An Ode to Our El Chico

It is not hyperbole to say the Flower Mound location of El Chico has been very important in my life and that of my family. I have been going there since before my children were born. The first time Kelly and I ate there, we hadn’t yet bought a house in Flower Mound. We stopped in for dinner while driving around the town, getting a feel for it as we started the house-hunting process in the fall of 2001.

It cannot be understated how it affected me and the boys when it closed over a month ago, while we were in Colorado. “Where are we going to go on Thursday nights now?” our youngest asked. (More on that in a moment.) It was something Kelly and I figured was coming—again, more on that in a moment—but it still surprised me when it finally happened.

New signage is up at the Flower Mound El Chico.

In the beginning

What cemented my relationship with the restaurant was an incident that occurred in 2003, before our oldest was born. We had been coming to get our Tex-Mex fix there often, but not yet to the point where I would consider us “regulars”. The fact was, it was the closet Tex-Mex restaurant to our then still-new house, and was easy to get to. But on that night in 2003, we walked in, and one of the cooks was turning over chicken breasts on the grill. This location had an open-to-the-public kitchen. You could literally walk right up to one of the grills, separated from it only by an eight-inch thick counter, and watch them work. The smoke generated by the turning of the chicken wafted out and over the waiting area, and my pregnant wife turned to me and said, “We have to go. Now.” And she turned around and left. I followed.

It would be months, maybe even years, before she set foot in there again. Whatever pregnancy-hormone weirdness had affected her that night imprinted a feeling of nausea on her whenever she thought about El Chico.

So I started going by myself.

Shortly after our oldest was born, I lost my job. It was the first of many rounds of layoffs to hit the newly-formed Verizon, and it was, from a financial and incentive standpoint, the best round to have been in. I miss the people I worked with, though I have managed to remain friends with a few. I don’t regret getting laid off.

For one, I became a stay-at-home dad. And that allowed me to start going to lunch at El Chico whenever I liked, which shortly became a weekly occurrence. Through the vagaries of restaurant seating priorities, I eventually came to have a regular server, Kim. It reached the point where I would either ask to be seated in her section, or she would see me walk in and seat me herself or inform the hostess to put me at one of her tables. Some times, I would be seated in her section, and the first time I would see her, she would be bringing me an iced tea and informing me she’d already put my order in. In those days, I tended to get the same dish every time I came in. The dish was called the Manzanillo on the menu. It was a crispy taco with ground beef, a cheese and onion enchilada, a chicken enchilada, and sides of Mexican rice and refried beans. This was my staple.

Years went by, and as is the case in the restaurant business, changes ensued. One was that the Manzanillo disappeared from the menu. Fear not, Kim told me, for it’s still in the computer, and the kitchen staff all still know what it is. I continued ordering it, even after Kim moved on to (hopefully) bigger and better things, and new servers were hired. “What’s that?” they would ask, confused when I ordered it. “Don’t worry,” I’d reply, “it’s in the computer.” Sure enough, they’d come back confirming it was so, and I kept getting my favorite dish.

The long-term relationship

Eventually, our oldest outgrew baby and toddler food, and we began ordering off the kids menus when we went out. It was no different at El Chico, except that on Thursdays, kids meals—the $4.99 ones—were 99 cents. Not just at night, but all day. So Thursdays became the day we ate at El Chico. My boy could get a quesadilla, rice and beans, and a beverage, all for a buck. Oh that this same child could eat so cheaply today; he’s sixteen, and has all of the appetite such an age entails for the male of the species.

This continued as Boy2 was added to the family, and because of our regularity, we got to know James, the assistant manager, and Tonya, the general manager. They celebrated birthdays with us, and the adoption and homecoming of Boy3 when that happened in 2011. The first place I wanted to go the day after we got back from Rwanda, after being on the African continent for nearly a month, was El Chico. The salsa content of my bloodstream had gotten dangerously low. Our youngest, who had had mushed avocado first in his home country, then again in Kenya while we awaited his U.S. visa, continued to eat it when we got slices at El Chico. He’s not so much into it today, at age eight, as then, but it remains, to me at least, a reminder that it was the first food I associate with Tex-Mex he ate both at his first home and his current one.

