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"I remember crying when my brother was killed in a drunk-driving accident," he says. "I remember crying at his funeral and then going back out to get wasted that same night." Yvette, now 26, tried to pass on some of her fervent Christianity. It didn't take. "Yeah, one time she brought over her preacher, and I laughed in his face," Angel recalls. "I stayed drunk. And then one day about six months ago, I saw that God is a big God. I asked him, please, I don't want no more cravings. Just show me. And he did."

Since his conversion, Angel has kept the chile business going in fine style, but he's not sure how long it will last. "The Lord is calling me to do something different," he says. "And my sons, well, they like tractors, but I hope they don't decide to do this."

"I'm praying about it, trying to decide what to do next," he says. "I'll let you know. And meanwhile, I'll pray for you."

With more than twenty chile stands now lining Federal, the start of the New Mexico/Denver chile trail would seem lost in obscurity. But the roots are actually easy to trace.

"I'm the source," claims Willy Martinez, a large, handsome man in his fifties who is sitting out this year's chile season to pursue the importation of Penafiel and other supersweet Mexican soft drinks. "I mean it," he says. "Twenty years ago no one up here knew the New Mexico chile. It started with me. I been messing around with chile forever. The first year I brought it up and sold it from a walk-in cooler behind my house on Wyandot. I don't know how they found out about it, but a lot of people came to the cooler and bought chile. I was messing with Sandia and the 6-4 chiles, and lately, people are just buying and buying."

Last year Willy and Charles Gurule joined forces--operating five chile stands in addition to the one at Vigil's. This year, though, Charles is on his own, with just one stand. "Yeah, I quit having a whole bunch of stands," he says, "because it's a pain in the ass. People get absolutely rude. I tell them my price is twelve bucks a bushel. They tell me it's ten bucks down the street. I say, no it isn't, I'm the guy down the street, and I'm not selling any chile for ten bucks."

In fact, at the moment he's not selling any chile at all--he's run out. Once again, it's time to head for a chile farm. "I don't care if I have to get a farmer out of bed at one in the morning and say `I want a couple hundred pounds of chile, load me up.' They're used to it," Charles says.

Maybe. "Charles is the only person I know who would do a thing like that," laughs Angel Baquera.

While he's gone, Charles's crew--barring fights to the death--will hold down the fort. There's not a lot to it, really--you let the customer taste the chile, you keep the roaster spinning and you don't bargain.

"Right," Charles says. "Do you bargain at King Soopers? A lot of these guys think nothing of spending fifty bucks a night getting drunk, but then they bitch about twelve bucks.

"And that," he reminds you, "is for enough chile to last a year.

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff