Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

Breathing Rubber; Chomping on Dim Sum

by | Mar 19, 2024 | Travel | 0 comments

A caravan of Mexican flags on Chicago streets

Mexican Independence Day. Chicago, Il. September, 2021. All Photos by Author. 

Do you feel like an Italian mobster when you go to steakhouses?

I do, too.

Maybe it is the red vinyl upholstery, the dimmed lights, the cloth napkins. Or maybe is the feeling that the servers know their place and they won’t attempt any funny business like putting tuna or pineapple on pizza unless they want to wake up with a horse head warming their beds?

I’ve noticed that traveling salesmen like me love to go to steakhouses. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it is that our wives don’t let us eat red meat at home.

Smith and Wollensky was a steakhouse I wanted to go to when I was visiting Chicago. It’s not the oldest steakhouse in the city, mind you. No. That’s Gene & Georgetti.

But it is beautiful. It has a cantilevered sunroom right over the Chicago River overlooking the riverwalk.

I made a reservation at Smith & Wollensky two months in advance. I was very excited about it. I had been reading all the raving reviews in preparation for the meat sweats.

The day of, my boss found out we were going to a steakhouse and said, “Oh, steakhouse again?!”

My boss’ lament didn’t surprise me. I understood it. Going to a steakhouse all the time can become tiresome. Yes, the red meat is lovely, but every single steakhouse has the same boring and never-changing family side dishes menu. They have never changed since steakhouses were first invented.

So when my boss complained, I understood that sometimes the last thing you want to do is look at another cast iron pan with asparagus, mushrooms, or mashed potatoes.

“Why can’t we ever find a nice Chinese restaurant?”

“Oh, that’s weird,” I said, surprised by the odd request. “I didn’t even know you liked Chinese. I guess I can find a good place around here for that.”

I understood where he came from, but it is also part of the ritual when you are courting a client. My boss knew that. He also knew I had a client come to Chicago from San Francisco, and I wanted to wine and dine him at a steakhouse.

But still, my boss is the boss, and I’m rather fond of being employed.

I found a Chinese restaurant on Yelp. It had close to a thousand reviews, and all those thousand reviews amounted to an average of four and a half stars. I was very impressed by this.

I have never left a review on Yelp.

If I don’t like a restaurant, I don’t go there again. I know it takes a special kind of person to take time from their busyness to let strangers know how they feel about a certain dining experience.

If thousands of these self-appointed food critics took time off their day to state their experience would be at least four stars, then maybe this was the place we were supposed to go.

As we were all gathering in the lobby to walk to the restaurant, my boss came down to let us know he wasn’t feeling all that good. It would’ve made sense to go see if we could still use our reservation at Smith and Wollensky since none of us had a burning desire for dumplings. But it was twelve of us, including my client.

So, we accepted our fortune and set to start our walk.

It was about a mile away from our hotel.

Now, I don’t know if you know this, but Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. I know. Surprising, right?

Apparently, that’s just an excuse Americans made up to drink margaritas and Coronas and eat tacos. As if we really need an excuse to do it when we can do it once a week on Taco Tuesday but whatever.

A luchadora wrestling at the top of a car. Photo by author.

The true Mexican Independence Day is September 16.

My coworkers and I were not in Chicago that day. But we were there the week leading up to it.

For decades, Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and other Hispanic immigrants have celebrated Mexican Independence Day by driving in a caravan every night of the week leading to the day.

This is not the way it is celebrated in California. As a matter of fact, this is not the way they celebrate this day in Mexico. But it is the way it is celebrated in Chicago and other areas in the Midwest of the United States. It is a way for immigrants to feel surrounded by people like them and it is gaining more and more momentum every year.

This celebration used to be limited to traditional Mexican neighborhoods, but the police started enforcing road closures and blockades in these neighborhoods.

Mexican Americans in Chicago said,

This is our town.
If you shut us down,
Chinga tu madre,
we will take this to your

And they did.

Art in the Mart, Chicago Riverwalk. Photo by author.

Every day of the week before Independence Day, Michigan Avenue and East Wacker Drive are completely overtaken by the processions of all sorts of cars, from soccer mom vans and sedans to low-riders, big wheels, and Harley Davidsons.

When the twelve of us got to the restaurant, we realized that it was an outdoor dining experience. Outdoor dining is always welcome in the middle of the pandemic, and we had a front-row seat to all the celebrations and festivities.

I had never seen so many people gather at any event in the United States.

The instructions to properly celebrate and participate in the procession is you get a driver and three of your friends. Each friend should have a flag, and it should be waved all night. The driver doesn’t need to have a flag, but he could if he wanted.

But his time would be better spent not lifting his hand from the horn, and whenever he is stopped by a red light or a stop sign, he should place his car in neutral and burn his tires until it is time to go.

Between the blaring horns, the shouts, and the smoke of burned tires and asphalt, It was impossible to have a conversation. We all kept trying to start stories, only to be stopped by a cacophony of proud nationalistic honks.

We attempted to have conversations in the middle of the loudest celebrations we’ve ever been a part of. It was as if we were part of a game show, and the honks were the buzzer informing us we ran out of time and needed to move to the next topic.

I said next to my client and every time I talked to him, I would be interrupted by horns.

“The reason I think you should…” Honk.
“Do you eat Chinese a..” Honk!
“You should consider…” HONK!!!

I finally told him, “Forget it. I’m done having this conversation.” Of course, he didn’t hear that because it was completely drowned by all the sounds of honks.

East Whacker Drive, Chicago, Il.

Do you know when food is so good that it can envelop you in its sensory stimulation so the world around you becomes nothing but soothing white noise? So you don’t really hear anything or experience anything other than the amazingness of this food? Do you know that feeling?


Well, this wasn’t it.

When we got to the restaurant, we found out that only the hostess spoke some English. The rest of the staff we interacted with didn’t.

The way they get around this is by having iPads, and people can order their dim sum through them.

We put in a decent amount of food and some drinks and sat in silence, observing the celebrations.

The food started to come out, but nobody could recognize one thing coming out.

The food kept coming out, and we were all engaged in this weird musical chairs dance. We kept passing the dumplings around until they made it back to the person who passed them in the first place so that person could say, “Hmmm, still no, I didn’t get this.”

We didn’t stress at all. We were sure somebody had made a mistake.

The food kept coming out. And we kept getting things we didn’t order.

The food kept coming out for an hour. Why it took me an hour to decide to talk to someone about stopping the avalanche of dumplings, I will never know. I don’t know what happened.

I want to blame the loud honking and the carbon monoxide poisoning.
Apparently, the ordering app was experiencing some technical difficulties. We ended up with a large table for 12, entirely covered by dumplings none of us had ordered.

Because my boss couldn’t join us, I was going to be responsible for this bill, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain in my expense report a one-hour imperial banquet of Chinese cuisine.

I asked for the bill, and when I finally got it, I grabbed it at the top; it rolled down like a papyrus scroll. For a second, I couldn’t understand if I was at a Chinese restaurant or at a CVS with a CVS receipt with my CVS dollars and coupons for energy drinks, nail polish and adult diapers.

I knew that if I saved this receipt, I wouldn’t have to worry about the next toilet paper shortage.

I scrolled all the way to the end of the papyrus to see how much this bill was going to set my company back.

The grand total was $300 for a one-hour banquet that could’ve fed 100 people that night.

They say too many cooks ruin a broth. If you change cooks for people and broth for dinner, then you will describe my dim sum experience that night in Chicago.

As I came to terms with the worst sales dinner I have had in my professional career, I looked at all the happy faces of Mexicans celebrating their independence day, and that never would’ve happened behind the heavy wooden doors of a typical steakhouse.

Art on theMART, Chicago Riverwalk, Chicago, IL

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This essay was first published by Tell Your Story and it was a Tell Your Story Spring 2022 Writing Contest — Finalist.


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