There is no sign outside the concrete block like a garage, you’d spotted the tables and people sitting close. The bike is against the wall in a conspicuous place and ideally where you can see it from inside, or at least can see people’s eyes and posture as they look at it. You’ve already negotiated the checkpoint of children who want to touch the tires or fiddle with the grips and brakes, the young men who gather ’round were offered an opportunity to take a ride and often older men enthusiastically accepted honorary invitations to these sessions, unsteady circles in the street as everyone cheered and whooped. No matter how hungry or cranky or in a hurry you are, you’ll do this, everyone around now knows about the bike and cyclist, knows where you are from, heard your voice and your Spanish and where you are going, where you started, what’s in the bags because by now you’ve learned or reminded yourself of the words for esoteric camping equipment. All laughed together.
You walk in, there are four or five tables. You don’t necessarily get your own, you just find an open spot, perhaps people rotate around and bring in a chair to make room for you. If there are no chairs then you wait outside, diners know when there’s a queue and there isn’t any dallying after the meal. Usually men outnumber women five to one, sometimes no women at all, sometimes a more balanced ratio, very rarely a child, that’s not what this place is for. You take your seat wishing everyone who is already eating buen provecho, better just “provecho.” There’s likely a tv on, everyone staring up at it. When there’s not, the people not yet served can be joking, murmuring to one another quietly but that will stop when their food comes. The other electrical outlets are recharging mobiles. The men who work outside still have their stained ball caps and dirty work boots on, no one cares that you’re soaked with sweat, you’ve greeted everybody and everyone has acknowledged you in some way. Sometimes you’ve even clasped hands with the people at your table if they aren’t already eating, and you certainly have with the server if he’s a he but not if she’s a she. You wait, you don’t ask or interrupt, you were noticed and the arrival order is taken seriously, no matter that it’s full of regulars and you’re an outsider you won’t get served especially early nor be skipped over, and soon you will receive a small tray of utensils and immediately a bowl of soup. Napkins are likely already on the table, with not very hot hot sauce, catsup, a bowl of sugar, salt and sometimes pepper. If there aren’t these things on your table and you want them, you pardon yourself as you take them from another table, no one minds your reach.
When your soup is placed down you will be asked what version of the meal you would like, usually only two choices though what two will vary by region. Fish or chicken, or chicken or beef, or chicken or pork, or fish or beef. Fairly frequently there is no choice at all, and then you’re not asked. Shortly after your soup is finished, maybe it was chicken or potato or green vegetable or pasta, two or three or all, or quinoa, your plate arrives. Always a substantial bed of rice, then regional adornments, a few tomato and onion slices, red beans, lentils, hominy, cornmeal, some combination of these, cheesy spaghetti on the rice once, the animal on top of the heap. You could, of course, have declined the meat altogether which would be double checked to see if you’re serious and then honored indulgently since you’re a pain in the ass gringo with special needs and ideas and don’t really belong here or expect much to fit in in any serious way. Or you could unscruple communality, sociality, eating the same things in the same movements, your body in a parallel arc of energy transformation. Within a few minutes of your starting in you’ll receive a tall glass of fresh juice, once in awhile instead a cup of hot water for tea or to make coffee from the jar of instant now placed on the table. Some people will ask for a beer or Fanta Orange in addition, there can be a refrigerator in the room and you’ll just get them yourself. You’ll never eat with your hands no matter what, everyone around you works the utensils in the European custom, knife never leaves the right hand, everything is stabbed or scooped with the left hand fork, no switching. Unless it’s a very small town in which case you only received a spoon, then everything scooped, the meat manipulated with the spoon’s perpendicular edge.
The pace will be steady, verging on hurried. When you’re done and especially if there are others waiting, you’ll stand and find the server in the kitchen. It will cost $1,50 or $2, or if it was dinner and the portions were a bit bigger, as much as $3. You’ll walk out wishing provecho to anyone who arrived after you did.
You’ll pedal off, a few people will wave and wish you a good, safe journey.