Of The Weird, By The Weird, For The Weird

The Zola System On The Road

Home is a fleeting concept. Sometimes it’s brought about by the smoke trapped in the oak walls of a once glorious beat hotel in a former Irish working class neighborhood. Occasionally, it’s found in the form of the sense of history that grabs your shorts on the banks of the Mississippi off of the French Quarter after having a bit too much Absinthe. Home on Wednesday was in a 20×20 room masquerading as an Italian restaurant ½ mile from the Alamo on the San Antonio’s famed River Walk.

I didn’t want to go in the joint. There were 7 or so stairs that separated the river walk from the Dolores Del Rio and I didn’t know if I would be able to waddle up the steps. TC and I had spent the last three days being forced into gluttony by my dear friend and Beelzebub incarnate Tomas in his adopted hometown of New Orleans.

TC, however, pointed out the small print on the placard: Fine Italian Dining, Jazz, and Belly Dancing. I was wishy-washy. Yes, TC loved Italian but there many choices lining both sides of the river walk. I started to waddle down the sidewalk. About 30 feet away, I saw the third straight sign for steak, BBQ, sports bar cuisine. More pork. More beef both adding on another 50 pounds. The 9-hour ride from New Orleans had been marked with hellish gas and frequent stops at atrocious truck stops for restroom visits. (Fortunately, TC was kind enough to pretend she didn’t notice the stench emanating from my rear in the driver’s seat.) All of a sudden, pasta seemed like a less filling alternative than ribs, French fries and Cole slaw.

“Come on,” TC said. “It sounds like fun. They have belly dancing.”

We penguined our way back. I was sure the Maitre D’ in the dirty gray t-shirt would tell us there was no room in the raucous room up the stairs. Although the piano was muted in a suburban restaurant jazz way, the drummer sounded like he was a Dennis Machine Gun Thompson disciple. “A table for 2? Give me a couple of minutes.” He left on us the stairs while he attempted to navigate the small spaces in between the cramped tables. A small dark haired man with bad hair plugs and a white towel asked us what we were waiting for. “A table for two? The wait will be at least 45 minutes,” he said dismissively. The couple that walked in behind us and decided to wait as well. I took that as a good sign. If people were willing to wait in on the narrow stairway for up to 45 minutes, the food had to be good.

Fortunately for the couple behind us but certainly not for our distended stomachs, the Maitre D’ had a better handle on how long it took to clear a few tables. Our table was near the bar, a few feet from the bandstand. We were left with laminated menus, corners browning from over use. A few minutes later, the waiter came over and offered us a carafe of wine: Chianti, Chardonnay or Rose.

“Here comes the Belly Dancer,” TC said. She kicked me lightly underneath the slightly unsteady table. I looked over and saw the middle aged blonde woman in her gaudy gold skirt. I flashed on Carol Shannon, Lufkin, Texas Rep. Charlie Wilson’s friend who’s belly dancing helped Wilson’ arrange arms deals to beat the Soviet’s in their 1980’s Afghan war. I wondered if all Texas belly dancers wore long gold skirts.

The bar was over to our right. There was no hard liquor. Three beers by the bottle and jug wine from the Gallo Family; poured discreetly into a carafe by a waiter while his table looked the other way.

“Her nipple’s hanging out,” TC exclaimed. “Look!”

My attention to the bar hadn’t waivered. The table next to us ordered two more glasses of Rose. I followed the server around the room. Do it, I kept thinking. Do it. Sure enough, once behind the bar, he poured the Rose, half red and half white into a wine glass.

The couple that came in behind us ran out of the Delores a few minutes later, about the time we overheard a server telling another table the drummer had written the theme to Different Strokes. It reminded me of working wine week at the Park Avenue Café. The Dolores Del Rio, a bastion of sanity for those who live in the land of the weird.

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