Brotherly love

The boys grew older, started school, but every Thursday night, if we were in town and didn’t have any other engagements, we were at El Chico, where I could feed all three boys for three dollars. “Miss Tonya” would spoil them on occasion, bringing, instead of the cherry Jell-O included with their kids meals, vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup, and not charging us extra. James would always stop by our table and check on us if he was working. We had a bevy of servers, male and female, who recognized our family on sight, and even if we weren’t in their section, would stop by to say hi. They would go out of their way to help new servers with us. It was a place of comfort for us. Tonya and James helped our Cub Scout pack sell popcorn at the car show event the restaurant sponsored. We talked about partnering on a school backpack drive for underprivileged kids, but our pack—and I take full responsibility for this—never got it off the ground.

I first met in person Paul and Greg, creators of Tweetbot and Drafts, respectively, two apps I use daily, at El Chico. Both were local to me, Paul moreso, living in the same town but on the south side while we were on the north. I invited them to lunch and to watch a WWDC keynote together, and they accepted. While not a developer myself, I was keenly interested in their take on such announcements, they having a different perspective of such than a regular user like me. This became at the least a yearly occurrence, at times one of them being unable to make it, and our being joined by other Mac nerds or developers in the area, including once or twice my friend Patrick, before he went to work for Apple, and Dave, before he went to work for Amazon.

Proof that @tapbot_paul (left) does leave his hermit hole. @agiletortoise checking live blog of iPad mini announcement.

I couldn’t tell you how many meals the hetero life mate, Brent, and I had there. When he was working at the nearby church we attended, we were easily meeting for lunch a couple of times a month. Or when he was getting a vehicle serviced at the Driver’s Edge franchise two doors down. A lot of our friendship was cemented at the tables of El Chico. Frustrations shared, advice offered (mostly by him), lots of laughter and talk of music, bands, concerts. Would the Rangers ever get a pitching staff to complement the offense? (Yes, for two glorious seasons, though they fell short of the ultimate prize.) The similarities and differences of our college experiences (LSU for me, Auburn for him, and four years before mine), mutual hatred for the Crimson Tide. Can the Stars get back to the Stanley Cup Finals? Prayers for our marriages, prayers for our kids, sharing of our children’s triumphs and failures, our spouses’ ups and downs. The two of us had great times there for the better part of a decade.

Bangin' spoons

And every Thursday night, if we were in town and not otherwise engaged, the family was there for kids’ night.

The decline, and the end

When the teenager asked the other day why the restaurant closed, one of the things I told him was, “The only constants are death and change.” Nowhere is this more true than the restaurant business.

I’ll be honest: when it comes to Tex-Mex food, El Chico’s hasn’t been the tops. It’s good, but not great. I like Blue Goose’s quesadillas and brisket tacos better. I like Cristina’s salsa and rice way, way, way better. I like El Fenix’s enchiladas better. But because of its proximity, compared to all of the others, it was where we landed first and most often. At some point, the Manzanillo was removed from the computer, too. Not to worry, I was assured. I could basically order the same dish, just order a two-enchilada plate and add a taco a la carte. It was slightly more expensive than the Manzanillo had been on its own, but it was worth it to keep my dining experience the same.

Artist at work.

About four years ago, the first signs of trouble began. The staff turnover was tremendous. They couldn’t keep anyone for long. There were a couple who stuck, like Felipe, who became one of our favorites, and was with the restaurant until the very end. (More on him in a moment, too.) There was the young lady, whose name I cannot remember, but wish I could, whose first language was Spanish, not English, though you wouldn’t know it to listen to her. She was delighted to find out Boy2 was learning Spanish in elementary school, and would work with him on pronunciation during her trips to our table. Finally, there was Sam, a friendly, affable young man who shared a first name with one of our kids. We became regulars of his, too, and our kids loved interacting with him.

