Not long after we moved into the apartment, Vess and I started to notice something peculiar every day at about 5:00 PM. Out in our courtyard we started hearing what sounded like an overly enthusiastic clown vigorously honking a horn repeatedly until it faded into the distance. Due to the large amount of kids in the area, we assumed it was a little child playing around. Curiosity getting the better of me, I pressed my eye against our peephole one day to confirm my suspicions. As best as I could ascertain from the fisheye view, it looked to be someone pushing a stroller very slowly through our complex.
“What is it?” I heard Vess say from behind me.
“I think I see a stroller. It must be a baby doing all of that honking!”
Later that week, I was talking to some of the other tenants under the gazebo during a smoke-break.
“What’s up with that little kid with the horn?” I asked, bringing up the only thing I had in common with people I had just met.
“Oh, that’s no kid. That’s the corn lady!”
“What?” I raised one eyebrow.
“The corn lady. She has really good corn!”
The next day I was armed with a fistful of singles ready for the mysterious corn lady to pass by my door. I wasn’t sure what to expect – maybe an old retired grandmother looking to make a little income by selling fruits and vegetables? What I got was so much more.
Soon I heard that familiar cacophony of the clown horn. When I didn’t know what the sound was it had annoyed the hell out of me. Now it was suddenly music to my ears. Vess and I rushed out to cut her off at the gazebo.
My expectations were way off. This was no grandmother – she was our age… probably younger. What I thought was a baby stroller was, in fact, a shopping cart full of Mexican goodies. I greeted her and, not really knowing what else was available, went for what she was named after.
“I would like some corn! Two, please!”
Due to my enthusiasm, she probably thought I was really crazy about corn.
“Cup or stick?”
My gringo-ness was showing. She motioned to a styrofoam cup and a wooden skewer.
“Oh! Cup!” I had never really thought about it before, but “cup” seemed like the best option at the time.
I watched as she lifted the lid to one of the coolers and a cloud of steam billowed upwards. She ladled huge amounts of the pale yellow corn and the broth it was boiled in into two styrofoam cups. Next she spooned a dollop of white cream on the top of each cup.
“¿Es crema?” I asked, thinking maybe it was the Mexican sour cream that is so prevalent here.
What the shit?! I looked at Vess. We weren’t in Kansas anymore.
She then sprinkled Cotija cheese (kind of like the fake parmesan you find in the green cans) on top and followed that with a spicy, bright-red Mexican chili powder.
“¿Limón?” she asked, as she lifted a spray bottle full of lemon juice.
“Yes.” I thought to myself, “When in Rome…”
She generously sprayed the top of the cups with juice, inserted a spoon into each and handed them to us. She then said the magic word.
“I have tamales.”
She lifted the lid to another cooler and revealed the aluminum-wrapped treasures inside. Screw the corn! Tamales delivered daily to my doorstep? This was getting dangerous.
She gave me the rundown:
beef in the red or green variety
pork in the red or green variety
chicken in the red or green variety
jalapeño and cheese or
coconut and raisin (yuck)
all in groups of six.
We decided on six of the pork rojo and six of the pork verde. We gathered up our bounty and headed back inside to plate up.
Although the corn sounded weird to me with the mayo and all, something about it just “worked.” It was creamy but had the lemon to cut through the richness. I would describe it as a really good and spicy creamed corn. I thought it was a strange combination of ingredients but there was no denying it – it was delicious.
The tamales were some of the best I’ve ever had. They were moist, spicy, made with lard and huge – everything a growing boy needs. I dipped them in some leftover salsa we had and I was in heaven. Between us, four total is all we could get down before getting too stuffed to eat anything else.
Now, every day around 5:00 PM when Vess and I hear the horn we yell, “CORN LADY!” as a Pavlovian response – the honking sound reminding our taste buds that a good and quick meal is only a door-thickness away.
So if you ever happen to be in Phoenix and hear what sounds like a deranged clown outside, go check it out. You might be in for a wonderful surprise.