The other day I read that Naugles, the once-legendary West Coast mexican fast-food chain, had reopened to the public. Shuttering its last location in 1995, the expired trademark (once owned by Del Taco) was purchased by a local Orange County entrepreneur/Macho Burrito fan who jumpstarted Naugles’ rise from the ashes last week with a reboot in Fountain Valley, about 20 minutes from my house. Demand for their tacos, burritos and other favorites was so high on (re)opening day that they had to close down until they figured out some supply/procurement issues. Imagine if you will In-N-Out (for you CA readers) or Whataburger (hi Texas) closing down for two decades and re-opening.
This is almost like that.
I will be venturing over very soon for an Ortega burger, cheese burrito with green sauce or a bun taco.
I was a big fan of the Naugles in North Vegas not far from my house and right across the street from VideoTyme, a small VHS rental store that presaged the rise of Blockbuster. I worked at VideoTyme just over a year, and would visit Naugles on a regular lunch-break basis. A few highlights:
Being in Vegas, we of course had a small and tucked away Adult Film section in the store. Situated between Dramas and Family Comedy, this area always seemed to have one person perusing the titles and ogling the full-color box covers. One day, news broke that Traci Lords, popular adult film actress, was found to have been 15 years old when she made some of her first films. This, of course, was (and is) against the law so that night the owners had to come in and take all of her movies off of the shelves, including the ones that she made after she became a legal adult. Not long after they got rid of that area all together, not waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Then there was the day we got Top Gun. Released in 1986, the movie was a smash hit and anticipation for VHS rentals were high. So high, in fact, that the owners of VideoTyme purchased something like 200 copies to rent out. Then they panicked, thinking they overspent and came up with a plan: we would play Top Gun in the store on continuous loop, all day every day, in order to drive interest to our customers about this movie. God help you if as a clerk you didn’t have a rewinded copy ready to jack into the machine the instant the movie ended.
Thats “Highway To The Danger Zone”…that’s Goose and Maverick singing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”…that’s a fitter Val Kilmer…over and over and over and over and over. Lucky!
Back at Naugles one lunch break, I met a girl who worked there and we ended up dating for a couple months. All I really remember is that she had dark hair and always smelled like fried tortilla chips. She would hook me up from time to time with a free Coke or Macho Taco. I last saw her after her mom kicked her out of the house and she was going to go live with her dad, but stopped by my house to borrow money. Always wonder what happened to her.
My main memory of Naugles was the day I almost got shanked. At VideoTyme, there was an woman in her 40’s named Mary that was a clerk like I was. We got along pretty well and me being 20 at the time, I think she looked at me like a son; we would talk about world events and I thought she was matronly but hipper than most. She was married to man who would come in to the store once in a while. Not as friendly as his wife but I felt like we got on pretty well.
One day, I was getting ready to go on break and head across the street for a macho burrito (green sauce, no rice) and told Mary that I would be back in 30 minutes. I then put my hand on her shoulder in a friendly “see-you-later” way. Bad idea..
So I’m sitting at one of their brown and orange tables when Mary’s husband sits down across from me. Strange, I thought, but in the naivete’ that was a big part of my makeup in those early days, I didn’t think anything of his presence. Maybe he was hungry for a Naugleburger or one of their wet-style burritos.
“Hey man”, I said. “What’s up?” I had paid for my order and was just sitting there waiting for my food.
“Hey David. Why are you touching my wife?”
“What?!?! What are you talking about dude?” I exclaimed.
Just as I said that I felt a scrape of metal against my bare leg. It was summer in Vegas and I was wearing shorts. I pushed back in fear and confusion and saw that he was holding a small folding knife in his hand, and he had lightly touched me with the tip of the knife to get my attention. I was like WTF?! and jumped out of my seat and through the door to their patio. He came after me and was screaming “don’t touch my wife again or I’ll kill you”. Now I was pretty sturdy in 1986 but I was no match for some freaked-out, pissed-off man with a knife wanting to rearrange my breathing status thinking, in error, that I was making a play for his spouse. I ran down the street and towards home. He tried to come after me but realized he was not going to catch a terrified kid who saw his short life flash before his eyes.
I made it to my house in about 10 minutes where my father was working in the front yard. Breathlessly I blurted out what had just happened and my dad just nodded. He dropped the wrench he was holding.
“Get in the car” is all he said.
We drove back to VideoTyme, parked and my dad went into the store. He asked me to point out Mary, who was working behind the counter. My dad walked up to her.
“I’m David’s dad..where is your husband?” A look of confusion and alarm came over her face.
“Why do you ask??”
“Where is your husband?”, is all he repeated.
“Well I’m not sure”, she said and then looked at me. “What’s going on, David”
“Mary, haven’t we always got along? Haven’t I always been respectful to you? Well your husband pulled a knife on me across the street at Naugles saying ‘don’t touch you ever again’. What the hell?!?,” I blurted out in record time.
She then looked like she wanted to cry as she shook her head.. I took from this that something similar had happened before, that he was a loose cannon, overly jealous of any man who came in contact with his wife. It explained his sullen demeanor whenever he came to see Mary at the store. It explained his glare at any male customer that Mary came in contact with. It explained a lot.
“I really don’t know where he is…”, Mary finally, quietly said.
“Tell him I am looking for him,” my father said. The look in his eyes carried the unspoken promise: I will find him, make no mistake.
We left the store and I came back the next day for my shift, more than a little apprehensive. Mary was not there so I went about my day, wondering when her husband would come back to finish the job. I never saw him or Mary ever again, finding out later than Mary had gone to the owners and tendered her resignation. Whether she feared for her own safety at his hands, or her husband’s safety at my father’s, it was clear that she couldn’t stand the embarrassment of working there anymore, especially once word got around.
The next day I went over to Naugles to see if I could get the order that I paid for but never got to eat. The person behind the counter laughed nervously and asked what happened. I told them the story and his eyes got wide. I felt like I was floating above listening to me tell him the story, such was the surrealness of what had happened. After, he gave me my order and I sat down next to the window, looking across the street at VideoTyme and wondering about it all.
I look forward to going to the new Naugles in Fountain Valley. I’ll thank them for making good on my order 29 years ago. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for danger.