Tonya told us James was in an auto accident, and the next week he was back at work, in a walking boot. The boys asked him how he was feeling every time they saw him after that. James told me stories about going out to eat with his friends, and how he more and more didn’t like going out to other restaurants. He felt he and Tonya had a great system working at this El Chico location, that that was one of the reasons it had survived for so long when other locations had closed. He could feel out how things were set up and working at other restaurants, and it wasn’t like what they had going. After those conversations with him, I could tell what he meant when we went other places.

Tonya had shoulder surgery, and our kids would ask about her and fuss over her when she came back with her arm in a sling. She asked our oldest about hockey, Boy2 about swimming, Boy3 about basketball and hip-hop. Kelly and I would ask her about her physical therapy, and getting back to “normal”. Tonya was very frustrated that she wasn’t personally operating at peak efficiency. She really cared about her restaurant, and the staff she’d been entrusted with.

It was Tonya who told us about the sale, and that she was losing her job. Corporate had decided to divest itself of underperforming locations, turning them into franchises rather than close them outright. The owner of the Cantina Laredo in nearly Lewisville bought our El Chico, and brought in a friend in the business to run it, ousting Tonya. James had seen the writing on the wall months earlier and left for greener pastures. That was two years ago.

Last year, when Patrick was in town from California, he was trying to eat out at all the places he missed from living here. One of those places was El Chico, and we met up at the Flower Mound location for a late dinner. We closed the place down, and the gracious staff allowed us some extra time to visit and catch up.

In the end, whatever had ailed our location for so long proved to be insurmountable. Sam left, and we learned from a close friend that he ended up at another restaurant, one that isn’t in danger of folding any time soon. It should allow him a steady income while he finishes school. I ran into Felipe at Cantina Laredo when I stopped in for a solo dinner after a meeting. I wasn’t put at one of his tables, but after learning we had a relationship, my server turned me over to him. He had been on his way to work the week before when the owner had called him, told him he was closing our El Chico location. But he didn’t want to lose him as a worker, and he should go to Cantina Laredo instead. Two days of training on the different menu and systems, and he was back on the floor full time.

The weekend we returned from Colorado, Paul asked me on Twitter: “Did El Chico shut down?” I told him yes, and that I was overwhelmed with grief. He replied that this had totally ruined his lunch plans. I may have used some hyperbole about being overwhelmed with grief, but the sense of loss was and remains real.

Moving on

We moved two and a half years ago, a mile and a half from our old house, and there’s a year-old Tex-Mex place within walking distance we really like. The boys haven’t eaten there nearly as much as Kelly and I have. They have a kids menu, but not a kids night, and with the teenager off kids menus anyway, we have to save our pennies when it comes to going out.

I have James and Tonya’s phone numbers, back from when we were planning stuff with our old Cub Scout pack. I’ve texted with them since they each left, but it’s been months since the last communication, and I’m not sure what any of us would say now about the closing that wasn’t already said between us.

It didn’t take long for the landlord to take down the El Chico sign. It was there the weekend we got back from Colorado, and before the week was out, it was gone. Only those of us who have lived here for a certain amount of time will remember what was there.

I cannot speak for anyone else in our town, but our family will always have fond memories of it. Not because it was the closest, or the food, but because of the people who worked there, and the relationships we had with them, even if was only for an hour a week. Some will say it was just a restaurant, but for a long time it wasn’t just that for us. It was an extension of our home.

So long, comments

Occasionally, those follow-a-link-from-a-link-from-a-link blog trains land you in a thought pattern that ends up in a situation of “Why didn’t I think of this sooner?” And so I have arrived at disabling all comments on the blog. Jon Saddington’s post convinced me to take the plunge, and I even used the plug-in he suggested. Took less than three minutes. Easy.

