Author Archives: ecapetillo

“Big Burger V” by Eliezer Capetillo

11207 W Hardy Rd
Houston, TX 77076
(713)695-4595

Friday nights were very memorable at Big Burger V on the corner of West Hardy and Grenfell. Many people from around the neighborhood just hanging out eating a burger or sipping on a milkshake, and showing of their custom rides. People had all kinds of cars from hotrods, muscle cars, and lowriders. A car that is still very present in my mind was a 1950’s two door Chevy. I can remember that car like if it was yesterday. The red paint was close to perfect. At a glance it looked all original, but up-close you could see that it was heavily modified. The upper and lower control arms were chromed, including many of the steering components. The wheel wells were red and shiny like the hood. The original 350 motor, rebuilt to original specs, had many chromed parts like the valve covers, air filter, gas pump, pulleys, and the fan. The interior was restored to original condition giving it the old classic look, all red. Another car that stood out a lot was a 1970 Pink Panther Pink Dodge Challenger. Pink has never been a color of choice for me, but that car made pink look good. Everybody had their own car or truck with unique styles and custom touches that set them apart from the rest.

Big Burger V’s previous owner opened during the1950’s, it was only an ice cream place, its previous name wasn’t Big Burger V, Nick took over on July 16, 1973, naming the place Big Burger V. Cool cars and trucks were not the only thing bringing customers back, it was Big Burger V’s customer service and delicious food. At first Big Burger V struggled to bring in customers. Nick did not have experience in business, but knew sufficient English to ask a customer what he wanted. To make ends meet he had to open the shop seven days a week. Frustrated with still not bringing in enough income, Nick hit upon the idea of selling burgers, a successful venture.

Big Burger V has always been a good, clean, family-owned, old fashioned, no microwave burger shop. Its customer service is excellent. For example if you are not satisfied with your food they will change it, till the customer is satisfied. Its food is also some of the best in Houston Texas. There burgers are very good compared to many of the surrounding fast food restaurants, not to mention the serving proportions are also bigger. I can still smell the scent of the freshly fried French fries, and hear the sizzling meat patties as they are slapped on the grill. They only cook till you order and use fresh ingredients. The white and blue colors set it apart from all the other restaurants, staring with the blue porch that is not too flashy or elegant, but good for its sole purpose. The white walls and blue trimmings, give the small shop a very clean and welcome look. Many of the people that eat there are also very friendly. It’s an enjoyable place to sit eat and relax.
I had a personal talk with Kathy Nick’s wife. I asked her, how where they doing it to stay in business for so many years? And she responded, “To have a successful family business you have to be dedicated, honest, responsible, and treat your customers with respect. And treat your customers like if they were family members, show them you care about them, and over all excellent food”. She also told me that July 16 is a very special date, not only is it the day when Big Burger V opened, but on that same date years later Nick proposed to her.

Big Burger V is located in the Northside of Houston, it is very well known in my neighborhood. My neighborhood where Big Burger V stands is not as bad many people think it is. It just depends who you hang out with, and how you act around people. You’ll be good as long as you mind your own business and don’t mess with anybody. My neighborhood is mostly made up of Hispanics, but a big percentage of the people that visit Big Burger V are American. Some of my teachers from Sam Houston High School have many good memories at Big Burger V from their teenage years. My history teacher told us that when he was in high school he used to go there and hang out a lot, sometimes even skip school. He told us that everything around used to look different. Hardy toll road wasn’t built and were Hardy stands it used to be heavily wooded, and houses stood there. He told us that Sam Houston High wasn’t fenced all around and it was very easy to get out.

In September of 2008 Hurricane Ike hit Houston Texas. The day before the hurricane Nick and Kathy went to board up the place, but they had too many customers so they had to take care of them. Police stations were coming to buy food and many people from around the neighborhood too. They were so busy that by around 6 P.M. all the food they had was completely sold out. Days later when Nick and Kathy came back to see all the damage they were completely shocked. It completely destroyed Big Burger V. “When I saw the roof of the restaurant on top of the building next to us, I felt like if a family member was taken from me, we also had a very hard time opening the front door from all the debris”. -Nicks wife said. When I passed thru Big Burger V, I saw how the roof was completely torn off. There were pieces of roof hanging over the front edge of the building. I didn’t expect this much damage on their burger shop. They had survived many other hurricanes; I was thinking another one won’t hurt. The destruction was very devastating, not only to the owners, but the community, and its customers. Many teachers from Sam Houston were saddened by what had happened. They couldn’t believe that a place so memorable had been destroyed.

Luckily Nick and Kathy reopened seventeen months later, Many Houstonians and people from small towns awaited anxiously. While they were under construction a worker asked Kathy “Why are you spending so much money to re-open this place, you can probably get another place for cheaper”. When he asked that question many people started showing up and asking when where they going to re-open, so when the worker saw all of the people, he said “well that answered my question”. Nick and Kathy knew that re-opening and re-building the place was a good and smart choice.

