Los Churros del Diablo


I believe the verb “to trudge” was coined specifically to apply to traveling. There’s no better way to describe what it’s like when you’re dragging a wheeled suitcase behind you up a city street and down into a subway station. TRUDGE. You’re leaning slightly forward, counterbalanced by the weight of the suitcase. TRUDGE TRUDGE TRUDGE.

It was during such a trudge a couple weeks ago that I realized I was very hungry. Trudging will do that to a person. I was in Manhattan, heading to JFK (the airport, not the guy) to fly home to Portland, and there was no time to stop for a proper meal. The airport was about 16 miles from where I then stood, but it takes an hour and 15 minutes to get there by train. That’s crazy, especially considering I was about to get on an airplane that would transport me 3,000 miles in five hours. But ruminating on the incongruities of modern travel wasn’t going to get me to the airport any faster, nor make me any less hungry. I resolved that I would buy a snack from a newsstand while I was transferring from one subway line to another, which I would have to do a couple times.

There was no newsstand in the first station. There was, however, an old Hispanic woman with a shopping cart full of churros. And they were for sale! She wasn’t just an old woman who loved churros. I mean, that might have been true as well, but the main thing is that she was selling them. I walked over and said, “How much?” She said, “Two for a dollar.”

Well, punch my throat and call me Maria! Two churros for a dollar is an amazing bargain. Churros at theme parks and county fairs will run you three or four dollars apiece. And these appeared to be homemade churros, not mass-produced ones. They didn’t come from the Nabisco Churro Factory. They’d been lovingly assembled by this old Hispanic woman, I assumed, and tossed into a giant plastic bag that was now being pushed around in a shopping cart. These were AUTHENTIC churros.

I happily handed over a dollar bill and received a paper bag with two churros sticking out of it. The paper bag was useful because the churros were very greasy, and as much as I wanted to eat the churros I did not really want to touch them.

I stood on the platform, waiting for my train, now quite content. Instead of eating one churro in its entirety before moving on to the other, I took bites out of both of them, back and forth, so that they remained approximately equal in size. This was for aesthetic reasons as well as practical. It’s not like I was going to be sharing them with anyone. It was unlikely that any situation would arise between here and the airport that would call for one whole, untouched churro rather than two partial churros.

I was happily munching away on my 50-cent churros when something occurred to me: I just bought two churros from some random woman with a makeshift cart on a New York City subway platform. She was not a licensed vendor. She didn’t have a sign. The health department had not approved her. Officially, I don’t think you’re even allowed to sell stuff right there on the platform — there were no other vendors there — which means she was only a half-step above the guys who sell knock-off jewelry from inside their trench coats.

Then I noticed that nobody else was buying churros from her. Whenever I pass a hot dog cart or a pretzel cart on the street, people are patronizing them. They do a brisk business, those hot dog and pretzel carts. Yet down here in the subway, at rush hour, with no other food options in sight, the churro woman had had only one customer, and it was an out-of-towner.

Now I began to worry. I thought I was being all cosmopolitan, buying food from a street vendor the way New Yorkers in movies do. But what if I was actually a rube, a bumpkin, a yahoo? For all I knew, the other subway passengers, all native New Yorkers, were quietly laughing at me. I’d fallen for the old “buy a churro from a random lady in the subway” trick, and now I was going to die.

I gazed down at my greasy, half-eaten churros. I did feel a bit queasy, but that could have been because I was hungry and because, let’s be honest, that’s the effect that even high-quality churros have on a person. You never eat a churro and then say, “Mmm! I’m sure glad I did that!” I concluded that I was being needlessly paranoid about the fact that I was the only person in all of New York City who had ever bought a churro from this woman. I also concluded that the woman was definitely real and had really been standing there, and that I was not the only person who could see her. (“The old woman who sells churros? Why, she died 20 years ago!”) But I remained wary of the two half-churros that I was now clutching in a paper bag as I rode in silent contemplation toward the airport. They felt like a harbinger of doom.

This thought was vaguely lurking in the back of my mind when I got off the subway and headed up the escalator. I was dragging my wheeled suitcase behind me with my left hand while my right hand was occupied with holding the churros and steadying the backpack slung over my right shoulder. As I neared the top, the churro bag slipped from my grasp and fell onto the escalator. As I bent down to pick it up I realized that the step onto which it had fallen was about to disappear into the grate at the top of the escalator. In a split second I had a vision of the paper bag getting stuck, my fingers getting stuck with it, and my entire body being cut into thin slices by the escalator shredder. This was my “Final Destination” moment. And the churros were to blame! Those accursed churros!

Fortunately — albeit anticlimactically — I snatched the bag of churros before the escalator could devour it and me. There were no further incidents from that point forward, and I got something more substantial to eat when I arrived at the airport, from an officially licensed purveyor of foodstuffs (Wendy’s). Maybe there is no story here after all. Or maybe the effects of old woman’s churro curse have yet to fully manifest themselves!!!