A Taco Hell for introverts

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Taco Tour 2022 was the place to be on May 5 unless you’re an introvert with an aversion to crowds. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

Here’s a short list of things I dislike: Nazis, last calls, lima beans, alarm clocks, The New York Yankees, romantic comedies, and crowds.

On Thursday, May 5—a manufactured “Mexican” holiday[1] that gives amateur drunks an excuse to get sloshed on watery margaritas and warm Coronas—I encountered said crowds in downtown Manchester during the city’s Taco Tour and I freaked out. My social anxiety swelled like a broken toe, then I had to go.

Let me preface this by saying that drawing 20,000 visitors into our city is an invariably good thing for the local businesses and the community-at-large. But for me, individually, it played out like a slow-motion nightmare scene from a David Lynch short film.

It started when my wife, my stepdaughter, her boyfriend, our 2-year-old grandson Omari and I decided to take a single car downtown at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday with the intention of enjoying some exotic tacos and a few beers[2] on an idyllic spring evening that seemed too good to be true.

As it turned out, it was.

Problems started with the parking[3]. The moment we hit Elm Street, cruising past Market Basket, we understood that there would be no simple slipping into a parking space. We drove around the backstreets for 20 minutes while my anxiety spiked, my blood pressure rose and my breathing became labored[4].

We eventually found a spot on Canal Street[5], strapped Omari in his stroller and started the trek toward Elm Street.

And when we left-turned at The Verizon Center, we were greeted by a swarm of human forms, the hint of distant Mariachi music, and sidewalk taco booths for local restaurants with lines in front that stretched to the end of imagination.

Now, more than crowds, I loath the lines. As a matter of personal principle[6], I will not wait in a line longer than 10 minutes if it can be avoided[7]. And if I have to wait in a crowded line, alcohol—that lovely social lubricant—is imperative to my survival.

Standing amongst the mob of bodies, I started to experience vertigo and tunnel vision; strangers buzzed past me on the street as a cacophonous chatter deafened me. I began breathing exercises.

Then my wife suggested we stop at The Thirsty Moose and buy a round of drinks[8] before trying to navigate Elm Street. Finally, a plan I could get behind.

But when we walked into the restaurant, there was a 45-minute wait to be seated at one of the butcher block bar tables[9].

So we approached the crowded bar, where the line was slightly shorter, and I excused myself to use the men’s room where there was—you guessed it—another line.

Now, truth be told, I’m not a guy who can simply unzip the fly and let fly, urinating in a crowded restroom. It just doesn’t work like that for me[10].

So back in the crowded bar, my bladder pulsing, I guzzled a beer that only exacerbated my need to relieve myself. Meanwhile, the crowd grew around me—Millennials and Generation Z kids reeking of beard oils and disillusionment, and girls donning suddenly-hip Mom-jeans, and guys my own age buying drinks for 20-something women while working on their next “sophisticated” pick-up line.

Suddenly I needed air.

Outside, there was still the crowd. I couldn’t breath. But my wife wanted tacos, and I forgot to bring my Ativan.

We left the Thirsty Moose and stood in the street where, finally, my wife—who was starving by this point—measured up the lines, estimated the waits, and made an executive decision.

“Let’s get out of here and grab something to eat,” she said.

The rest of us agreed, except for Omari who was obsessed with a garbage truck parked on a side street. My good friend, The Trash God, brought Omari into the front seat and let the little guy lay on the horn.

Omari’s evening was complete.

We left downtown and drove to Chelby’s for dinner where there wasn’t a wait, and I could sedate my frazzled nerves with a few brews.

I like Chelby’s. But that list is short, I assure you.

__________

[1] Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory by the Mexican military over French forces in The Battle of Puebla in 1862. It’s barely acknowledged in Mexico, but celebrated widely by white college students in the United States looking for reasons to wear sombreros.

[2] Except for Omari, my grandson, who left his fake ID at home.

[3] I might also add driving to the list of things I dislike, and under that umbrella of “driving,” parking is, perhaps, the most abhorrent part for me. Fortunately, I didn’t have to drive—I pre-gamed in the lounge at Chelby’s Pizza to avoid it—and my stepdaughter’s boyfriend took on the duties.

[4] For those my age (I’m 47 years old), this is likely one of three things: 1.) A legitimate coronary, 2.) A panic attack, or 3.) The mushrooms kicking in.

[5] I also never learned how to parallel park, which proves problematic when driving places where parking is at a premium.

[6] The list isn’t exactly exhaustive.

[7] The DMV and City Hall are the glaring exceptions; however, a case could also be made for waiting for Led Zeppelin tickets at the Madison Square Garden circa 1975, the year I was born.

[8] Omari had to drink apple juice.

[9] In hindsight, Omari might need to stop referring to himself as “Poop” when asked by a waitress, although it is a solid pseudonym.

[10] I believe the technical term for this condition is “Stage Fright.”


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About this Author

nathan-graziano

Nathan Graziano

Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester with his wife and kids. He's the author of nine collections of fiction and poetry. His most recent book, Fly Like The Seagull was published by Luchador Press in 2020. He's a high school teacher and freelance writer, and in his free time, he writes bios about himself in the third person. For more information, visit his website: http://www.nathangraziano.com