By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
But the truck wasn't done by Cinco de Mayo. It wasn't done by middle de Mayo, either.
"Come the end of May, we were starting to get a little frustrated," Morreale says. "We went up there one time to try and get a look at the thing, and the whole front end was crushed. We asked Oscar or Manuel or whoever what'd happened, and he just said he didn't know -- that it was like that when he showed up that morning. I wouldn't doubt that the reason we didn't have it on Cinco de Mayo was because they had it out on Cinco de Mayo."
After that, Yontz and Morreale made a couple more visits to see El Mariachi. "And every time we go out there, we're trying to be cool," Morreale notes. Finally, about four weeks ago, they went up and delivered an ultimatum: Just give up the fucking truck. "But we were surrounded by like twenty guys," he says, "and this is just Yontz and me. So it was a little intimidating. Things were starting to look really shady at this point."
So they hatched a plan for a kind of food-service Entebbe Raid. On June 15, Yontz called Oscar/Manuel/Francisco/Luis and told the man of many names that he and Morreale would be at the yard at 1 p.m. to get the truck and talk about the work still to be done. Meanwhile, Morreale organized a posse of two pickups and five guys willing to get El Mariachi back by whatever means necessary: Morreale and Yontz in Yontz's truck, then Pablo Torres, Mezcal's tequila expert, and Brian Rossi, Mezcal's GM, and chef Roberto Diaz in Diaz's truck. "That's our army," Jesse says. One manager, one tequila expert, two chefs and an owner. Perfect.
When they got to Brighton, the place was deserted. Yontz got on the phone again with Oscar Etc., who said that he and his guys couldn't get there until maybe four. Oh, and they wanted another $2,500 on top of the two grand they were still owed on the original six, or no one was getting the truck back.
At this point, Team Mezcal did what any reasonable restaurant crew would do in such a situation: They stole the truck. Rossi managed to get El Mariachi's window down and took off the brake. Then they pushed the truck out of the lot and tied it to the back of Diaz's pickup with the only material available: a couple of nylon tie-downs. "It wasn't exactly well planned," Morreale admits.
Diaz towed El Mariachi out onto Brighton Boulevard, followed by Yontz's truck. And then Morreale spotted four Mexican guys in another pickup go blowing past, headed in the direction of the lot: Oscar and his posse. As Morreale watched in the rearview mirror, the pickup made a fast, Hollywood-style U-turn across four lanes and started following them. Thus began the most ridiculous low-speed chase since O.J. climbed behind the wheel of his white Bronco.
"We were going, like, fourteen miles an hour," Morreale explains. "Roberto and Brian and Pablo are ahead of us towing the taco truck. Yontz and I are behind them, trying to run interference. I'm calling Roberto to tell him what's happening and to not stop driving until he gets to Mezcal. And the Mexican guys are pulling up, running alongside us, and we're all shouting at each other. It was wild."
Yontz got on the phone with Oscar Etc. again, trying to negotiate a settlement while also trying to keep the pickup full of Mexicans away from Diaz's truck. Morreale was thinking about getting out his video camera when the tow straps broke.
Torres and Rossi jumped out and got the straps reattached, and the chase resumed -- "now at twelve miles an hour," Morreale says. The straps broke again on York Street near I-70, in the middle of a Mexican neighborhood full of markets and restaurants. "And this was the funniest part," he insists. "Those guys pull over to try and tie the taco truck up again. The Mexican guys in the Bronco pull into a parking lot behind us. And it's like a total time-out. Everyone is going into this little market to buy bottles of water. Guys are standing around calling their friends."
All the while, he kept the camera rolling.
"Then it becomes like West Side Story," Morreale says, recounting how after the snack break, the two sides lined up for a screaming match that almost became a rumble but didn't. "I stepped in. It was crazy. No one wanted to fight."
A brief truce was called, and both sides retired to Mezcal, the hip cantina at 3230 East Colfax Avenue, where they negotiated terms out on the sidewalk. "They said they were going to go get their stuff and finish the work on the truck right there," Morreale remembers. "They said they'd be back in an hour. But it gets to be six, then seven, and we know they're never coming back."
Morreale and company pushed El Mariachi into a spot behind Mezcal and blocked it in with employee cars -- and a good thing, too. Because around 10 p.m., one of the Mezcal bartenders went out and caught a bunch of the boys from Brighton crawling all over the taco truck, trying to figure a way to steal it back.