When I first moved here in 2006, I became very active in an online community specifically for residents of my community. There were message boards to discuss various community issues and events, as well as a directory of local businesses, whose advertising revenue supported the site. I disappeared from the site a few years ago (it appears that my last post was in March of 2012), and I really don’t remember why. I think part of the reason was that the site was gradually dwindling in terms of how many people were involved and how many posts were being made. There had also been a splinter group around that time that split off and formed their own online community with pretty much the same purpose. I ignored that other group, mostly because it seemed like it was founded by a grown adult who was acting extremely immature, making a big scene of leaving the site and taking a bunch of people with him because he disagreed with some policy set by the guy in charge of the site. I was also very busy during the 2011-12 school year, so I probably just didn’t have time to check the site every day; I got out of the habit of doing so, and didn’t get back into that habit…
… until about a month ago. I started checking for updates on the site again, just because I’ve felt a bit disconnected from the community recently. As to why, that’s a topic for another time. But I’m glad I did, because I read a bit of sad news on that site Thursday night that I might never have seen had I not started reading that site again. Specifically, a mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant a half mile walk from my house would be closing for good after eight years, on Friday night. This place was something unique to this neighborhood. Being an independent restaurant, the food didn’t taste exactly the same as anywhere else. The guy who owned it was very friendly, often making conversation with regular customers and new customers alike. I’ll refer to him here as “Burrito Man,” after a custom-made baseball cap with those words on it that he would occasionally wear.
I felt a lot of things all at once at that moment. I felt sad for Burrito Man and his family, since they’ve all put a lot into the restaurant over the years. But I can’t really say this was totally unexpected. This economy has been tough on independent businesses in the suburbs. Places like that do better in established and densely populated areas, like older downtown neighborhoods or college towns. The statistics all say that most small businesses close after only a few years. I also felt a bit guilty. Maybe I should have eaten there more often. Maybe I should have brought more people there instead of eating alone most of the time (although off the top of my head I can think of at least 12 people I’d eaten there with at some point). Maybe I shouldn’t be eating at chain restaurants as often (although most chain restaurants in the area that I visit regularly serve distinctly different food than this one; only one has some degree of overlap, but it is not strictly a traditional Mexican restaurant, and it isn’t quite what I’d call a chain since it has only eight locations all within 50 miles of each other).
Most of all, though, I felt disappointment over the fact that I would not be able to go for one last burrito. Had I read this three hours earlier, I would have had time to go there for dinner Thursday night. The place would be open one more day, but that day was a Friday, and I had to chaperone a school dance on Friday. That would keep me at work late, and from what I was told, I wasn’t expecting to get home until around 9pm, which is the time the restaurant normally closes. I was already planning on eating out Friday night, since I was going to be at work late, but my work is some distance from where I live, and driving back for one last burrito would have wasted an hour and almost two gallons of gas. Another option, the most likely one at that point, was that I could call ahead of time while I was on my way home, pick up a to-go order to save for lunch on Saturday, and let Burrito Man know that I might not get there until a few minutes after closing. I hate asking for special favors, though, and I didn’t know how much hassle it would be to let me in a few minutes after closing.
It all worked out the best that it could, though. I was dismissed from work at 8:15; cleanup after the dance had gone more quickly than expected. I drove home at 75mph, considerably faster than usual, and made it to the restaurant at 8:40, with plenty of time to spare before closing. I ordered my one last burrito to go, and also a bowl of chips for right there. I stayed there, along with two other families who were busy eating, until the Open sign was turned off for the last time. It was a bittersweet moment. But I did what I could.
Things change. Life goes on. Now I have an excuse to check out other independent restaurants nearby. I know something new will be going up in that building, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t like this kind of change, but change is a part of life.