Claudio Velez (Chicago Tribune file photo )
In the U.K., there is trainspotting. In Chicago, we have TamaleGuyspotting.
Like the yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, Elvis and Santa, the Tamale Guy has taken on the aura of a mythical creature. One minute you'd be sitting in a bar, alone and crying, curled up in a fetal position, drunk—and then, a shining beacon of Hispanic hope appears!
Hot. Damn. Tamales so good they make you wanna drop to the floor and praise Jesus.
The name? Claudio Velez. Now show some respect.
Back in the day (sometime in 2004), it was said you could throw a bagged pork tamale against a building and run it over with a truck, and it still would be edible. There was only one rule: Never, ever look for him. The Tamale Guy finds YOU.
The chances of running into Claudio were only a tad bit better than catching a chupacabra. I've spotted Claudio as far north as Addison, out west by Kedzie and as far south as Grand, which made me believe the dude covered damn near the entire city in one night—sometimes the same area twice, if you were lucky.
The man was in high demand for drunkards, going where no food was ever served, at all hours of the night. He even had VIP access to the hottest shows in town, pushing his way through the crowd, yelling out, "Tamales! Tamales!" louder than the band's music.
On the nights when I was lucky enough to see Claudio, all the guys would want to get with me. No, not because they wanted to get in my pants (perverts!), but because they'd be spitting game at my chicken tamales. And yeah, I gave it up. Every. Single. Time.
Of course, the Tamale Guy had his share of impostors, wannabes, and newbies to the game hustlin' all over town. But when it came to selling hot, fresh tamales at 4 a.m., there was no substitution.
Times have changed since the Tamale Guy was solely a Chicago nightlife celebrity. Now there's a Facebook page dedicated to him and a Twitter tamale tracker. People have dressed as him for Halloween, written songs in his honor and even created a cocktail named after him. Had Oprah not ended her show, he might have been the next guest. For reals.
Claudio, if you are reading this, you need to know you were my first tamale. Unlike most of my closest friends, you have actually saved my life—numerous times. I will never forget 2004, before tweets of your whereabouts, you surprised me at Estelle's with three tamales for $2, whispering, "For you, take three." I turned to say "gracias," but you were already gone.
Oh, you're probably married (to the Tamale Lady? What she got that I don't!?). But I think you're spicy like your salsa verde sauce! Please, if you're out tonight, be safe delivering those delicious treats. The city needs you on that midnight meat trail. And although the mystery of your whereabouts is now gone, I will still look for you, in my drunken haze, via tweets now, I suppose.
DORIS DADAYAN IS A REDEYE SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR.