As a writer, I relish the occasional night of ritualistic storytelling. Nights where it becomes a sport, sat around bars, campfires, or kitchen tables; exchanging stories of where you’ve been and what you’ve seen with friends family and the occasional stranger. As the people and places within them naturally become mythologised over time, but never watered down.
It’s a world that’s as real as the stench of a taco shit, or a warm smile from a beautiful señorita. This is the world where Joe Ridgwell’s Burrito Deluxe exists.
I briefly visited Mexico, heading over the Californian border to Tijuana. I was only there for twenty-four hours tops, an experience that was as brief and authentically Mexican as a microwaveable enchilada from Asda. So, in a way it’s strange that I find myself relating to all of this. However, like any good storyteller, Ridgwell makes you feel as if you’re there with him.
But it would take a good eighteen years for this story to become a novel. And those years of incubation have served it well. It’s this time that’s clearly given Ridgwell the perspective to craft it all. One reason for this could be that the story behind the story is just as crazy as the novel. After salivating over the arrival of this puppy for a long time, I asked Ridgwell about the events that unfold around Burrito Deluxe. It’s not my story to tell, but let’s just say that Joe’s partner in crime, Ronnie is just as real as Joe Ridgwell. And peace be with Ronnie wherever he may be.
Our tale starts not in Mexico, but in East London. A London of psychotropic parties, great boozers, of heavy comedowns, quick tempers, bad jobs, or no jobs at all. A London that brought back my memories of the city I’d lived in, with all its highs and lows. Joe and his infamous travel partner Ronnie, drift in and out of trouble, disenchanted with youth and their lots in life. Soon it becomes clear that the only thing that can cure it is to leave it all behind, that feeling of wiping the slate clean with somewhere new; Mexico.
Ronnie and Joe plan various schemes to raise the cash for Mexico by day. Leaving the nights to tour the pubs, parties and dive clubs with their equally young and boozy outfit. And like everything in their hometown at that point, Ronnie and Joe’s relationship with their friends is largely one of tolerance/annoyance. Whether that be from the returning face of the drug addled Surfer Boy or from the egregious Eyes Down, it feels that Ronnie and Joe are searching for something greater than their friends are.
This section of the novel could have been explained in a few pages, but I’m glad it didn’t because the pacing is perfect. Anything less would have seemed far too rushed. Of course, there’s other tales that include both Ronnie and Joe, but by starting the journey back home, the story becomes more personal and revealing and allows the reader to share part of the dream and fantasy of their escape.
Like many who are determined enough, their perseverance eventually pays off and soon they’re on a plane to Mexico City. A page turn later and. the pair is venturing down a dusty Mexican street, with flowers in their hair embarking on their journey. A journey that spans exotic beaches, Mayan ruins, jungles, Mexican ghettos and the open road, with many twists and turns along the way. A journey that eighteen years later would turn into Ridgwell’s finest work to date, a novel named Burrito Deluxe.
I’ve waited to read this book for quite some time and my only worry was that the waiting might cause my expectations to go into overkill. However, a few pages in and I knew that it had been more than worth the wait. And although this book contains the classic Ridgwell ingredients that make it simple, fun and invigorating – this book seemed deeper and more compelling than ever. Whether you’ve ever even been abroad or not, there’s a nostalgic coming of age vibe that runs through this flawlessly.
Burrito Deluxe gives you the whole enchilada; a real and raw account of two East End gringos traveling through Mexico. And one that’ll have you turning page after page, in voracious succession. All of which is presented under another beautiful cover by the impressive woodcut artist/writer Jose Arroyo. So it’s time to invest your time and money wisely – find those credit cards and follow the links…