Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Thick Juicy Steak and My Flat Tire…by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Cops,Friendship & Compassion,Marriage and Family,Retail Purgatory,Wisconsin stories — Bob at 9:00 am on Friday, August 25, 2017

by Robert M. Katzman © August 25, 2017

 The problem with deciding to never write fiction is that I have to always be aware of when a really good story comes along. Well, here’s one and it involves my old car, two decent tire changers, a generous and pretty tavern operator and this wonderful little Kenosha, Wisconsin restaurant run by two gentle Mexican immigrants who deserve some real success. I want to help them. So read this unexpected chain of events which happened to me–one after the other–in a single intersection at 3200 60th Street on a warm clear day on Wednesday, August 21, 2017.  You may be very surprised.

Early that morning I dropped off my youngest daughter, Sarah Hannah, at the Metra Station at 5400 Sheridan Road because she was going to Downtown Chicago to be interviewed for her first possible intern position while she was a student at Columbia College. Smart, pretty, filled with ambition and almost 21, she was very hopeful.

Me?

I wanted to find some small local joint in Kenosha that served steak and eggs. A standard working-class breakfast and I consider myself to be that after a life of hard work, truck driving, carpentry, running newsstands and bribing annoying Chicago Machine politicians.

But a good steak in the morning is a hard thing to find. Most taste like shoe leather and their origin can be suspect. Goat? Possum? Raccoon? Often I give up and just order the eggs. A really good steak at a small price can make the whole day better. Some people reading this will understand perfectly. Working-class people know a good steak when they see one, slice it up and chew it. This is not rocket science.

I was driving west on 60th Street with the sleepy rising sun behind me, warming my back, as I took a chance on looking where I’d never been before to have what I wanted for breakfast. As I approached the unremarkable intersection of 60th and 3200 Avenue, I saw some pieces of a tree lying on the side of the road and then a small sharp piece right in front of me. I was going too fast to avoid it and felt a rough bump as my right front tire ran over it.

But hopeful it was nothing, I was passing this little restaurant that was incredibly dreary looking and about as interesting as a vacant lot. Then the bad sound began that drivers dread: bump-bump-bump-bump-bump. I immediately turned around the next corner to get off of the busy street, then turned another corner looking for a place to pull over and change the damn tire. I found it on a quiet street facing 60th, with a row of small tidy house one next to the other and with the McKinley Middle School about a block north of me. I pulled over to a safe spot.

I’m pretty experienced with changing flat tires and this was gonna be just one more, even though I’m 67 now with a delicate lower back. Whenever I would buy a used car, I’d be sure to go to a local wrecking yard to buy a real full-sized spare tire instead of the little useless thing that comes with all cars today, that donut tire. Just like I carry Band-Aides in case I or anther person need them, a real spare tire is a smart thing to have, even if I never want to need either of them.

I put a blanket on the ground, fished out my cross-tire wrench, shaped like a silver cross with a different sized socket at the end of each of the four parts of the cross, my spray can of Blaster to apply to each of the five tire nuts to loosen them if they were frozen tight by rust, then a small and excellent screw-jack with a turning handle attached (which I bought a local barn sale) so I could lift up the car, and finally the real spare tire in my truck that seems to have become heavier over the years. I’d never needed it in the two years I’d lived in Racine. I thought myself fortunate about that.

After carefully spraying the rusty tire bolts, I lay down on the ground and pushed the jack into place so I could begin lifting the tire. That worked pretty well, the spray was penetrating the rust while I was doing this and I was feeling happy I could still change a tire by myself. Then when the flat tire was high enough, I successful removed all five nuts and tried to pull off the wheel from my 2001 Camry. No luck.

I punched it a few times, which seemed to be a logical thing to do, along with swearing at it, then got the car manual out to see if Camry flats were exotic to change for some reason. But that wasn’t true. So, after a lifetime of knowing when to ask for help no matter where I was in the world and in some kind of trouble, I stood up, saw a guy pull into his driveway and I went over to ask him if he would help me. Just like that. Most people are good. Also, very often, a complete strange will be willing to help if I ask them to do that in a polite way. You might consider trying that yourself. But also helping, too.

The young guy agreed to take a look at my tire without a second’s hesitation—think about that—told me his name was Dan and we shook hands. He scrunched down, told me the tire was stuck on the end of my axel with rust and he offered to go back home to get a rubber hammer to pound on it. I brightened that this was a simple matter of brutality and not Japanese mechanical mysteries and told Dan I had a hammer with me, as I always do in a sudden case where some situation of self-defense comes up. Happened to me once in 1970, and a hammer saved my life. I never leave home without a hammer in my car. It’s always loaded and ready.

I got it, pounded the hell out of the tire in a circular pattern, together we pulled on the tire and it came free. I offered to pay Dan something but he said to forget it, and then told me there was a tire repair place a hundred feet away around the corner. We smiled at each other, shook hands, and Dan disappeared from my life.

Only problem was when I put on the spare, after sitting in my trunk for two years without being periodically inspected, it was flat. I sighed in resignation that my day was damned, or so I thought, put the tire on, removed the jack and very slowly drove around the corner with my second flat tire of the day. There was a very small repair shop right there at 3300 60th Street called Mueller’s. Two guys there were very busy doing whatever they were doing when I pulled in.

The two guys, very nice guys and muscular enough to do whatever needed doing to get me going again were Corn and Justin.

They stopped being busy, came over to check out the situation, pulled off the flat spare tire to check out its problem, examined my first flat tire carefully, told me it had a jagged rip on a side wall, which was easy enough for me to see, told me I need a new tire, quoted me a fair price even though I was effectively stranded there with no tire to drive on, then sanded the rust away from the inner rim on the spare tire, changed the tire valve, inflated the tire, put it carefully back on the car after telling me that the new tire should be the spare because it would be, effectively, out of whack with the other tires and so would cause uneven wear to the other three tires, put the heavy thing back in my car for me, were extremely polite at all times and never stopped moving, then charged me for their work and the new tire, I paid them and we also shook hands because I was glad to meet them and said so. They could have charged me too much if they wanted to, but they didn’t.

If you need some help with your tires in Kenosha, go see Corn and Justin at Meuller’s Tire & Auto Center and say hello for me. They were the second and third nice people who immediately helped me that warm morning of my misfortune.

However, I was still hungry and getting older by the minute, so I asked both of them where they went for lunch and they immediately pointed across the street to Our Kenosha Tap, which had a nice sign but didn’t seem to me like a place to get steak and eggs, but I thanked them, pulled my car out and did a quick u-turn and parked in front of the bar in the first legal space I saw.

Quick note here: I’ve typed about fifteen hundred words so far to get to the Kenosha Tap part of this story, but don’t give up on me and my steak-and-eggs hunt. Best is yet to come.

I went into the dark bar. I should mention I never drink alcohol except a little wine on Passover and some other holidays.

When my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I saw a petite pretty lady behind the very appealing long, polished wooden bar, asked if she had what I was seeking, and she told me their grill wasn’t up yet so they were not cooking food at the moment. However, the lovely woman, whose name is Terry, after I asked her in a slightly humorous way where she would take her own mother for breakfast locally, she smiled and pointed across the street to that incredibly dreary restaurant I mentioned briefly at the beginning of my Wednesday morning adventures.

I thanked Terry, shook hands with her as you are expecting, and left the nice-looking bar. If I was an actual drinker of beer and stuff like that, which is at 3221 60th Street and across the road from Meuller’s Tire shop, I might go there to do that. Pretty bartender Terry was the fourth nice person I met that morning.

Now even more hungry, I walked out and left my car where it was because the little restaurant on the corner was about fifty feet away. This is what I found there inside of that place:

The youngish owner, Cruz Lopez, a very friendly man with a strong Mexican accent but an excellent English vocabulary and I began a conversation which ended up stretching out for an hour or more. He was born in Vera Cruz in the Mexican state of Misantla and has lived in the USA for twenty years. He introduced me to his nice wife, kinda shy when I asked her questions, whose maiden name was Martha Bautista and was from Coatlan de Rio, in the state of Cuernava Morelos. She had lived in this country for seventeen years. Her accent was strong as well. Cruz told me she was from lower central Mexico north of the colorful state of Oaxaca, and also north of Acapulco. I looked up the name in Wikipedia and it said: Coatlán is a name of Nahuatl Indian language origin, meaning “place of abundant snakes”. But the pictures I saw there of that place were lovely.

Cruz and Martha’s three good-looking children are Julisa, ten; Mellesa, nine and Tony, seven. They never spoke to me but all of them smiled, except when Tony’s face was buried in an iPhone. The cook who works there, whom I never met, is named Victor and he is from Michoacan in Mexico. He has been here, Cruz told me, for about ten years.

The restaurant, Three Heavens, is in one of those dead corners many towns have that no matter what kind of business rents it, always fails. Cruz and Martha’s restaurant should not have that fate. It is in that same little intersection at 3200 60th Street, has a Facebook page, which when I typed in the restaurant’s name immediately pops up. They specialize in Mexican food but have whatever you want from an American menu, as well.

Cruz had his own food wagon for two years, which he calls a lunch box, and when he was able to make a deal with the landlord of the vacant storefront to buy all of the restaurant equipment in there for 50% down and pay off the rest, he was able to open his first real location without wheels underneath it. But why write about all of this and what came before it?

