Everything Smells Like Tacos: A Coming of Age Story

In a quest to reconvene the Redlands Bulldog with a change of pace, each editor reflected on their summer and what it’s like to return home after being away for college.


I’m well acquainted with the smell of tacos. Not just because I am admittedly a fiend with impeccable taste, but also because my neighborhood is taco scented. I’ve grown up in the heart of Austin’s 78704, raised amongst the city’s original yogis, crystal wearers and compost enforcers. Instead of the coffee and bacon and daisies that you see in Leave it to Beaver’s American Dream, my Sunday morning ambience has always been set by Maria’s Taco X-Press — a breakfast taco staple, located just two blocks down from my childhood home.


As such, the fresh scent of migas and queso has a tendency to permeate through the entire neighborhood at a fairly constant rate, which has taught me how to keep my priorities straight at an early age (tacos, tacos, margaritas, tacos). On Sundays, this ambiance is made infinitely stronger by the sound and energy from “Hippie Church” where the tambourines come out, gospel tunes are sung, and your margarita hand is never empty. Peace, love and tacos have narrated my Sunday mornings throughout my earliest memory.


This emblem of home, the anchor to my South Austin Dream, was threatened this spring, when Maria, the Taco Queen herself, announced the shutting of her doors. Apparently, Austin is not the same city it was when we moved into our 900 square feet purple bungalow in 1999, nor is Austin the same city it was when I moved to college out of state two short years ago.

Coming home for school breaks is usually alarming in more ways than one. At least three of the familiar, humble homes on my block have been demolished and replaced by modern monstrosities in the works. The monstrosities, mind you, are equipped with a 7 a.m. wakeup call for everyone in the vicinity, alarmed by jack hammers and the crashing of bricks. It’s terrible. At Barton Springs, Austin’s favorite swimming hole, the number of old men playing the bongos have dwindled, slowly ousted by an influx of frat stars and tourists with bluetooth speakers and music taste not expanding far beyond Pitbull and Lil Jon.  Shops, parks, markets and restaurants are being replaced by condos at a rate that is impossible to keep up with. Traffic is exponentially worse, and our highways are destroyed in an effort to expand the number of vehicles the roads can host. Sometimes, change is hard to embrace.


So when the news came at the beginning of this year that Maria’s Taco X-Press was calling it quits, I was less than surprised, but beyond heartbroken. When I came home from school for spring break, I made sure I fit in a trip to “Hippie Church.” There was a line out the door and through the parking lot, while music was blaring and stumbling hippies were spreading good cheer. Maria’s looked like it did in my earliest memories: flourishing with positive energy and free of worries from astronomical property taxes and neighborhood gentrification. But after a few months of booming business from mourning customers, Maria’s announced that they no longer planned to close up shop; at least not yet. The neighborhood saved the Taco Queen with a little good faith, a firm foot, and a large resurgence of taco runs.


This good news served as a wonderful welcome home present. But although my favorite tacos remained at my fingertips, many other facets of my life experienced drastic change. Not only did I notice uncanny growth in the city itself, my friends all seemed to be wiggling and squeezing their way into real life adulthood. Most were occupied with 9-5, resume boosting internships, that although sounded impressive, seemed to mostly involve desk naps and fidget spinners.  Admittedly, I hunted for a BS internship as well. I was determined to spend my days making coffee and taking the blame for things I didn’t do. Instead, I was awoken by a tremendous halt to my ego and several “We regret to inform you” emails. I spent a few weeks waking up in a gasp for air and a scramble to find my phone, only to find that it is noon and I have no plans for the day except for a long read in the sun. As a protest to my defeat, I found a paying job and then convinced a local and lovely nonprofit with a mission that aligns with my interests to take me on as an intern. And they did. And they treated me as an equal. And I’m lucky that they didn’t ask me to make coffee, because I don’t drink it and am sure if I tried to make it it would be less than impressive.

After an intense school year, I spent my free time rekindling my love for NPR, and letting my schoolgirl crush on Ira Glass fester into a genuine belief that he is my soulmate. I’ve learned about the chakras and where I should focus on shifting my energy. I’ve acquired a daily yoga practice, and an addiction to it too. I’m trying, struggling, admittedly, to acquire a love for healthy and easy home cooking, sponsored by a Buzzfeed and Instagram collaboration (turns out those Tasty videos are way more fun to watch than to execute). And nearly every moment passed was spent in good company. I’ve learned that to be important.


Meanwhile, everything around me has aged. And noticeably. My friends, once legendary for doing things like throwing giant parties in their dad’s office or sleeping in public parks just for fun, are now saying adult things like, “I’d rather sleep in my own bed” and, “Man I’ve had a long day of errands, I can’t wait to turn in early!” Even my little cousins, once adorably innocent, are now sprouting their first pimples and no longer yearn for my hugs.


What’s interesting is that now that I have a few years under my belt, I am experiencing adult versions of the same things that I have in my past. Still, all this time later, I’m flirting with the same neighborhood boy who got me into so much trouble years ago. But now, I have learned to communicate my thoughts and feelings. I am still flinging myself off of the same rope swing and into the same creek that I did at age five, but now I’m missing those frilly water wings and those rhinestone sunglasses that shined so brightly in disposable camera photography. And still, I am seeing shows at the same venues. Except now, I have forms of identification that allow me entry, and don’t have to wait for the bouncer to turn his back for just the right amount of time for me to book it up the back stairs that stand just a few feet behind him.


I think I am officially living that coming of age story that generates its own genre on Netflix and at bookstores. Isn’t life something!


As I’ve come and gone and come again, I have grown and Austin has exploded. But really, we have grown alongside one another. When I was a baby, Austin was a quaint little town on the brink of a bright future. Now, it’s one of America’s largest cities, and it’s not going to stop growing anytime soon. Although I’m an adult in the eyes of the government and I live independently, I can’t help to feel that I still have a lot of growing to do myself.


Every time a new condo comes up, or a new skyscraper joins our skyline, or we’re stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, my mom says, “This damn town”. It’s her favorite exclamation. I find it funny because she repeats it so frequently, but also because Austin does not qualify as much of a town anymore. Sometimes I get frustrated when I hear her screaming “I hate this place!” because I love the city that I call my own and I don’t want it to be defamed. But when my next door neighbor’s cozy white cottage comes crumbling down and the city’s main highway is reduced to a single lane because of construction, it’s hard not to feel like you’re being displaced from your own life.

photo by Tosca Radigonda

But then, on a dwindling day of summer, when Barton Springs is settling down from an exhausting season, I watch a circle of topless free spirits play Born to be Wild on a variety of stringed instruments, as loud and as hard as they can. And others join in, without reservation, kicking their feet, flailing their arms and smiling from ear to ear. I fall asleep feeling completely at home. And then, Sunday morning comes. In a moment of silence I am able to hear those vibrant sounds of “Hippie Church” at Maria’s Tacos down the road. The gospel voices sing loud and clear. With a crack of a window and a step onto my front porch, I am reminded that my neighborhood is taco scented, just as it always has been. My South Austin Dream remains intact, and we’ll all keep growing.


photos and story provided by Willow Higgins, Editor-in-Chief


  • Willow Higgins

    University of Redlands senior, Public Policy and English double major and previous Editor-in-Chief of the Redlands Bulldog. Higgins retired from her leadership position to study journalism abroad, and will return as a full-time reporter.