Underground SWLR 

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I wake up early on this crisp, chilly autumn Sunday morning, my head still aching from the one-too-many beers I drank last night around that bonfire at my trailer park on Stanton Road, where a bunch of my neighbors and I talked shop, exchanged anecdotes, told dirty jokes and belly-laughed copiously way into the wee hours of the morning. As I leave my trailer and start wobbling to Baseline Road, here comes wafting through the nippy air, quickly permeating all my olfactory senses, all the smells associated with menudo, spicy beef tripe soup: first, the somewhat exotic fragrance of oregano, then, the clean, bright aroma of freshly cut lemons, as well as the heady, sharp whiff of chopped onions, and the faintly pungent, dusty odor of dried and crushed ancho chilis. "Aha!" I say to myself, that's where I got to go, to wherever it is they're serving that menudo. So I just follow my nose down Stanton, walking south until I come to the trailer park nearest to Baseline. Once there, I quickly spot some idling cars outside the third trailer from the street, and then see a man coming out of the trailer with a five-gallon stainless steel pot. He carefully puts down the pot on the floor of the back seat of his sedan, gets into his car and leaves. That easily, I have found the cure to my hangover. Now it's just a matter of fumbling through my pockets in search of three, four or five loose dollar bills while I continue to approach on foot the menudo-selling trailer.

Half hour later, I'm walking north on Stanton, back to my trailer, with a full belly, a twinkle in my eye, a smile on my face, a happy heart, and whistling a cheerful song. "Ah," I think to myself satisfied, "to be Mexican and be lucky enough to find a place to eat some good menudo on a Sunday morning. What more can one ask? Undoubtedly, life is very, very good, indeed ... Or to paraphrase Garrett Morris' saying on 'Saturday Night Live,' 'Menudo binn berrri, berrri good to me.' "

In the heart of Southwest Little Rock, the selling of menudo is truly pervasive, since on a Sunday morning you can get it on almost any block, regardless of the direction on the compass you choose to go in. That's true for more than menudo — you can get all kinds of food and services from someone's home. It is much like Mexico and Central America, where you will find that in every barrio, in every urban, suburban or rural setting, everyone who lives there knows the home where you can buy the best homemade boiled pinto beans every day, the house where you can have your hair cut and styled, the house down the block where the huesero or sobandero (bone-man or rubdown man) will help fix your stiff muscles and dislocated joints; where you can get the best homemade tamales, the best made-from-scratch tacos. And so it is in Southwest Little Rock, where, alongside the formal economy, you have a sizeable — but hidden — informal economy where Hispanics purchase various prepared food items from their neighbors, and/or pay for a variety of services provided by informal "professionals."

These "professionals" include everyone from hairstylists and barbers to mecánicos de arbolito (shade-tree mechanics) to carpenters, electricians and various other construction-industry-related specialists. There are hueseros, curanderos (healers) and brujos (shamans or witchdoctors) for a wide variety of physical, mental and spiritual ills. (Some brujos, besides being able to cast out whatever demons are supposedly causing you trouble or bad luck, can also — for a small additional fee — cast spells upon individuals you consider your "enemies," so that they, instead of you, will be harassed by demons and plagued by bad luck.) And even tarot card readers, gypsy-style palm readers and crystal-ball fortune tellers in case you're someone who just needs a lot of reassurance about how bright your future will be and how exciting your love life is about to turn.


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