February 15, 2010 was an incredible day for Nick, Kathy and their family; it was their grand opening after hurricane Ike. It was so busy that it was nearly impossible to find a parking spot. There were cars and trucks parked all along Hardy Toll Road. It was so crazy that people were parking from Shipley donuts on Little York all the way down to Big Burger V. It was a huge success for Nick and his family. Many people had to wait in line for four hours. As I stood in line I overheard many conversations, about older people in their teenage years. Many were saying that they used to go their when they were in high school, and now they were bringing their grandchildren. One conversation that shocked me the most was about an older married couple that met each other at Big Burger V when they were in high school. I was astonished of how this small place played a big part in many people’s lives, no wonder it was packed.

Going to Big Burger V has always been fun, especially now that I have an old school ride that I can drive there. Big Burger V makes me feel like if I’m going back in time, in the era when muscle cars were all the commotion and everybody used to hang out at burger shops. It brings back a lot of memories from my childhood.

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Elks Lodge A Group Dedicated to Charity and Patriotism by Eric Woods

January 2004–Houston, Texas is much different from the town I came from. I grew up in Vernon, New Jersey, a small town where everyone knows everyone else in some way. If you didn’t know the person, you knew the name. I moved here to live with my grandparents and go to school at the University of Houston. Instead of paying rent, I work on the house for my grandpa, and I run all the errands that Grandma doesn’t have time for. Before I moved to Houston this year, the only elks I knew of were running away from the hunters who wanted to put their antlers on the wall of their study. Then, one Tuesday afternoon, my grandpa asked me if I wanted to go to “the lodge” with him.

I said “What lodge?”

“The Elks lodge,” he told me, realizing by the confused look on my face that I had no idea what he was talking about. “The Elks lodge is a great place,” he explained. “It’s just a building that the Elks bought, and we use it as the clubhouse.”

My grandpa explained that he pays a membership fee which allows him to participate in activities provided by the Elks. There are limitless possibilities as to what he can do at the lodge. They have a bar where he can buy drinks ranging from Cokes to Bloody Marys. The bar tender is a volunteer, and only makes tips, so you always try to tip generously. Almost all of the members take advantage of the green-felt covered billiards table, which is getting old, but holding up well. According to what Grandpa said, it’s a lot like the table my dad has in New Jersey. There is a shuffleboard table, and a small game room with a mini-arcade, cards, and board games. All of the board games are old hand-me-downs, so they have all the classics.

Outside, in the backyard of the lodge, is the full size, in-ground swimming pool with a diving board that the kids love to use. Hearing about it made me decide to pay it a visit many times while I’m in Texas. Around the pool, he said there are lounge chairs, with some open pit barbeques, and every once in a while, members bring their families for picnics and pool parties.

After he described the club to me, I decided I had to see it for myself, so I put down the want- ads I had been searching, and went along with him. On the way there, my grandpa asked me to go into his wallet and get out the membership card. At first I couldn’t find it, but when I did, I asked what it was for, and he told me I would find out when we arrived. The first thing I noticed when we arrived was a cast iron gate in front of the front door. It is about twelve feet high and it is painted black with an Elks sign in the center. It had an elk’s head, with the lodge number and the name “Elks” on it. They also have signs that say: “This area is private property and it is surveyed by cameras twenty-four hours a day.” I looked around and sure enough there were cameras. One on the pillar scanning the parking lot, one on the gate watching the visitors, and there were a few on the sides of the building as well. I thought this was interesting. The security made it seem like we were entering a top-secret facility. I began to wonder if they had been robbed before, and that was the reason for the precaution. Before I realized it, I was daydreaming about a person climbing the fence and then attempting to break the lock on the front door. Then I bumped into the wall and returned to reality. If you don’t have a membership card, you can’t get in. You need to swipe your card in the locking mechanism, which is just like an ATM machine. When you swipe the card, the door unlocks.

The parking lot was small, and we crossed it quickly. I followed Grandpa into the front room where we were greeted by an unexpected face. There was an elk’s head mounted on the wall. It was stuffed and it had huge antlers. He told me about a woman who called it a moose head once, and they will never let her forget it. Every time she goes to the lodge, somebody brings it up. Charley, one of the other Elk members, greeted my grandpa and then said, “Who’s the baby?” while referring to me. Although the minimum age for a membership is 21, most of the Elks in Houston are seniors. My grandpa introduced me, and we started talking. Charley is a graduate of the University of Houston, and he was glad to hear that I am attending school there. He told me a lot about the Elks organization.

It was founded in 1868, as the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPO Elks), and it is one of the largest fraternal organizations with just less than 1.2 million male and female members. There are members of every religion and nationality. Their main commitments are to charity and patriotism. If they can raise money for others, then they are happy. With an average of eight million dollars in scholarships each year, the BPO Elks are one of the nation’s largest providers of college scholarships. Lodge number 151, the one my grandpa is a member of, is one of the oldest among the lodges. There are now over two thousand lodges nationwide, but number 151 was among the first to be established. They have changed the location of the lodge over the years, but it is still one of the oldies.

