I love Mexican food. I've never had a bad meal at any Mexican place around Charleston, but I really, really love Rio Grande's Mexican fare.
I have been a fan of Rio Grande for years. Since they opened the first Charleston location, on Capitol Street where Banana Joe's is (or was? What is it now?). Rio Grande is always my first choice for dinner when I want to have a great meal. I have spoken to dozens of people who feel as I do. I love the chips and salsa. I really love Combination Dinner #1 (Las enchiladas DE pollo, por favor). And while I don't imbibe, I have heard from many that the Margaritas are very good and very potent.
The atmosphere is very nice, and as authentic as you can expect in downtown Appalachia, with la musica playing at appropriate volume to give it an authentic Mexican feel. Mexican-themed murals and colorful sombreros and pinatas provide the visuals. All in all, a great place to eat.
Except for that damned chirp.
If you are a Rio Grande regular and have ears, you have to know what I am talking about. Every thirty seconds a smoke alarm, located in the dining area nearest the kitchen, chirps. The chirp means that the battery on this hard-wired smoke detector needs replacing. It has needed replacing for at least seven years. Every time I eat there, once per month on average, I hear it. I can't keep from hearing it. It is like an electronic version of the Chinese water torture. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.
How can the people that work there ignore this infernal auditory vexation? [chirp] Do they become immune to it after a while? Have they learned to just tune it out? [chirp] Could it be that they don't know what it is? Like Jed Clampett trying to find that music that played ever so often but was interrupted by someone knocking on the door each time he looked for it? [chirp] Do restaurant employees come in each day and say "¡Hay ese ruido loco otra vez!"?
Do firemen ever eat there? It seems like one of them would [chirp] tell the manager that the battery needs changed? I mean, it's been at least 7 freakin' years! Wouldn't someone have brought it to their attention by now?
Maybe it's an amusement for them. Maybe they have a pool [chirp] every night where they bet on what time someone will crack under the pressure and try to tell someone about it. I've noticed that the waiters will stand around in a circle speaking Spanish and laugh. Maybe they are telling stories [chirp] of the classic ways that the locals have tried to to tell them about the problem, exaggerating the Appalachian drawl in their mocking: "'scuse me, amigo, but yer battry in your smoke thingy is a goner," they might say and then throw back their heads and laugh. Of course [chirp] the guy who won the pool laughs loudest.
One of these days I am going to walk in with a stepladder [chirp] and a 9 volt Duracell. I'll dress in some nondescript coveralls with "Ralph" emblazoned on the left chest panel. They'll ask me what I'm doing and I'll just say, in broken Spanish, "Soy del departamento del reemplazo de la batería" and go straight to the smoke detector and set up my ladder. Before they can find the manager I'll zip up the ladder, take out the seven year old battery (if it will even come out at this point - probably welded into place by the corrosion), pop in the new copper top, slide down and fold up the ladder in one smooth motion and out the door I'll go without another word. I hope I can keep myself from looking back, to see if the employees have leaned out the front door watching me go. "¿Quién era ese tipo loco?" they will ask each other blankly as I walk into the sunset.
That would be so great! But I might have to have a few Margaritas before [chirp] I get the nerve.