The Great American Taco Challenge, Part Dos

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It is no secret that I adore tacos more than most foods on this earth. I have definitive opinions about them and I’ve eaten them in various cities and places. And, while I might be biased, I firmly believe that in Patterson, we’ve got some of the best tacos— anywhere. In fact, I’d be willing to stack our hometown tacos against any big city taco joints. I don’t care how fancy or hipster those other places may be.

This is why, five years ago, my high school friends and I conducted The Great American Taco Challenge by sampling some local taco spots. The results were published in my column in The Patterson Irrigator. Never before had tacos been examined with such scrutiny and, frankly, love. In fact, each time we’ve seen each other since, my friends and I talk about that day and how much carne asada we managed to consume. It was glorious.

So, this last Saturday, we decided to do it again. Given the large number of taco joints in Patterson and the fact that our stomachs can only hold so many corn tortillas, we had to limit our sampling to just six— Taqueira Zamora, Morelia’s, Taqueira Barajas, El Paisa, El Portal, and Ernie’s Taqueira. Believe me, if we could have eaten from more places, we would have. But, my cardiologist said no.

We sampled them blindly— meaning we wrote the names under the plates, mixed them up, and didn’t reveal the origins until after the tasting and scoring was complete. We judged the tacos on flavor, spice, texture, tortilla quality, and even presentation (yes, we watch The Food Network!).

I’d like to tell you that this was an easy process. But, this time it was much harder to judge the tacos than it was five years ago. The taco scene in Patterson is truly at a high level. As we sat around my dining room table, a slight sheen of sweat tickled our brows. And it wasn’t just because the tacos were spicy. It was because selecting the winner was nearly impossible.

In fact, it got to the point where we felt like parents being forced to choose a favorite child. Everyone knows this is a painful and treacherous thing to do. Unless you are Donald Trump, of course. Because, then, it’s Ivanka.

We nearly abandoned the whole enterprise because the margin between each taco score was so slim. Mere decimals separated them, and we even tried computing the results in different ways to make sure we were correct. But, this had a Vladimir-Putin-Election-Rigging feeling to it, so we stopped.

In a straight average, El Portal’s “juicy” taco edged out a win over Taqueira Zamora’s “meaty and smoky” taco by a minuscule 0.37. An even smaller margin separated the other establishments— which were huddled evenly together in the rankings. It was like a photo finish in the Olympics— where you can’t tell if the guy from Barbados, Ghana, Jamaica or Cleveland had his toe over the line first.

In fact, each sampling had something of note about it. Ernie’s Taqueira took the award for “spiciest taco,” while El Paisa had the “best corn tortilla.” Morelia’s included some of their amazing homemade chips in the order, which was like getting a surprise from Santa Claus. And, lastly, the presentation of the plate from Taqueira Barajas was so beautiful that it should have been featured in a food magazine. Seriously, it was so pretty. Those hipsters can just kiss our ass.

To be honest, it was a great day to be eating tacos in Patterson. And these were just a small sampling of what this town has to offer. I do apologize if we didn’t make it over to your particular taco establishment, though. This doesn’t mean that we don’t like your tacos, only that my arteries can only handle so many at one time.

My cardiologist thanks you for your forgiveness.

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Dimensions, Dictators, and a Whole Lot of Weed

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I’m not going to sugar-coat it, roll it in cinnamon, or top it with frosting. I’m going to be honest. The kind of honest that you usually only see from small children or really elderly relatives— but, rarely see from politicians or men that run around grabbing women by the ass.

Okay, here goes… The year 2017 was… just… straight-up weird. So weird that it made me wonder if we had somehow veered off into a parallel universe. I know you might think I sound loony. But, stick with me for a moment.

Stephen Hawking, the super-genius, theoretical physicist, writes a lot about this concept. He says that black holes could be portals to other countless universes— very much like our own world, but, just a little different. So, there could be infinite planet Earths… countless other cities of Patterson… and many versions of me.

This is a troubling thought. I wonder if all versions of me are as scared of spiders? Or, like pumpkin spice lattes? Or like to drive so fast in their wheelchairs?