After we had some lunch, Dave, another member, showed me the flag porch. This is where they keep each of their fifty flags, one for each state. On the fourth of July, Veteran’s Day, Flag Day, Labor Day, and Memorial Day, a representative of the lodge (usually someone with a truck) goes and sets the flags on the median of one of the highways. This tradition is in honor of all who have been lost and all who serve our country with pride. I really appreciate this since my brother is in the Navy, on a destroyer, based in Japan.

While Grandpa was socializing, I decided to explore the grounds. It seemed as though they didn’t throw anything away. There were broken televisions and tables around that just sat unused. I came across the kitchen, the restrooms, and even the janitorial closet, but the most interesting thing I found was a big rectangular bulletin board with every color paper you could imagine posted on it. One of the postings said “Thank you Ladies Auxiliary,” but I had no idea what the Ladies Auxiliary was. As I read a little more, I found a list of names. It was the names of the officers who belonged to the Ladies Auxiliary. The most surprising thing was that my grandma is the secretary of the organization. I never knew because I didn’t have the chance to talk to her very often. She is in charge of calling people and making reservations, she plans most of the events, and she does most of the paperwork for the events. This was about the time my grandpa found me and introduced me to another one of his Elk friends.

He called himself “Yippy Skippy”, though other people just called him Skip. He is a tall gentleman with glasses, and his voice is like Louis Armstrong’s, but it’s a little higher. I asked him what the Ladies Auxiliary was, and he told me it was a group for the wives of the Elks. I asked if women could be Elks, and he answered yes, but then they have to pay the membership fee along with their husbands. If a woman who is not married wants to become an Elk, she would pay for her membership. However, Elk’s wives can join the Auxiliary for no cost, and that way they are not paying another membership fee, but they are still welcome at the lodge any time they want to go. Skip said that the Ladies Auxiliary was one of the most important groups associated with the Elks. “They do most of the work,” he said. “They do most of the planning for all of the activities, they host bingo every Monday and Thursday night, and they put up with all of the Elks all of the time.”

While I was looking at the bulletin board, I had also noticed a schedule of things to come. After speaking to Skip, I went back to the board to see what kinds of activities were coming up. Every Monday, the Ladies Auxiliary voluntarily hosts an open to the public bingo night. Anybody who likes to play bingo is welcome, and the proceeds go toward the Elk’s scholarships programs. On the first Friday of every month, they hold “bring your own steak night”. All of the members are encouraged to bring a steak, and after paying five dollars a head, a man named Herb cooks your steak to the specifications you desire. Your five dollars also includes all you can eat salad, and baked potatoes made by one of the members.

Part of the money raised here is contributed to the Sweetheart. This is a person who tries to raise more money than the other sweethearts in Texas (one per lodge), and whoever has raised more money by the end of the year wins. All of the money eventually goes to charities and scholarships, so it’s really just for fun.

During the dinner itself, there are other activities. They hold a raffle for a cheesecake made by my grandpa, and this always brings in a lot of money because he makes the best cheesecake there is. He has a secret recipe from Jack Dempsey who owned a restaurant near my grandparents’ old house in New York. Grandpa made a big one for October’s steak night, and a small one for one of his friends. We brought them to the lodge, and put them in the freezer, but the person grandpa made the small one for, took the big one by mistake. We were looking for it for about twenty-five minutes before we realized that she must have left with the wrong cake. By then it was too late, and we just had to raffle off the small one. Later in the night there is a shuffleboard contest. When you sign up, they give you a partner, and take another five dollars from each of you. The winners split half of the money; the other half goes to the charity fund. There is also a raffle for the “Booze Basket” which the Ladies Auxiliary stocks with various wines, and other liquors. The winner traditionally opens a bottle, and shares it with everyone that night.

On the second Friday of the month, “Chicken Night” occurs with a nice variety of chicken dishes for all who arrive. Grandpa bakes the potatoes for chicken night, and he always does them differently. From what the Elks tell me, they always taste good. The money they make during Chicken Night is split between the Ladies Auxiliary and the charity fund.

On the third Friday of each month, a “fish fry” happens. Just like the other Fridays, there is salad, potatoes, and usually a vegetable; but this time, fish is the main course. The type of fish depends on the month. Each month is different. Sometimes, they mix and make an assortment of fish so that everyone has a choice. The Fish fry’s proceeds are distributed to charity funds, and it counts towards the money made by the sweetheart. All of these gatherings give the Elks a time to socialize, and have a good time. I think it is nice that they have a chance to do this every month. The fact that all of the proceeds are used for charity or the Ladies Auxiliary makes it even more important to go and support the cause.

There are thousands of Elks lodges all over the country, but not too many people know about them. It is a great organization, and the members are great people, too. I had no idea what they were until I came to Texas, and now I love to go to the lodge. I know all of the guys, and a lot of the wives, but the best thing is that even if the Elks don’t know you, they will take the time to meet you. Anybody who is twenty-one or older is eligible to be a member, and it is definitely a worthwhile group to join. Although I am not an Elk yet, the members all treat me like a peer, and I go to the lodge as often as I can.

