How to Live in El Paso: Your Third Place

The Moctezuma Cafe was a little dive bar in downtown El Paso. It was a block from the courthouse and frequented by lawyers and other lowlifes. The main entrance was through the alley, but a side door let you step down into a naked parking lot. A row of windows, painted yellow, lined the high ceiling. On one side of the shotgun layout was a diner counter, and beyond that a griddle and burners under a stainless steel range hood. Further in on the opposite wall was a bar. Prominently featured on the back bar, among other quality libations, was Night Train, a forty proof wine favored by connoisseurs looking for a cheap buzz. Night Train was available by the glass. Booths took up the rest of the walls, and four tops took up the rest of the space on the floor.

The Moctezuma opened at seven, and probably stayed open till midnight, but I only ever attended for breakfast. Breakfast was usually around ten or eleven for me because I spent my nights slinging drinks at a popular hangout on the lower west side. One morning I was feeling flush after breakfasts of Huevos Rancheros for me and my date du jour and I left a five dollar tip. That was probably the equivalent of a ten dollar tip today. Generous, but not extravagant. Our breakfasts and coffees probably came to around ten bucks.

Having set the bar, I felt obligated to maintain the standard, so the next couple of times I hit the Moc, I’d drop another nickel on the table.

Then things started happening. I’d go in for breakfast, and the waitress would bring me a newspaper and a cup of coffee as soon as I sat down. My order would jump to the front of the queue. The other customers were ignored until my immediate needs were met.

It was a worthwhile payout for a few five dollar tips.

So get yourself a regular hangout. A neighborhood bar, or one of those mom-and-pop Mexican restaurants that El Paso is so abundantly blessed with. Show up often. Be humble and polite. And tip generously, but not extravagantly. Do it without the expectation of payback or reward. Do it with love in your heart.

Somehow, it will come back to you.

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