by CJ Waggon 

GO TO Uncle Steven’s to do the Hucklebuck?”

It was Big Al on the horn. And I had no idea what he was talking about. “Gol durnit, Al! The Hucklebuck? Not since the 1940s, back when I met Muriel in that roadhouse,” I whined. “Besides, ol’ Uncle Steven passed ‘bout 30 years ago. He’s long dead, Al.”

Another crackle on the line and his voice dropped out. Big Al always used his cell, always going here and there. Met him back in ‘Nam, early ‘70s. Young whippersnapper did Morse code ‘bout 90 words a minute. Only stood about 5 foot 7 so we teased him about his nickname.

One day a lady private Al was seeing joined our poker game after work. After a few boilermakers she told us to go on ahead and laugh about callin’ him Big Al, but she said insisted for a fact it was true. We all got silent, and didn’t none of us ever laugh about him being Big Al after that, no sir.

“Charlie, I said HAKUBA. Up in the mountains. Great skiing.” Big Al was finally coming in loud and clear. “And Uncle Steven’s the name of this Tex-Mex place up there.”

Now he was talking my language.

Next morning we pile into his Volvo Station Wagon with his lovely wife, two teenage kids and all them skis and snowboards. Big Al knew I didn’t ski, but thought a weekend in the snowy mountains would do me good. He was right. Plus, we had a lot to catch up on, so the three-hour drive (Al’s your regular Andy Granatelli behind the wheel) from Tokyo to Hakuba was a good time to chat.

We pull into town and Big Al lets me out in front of Uncle Steven’s, then goes on ahead with the family up to the lifts. Took a look-see at the joint. Sign on the window said “Cheapest Drinks, Cheapest Foods In Town.” Hey, my kinda place.

I hole up there for the better part of the afternoon, sipping Tequila while I finish an old Raymond Chandler paperback I had. Then I start in on The Crystal Frontier by Carlos Fuentes, perhaps the greatest writer in Ole Mexico these days. By the time Big Al and family get back, I’m all red and relaxed and ready to chow down.

We get the back table and all kinda Tex-Mex food lands in front of us. You got your Jalapeno Quesadillas, Soft Mexican Tacos, Enchiladas, Burritos, Nachos, you name it. The kids go wild since they hadn’t been stateside in almost a year. Big Al and I do a search and destroy mission on Uncle Steven’s tequila larder, and after “mission accomplished” his sweet wife drives us all back to the hotel. Can’t really remember everything I ate, but I’m sure I had a really good time.

Uncle Steven’s Tex-Mex
Happo Gondola-dori
Hakuba-mura, Nagano Prefecture
Tel. 0261-72-7569
Hours vary by season, call first.

Jalapeno Quesadilla, ¥880.

Tequila, neat, with salt, ¥500.

Big table in back, by the cactus, giant Tecate can and red guitar.

¥4,000 for food, ¥4,000 for a whole lotta tequila.

Skiers, hikers and sometimes old horse traders from Texas.

A doctor, and an ambulance, if you drink as much tequila as I did.