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Chinatown Dragon dances & Bubble Tea: Houston’s Chinatown by Bernice Tsang

11205 Bellaire Blvd. to 9180 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, Texas 77072

January 2004–Many Asian’s make their way across the Pacific Ocean to start a fresh life with new opportunities. Upon moving overseas, to the “Golden Mountains” roughly translated into English, they are presented with a new surrounding, far from home, and nothing but the clothes on their back and the suit case they brought along on the boat ride to America to remind them of China, the homeland. As American society began to accept Asian culture, the Asian society began to adapt to the American culture by building stores, shops, and buildings to remind them of home, soon to be known as Chinatown.

I go to Chinatown on Bellaire almost every weekend. Why? I don’t know. I like to walk around and see what has changed. My family comes here to go grocery shopping and sometimes we eat here, at the many restaurants that Chinatown has to offer. For some strange reason, this place seems to lure me in.

Today, we’ve started off at the Hong Kong Supermarket. This particular store is the 4th to open in the Houston area. It’s the most recent and offers more for the people around here. The supermarket itself looks like it was modeled after the ancient Chinese houses, with the tile rooftops and curvy corners. As my parents walk in, my brother and I lag behind. My brother scopes the area, looking for anyone he might know. I look at the little kids running around, joyfully playing around their parents’ feet. Gosh I wish I were a kid again.

We’re greeted by lucky bamboo as we walk into the grocery store entrance. I see people crouching down to look at the bamboo, which vary in sizes from 4 inches to 6 inches, and come in straight poles or ones that go curly at the top. I walk further to find my parents in the grocery section. They are looking at green onions and bok choy. “Bernice, could you get me bag please?” my mother asks in Cantonese. She picks up a bundle of green onions and puts it in the bag I give her. I walk over to the cart my parents took at the entrance and look inside. Various ingredients for tonight’s dinner lie in the cart. I look up and find a little boy in a cart opposite ours staring at me. I look at him and smile, waving my fingers. His eyes light up as the cutest giggle comes out of his mouth. My mom walks over, does the same thing, and giggles some more. We push the cart over the meat department, where my dad is standing, looking around. “It doesn’t look too fresh,” my dad says, speaking to my mom. “We could go to another market,” my mom replies. While my parents are in line paying for our groceries, I walk outside, into the mall of Hong Kong Supermarket. I turn to my left and see dozens of stores lining either side, selling things from cloth to make Vietnamese dresses to a toy store for little kids. At the very end of this stretch is the food court, where venders are selling their homemade recipes. I look to the right of the mall and notice that it stretches even further. Some restaurants line one side and a name brand clothing store is on the corner. A cell phone booth sits in the center of it all.

I look ahead and notice that my parents are almost out of the door, my dad looking back at me to see if I’m done looking around. I scuttle over and we all load the groceries into the car, get in, and gradually proceed on our way to the next destination.

As we’re driving, my parents are talking and I’m looking out of the window. I see many Asian restaurants and stores that line this part of Chinatown. They all sell and offer things that are indigenous to many Asian countries. I hear a low rumble approaching and look to see a spiky-haired person driving a fixed up car. My brother looks over to see what just passed by and catches my dad’s attention. “They all look alike Ben,” he says, looking at him in the rearview mirror. I notice what looks like an old fashioned Chinese palace come into view. My mom tells me that it is a Buddhist temple. It has what looks like a gold roof and a pathway leading down to a walkway built next to the bayou. It looks like a gigantic square mansion. I find this a very unusual place to build a temple, because next to it is another building with a similar colored roof, with a sign reading Home Depot. But, I can understand why someone would build a temple here, because most Buddhist people tend to be Chinese, and being that this is Chinatown, they picked this spot.

We travel under the Beltway to the other half of Chinatown, the half that has been here since I was a little kid. Run down apartments with faded sides and dusty parking lots line one side, occupied by elderly Chinese couples. If they need something, all they have to do is walk across the street into the market and get what they need. Or they could walk into a local restaurant for some Dim Sum. They walk everywhere because in China, they walked.

A few of these apartment buildings have been transformed into various businesses, one being a dentist, and another a martial arts school. My dad drives into a parking lot, almost hitting a lady that didn’t bother to look both ways. “Idiot,” my brother says. My dad finds a spot close to the entrance and parks the car, telling us to wait while he runs in. This supermarket, Dynasty, has been here for as long as I can remember. My dad would always come here for fresh seafood, bringing me along to look around with curious eyes. I used to not like it there because the floor was slippery and it smelled fishy. But I grew out of that. My dad comes out with a bag of fresh fish paste in his hand, something that he only likes to buy here. He puts it in the cooler we brought along and we are on our way again. As we drive further along, I see this magnificent building with red pillars. It’s the Chinese bank, with shiny windows that make the sun hurt your eyes if you were to look at them. Across the street in Diho Supermarket, a place we don’t go to as much as we used to. That’s been there since I was a little kid, too. It’s kind of run down now, with posters hanging on the windows that have faded with the sun. There’s a little ice cream parlor next to the market that sells crushed ice with various toppings, such as tapioca, red, beans, jelly and sweetened condensed milk to top it off. It’s a great way to cool off from the summer sun. They also sell tofu with sweet ginger sauce, which is a great dessert. I remember this place so well because this is where I experienced my first dragon dance for Chinese New Year. They would clear all of the cars out of parking lot and hang up 3 separate lucky money pouches with lettuce heads attached. Then the day before Chinese New Year, Chinese dance companies would come out and perform with their drums and dragon costumes. Then fireworks would go off and send gray smoke into the air. Parents would give lucky money to kids and everyone would eat moon cakes.

