For four years, I worked on and off at a restaurant in Gruene (pronounced ‘Green’), which is the historic part of the small Texas town of New Braunfels, located on I-35 between Austin and San Antonio. I have soooo many stories about that place and the people I knew.
There was Chase, who acted just like the wannabe-gangsta dishwashers from the movie “Waiting,” but was foiled by his cherubic cheeks and strong resemblance to Bobby Hill.
Scary Sherry, who would throw knives at the waitstaff when she got overwhelmed during the dinner rush.
Terry, who was an amazing waiter you could count on to take your tables when you got in the weeds, but who was also a disgusting pervert that should probably have gone to jail for the shit he did.
I could go on for a very long time about all the characters I worked with and served at that place, but today I’m just going to focus on Cristo, because Cristo was in the news a few years ago and we still talk about him sometimes.
Cristo was one of our cooks and probably the most important thing I knew about him for the first few months he worked there was that he could get you any kind of drug you wanted. He was also pretty quiet and relaxed, never freaked out if you forgot to put in an appetizer and needed it stat. He was always happy to sneak you whatever food you wanted, or whip you up an off-menu item like a BBQ quesadilla. He never worried about anyone else’s business, as long as it didn’t affect his.
Well, one night my boyfriend and I were in need of his retail services. We agreed to go over to his house after our shifts. I had never been to Cristo’s house before and as we followed his car to a part of town I’d never known existed, Cristo’s world began to round itself out for me. Cristo’s house was two doors down from an old, crumbling cemetery. From his bedroom window, he could look out over the roof of his neighbor’s house and see the whole thing.
His house was small, dirty, and cluttered, but not nasty. There were photographs of family members everywhere, blankets on the back of the sofa, shoes in every corner of the living room, crumbs on the kitchen counter; not so different from your house or mine. Cristo walked into the back bedroom to grab something, and without thinking, I followed him in.
His father was sitting on the edge of the bed, using his teeth to tighten a tourniquet around his arm. He looked up at me, startled and embarrassed. “Sorry,” he mumbled. I’d never seen anyone shooting up before and I didn’t know what to say. I remember thinking, It’s YOUR house, like getting caught shooting heroin was akin to getting caught drinking out of the milk carton. Maybe I said, “No worries!” in that effervescent, Millenial way, or maybe I didn’t say anything at all. Either way, Cristo found what he needed and we quickly left the room.
That night as I learned Cristo’s younger sister had Down’s Syndrome and needed a lot of special care, and that Cristo’s mother had died many years ago, my thoughts on why people use and sell drugs changed a bit. People like me used drugs for shits and giggles. But for the first time, I saw that for other people, drugs were a release, an escape, or even a livelihood to support an entire family when minimum wage just wasn’t enough.
I worked with Cristo for a year or so before one of us left the restaurant; I don’t remember who quit first anymore. I keep in touch with some of the staff through Facebook, and a few years back another waitress named Casey posted a news article to our group. The New Braunfels Police Department needed help identifying a guy who had been sticking his phone up women’s skirts. They released a photo of the culprit and – you guessed it – it was Cristo.
Stop eating fast food. And let me know if you want to hear more tales from the restaurant biz.