Because I ordered steak and eggs after Cruz offered me coffee and let me plug in my dying iPhone into an available plug in his wall. Coffee was very good. Electric plug also worked well. But the New York steak he brought out with the standard hash brown potatoes and toast, was not standard. It was thick and juicy, perfectly cooked, almost too big for the plate underneath it and was probably the best steak I ever had as a morning local joint breakfast. It cost $10.99.

I never write restaurant reviews. Anyone who knows me and my work knows that. But Cruz’ place was empty at what by then was noon on a nice day on Wednesday this week. His walls are plain, the music impossible for me to hear from his one black muffled speaker, and his windows say something about a $3 hamburger written in white paint at the bottom of the window. Or, put another way, the windows suck.

But, I have been self-employed since I was twelve, have owned a deli in Hyde Park, Chicago, had many walk-in type of businesses and a pretty fair share of success. I thought the little odyssey that unexpectedly brought me to that restaurant was intended by Fate so that I could discover that steak.

That lovely, juicy, thick, medium-cooked steak. Why was Cruz and Martha’s place empty?

I told him to get better music and speakers and play classical because it was free. Told him to take a professional color picture of that steak on a plate blow it up and hang it on his wall. Told him to wash all that white paint off of his window and put up a foot high ruby-red neon sign that said:

Thick Juicy Steaks!

Then, under it in a second pale blue neon sign, a little smaller:

 $10.99!

That was all. Nothing else in the windows because all the cars rushing by didn’t have time to read too many words. I also told him to advertise on local radio. Then I called the desk sgt of the Kenosha Police Department and I asked the guy who answered my call what radio stations cops listened to. Just like that. Then I told him I knew cops knew everything so would he please tell me this little bit of information. My reason for he call?

I told Cruz to put up another nice sign inside saying:

Police-Fireman-Military:

10% off all prices!

There was a pause, but the guy came back on the line and told me: WLIT and Wiil on Green Bay Road in Kenosha. Later, I asked the local National Public Radio station, WGTD 91.1, at Gateway college and a nice guy there, Troy, told me they would offer him inexpensive advertising time.

Why do I care?

Why does this immigrant couple with their three kids matter to me?

Why get involved in their lives and restaurant—for free—and try to help them?

Because fighting back against the current evil Federal oppression and discrimination begins with one person at a time. The government is us, not them. Resist. Help the immigrants.

Because I am the grandson of four penniless Jewish immigrants. No one threatened to put up a “big beautiful wall” to keep any of us out, although there was a long pause in Jewish immigration between the Twenties until after World War II, because not all of us are equally valued by prejudiced people in our country. That attitude killed a lot of possible refugees. One short odd-looking guy with wild hair who did get in, Albert Einstein, did contribute a little something to America’s war effort, though.

I want to help them because all of us prosper if we help the immigrants when they need it, and because people I didn’t know helped me all of my life. And that steak was delicious, don’t forget, and well-priced, too. Three Heavens

Their phone number is (262) 564-5584      Trail1123@yahoo.com

I doubt they thought I would write about them. Lots of people say nice things and then forget about it and do nothing. I am not one of those kind of people. You can help them, too. Eat there. By the way, I did pay full price for the good meal, and left a 20% tip, as always.

Then I shook both of their hands, too.

Go to the Our Kenosha Tap and drink some beer, and say hello to pretty Terry.(262) 657-5712

And if you need your tires fixed, cross the street and go to Meuller’s and support those guys, too. (262)652-5275

Please tell all these guys I really did write about them like I said I would.

Oh, and to that total stranger, Dan, who helped me get my flat tire off of my car?

Thanks.

You were an angel assisting an old guy in trouble.

Maybe…

 

Robert M. Katzman

Poet & Storyteller for hire for organizations, schools or private events
No fiction/Gritty Urban Perspective
www.DifferentSlants.com to view recent and older examples of my work
847.274.1474

6 Comments »

Comment by Brad Dechter

August 25, 2017 @ 10:33 am

You made me read an ad?
It was sort of fun, and it was a story……
Long ad with no moral……
Love Ya anyways!
Brad

Comment by Tom Millstead

August 25, 2017 @ 12:51 pm

Enjoyed this. In Racine, we used to think of Kenosha as an underachieving younger brother.

Comment by Don Larson

August 25, 2017 @ 2:33 pm

Great story, Bob.

Travel more and help more people.

Don

Comment by Charlie Newman

August 25, 2017 @ 5:01 pm

Now I’m hungry…for something o other…THIMBS UP, BOB!

Comment by Jim Payne

August 25, 2017 @ 7:07 pm

Bob, You are the master of non-fiction. I enjoyed every word you wrote especially plugging the caring people you got involved with. You not only found stories in real life, you portray them humanly as your friends. Some day I’ll have a steak at Three Heavens.

Comment by H

September 12, 2017 @ 12:11 am

LOVE this. Great story.

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