Well, since we didn’t stop here, we drive on and pull into the parking lot of Welcome Supermarket. Here, it’s brighter and a little livelier than Diho. My parents buy some more groceries, pick up some more seafood, and decide that H.E.B. is the best place to go for beef. As my parents are waiting in line, I tell them that I’m going to Star Snow Ice, the local hot spot. They’ve been open for about maybe 6 years, and it’s the first place in Houston, I think, that offered drinks selling tapioca in them. After that, bubble tea cafes have sprang up all over the Chinatown area. Star, as it’s called for short, sells a variety of drinks, from frozen mochas to milk teas, to fruit shakes, all with the option of putting tapioca in them, and also crushed ice with the various toppings. I order a mild tea with boba, or tapioca, pay the lady, and wait for my drink. I look around and notice all the people in here. Out of all of the bubble the cafes that I know of, I think this one is the only one where adult and kid alike come here to order drinks. This spot is a great place to hang out and have a conversation over bubble tea. Right next door is a shop that sells Japanese accessories, from stationary to everyday items. And right next to that is a store that sells Chinese clothing and other interesting little trinkets.

As I get my drink my cell phone rings. My parents are telling me that they are done and wonder what I would like to eat for lunch. We meet outside and agree to lunch at this little place in a corner called Hong Kong Café. There are many restaurants here in Chinatown that offer great food at affordable prices. Some may not be obvious, but most are designed to look very modern and hip, designed to in a way to attract the younger adult crowd.

While eating my Hai Nan chicken and seasoned rice, I glance around to see who else is in here. This is a family owned business, with the teenage kids and wife handling tables while dad and hired help cook in the back. A few families are here, with parents trying to get their kids to eat their noodle soup. Here and there are the various couples that sit quietly next to each other eating and looking at each other with goofy grins on their faces.

When we have finished eating, I walk outside and take a big gulp of fresh, sunny air. I ponder the day’s events and realize that Chinatown is a great place to experience new things. It shows you the mixing of the then and now. Some places are still fashioned to the past, while the newer places are focused around the present, about what people like now. Many different cultures come here to try out the various things that people have to offer. They may seem scared to try it at first, but when they do try it, they realize how good it is and come back for more. But this is the stuff that we are used to. Chinatown is a place many Asians think of as a place of belonging, a place they can call home…a home away from home.

Map:

Links:

For more information about Houston’s Chinatown, please call 713-779-8444. Or visit http://www.chinatownmap.com/

http://www.sfchinatown.com/ http://www.chinatown-online.org.uk/ http://www.filmsite.org/chin.html

http://vancouverchinatown.ca/ http://www.chinatownkid.com/

Houston Tex-Mex: Soliz Taqueria Hot and Spicy

April 2004–Exit 59 South at Kirkwood /Dulles and take a drive down Dulles. There isn’t much to see here; there are merely a few buildings and the friendly confines of a softball field to represent an area “with master-planned communities, country clubs, oaks tree-lined roadways and a shopping mall” (Chesser). In reality, there is nothing really that catches your eye here. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the place to grow up. This, my friends, is SugarLand, and in Sugar Land you must dig to find the smallest wonders to treat yourself to.

In this place called Sugar Land , right on the outskirts of southwest Houston is a blossoming community trying to find its own identity with its vast growing population. Sugar Land is Houston , and is made of the hard working people that work downtown, in the Medical Center , and various other places everyday. Many would think that Sugar Land has very little history, but it has many historical landmarks. The most notable landmark would have to be the Imperial Sugar Factory and Sugar Land ’s old town hall. Although these are the more famous landmarks that would be used to describe Sugar Land , I personally have a landmark which I have known since I moved to Sugar Land in 1989. This is a small restaurant, if you can even call it that, on the shoulder of Dulles in between South Main and Lexington Blvd. Soliz is the name of this establishment, and it has been part of the community for far longer than I can recollect.

As I drive by and look at this tiny store on the shoulder of Dulles, I can only imagine what people think about it. Probably it would be along the same lines my first impression of the place was; a run-down store painted a light yellow shade with a red roof. As a child, I sat there in the back of my parent’s car just wondering to myself, “How can anyone possibly eat there?” People would refer to this store as a hole in the wall. Growing up and going to the school directly across the street from Soliz, I would pass by every day, only to see that the store had survived another day. At one point my sister and I referred to the place as the “diarrhea factory” because of its unpleasant exterior appearance. It was not for many years afterward that I would actually begin to drastically change my opinions about Soliz.

