On our way back down the mountain, a scorpion sunk its venom into our leg. We were sure of it, though we'd never before encountered one and didn't know how its sting might feel. We envisioned thousands of them in the desert waiting to strike, hiding behind rocks and beneath scrubby plants. It was just a matter of time. So we were both relieved and disturbed to look down and see that it was a cactus needle about the size and shape of a toothpick that had pierced our skin and come poking out the other side, as though our body were being quilted.
Our friend asked if there was anything else we wanted to do before we left El Paso. We extracted the spike from our leg, thought about it, and said we wanted to go see a mariachi band. John laughed. "No one goes out to see mariachi bands," he explained. "They just...show up." From a guy who uses words like "multifarious" and "penumbral" for sport, this simplistic response made us feel stupid, as if we'd asked when the mailman or deer on the side of the road might arrive. But he obliged and off we went, noting the myriad differences between growing up in the Southwest and the Midwest.
Que Pasa the Syberg family's latest full-service venture features live mariachi music on Thursdays and Saturdays. The restaurant opened last November where a Super Smokers BBQ once was, and according to our bartender Tanya, it's still trying to find its footing. She says some nights, like when Los Compadres plays or they offer two-for-one drink specials, it's busy. But on this night, business drags as slowly as a line of cars waiting to cross back into the U.S. from Juárez. It's a Monday so there's no live music, but there are piped-in Spanish tunes and $2 twelve-ounce house margaritas made with Sauza Gold Tequila which Que Pasa has hooked up to a tap. The tequila provides a decent kick, but there's enough salt on it to easily accommodate a 45-ounce glass. For two bucks, it'll do.
To us, it's unclear what Que Pasa aims to be. Like the lime that straddles the rim of our glass, it's wedged somewhere between tried-and-true bar fare and Tex-Mex. Sure, there's the scheduled mariachi music and assorted Spanish words on the menu (with helpful translations like "Nachos Tres (Three) Ways"). But they're also hawking leftover Cinco de Mayo T-shirts and offer something called a "Fat Boy" on their dessert menu among the more traditional Mexican options of deep-fried ice cream, flan and sopapillas. Surely they're aware most Mexicans don't give two mierdas about Cinco de Mayo.
Our glass and wallet empty, we consider Que Pasa's shiny décor of not-so-random knickknacks, and grow a bit wistful for the grittiness, the realness, of the Southwest. We do appreciate that, unlike in El Paso, we're free to enjoy a cigarette inside. But eventually even the piped-in Mexican music switches to a Top-40 station. And like everything else here, it's just all right. It becomes clear to us that the difference between this erstwhile barbecue joint and a place where mariachi bands just show up, unscheduled, is about a thousand miles.
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