Yesterday I took a Chinese family over to Juarez. It was Chinese New Year’s Eve.
We walked over, and got to the Kentucky Club about 11. The bartender let them go behind the bar for a photo. It was the only time in my life I’ve been in the Kentucky Club and not ordered a drink, and it wasn’t the first time I was there at 11.
The five-year-old was amazed that the barstools swiveled.
We walked to the plaza, and the cathedral, and the Nuevo Café Central and the Tarahumara food stalls.
But naturally, while we were in Juarez, they wanted to eat Chinese food.
We passed a couple of places before we found the Gran Dragon on de la Paz.
The Gran Dragon took its decorating cues from Dunkin’ Donuts. The bright pink and milk chocolate brown clashed agreeably. The Chinese guy behind the steam table seemed friendly enough.
Joe and the guy started talking. Mandarin, it turns out. Neither one seemed too surprised to see the other, in a Chinese restaurant on a back street in downtown Juarez. I guess there are so many Chinese you might run into them anywhere. Or maybe the Gran Dragon draws a Chinese clientele.
Joe told me his family wasn’t enjoying the American cuisine. He said they stopped at a Pizza Inn in West Texas, on their drive from Austin. Pizza crust and cheese, he said. In China, dairy products are for the heathen barbarians.
The food in America was too sweet, he said. Or too salty.
The woman who ran the Dragon came by our table, to offer us a sampling of what the staff was having for lunch. They were eating broccoli and clear noodles with sausage slices. I had a hard time picking up the broccoli with the chopsticks I was using, one of only three pairs in the house. Joe tactfully overlooked lack of dexterity.
Joe tried to pay, with a hundred dollar bill. In that neighborhood, having a hundred dollar bill is like being penniless, unless you want to buy a lot of something. Nobody has change for a hundred dollar bill.
I gave them a twenty, and got change in pesos. Joe paid me back later.
They hardly touched their food at the Gran Dragon. Too sweet, Joe said. Too salty, his wife said. They make it for American tastes, he added.
Or Mexican, I thought. Whatever.
We walked back over the bridge. A little I 94 snaggle at customs was quickly resolved.
I walked them back to their rent-a-car, a little silver Chevy that they left in one of the lots by the bridge.
Is there anything in El Paso for kids to do? Joe asked me. Their five-year-old was tired and restless.
There’s the zoo.
No, Joe said.
I already knew they didn’t like museums. Western Playland and the water parks are out of season, and besides, they were from Beijing. Aside from a pistol range, what in El Paso could possible interest a cranky five-year-old from Beijing?
Triple A baseball? Maybe. But the ballpark’s not finished, and the season hasn’t started, and when everything clicks, we’re only talking about 71 opportunities a year. A little worse than a one in five chance, for any random day for visitors from out of town, further restricted by time of day.
They drove off before I thought of the pistol range.