By 1998, the hype about Soliz had began, their tacos were just “to die for.” Being from Houston , I am naturally a lover of Mexican food, and nothing describes Houston better than honest-to-goodness Tex-Mex. “Here the traditions of northern Mexico and Texas continue to blend to this day. It is a blending of traditions and cross-cultural borrowing that gave rise to the style of cooking known to us as Tex-Mex” (Simons 132). So one day during the summer, my friends and I decide to give this Soliz place a try. As we drove up to the restaurant I could not help but notice how many cars were already parked outside the restaurant. “How can this restaurant possibly be packed if it looks so bad? It seems that they do not have enough money to rent a better place.”

I walk in only to discover that all types of people are in the restaurant, and not only that, the line to get food is running outside the door. The interior did not offer a much better first impression than the exterior, with just two booths that have extremely hard, orange seats that look like the old 80’s styles booths featured at any other fast food restaurant.

So I placed my order and waited patiently, noticing that there was only one chef and one cashier. No wonder people had to wait! It could not be good for business, either. Both the chef and cashier were Hispanic, and as I would find out from my subsequent visits, they are very joyful, always willing to say “Gracias” after you place your order. As I received my food I sat down, eager but nervous, to see what Soliz had to offer. I opened the brown paper sack, which was like any other lunch bag, to find three tacos wrapped in tin foil with my order number written on them and three small cups of red sauce.

The tacos were of reasonable size for the $1.50 that they charge for each. I opened the first taco, which had a potato, bacon, and cheese, and smelled the aroma of freshly made bacon, a greasy smell that reaches down to your stomach and makes it growl. I eagerly dipped the taco into the red sauce. As soon as I put it in my mouth, it was like an explosion of taste and I could do nothing to help my mouth from watering. The sauce, although a bit spicy, has great flavor and makes you only want to use it more and more.

This gave way to a saying that has been passed down from generation to generation, and that would be: “Never ever judge a book by its cover.” Soliz made me learn this lesson well, because I have only grown to love this place. This lesson can be extended to all things in this world, and I believe it is something that fits very well with the Houston community. If people treated everyone else the way I thought about Soliz in the beginning, we all would be missing out on a lot of good things in life. I love to eat, and in learning this important lesson in life I can only hope that I use it in all aspects. Hoping that everyone treats people with this attitude, I can hope also that people will be able to not judge Soliz on its appearance but rather on the quality of its food.

I sit here today only being able to reminisce on my first experiences here. Nothing has changed; the exterior appearance is still the same and unfixed in places that look overdue on repairs, and the inside still provides the same, old orange booths, a place to enjoy your meal and read a newspaper. This place is something special. Both the chef and cashier are the same people that I have remembered for the last five years, still the same jolly people. I sit there and wonder to myself if this establishment is theirs. Although the day is not busy for most — probably because it is Sunday and church has yet to let out — there are still various people churning in and out of the store to get their favorite tacos. Every so often, I see some old friends from high school who come to eat and chitchat, but sitting here taking in the aroma makes me appreciate this little establishment even more. Through the years, strip centers has been built right next to here and a few fast food chains like Sonic and Subway have opened, but it doesn’t seem to bother or hinder the business that Soliz gets. When the first strip center opened in 2000 they had a restaurant named Taco King. This restaurant was better located and definitely had a better exterior appearance. To my own personal belief, I think that Soliz’s local customers drove Taco King out of business, but of course this is only my opinion. I cannot remember a time when I haven’t enjoyed a good Soliz taco, because quite frankly, I think everything on the menu is great.

“Most real Tex-Mex food is not hot, but has a bold full flavor that can easily be enjoyed and not feared” (Bush 2). Soliz is no exception to this statement. Soliz is outstanding in my mind, not only for the great food, but compared to the regular Taco Bell or Taco Cabana, the environment is just cozier. Although it may not seem like the most friendly or high-class place, Soliz has become a symbol of something simple. Soliz has good food, good company, and a good all-around aura when you walk in. The prices at Soliz may not blow you away and the portions will not amaze like the local Chipotle or Freebirds, but the flat-out taste and freshness will leaving you wanting more and more. Even now at this very moment I am probably craving a good Soliz number eleven taco with cheese.

In a discussion with the owner of the shop, a burly man that may be about 5’ 8” with a few tattoos and at least five piercing, I discovered that Soliz opened in the mid 70’s and is a family venture that has been passed down. He was quick to say that without the high school being directly across the street, at least eighty percent of Soliz’s business would be gone. Their menu includes an assortment of Mexican foods that range from breakfast tacos to lunch specials and other things like desserts and nachos. Personally, I enjoy their breakfast tacos the best and would recommend that you try the one with bacon, egg and cheese. The mixture of freshly cooked, crispy bacon and scrambled eggs with melted cheese onto a freshly made tortilla could make any person hungry. Other notable favorites from the local guests would have to be the Eric (which is a vegetarian taco), the potatoes and cheese, the beef tribes, Darlene, and the chicken with grilled onions. All of these favorites would have the same extraordinary flavor on the first bite with just the right amount of each ingredient to make a taco perfect — not too salty and not too bland. There is one thing in common that all the customers I talked to have to agree on, and that would be that the tacos are really nothing without the red sauce to accompany it with. The chefs, a woman maybe in her late thirties who is always willing to give a smile, tells me that the sauce was passed down from her grandmother and really is nothing special, just another salsa just like at any other taqueria. I can tell you that the red spicy sauce is like no other. It mixes flavor with enough spice to make you use it all up even before you are finished with the taco.