Why do this? I don’t expect a lot of comments, for one. I don’t post often enough for conversations to happen, unlike my friend Michael’s blog. Second, I don’t need another time-wasting distraction that is approving or not approving comments, or going through the ones marked as spam looking for false positives. If there is a need for reader interaction to take place, they can hit me up on any of the major social platforms, or use the contact form linked at the top of the page. Finally, this blog should be about me writing what I want to write, not writing what I think people want me to write. Disabling comments helps that focus to happen.

And now I have one less thing to worry about.

My Personal de-Google-fication Continues

Google Photos is no more for me. I deleted all the photos in that account, then cancelled my Google One subscription. I removed the app from my iOS devices.

I’m not totally killing my Google account and Gmail address, however, as much as I might want to. There is still stuff with Docs and Drive for podcasting collaboration I need to maintain an account for. I do have to think about others in that particular situation. But the Gmail app is coming off devices, too.

I believe this means the only Google apps I’m left with are Translate and Waze. I’m sure I could find a replacement for the former, but no other app gives me what I need for dealing with Dallas/Fort Worth traffic like Waze does. I’d like to be Google-free, but it’s just not in the cards as things currently stand. I’ll settle for now with this being the best I can do.

This weekend’s positive Apple Store experience

We hear a lot in the tech press and on personal blogs about bad experiences with Apple’s support of it’s products, so I thought I would offer a positive experience my family had this past weekend.

A couple of days ago, our teenager’s iPhone 7—my old iPhone, and more on that another time—started losing its cellular connection. We could restart the phone, and after a couple of restarts, it would come back up for a few hours before disappearing again. It worked fine on Wi-Fi. When it became apparent that no amount of restarting and resetting networks was going to fix the issue, I made a Genius Bar appointment at one of the DFW metroplex Apple Stores, Willow Bend in Plano. I arrived on time for the appointment, and was seen within about three minutes of my arrival by the technician.

I explained to her all the troubleshooting steps we had taken. She ran diagnostics on the phone, then checked the model and serial numbers. This is when she informed me that Apple had become aware of an issue with this particular model of the iPhone 7 a couple of months ago. She shared there was a specific batch from a specific factory that suffered from the cellular modem failing.

Our iPhone 7 is still covered under AppleCare through May. The way she talked about it, however, led me to believe this would be a free repair even if it was not. A $319 repair Apple was eating the cost of for a new logic board, plus labor. When I had the opportunity to ask, I verified this was indeed the case. No matter when one bought the iPhone 7, if it was within this particular batch from that particular factory, you could get a new logic board installed, gratis. The only hitch is that it gets send to one of the repair depots, it’s not done in store.

So we were given a loaner iPhone 7. The SIM card was swapped from ours to the loaner, we started an iCloud backup there in the store on Apple’s wifi, and that was it. I will get emails about the repair status, plus a call when our iPhone 7 arrives back in the store and is available for pickup. All in all, we were in the Apple Store 45 minutes, and over half of that was spent waiting on the iCloud backup restoration. Kudos to Apple for a job well done in this particular situation.

The grass withers, the flowers fade…

My friends Kara and Ryan, who founded and run Imana Kids, posted a photo to the Imana Instagram account with the text of Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”

This verse imprinted on me in a most unique way when I was a teenager. Anyone who knows me knows I was a metalhead in my teen years (and I still am). After I discovered Stryper, and the realm of Christian metal, I came across a Christian rock band called Ruscha. The band was founded by brothers Nikolai and Peter Pankratz, who escaped Communist Russia in the 1970s. They started the band in the 1980s as an outlet for their love of music, and as a vehicle for giving witness to what it was like to be a Christian in Soviet Russia. Andy Denton, whose vocal range is highlighted on the song “Come Home”, was the group’s frontman.

There was a church in one of the Baton Rouge suburbs, Baker or Zachary maybe, I don’t recall which, that hosted the band. (It was the same church I also saw Wayne Watson perform at.) My dad went with me to the event, part concert, part testimony. I’d gotten their album “Come Alive” at a local Christian book store, and loved some of the songs. I can still see in my mind’s eye Andy, Nikolai, and Peter on stage in that church.

There are two things from that album and concert that have stuck with me to this day:
+ Nikolai and Peter talking about believers smuggling individual pages of the Russian-language Bibles in slits in potatoes, and how if the pages were left in there too long, they were ruined by the potatoes’ fluids. They salvaged whatever pieces they could, because people were that starved for the Word of God.
+ The song “The Word Stands Forever”, which uses Isaiah 40:8 as the chorus. It’s the only Ruscha song I can still sing by heart.

The memories I just shared, stirred up by the Imana Kids post, sent me on an Internet hunt, and the Internet delivered. There’s a Wikipedia entry for the band, linked to earlier in this post. Which led me to wonder if any of their music was available online; the copy of “Come Alive” I have is on cassette, and most likely buried in a shoebox in a closet. We have an Amazon Music Unlimited subscription, and lo and behold! The Pankratzes released a remastered version in 2012, and I’m listening to it as I type this post, with a smile on my face as I sing along to “The grass withers, the flowers fade, Heaven and Earth will pass away, the grass withers, the flowers fade, but the Word of God stands forever.”

First impressions of The Passage premiere

  • I was worried about the Wolgast/Amy connection; I’m not worried any more
  • as one expects of book adaptations, there are noticeable changes
  • some of those changes are character-related, and I think I see where it’s going with one, and I approve. With another, I’m not so sure.
  • I think Gosselaar is a good choice for Wolgast; I think Saniyya Sidney is an excellent choice for Amy
  • Jamie McShane as Fanning looks like he’ll be perfect
  • a little too early to make the call on McKinley Belcher as Carter, but I like where it’s going

Nathan told me that he’d read they’re taking this a little more linear than the books do, where the timeline jumps back and forth between the past (and multiple characters’ pasts) and the present (and multiple characters’ presents). I think that will be a benefit. Author Justin Cronin is listed as an executive producer. I’m really hoping that means he has real input and it’s not just an honorific. The Passage trilogy is epic dystopian myth-making. I’m actually considering stopping all other reading to pick up the first book again.

There’s also a strong adoption theme to the Wolgast/Amy relationship.

I generally give a new show five episodes to keep me as a viewer. Given I read the background material for this one, I’m likely already in. I’m anxiously awaiting the next episode.

Hello, again, early 2019 edition

Retrophisch.com lives again. I have wandered aimlessly in the wilds of the Internet for far too long. It was finally time to own up to one of my mantras regarding one’s online presence: own your own domain, own your own content.

History, and the way forward

When last we left this site, I had eschewed WordPress for Tumblr. Given one of the constants of life is change, it was only a matter of time before WordPress evolved to the point where I would make the leap. And it was so easy. I wonder why I took so long to do this. (Oh, right, life with three boys, and being hockey dad, Cub Scout dad, swim dad, golf dad…)

I have had a Dreamhost account for a few years. The only real use it had been seeing was serving up email for my oldest, on one of the domains I registered for him a decade or so prior. When the server this blog and its predecessor had been living on suffered a catastrophic hardware failure, it was time to make the move to Dreamhost full time and relaunch. So here we are.

WordPress installation on Dreamhost was a snap with their One-Click Install. Importing my Movable Type archive went seamlessly. Well, seamlessly after I figured out I needed to install and turn on Markdown plugins for some of its and the Tumblr archive’s posts to look as they should. Said Tumblr archive followed soon after. My Tumblr site remains up, so long as Tumblr survives as a corporate entity. Should that fail at some point, the posts live on here. Which is the whole point: owning my own content.

Years ago, Michael Hyatt blogged how he looked at his online presence as revolving around his blog/site. That was home base. Everything else—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, what have you—were simply outposts. They were never to be one’s only online presence. While this resonated with me, having had an online presence before any of these companies came into existence, I stumbled in hewing to it. Nevertheless, thanks to catastrophic hardware failures, corporate buyouts, and creepy corporate policies, I began anew to prepare myself to giving up one or more of those entities should I feel the need arise.

Manton Reece reiterated, repeatedly, that which Hyatt promoted, and I internalized: own your own content. Manton left Twitter in 2012, but didn’t stop with posting tweets. He just did so on his own blog, in the form of snippets, or micro posts. This eventually led him to launch Micro.blog on Kickstarter two years ago. I backed this project, and was among the hundreds of original tenants of the Micro.blog ecosystem. I mainly set it up as the own-my-own-content side of my social media. You’d see these same posts on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere, but they lived on Micro.blog first. This became my default online presence.

Yet there was still a sense of unease behind it. Yes, it was a service I was paying for. I was the customer, not some corporation paying Manton for all my info so they could sell ads to me. You know, exactly what Twitter and Facebook do. But it still felt like another layer to deal with. It was better than what I was doing before, and I continue to enjoy the community aspects of Micro.blog, but it didn’t feel like home.

Now those posts will reside here. I ran into an issue importing my Micro.blog feed, and I’m working with Manton to resolve it. Those will cross-post to Micro.blog, and thus to Twitter (and Mastodon, for what it’s worth).

There’s still a lot of cleanup to do on the older posts. I’ve gotten through 2002 as of this post going up, which means there’s a long way to go, but it’s worth it to me.

I do not plan to delete old posts. Some of these I’ve read and winced. My thinking has changed on some issues in more than a decade since these old posts were published. With others, maybe I could have been nicer and less sarcastic. (Hey, I said maybe.) But they are what they were at that time in my life.

Much thanks is due to Webmistress and CSS master Raena for assistance in getting things looking just the way I wanted, and to Michael for bits of advice on WordPress, Dreamhost, and importing content.

Why do all this?

Because I can. Because I want to. Because I determined I am going to own my online presence and not outsource it to others. You may not feel this way. That’s cool. But this is the way I want it for me.

Own your own domain. Own your own email. Own your own content.

So what’s next?

A few years ago, when I was throwing around the idea for a new logo, a new tagline appeared in my mind: Navigating the waters of faith, family, and fiction. While that isn’t displayed overtly on the side, it is embedded in the code. So those areas will be my focus, along with the tech and nerdery I’ve long been involved with.

In the latter vein, I already have a draft about Mac portables going, based upon some recent experience, recent news, and recent blog posts by others.

I hope you stick around!

So long, and thanks for all the GIFs

If you’re still following along on here and paying attention to my little ol’ Tumblog, you’ll note it’s been a few months since I’ve posted. Lots of reasons for that, but here are the two main ones:

  1. Bandwidth. I only have so much time to devote to social networks. And despite my best attempts to treat Tumblr as just another blog host, it is a social network of a kind. And I’d rather devote my time to Twitter and Facebook, where the majority of my online friends are congregated.
  2. Owning your own space and content. My biggest complaint about Tumblr, especially right now, is that I don’t really own the content I’ve posted here. When they went to version 2.0 of the API, Tumblr killed the few backup/export tools there were for the service. There isn’t a convenient, easy way to get my stuff out of here and move it some place else.

I’ve decided to relaunch my original blog at retrophisch.com, in 2018, for long-form stuff. Short posts will live at Micro.blog, and be cross-posted to Twitter and Facebook. I’m not posting directly to Instagram any more, either. My online photos will live either on my Micro.blog site, or Flickr, where I have been a paying Pro member for many years.

If we are serious about our online identities, we need a place where we have control of our content. A place either built on open web standards, like Micro.blog, or one with easy means of exporting our content for use elsewhere. For me, Tumblr is no longer that place.

I’m not deleting my account or turning this blog invisible. It shall remain up, so long as Tumblr lives, encapsulating my time spent here for the past six years. The custom domain of retrophis.ch I have been using here is going to be repurposed for my Micro.blog site. Take care, Tumblrs!