When I want a burger, I go classic with a Tom’s Special. In L.A we have a lot imitations, even some that call themselves the “Original,” but none are more original than Tom’s on 1st Street in East Los.
After school during my elementary days I would stop everyday for some ice, just to chew on, and on some occasions they’d hook me up with some good old fashioned French fries. I still roll by to get me a Tom’s Hamburger Special, but it’s no longer on a bike, skateboard or foot. I go in and park. It feels good. These dudes cooking it up saw me grow. I’m always hanging out, cause the guys who work there are more than just the cooks and they’re serving more than just a burger. It’s politics, it’s the neighborhood gossip, who killed who, who’s dating who, who you voting for and what the hell was wrong with that referee in yesterdays game?! I call them paisanos because they’re from the same town in Mexico that my grandpa’s from. Old men, retired from work, hang around, sipping their coffee or whatever they got inside the white styrofoam cup. They’ve seen it all, from close encounters with people crossing the street to drive-bys, love connections to Sheriffs who have to drop and leave their specials as soon as they receive a call.
You can go across the country and you will find the same type of men hanging around a local shop like this. They give you advice, they pull your leg, they remind you to play the lotto and they ask you to pitch in for some coffee. They know who you are, where you live and who your parents are. They know what you’re ordering and how many times you’ve stopped by this month. They call the Mexican ladies around the way “chismosas” but they’re the real culprits, talking and talking, instigating and passing on the word. It’s good, it’s bad, it’s fun. They crack me up! Gotta order a burger with a side of chisme.
Header photo by Omar Bárcena, used under a Creative Commons license.