When I first came to town I found a little hamburger place, the kind with a distinctive style building, small, with a pitched roof, a name like little tavern. Slider style burgers you'd get, six at a time, with the buns still connected, american cheese, onions off the flat top. It was at the western end of Georgetown, on my way into town from Foxhall Road where I lived, a small house, half of it, with two nice women. To get to the burger place meant I was exploring the town. And there was this cat Luis, who worked alone, cooking, taking orders, manning the counter, and Luis was from Africa. The little burgers were a treat. Hit the nail on the head. And Luis was a nice guy to talk to.
And one day, when I found a night job in addition to the day job thing, as a busboy in a restaurant, guess who was the dishwasher, in charge of a mound of dirty place, my friend Luis, who turned out to be from Nigeria. He had a friend Che, sounded like Chee, and he too was a nice guy, sometimes a security guard, and later in life, when I saw him he was selling shoes somewhere in Maryland and he told me to slowly pronounce Myo Ho Renge Kyo, which I did not immediately realize was Buddhist, the Japanese way to say Om Mani Padme Hum, which itself is an invocation of the Lotus of Enlightenment coming from the mud of the world through the water of life.
I thought it an interesting coincidence. Luis, my burger friend, there with a most important job, cat-like, doing this incredible job just like he did at Little Tower, scooping up a spatula full and down on the little buns and into the bag, where they would season here in my poor imitation of Hemingway, the onions, the yellow gooey cheese, the squirt of ketchup and mustard all making something more than the sum of its parts. Luis lasted awhile. Wirey, tall. Big small, dark skin. Athletic. Chee replaced him. And then after that first crazy year at the original Austin Grill with everyone worn out, working hard, the crazy white guys on the line moved on and the kitchen was a Salvadoran team. And I found it all interesting.