Dale leans on the glass counter that displays assorted candies--M&M's, Twizzlers, York Peppermint Patties. He props up his head with his right hand; with his left, he flips through a copy of National Geographic that he swiped from the dentist's office yesterday. He is reading an article about some caves in Mexico. He compares the rocks in the caves to the walls of fake rock that surround him. "Not even close," he thinks.
When he is not in class at DU studying International Relations, Dale works at the Casa Bonita gift shop. Casa Bonita is a Mexican restaurant billed as "the greatest show in Denver!" But Dale feels its character is more accurately described by Tom, one of the waiters: "It's like Disney World meets Tijuana." Admittedly, the place is paradise for five-year-olds. The center of the giant restaurant is dominated by a life-size waterfall, where diners can see cliff-divers and "gorilla shows" (exactly what it sounds like--a guy in a cheap gorilla suit doing stupid things) every 15 minutes. There are also two arcades, a small puppet theater, a play area for very young children, and "Black Bart's Cave," a dark maze featuring a spooky, glowing skull. With its pirate booty, plastic palm trees, and Skee-Ball, Casa Bonita is obviously a somewhat genre-confused Mexican restaurant.
It also contains the gift shop where Dale works. Casa Bonita was made pseudo-famous by an episode of South Park, and Dale thought it would be fun to work in such an incredibly kitschy place. Little did he know how quickly he would tire of the fat tourists and the screaming children. He had come to loathe both the overpriced tacky merchandise that made sense--shot glasses, pens, t-shirts--and the overpriced tacky merchandise that did not--pink and purple stuffed-animal unicorns inside matching felt bags embroidered with "Casa Bonita." He couldn't even escape the horror of it all when he went home after a shift. It was impossible to wash away the smell of the restaurant's signature sopaipillas from his skin and hair.
Dale hears a noise and looks up from his magazine. Two girls have entered the shop who appear to be around his age. How thoroughly refreshing! He silently observes as they peruse the souvenirs, mercilessly mocking each one that they grab. The blonde girl takes a shot glass and brings it to the counter. She smiles.
"Just this, please."
Dale picks it up. "You know, we have ones that actually say--oh." He realizes that the glass does say "Casa Bonita," on top of the more prominent chili peppers. Both girls laugh. "I'm really bad at my job, in case you haven't noticed."
"It's got to get boring," replies the Asian girl. "You can't get a lot of traffic through here."
"You'd be surprised. I made nine-hundred dollars yesterday. All sorts of overly-indulgent parents and spitting children came in."
"Ugh," starts the blonde girl, "that can't be fun. I'm really only here because of my roommate. She loves the South Park episode, and she insisted that I come here so she could live vicariously through me. Hence the shot glass."
"Well, it really is unlike any other place on earth."
As the blonde girl signs her receipt, her friend asks, "So, you wanna see Black Bart's cave, full of stupid animatronic creatures guaranteed to scare tiny children?"
"Definitely. Where is it?"
Dale helpfully provides them with directions, and they leave the shop. Grateful for the short respite of adult conversation, he returns to his magazine.
I am officially back in the midwest! I wrote this on the plane back from Denver. I am so sad to have left Leta! I wish I could have fit her in my suitcase. I had loads of fun, though. Here's a quick recap of my trip: The Shoppe (delicious cupcakes), Twist and Shout (amazing record store), The Tattered Cover (fantastic book store, written about in my last entry), the Denver Zoo (the animals were really out and about, especially the cheetah, which was awesome), dinner with my wonderful former roommate Caddie at a Latin-Asian fusion restaurant called Zengo, MST3K, Denver Museum of Nature & Science (super cool and informative Pirates exhibit where you could actually touch real pirate treasure [!!!]), chilling and watching Doctor Who and Michael Palin travel shows on Netflix (we are dorks), slices of pizza the size of your head at Fat Sully's, go-go dancing, and finally, our epic journey to Casa Bonita. This is me eating a sopapilla there:
Also, sorry to ruin the surprise of your souvenir, Lindsey. It was too good a story to pass up, I'm afraid. The shot glass is coming your way. Anyway, I'll write more soon!