Soliz describes Houston because it has the Mexican roots that all Houstonians have a bit of. Diversity is a major characteristic of Houston, and Soliz serves all kinds of people from all parts of the city. I believe that Houston is best described by its diversity and people’s willingness to be open and try new things. Houston is old, as is Soliz (in my standards), and there is a lot of tradition in both. Even though Soliz is not as presentable as some restaurants, it is what is inside that counts. Just like Houston, which may look plain (I think u should add “and even downright filthy”) on the outside, it is the community and the things you can do here that make it thrive. As it is apparent at the beginning of my story, you cannot judge a book by its cover, and if it were not for my willingness to gives things a shot, I would have never been able to have the delightful tacos that Soliz serves. I would have to say that I have had many fond memories at Soliz or eating Soliz tacos with friends and family and I believe that it is a place that people should give a try. Soliz is Houston, just as Sugar Land is, and just as the people of the community are. This place is personally unique to me because I have never been anywhere like it before and that good thing about Soliz’s it that everyone loves it and that everyone seems to come together when eating their tacos.

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Wind in Your Face: By the Bay on the Kemah Boardwalk by Jarrod L. Perez

Bradford and 2nd St.
Kemah, TX 77565

April 2004–These last few weeks at work have been very windy, cold and mainly uneventful. I can’t wait for it to warm up because that’s when the people and money start flowing in. I work off of commission, so if nobody is around to buy what I have to sell, then I don’t make any money. It’s as simple as that. My contractor still insists that I drive all the way out there and try to sell something. But with the weather like this I’m put off by that idea. I am a caricature artist. I draw funny interpretations of men, women and children. The site I can be found at most frequently is none other than the fun-filled family attraction known as the Kemah Boardwalk.

The first time I came to this leisurely place was to work. I heard very little about it, but now that it’s been around a while it has commercials all over the TV. Most people native to Houston , or who have been here for a while, have all heard of Kemah , Texas . Kemah, an Indian word meaning “wind in the face,” is a small town on the edge of the water on Galveston Bay , about 30 or so miles from Houston . It is home to the 3rd largest fleet of recreational boats in America , and is often referred to as “the gateway to the bay. (Kemah History).” My father used to take me to Kemah with him to buy shrimp every once and a while when I was younger. The part where the boardwalk stands used to be a public boardwalk- where families and others would carry on with fishing and crabbing. It turns out Tilman Fertitta, CEO of Landry’s Development, bought that piece of Kemah and established a series of restaurants along the boardwalk (A History of Our Success). They entitled the place “Kemah Boardwalk,” and it became host to many interesting activities aimed at couples, families, and anybody else in search of some innocent fun.

Landry’s is a restaurant company that’s growing into a successful, nationwide seafood chain, much like Red Lobster (A History of Our Success), so it was only natural to feature seven of their “famous” places, including “Aquarium” and “Joes’s Crab Shack.” I first came to the Kemah Boardwalk to work, as I am an entertainer and thrive on public spots like these. I was impressed. This place seemed like the perfect getaway for any family or couple who wants to relax for the day. Carnival-like games and gift shops are situated around every restaurant, along with rides at the far end by the water. There’s even a dinky little train that tours the boardwalk, complete with miniature railroad crossing signals at every sidewalk intersection. You can see the great, colorful Ferris wheel from highway 146 even when you’re just passing by. There’s a stage on location for concerts and even an area that blasts water tens of feet into the air for anybody, especially the children, to run and play in. To top it all off there’s a hotel on location, the Kemah Inn, for any of those who wish to extend their stay. I was very impressed. The owner is very smart and has created a very profitable venture. As a matter of fact, it’s winning tourism over the River Walk in San Antonio , the Alamo, and Space Center Houston ( Barrington ), and it’s only getting started, as the Boardwalk is soon to open 2 new restaurants, and 4 new rides in the rides section Spring 2004.

The place is very clean. I heard that workers pressure wash the boardwalk and cobblestone pathways every morning of every day they are open. The gardens are tended to just as often, as well, with different flower and foliage arrangements sprucing things up every month or two. As you walk along, there’s even strategically placed “rock speakers” blaring out music to set the mood. It used to be no name jazz elevator music, and then it’s changed to Beach Boys and 80s hits for the summer, and then to holiday hits for Christmas. When I first arrived to work, as I said, I was very impressed. Everything was presentable and organized way beyond what I was used to working around (mainly Six Flags Astroworld). We were positioned right on the boardwalk, so the salty sea air invigorated your senses as soon as you set foot on the deck. Over time, this pleasant vision faded out.

