#476 — Rawley Park, Gardena / Rico’s Tacos El Tio

One of the many things I like about this tennis quest is that I get to make all the rules, which means I also get to break them.

And when I do, someone has to be held accountable, and that person is me.  So today’s outing was mostly to atone for a rule-breaking.  I took a Lyft to Redondo Union High School last week, and that’s not allowed.  I have to take public transit or ride my bike.  But I woulda been late on my bike ‘cause I forgot that you can’t just turn left at the ocean to get to Redondo from Venice.  Nope.  The Marina is an actual body of water, I’d call it an inlet and if any of you guys are mariners and want to correct me, please do.

Short story long, I goofed and was gonna be late, which would break another rule, the don’t be late rule.  So I called a Lyft and not just any Lyft, but the biggest bougie-est XL they had to take me and my bike.  The whole way down to Redondo I was like, “Marko, this is not good, you are going to have to make amends, what are you gonna do.”

The answer I came up with was to give away a whole bunch of T-shirts I don’t wear very much, to a non-profit serving the unhoused.  Because I see a lot of guys on the streets with no shirt on and it’s not a casual, beach-day look.  It’s a desperate look.  When I see them I think, “What is the one thing I could do for that guy right now?” and the answer is, “Give him a shirt.” 

So I laundered about a dozen beloved but just not frequently worn shirts and bundled them up along with a couple redundant pairs of 34×32 black jeans and stashed them all in a bat bag from my now-over baseball career and hauled them down on three buses to Project Ropa in Gardena.

I got the impression that Project Ropa really knows what they’re doing because everything was neat and tidy in bins stacked on shelves with clear labels.  The volunteer who helped me, S. (not her real initial) was self-evidently a kind person with orange fingernail polish she let me take a picture of.  She also offered me a beverage from a fridge stocked with quality soft drinks.

I said, “I must’ve done something good,” and she said with self-evident generosity of heart, “You certainly did.”

As a reward for my good deed, I was walking along the sidewalk to a tennis court I had spied with my little eye on the third bus ride of the morning, when this guy pulled up to me in an old Toyota. 

And he said, “Are you going to play tennis?”

“Yessir,” I replied, with one eye on the backseat of his car where I saw a bucket of tennis balls, so I knew he was legit.  “Let’s go hit right now.”

“I’m going to the gym right now and after that I have to pick up my kids from school but I’ll be at Fox Hills in Culver City at five,” he said, which also showed great generosity of spirit; however, I’ve played at the Fox Hills courts.  He reached through the passenger side window to give me his card and maybe it will turn out that he is my sidekick or I am his sidekick or we are each other’s sidekicks for exploring the tennis courts of the South Bay.

Wonders did not cease, as when I got to the courts at Rowley Memorial Park there was one guy practicing serves all by himself.  I was in one of the greatest moods of all time on account of the cold can of bubble water from Project Ropa and my chance encounter with a possible sidekick, and yet when I saw this guy I immediately thought, “He’s gonna be mean to me and say he doesn’t want to play, he’d rather just practice serves by himself to prove that he is the Loneliest Man in the World.”

But NO he DID want to play with me, which was great because W. had a ton of balls.  We hit back and forth, no pressure, no points, just sudden camaraderie between two persons who ten minutes earlier had never even conceived of the other. 

I asked him, “How long have you been playing tennis?” 

He said, “A long time but not for the past 15 years until three weeks ago.  I’m trying to pass a kidney stone, but it’s not working and I think I’m going to need surgery.”

This guy was moving really well for a guy trying to pass a kidney stone!  I myself felt like I was galumphing and not in a Jabberwocky way, but rather in a borderline limited mobility way.  So afterwards I sent a text to my old tennis team captain saying hey, you always have the best tennis videos, what do you have on lateral movement.  Sure enough he sent me back something that said you should shuffle.  I can do that!   Lido, whoa-oh-oh-ohhhhhhhh!  So thanks, H. (not his real initial).  I appreciate the tip — it helped!

Back to Rawley Park in Gardena – it was so hot that after about 20 minutes I let him know we had about five to go.  After he uncorked a winner I asked if could tell me where is the best place nearby to get a taco.

*

W (not his real initial either, none of these are gonna be people’s real initials, they didn’t sign up for me to do an expose about them) said, “Tio’s Tacos, that’s a good one,” so I sashayed on over and took a selfie of myself outside with Tio, who looks young to be an uncle but maybe he has older brothers and sisters.  Anyway he has chubby cheeks and a prominent sombrero and it looks like his sidekick is a cactus, which I respect because it means Young Tio gets along with all kinds of people and living things.

The vibe I got from inside Tio’s Tacos is everything is gonna be good here.  They were pushing the Vampiro with the signage so I went with that and I’m glad I did.  Not ecstatic but definitely glad.  I was kind of expecting something a little bloodier from a Vampiro, something like beet juice, but the bloodlike substance in this dish is chorizo.  That’s fine.  Oily, chewy, spicy, what’s that other flavor, don’t ask too many questions:  chorizo! 

I also got a limonada that made me remember how it felt the first time I went down the slide by myself at the park.  Wheeeeee!  And I tried a bite of the pepper.  At first I was gonna pass but then I told myself no, you gotta try.  So I took a little nibble and it went down easy.  Pickle-ish.  Okra-like?  No immediate mouth-scream.  No frantic search for a dairy product as antitode.  And no stealth afterburn. 

PS Here is an exclusive video from my failed bike ride showing the exact moment I realized I was lost.

Yes I’m on my way — or am I?

Published by MarkGozonsky

Mark Gozonsky is the author of The Gift is to the Giver: Chronicles of a 21st Century Decade (Keppie Usage, 2022). His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Sun, and Lit Hub. Mark’s essay, “Gritty All Day Long,” is anthologized by Norton and featured in Best American Sports Writing. He has been writing since his emergence as a gigantic music nerd in early-1970’s San Antonio, Texas. Stints as a regular commentator on public radio’s Marketplace and Internet 1.0 exec preceded a 20-year run as a public school teacher. Marko’s favorite writing topics include unorthodox pedagogy, well-intended gardening, and the intersection of baseball and urban bicycling. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he is working on a new book about his quest to play tennis on every free public court in LA.

One thought on “#476 — Rawley Park, Gardena / Rico’s Tacos El Tio

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: