Okay, I promised I'd tell this story, and I will. 'Twas February of '09, when I still lived in the old house up on the northwest side of Phoenix, where I usually did my shopping at the plaza on Thomas Road and 59th Avenue. The major industry there is a big grocery store which had changed hands several times before becoming a Ranch Market.
For those of you unfamiliar with Ranch Market, it's a supermarket-chain that makes a point of appealing to the local "ethnic" market, no matter what that "eth" may be. I saw one in northern California that would have been at home in Tokyo, and another whose goods were all labeled in Korean script with English for subtitles.
This one on the corner of 59th and Thomas blatantly appealed to Mexicans. The goods were all labeled in Spanish, a good quarter of them were plainly imported from Mexico (at exorbitant prices), the loudspeakers played Mexican pop music, the decor practically screamed "The Lonesome Wetback's Home Away From Home", and of course the stockboys and cash-register girls were all young Mexicans -- though I noticed that the management was all Anglo. Outside were racks of Mexican CDs for sale, and the newspaper boxes were filled with free papers entirely in Spanish. One of them was the La Raza paper, with the word "Reconquista" prominent in the headlines. I and my tenants had taken to calling the store "the Mexploitation Mart".
Since I'd been shopping at that store for years, under its various changes of ownership, I knew where to find the bargains. I'd filled up my cart, managed to purchase everything easily despite a cash-register girl who spoke no English, and went rolling my cart out the door into the parking-lot. I was wearing a denim jacket, though I hadn't fastened it, and had my hair piled up under a watch-cap.
As I pushed my cart down the parking-aisle, I approached a black windowless van whose rear door was open. Just outside that door stood a middle-aged Mexican woman stuffed into a too-tight shiny-nylon sheath dress, wearing entirely too much makeup, teetering on spindly high heels. As I rolled past her she called out: "Hey, you want some tamales? Nice red-hot tamales?"
Startled, I turned to face her -- and simultaneously, two things happened.
One: I saw that inside that windowless van was a mattress covered by a sheet, and on it sat a young Mexican girl in a halter-top, denim short-shorts, shiny high-heeled shoes and too much makeup. Right there, I realized what that van was, and what those women were doing.
Two: As I turned toward them, my jacket swung open -- revealing my unmistakable breasts. Right there, the middle-aged woman shut her mouth and grimaced in the embarrassed fashion of a whore's shill who realizes that she's just been propositioning another woman.
She turned away quickly, and I shrugged and rolled on to my car. All the time I was loading the groceries in the trunk, I cast glances at the mini-whorehouse to see if it got any customers.
Yes, it did. A couple of lanky Mexican boys strolled up and stopped to dicker with the shill. At the next glance, I saw one of them climb into the van and the shill close the door behind him. By the time I'd loaded the last of my groceries, rolled the cart to the cart-rack, gotten in the car and started the engine, they were finished. As I backed my car out into the aisle, I saw the van's rear door open, the first boy climb out and the second one scramble in. I shrugged and drove away.
I don't know if the managers of the Ranch Market knew what form of small business was going on in their parking-lot, but I'm fairly sure that they weren't getting a commission, because the next time I went shopping there I didn't see that van anywhere in that lot.
I did, however, see it a week later in the parking-lot of the local Home Depot. It was after dark, but there were plenty of Mexican men hanging around in the lot -- and the back door of the van was closed.
I've heard jokes about "curb service", but this was the first time I'd seen it done.