I’m not sure if she’s there every night, but every time I’m at the local Safeway, she’s there as well, lingering near her parked minivan, her voice quiet, but carrying easily through the twilight even so.
“Tomales!” she calls, a slight upward lilt at the end of the word. And then, when you’re just at her actual parking spot she meets your eye, no matter how much you try to evade her dark gaze, and she asks, her accent making it more musical than annoying, “Do you want to buy some tomales? Only a dollar each.”
Most nights, we shake our heads, and murmur, “No, thank you,” and she accepts this, and we go our separate ways. Tonight, we were hungry, and had nothing planned for dinner, and I knew, because her young son used to go from door to door selling the same tomales, in my parents’ old neighborhood a few blocks way, that they were “safe” the way those See’s candy bars that kids push so shamelessly, in order to earn money for school functions, are also “safe,” so we stopped, and I said, “sure.”
She has three kinds of tomales: chicken, pork, and jalapeno and cheese. We’re wusses about spices, and I’m not a pork fan, so we bought chicken tomales, six of them, giving her exact change, and being ushered to her van, which she opens to reveal still-warm containers of tomales, and which filled the immediate vicinity with the warm smell of corn and meat and herbs.
We thanked her, and walked the rest of the way to our parked car, and she went back to her routine, calling out, “Tomales!” and “Do you want to buy tomales – only a dollar each!” to the next passersby.
On the ride home, I mused about how Fuzzy never stops at truck farms when we go down highway one, and I always want to, and how I like supporting the people in my neighborhood, even if it’s just this small woman, probably about the same age as my mother, selling tomales in the Safeway parking lot, and not a storefront business.
But mostly, I was thinking about how much I love warm tomales, especially on a cool spring evening when I didn’t really want to cook.