It was 5:30 in the morning when I arrived at the nearly desolate strip mall. If sleeping out for "Star Wars" tickets at The Uptown taught me anything, it’s that the best things in life are earned by getting in line before the dawn’s early light.
I parked my car and counted: one, two, three…a girl in a full-on sprint from the coffee shop on the corner, she made four.
I was five. I was safe.
California Tortilla, that spunky Maryland-based chain with the quirky Mexican food and the wall of hot sauces, opened its Brambleton Town Center location in Ashburn last Thursday with its trademark splash: the first 10 customers in line at 11 a.m. would receive vouchers for free burritos — 52 of them, one a week for the next year.
The young quartet huddled in blankets at the front of the line — Janet O’Brien, Ian Entenline, Kevin Cecchini and Matt Schlosser — put me to shame, having arrived at the restaurant around 3 a.m., after driving 2-and-a-half hours down from the University of Delaware. After CalTort, or as they called it "The Tilla," advertised the grand opening promotion in its e-mail newsletter "Taco Talk," an overnight trip down I-95 for 52 free burritos was an easy call.
Easy, because they’re in The Cult, just like I’m in The Cult. Like White Castle or chili dogs at the Vienna Inn, there’s an addictive yet communal quality to California Tortilla. As dawn broke, we stood there comparing CalTort stories, CalTort philosophies, CalTort menu configurations. It was like talking baseball with a bunch of seamheads, only instead of Alfonso Soriano we were debating Havana Burrito.
The Delaware Four were hoping that the vouchers wouldn’t only be valid for this Loudoun County location and could be used at the store back up in Newark. But an employee posted a set of "rules" on the front door, including an "only valid at this location" downer. The foursome stared at the paper like students at recently posted test scores, horrified that they just flunked a chemistry exam.
A flurry of worst-case-scenario brainstorming ensued. Driving home? Begging for exceptions? Posting on eBay?
Later in the morning, as the line bulged to more than 40 hungry customers, CalTort founder Pam Felix arrived on site and heard the plight of the Delaware Four. Touched by their dedication — and attention to detail, as the original e-mail never did mention any restrictions — she contacted the franchise in Newark and worked out a compromise: free burritos, every week until the end of the school year back in Delaware.
One through Four were overjoyed. So were Eleven through Fourteen, who were informed that the 52 burritos had trickled down to them.
The doors opened. The Cult grew. And, as always, the early birds got the tortillas.