The radio news was focused on the launch of Apollo-Soyuz flight into space, but my mind was more interested in my next meal. I dialed through the radio stations and finally settled when I heard Glen Campbell belting out Rhinestone Cowboy. It seemed appropriate for my road trip across the southern California desert.
I was wondering if I’d ever find a place to get some grub when I came across the El Tiki Supper Club. It came out of nowhere. The place seemed to spring up like an oasis in the surrounding farmlands of a small town. It was a place of mystery with a whale rib out front, bamboo grove, a thatched A-Frame roof, and a ten-foot tiki standing guard. Lots of cars were there, so I figured it must be good.
Teresa, a high school girl, greeted me at the door, led me to a table, and gave me a menu. I made small talk for a bit, asking her about the tikis and sombreros, but she changed the subject and confided that she’d hoped it was a less busy night. Apparently, she and her siblings had to come help out her dad, Ben, who owned the club, when the cars stated pouring in.
I was hoping they had something on the stiff side for a drink, but Teresa quickly told me the bad news. There was no liquor license. So it was beer and wine or one of her dad’s exotic concoctions. I found something promising called a Bali Hai for 70 cents, ordered my food, and took in the atmosphere.
I couldn’t help but notice the young dishwasher guy from the kitchen who kept stealing glances at Teresa. Ben kept reminding Mike to get back to his duties, but it wouldn’t be long before his eyes were back on Teresa. Must be a crush. I wondered how long it would take Mike to ask Teresa to the prom.
My food arrived. My Tiki-Toes were fresh corn chips with toasted cheese and pickles on one half and jalapeños on the other. I downed those, started on my footlong burrito, and was starting to think my dessert order of ambrosia was a mistake, but ended up eating it all.
Before I lost complete track of the time, I paid the bill, made my way into the night heat, and starting driving west. I wondered if I’d ever see El Tiki again.
But I already knew the rest of the story.
El Tiki Supper Club closed two years later, but the building and some tikis remain to this day on the corner lot property in the farmlands of Imperial, California.
Mike did finally ask Teresa to the prom. But, it was a friendly date, and they went their separate ways. Mike married, had a family, traveled to Hawaii, and developed a passion for creating tiki that sustained his wife in her final days when she lost the battle to cancer a decade ago.
Two years later, Teresa had a dream. Mike’s wife appeared to her and asked her to check on him. So she did. And that check-in turned into a date, which turned into romance, which turned into marriage.
I’m comforted knowing that Mike still makes Bali Hais and Tiki-Toes and footlong burritos and ambrosia for his guests. I had the pleasure of enjoying all of these delicacies. He and Teresa keep the spirit of their days at El Tiki alive in their home – complete with a Polynesian garden.
So, yes. I stopped for dinner at El Tiki and completely lost track of time. It was a place so filled with love, I couldn’t help it.