One summer, I gave up on finding an Ashland bus empty enough to carry me back to Division St from the exhausting and blisteringly hot Pitchfork Music Fest, and instead walked two miles home, up Ashland, stopping along the way for La Pasadita, where I ate four tacos alone, dirty and grateful. Even Flash Taco, Taco Burrito King, and Picante, favored only when I'd been drinking enough to make very bad decisions (during the last time in my life when I could do that without ruining my entire weekend), occupy a soft spot in my heart, which in an anatomical mystery, actually ended up around my waist.
Thanks to a vibrant Mexican-American community and a famously hungry population, Chicago never ran out of delicious Mexican street food joints, or people willing to pay to eat there. I remember it as a place I spent being young, being hungry. The last thing I ate before I gave all of my furniture away and flew to LaGuardia with four black crates containing all of my belongings was half-congealed taco leftovers from Tony’s Burrito Mex on Damen and Belmont.
I don't have many justifiable reasons to visit Chicago anymore; my parents and siblings live in the Minneapolis area, and most of the traveling I do now is for work, or to places close enough to visit by train. But the last time I was in my old neighborhood, I had just turned 30 and had, hours before, finished running the Chicago Marathon for the second time. The neighborhood was pretty much the same -- things aren't erased & redrawn there as quickly as they are in NYC -- but I could see the place I associated most strongly with my carefree young-adulthood ebbing slowly away. That one overpriced bagel place was closed. The kebab place where everybody was always stoned as hell was gone. I didn't recognize the neighborhood dogs anymore.
I sat down and ordered six tacos at Big Star, which I photographed despite the fact that I make fun of people for doing that sort of thing. They were delivered to me in a shallow tray, individually wrapped in paper. I smelled them like a sommelier inhales the scent of a glass of wine. I took small bites, savoring them like they were precious treasures I might never taste again. I ate them slowly and carefully, like I never did when I lived there and they were just a stumble away. The next morning, I flew back to New York City and the hallway of a bedroom that awaited me there.
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Erin Ryan is Jezebel's managing editor. She lives & works in NYC. Read more of her work here, and follow her on Twitter.