Driving back from the airport on Wednesday afternoon with hunger pains in my tummy, I decided to swing by HEB to stock my fridge with a few essentials. Now that I live in Texas, tostadas have become one of those essentials. I found myself contemplating the shelves packed with different flavors: yellow corn, jalapeño, chili chipotle, red, nopaltilla–cactus.
“You want my opinion?” said the man standing to my left.
I looked up and saw a man of Mexican heritage with a scruffy beard wearing an untucked baggy t-shirt, jeans, work boots, and a red bandana on his head. He was unpacking a box and stocking the HEB brand tostada shelf.
“Sure,” I said, trying to be polite despite the fact that I really just wanted to quickly throw something in my basket and get home.
“Go for the basic good old yellow corn.”
I teased him, asking what makes him an expert in tostada flavors. This simple question opened the door to discovering an uncanny connection with the tostada man.
It turns out he recently gave up a so-called glamorous career as a couture designer for Pierre Cardin. He spent 20 years jetting between New York and Paris, often working 80 hour weeks and living on coffee and sheer adrenaline. Looking closer, I noticed he had perfectly bleached white teeth, well manicured nails and the vernacular of someone well-traveled in cultured circles. Over the years he felt himself burning out from the stress of his career, but like me with my former Hollywood career, he felt chained by the golden handcuffs. He had a job and a salary that many would give their right arm for. He found himself questioning how he could leave a life that on the surface seemed so charmed.
But it wasn’t charmed, and he ultimately bottomed-out from the lack of a healthy work/life balance. So a couple years ago he gave it all up. He went back to his roots. Those roots happen to be a family business in Texas that white labels tostadas for the HEB grocery chain. He’s traded in his designer threads for simple, yet comfortable, work clothes. He has a family. He eats dinner each night with that family. He doesn’t bank what he used to in the form of money, but he does bank happiness. And that’s a trade he is happy he made.
With each bite of my fresh bag of HEB brand yellow corn tostadas, I plan to celebrate the wisdom of the man who discovered his golden ticket to happiness through the world of tostadas.
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