Ever since I can remember, I've been going to Chinese restaurants. I love them beyond reason.
My mom told me that she and her family would take me to their favorite haunts when I was a toddler in Houston. I'm not sure, but I think they may have preferred Chinese cuisine to their own Mexican food--and we even have cousins who run their own chain of Mexican restaurants!
When I was in grade school in Palo Alto in the 60s, my mom, dad, and I would go every Friday to an establishment in Menlo Park that served spicy Chinese food. I loved going with my parents, loved learning to use the chopsticks, loved the low lighting and red-velvety walls, and especially loved the steamy paper-wrapped chicken and sizzling rice soup.
In Minnesota, where I've lived for 22 years, I have two favorite spots: The Great Wall and Kwans. And while I still love the food, I find that I absolutely adore the proprietors.
The lovely man who owns The Great Wall knows the names of each of my kids and he keeps up with their activities and whereabouts. He often comes by our table to visit for a bit. Once when Sean (my eldest son) hurt his ankle in soccer, Andy brought out a tube of Chinese ointment and gave it to him. When my daughter Laura was looking for a job, he encouraged her to work there. But the most amazing tale involves Erik, who worships with his whole heart and stomach the sesame chicken dish at Andy's. He loves it so much, he would spend his own hard-earned grocery-bagging money to buy it. The folks knew exactly who was placing a phone order for sesame chicken with extra rice. "Baker, right? It'll be ready in 10 minutes." So when it came time for Erik to graduate from high school, Andy provided endless servings of sesame chicken for his open house. Now, how's that for generous?
I've known her for years, but yesterday was the first time I actually learned her name. I joined 2 pals for dinner at Kwans, something we do from time to time to catch up while we laugh ourselves silly. Last night with all the snow that fell, the place was practically empty. So Min sat down with us as she took down our orders, which she really doesn't have to do because we're so predictable. We ended up getting very silly about names and we started calling her "Mean Min" and she learned that my nickname is "KKB" but she kept getting confused and calling me "BBK," which just made us all the more giggly.
One thing led to another and Min, looking out the window at the drifting snow, asked us if we remembered the Halloween snowfall of 1991. That was the year that snow came down as the trick-or-treaters were making their rounds and didn't stop till nearly 3 feet had piled up. Min and her husband had arrived from China Oct 30. Let me repeat that. They moved from China to Minneapolis one day before one of the biggest snowfall in decades. Min to this day remembers with great fondness how Minnesota drivers stopped to help them get their car unstuck several times. She still can't get over how no one will accept money for the help they provide on those snowy roads. (It's just one of those "Minnesota nice" things we get ribbed about but really is nice.)
So the evening drew to a close at Kwans and Min divvied up our checks and said how much "BBK" owed and we cackled again and paid our bills. And as we walked out the door, I happened to notice something I'd never seen before. On a bulletin board right by the cash register was a little round red sticker with the following words: I voted.