At Farragut Square, mourning the burrito man who became a friend
Wednesday, October 6, 2010; 9:31 PM
In the ever-churning universe of a city street corner, Carlos Guardado was that rarest of things: a fixture.
For almost 20 years, he was there, a little guy in a metal cart, selling rice-and-bean burritos at 17th and K streets NW on Farragut Square. He was there in all weather, during uptimes and downturns, a dependable rock in the rapids of life in downtown Washington.
Until suddenly, this week, he wasn't, and a busy neighborhood paused to realize that it was a pretty big man who had been doing that little job.
Tuesday, when the hungry emerged from their marble lobbies, in place of Guardado's cart they found a hand-drawn sign posted by his brother-in-law announcing that the burrito man had suffered a heart attack and died a few days earlier. He was 48.
A man in a tailored suit read the words, touched his open mouth and lowered his head into his hand. Two women hugged, one crying openly. They came to the cart at least once a week, the other said, usually together.
"No! Oh my God," cried Pat Pasqual as she stopped in her tracks. She had bought countless cups of coffee from the cart that was no longer there.
"I'd like to talk about him, but I don't think I can right now," said Robert Tigner, a lawyer for a professional association across the street, his voice breaking as he read the notice.
All day, they came, lawyers and interns, lobbyists and vagrants, working folks who had made Guardado a part of their routine, suddenly realizing that the burrito guy had found his way into their hearts.
"I guess we became friends. We did become friends," Tigner said later by phone. The lawyer marveled that he'd spoken with Guardado almost every workday for 10 years. "Sometime for a few minutes, sometimes for much longer. We talked about kids and soccer, his two loves - in that order."
Judy Sheahan worked a few blocks away at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' offices. As soon as a friend called to tell her about the poster, she went to "Carlos's Corner," as many called it, and joined in the spontaneous street-side mourning.
"I was hugging people that I didn't even know, faces I recognized from Carlos's cart," she said. "We cried together. This tore a real hole in our office."
Tigner and Sheahan were two of almost a hundred people who attended a visitation for Guardado Tuesday night in Gaithersburg. Many were downtown office workers, connected by nothing other than their acquaintance with a cheerful vendor.