I always give out the advice: “Work where you don’t like going, because over time you will start to dislike, even hate where you work.” And the saying goes for the Kemah Boardwalk, no less. But my dislike is not from the sheer idea that I report there to work every weekend. It actually stems from a whole bunch of aspects that dig under my skin every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

I guess my real problem with the boardwalk comes from the way the management treats our contracting caricature company. It’s just knowing how we get treated for what we do that makes the idea of patronizing the Kemah Boardwalk a party-pooping experience. Walking around, checking out all the shops, and seeing all the decorations just fills me with the feeling of how fake the company is to the public, and what the Kemah Boardwalk really is: a multi-million dollar company making more off its middle-class patrons. But it’s not that, because that’s just how business is. Actually, I see Landry’s as a multi-million dollar company that uses companies, like my contractor’s, to make more money, but by providing as little benefits possible in return.

My contractor signed a contract stating he would pay a certain percentage at the end of every week, a percentage of money from sales. In return, the Boardwalk agrees to take care of many of our business needs, such as a presentable and maintained kiosk, and a working phone line for communication and credit card orders. Over time, though, we’ve had many problems obtaining items such as these, while we have never failed to be on time with our percentage payments. Imagine going to work in the hot sun, and the Boardwalk still hasn’t put up the giant tarp that usually stays over your head to block out the sun. You can ask and ask for it, but the management is slow to respond. However, if you are late with your percentage check, your contract will be terminated immediately, and your company will lose. When I think about the Kemah Boardwalk, and see the flashy, happy commercials and I walk around and see the restaurants, and people having fun and laughing I think about poor business management and business handling capabilities; how this big business is making money off of smaller ones with little in return.

Even when you set foot on the Boardwalk, you can pick up this negative vibe from employees that work the games and shops scattered about. Most of the place is run by neighborhood kids trying to hold down a job. As you walk around you might actually catch one or two sulking or frowning because their job isn’t all that. Kemah Boardwalk is actually modeled after Six Flags when it comes to employee management, and that philosophy goes: the employee is expendable. Even if the job is just an after school job, I think it’s silly how management treats these kids like dirt. It’s like they wait for them to mess up, just so they can fire them and put the next applicant to work. Even the attitude projected by the managers doesn’t help. Though I don’t work for the Boardwalk directly, I still have supervisors telling me “Tuck that shirt in!” or “Spit that gum out!” No “Hello, how are you doing?” kind of friendly, morale-boosting talk, even if I am a respectable adult and the others are silly teeny-boppers. You are only addressed when there’s a problem. It’s such a drag talking with some of these kids as you stroll about. The first words you will probably hear when you talk to them are how their job sucks or how bad they want to go home. There are workers that will say they are content with their job, and rarely will you meet somebody that’s bragging about how much money he ripped off the game he worked that day.

It’s the little things that pester me. This past summer, there were problems with the “rock speaker” system, so at given times the volume would change from peaceful mellow background music to a distorted loudness you would have to raise your voice to talk over. Not only that, the Beach Boys got old very fast. It was funny, though, when the CD started skipping. My co-workers and I would crack up laughing because of the stuttering effect of the messed up disc that was playing and how it would echo through the premises. I remember one week this summer when a tropical storm came through, and the Boardwalk was underwater for a day or so. The next following weeks the near-by sewer reeked of raw sewage from a backed up toilet drain pipe. Literally for weeks, there was this horrible funk in the air.

Also, when you do set foot on the Boardwalk, you can’t help but notice something else. When I first started, a year and a half ago, seeing a cat or two was good for a quick laugh. Now, cats are all over the place. Wild ones, at that. Rumor has it that they’re there to keep the rodent population down, but every time you glance at the foliage you see a small feline hiding amongst the leaves. Their population is getting bigger every month, as the cats are spotted more and more frequently. The weekend is not complete without hearing one of the guests gasp at the sight of a wild cat scurrying by. The cats are so frequent now that I’ve even seen one on the 3rd floor of the parking garage!

It’s funny because the commercials sell the place as this fun innocent location to take the family, but when you know what really goes on there, it’s depressing. Many of the games are “difficult“, much like carnival games, such as the “High Striker,” which you must hit dead center to score anything to receive a prize. Solid “milk bottles” make knocking them over with a bean-bag almost impossible Even though I don’t have a problem with that, I overhear that many of the patrons do. On top of that, the employees have crummy attitudes, cats are abundant, and at times there are foul smells in the air. If you cut all that out of the picture, fix the business management problems, cut down the cat population, and find a way to keep your employees happy, then I’d say the Kemah Boardwalk would be a really nice place to take your loved one or your family, and it’s image would live up to the commercial. Well, okay, the cats can stay.

Map:

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Links

Kemah Boardwalk

Kemah History

Landry’s Development Philosophy

Fun with Caricatures

Feral Cats in Seabrook