. The walls are always covered with ads for housecleaners and daycamps, and it’s never really light in there; the tables are kind of greasy and the guys who make the burritos never wear gloves. Ever.
When I’m waiting in line I can usually see the sun just starting to set, and it’s the time of day when families are wandering up and down Solano and looking for a good place to eat dinner. There are a lot of little kids.
The same guy always takes my order at Gordo’s. We smile at each other and I order three burritos. He never believes that I don’t want any meat on any of them, and I guess that makes sense because everyone orders meat at Gordo’s.
As I leave, I wonder if I would smile at him if I ran into him anywhere else. In my mind, he’s the burrito guy. In his, maybe I’m the girl with the weird order.
People like organizing things. We like everything to line up perfectly or fit into neat little boxes. The burrito guy fits so nicely into one of those boxes because I don’t know anything else about him. I don’t know what he does when he’s not making burritos–if he goes to concerts or reads Hemingway, or if he even likes burritos at all. Those are the kinds of things that we’re supposed to write about in personal statements, because the little things are what set us apart.
I don’t know any of the little things about the burrito guy. I smile at him whenever I go to Gordo’s, I think he’s probably a pretty cool guy, and that’s it.
It’s so much easier to avoid getting to really know the people around me, because then they fit neatly into a box. If I only know a couple of things about someone, it’s easy to categorize them. I can take someone’s photo without knowing anything about them, and if I see it later I’ll mentally label it based on the person’s appearance. He’s the guy with the red umbrella, or she’s the one with the coffee cups. I don’t know who they really are, and even though I could’ve stopped and asked them pretty much anything (What’s your favorite Pixar movie? The best concert you ever went to? Do you sing in the shower?), I didn’t. Part of that is because talking to strangers is awkward, and asking them even vaguely personal questions is even more so, and part of that is because I know I’ll just forget.
I like to pretend that I’m one of those observant people who knows how to fade to the edges and figure out who everyone really is. Pretend is the important word there, though, because at the end of the day, I don’t know if I’d smile at the burrito guy if I ran into him at not-Gordo’s. I like to pretend.