I also wonder if all the versions of Patterson have quite as many palm trees? Or, as many pizza places? Because I don’t know if it’s possible for a town to have as many locations to buy pizza as we do right now.

Seriously.

Anyway, what if the Earth was swallowed by a giant, unknown black hole, and we slipped into another dimension? Maybe that would explain why 2017 was so weird… and it would also explain why Patterson suddenly seems to want so many marijuana dispensaries.

Between the record-breaking hurricanes, deadly earthquakes, and massive fires, it could be argued that Mother Nature didn’t care much for 2017, either. Nonetheless, we mustn’t forget the victims of these disasters— many organizations are on the ground now helping those that are affected. Donate time or money, if you can. Don’t be a Scrooge.

It’s important to note that not everyone has had a difficult year, though. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un spent the year honing his missile launching and nuclear skills. After scattering hardware all over the Sea of Japan and threatening the West with death and destruction, he still found time to attack a village of Hobbits with a potato cannon. So, all in all, it was a pretty solid year for dictators. Just ask Vladimir Putin.

We also found out that Americans can become obsessed with solar eclipses— so much so that they will call-in sick to work, and drive hundreds of miles to watch the shrinking sun through a peephole in a modified box of Honey Nut Cheerios. I suspect that many of these same people spent the prior year, 2016, chasing cartoon Pokémon on their smartphones.

So, I suppose this is an improvement.

Scientists made several discoveries this year, too. A new species of orangutan, a close primate cousin to humans, was recently discovered hiding in an isolated forest in Indonesia. It’s been a century since a new species of great ape has been found. So, this is an incredibly exciting— and surprising— development. After all, who knew that Donald Trump wouldn’t be the only new orange-colored primate to burst into the international scene this year?

As we say goodbye to 2017, here’s hoping that the year to come will be a healthy, safe and happy one.

Just watch out for those black holes.

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Messy Drawers, Cassette Tapes & Vladimir Putin

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There’s no right or wrong time to clean out a messy drawer, or that one cabinet that hasn’t been touched since audio cassette tapes were still a thing that people actually used. Don’t mistake this as a diss on cassettes— nothing could be further than the truth. I used to love to rock out to Michael Jackson’s Thriller album on my mint green boom box. In fact, I eventually wore the cassette tape out and had to use some of my piggy bank money to buy a fresh copy at the mall. This was a time when you had to actually drive to the store to buy music— so it was a serious commitment. You had to really want something if you were willing to make your mom drive you 40 minutes to the Vintage Faire Mall to get it. After all, in the 1980’s, the only thing you could download from a Cloud was some rain.

Cleaning out an old drawer or shelf can be a therapeutic experience. I know I always feel better, lighter, and calmer when I can de-clutter something. That’s a fact. Unloading possessions is deeply cathartic. While I know that some people get the same feeling from yoga and meditation, I suspect Vladimir Putin gets a similar zing of excitement when he invades Ukraine and polishes his knife collection.

Sorting through old stuff can yield surprising results, too. Once I found a $20 bill in a nylon fanny pack at the bottom of my dresser. Remember fanny packs? Yeah, I wish I didn’t, either. Aside from being horrified that I actually wore the damn thing, I instantly felt like I had won a prize by discovering the twenty bucks inside. It didn’t seem to matter that it was actually my own money, I was still a Powerball winner in my mind.

A few days ago, I cleaned out an old drawer in my bathroom. Inside, next to a crusty bottle of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder, and in front of a curling iron that hadn’t been used in over a decade, I found a little box. Inside? My high school class ring! I hadn’t seen the ring in years, in fact, I had forgotten all about it. But, alas, here it was in my hand, smelling slightly of old talc, yet none the worse for wear. It was like finding a $20 bill, only way better. Vladimir Putin probably gets the same feeling when he imprisons dissidents and runs around the Kremlin naked.

So, the moral of the story is this: don’t wait to clean out that one messy drawer in your house. While you may only find old buttons, some matchbooks, and a few dried-up pens, there’s a chance you could discover something awesome. Like a $20 bill, your high school class ring, or— if you’re Vladimir Putin—your secret stash of Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

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If only everyone could be so lucky.