I first met Liz Sawyer almost twenty years ago, at a party thrown by our mutual pal Nick. While our circle of then-friends was a mostly unctuous group of raucous twenty-somethings, Liz and I bonded almost immediately, primarily through our mixed-race backgrounds, our love of ghastly Italian horror and, of course, our insatiable love of Latino food.
Sadly, I hadn’t talked to her over the past few years—with the exception of a supremely strange sighting at a Kraftwerk reunion concert in Denver—but, like most former friends who had recently heard about my life-threatening health problems after the fact, she messaged me wanting to reconnect and, possibly, reconvene over a well-cooked Guatemalan meal that she was, in fact, buying.
We met at Mi Familia, 1708 N. Rockwell, a mainly Guatemalan restaurant (with Mexican underpinnings) situated in Bethany. Now a wife and mother with two children, though she was currently balancing on the tightrope of being 35-plus, she still remarkably looked around 21 or so, her Vietnamese features far more prominent than I remember.
We looked over the menu, making small talk while quickly deciding what to order.
Even though we had, for the most part, been mostly incommunicado, I kept up with her and her life via, of course, social media; recently however, I was sent a newly created page to ‘like,” announcing her run to fill the Bethany City Council’s Ward 1 vacancy in the November 12th election. Having known her as someone that, two decades ago, was somewhat apolitical, as we ordered our food—me the Estofado ($6.50) and her the Mama Elsa’s Plate ($7.25)—she began to explain to me what changed.
She informed me that it had been ten years since she bought a swell-looking house in Bethany and, since then, as she’s raised her family on the tree-shaded block, she’s watched as Oklahoma City continually changed and grew around her; she began to wonder why the same thing wasn’t happening to Bethany, a notable city that lies along historic Route 66.
As our food arrived, I eagerly listened to her talk as I dined on the Estofado, with its tender chunks of beef swimming in a rich sauce that was a bold new flavor for these dry lips in need of gritty sustenance. Energetically, Liz told me about how, through her years of working with the Oklahoma State Lottery Commission down on Lincoln, it gave her a new appreciation for infrastructure and transparency, words that, twenty years ago, I probably would have never heard her utter.
Liz’s dinner, Mama Elsa’s Plate, was the true standout, with a traditional Guatemalan tamale wrapped in a banana leaf earning the most attention, a hand-cooked variation on what we think we know about most Latino foods. Sadly, we were the only people in the restaurant, which was a real shame, because as the server began sweeping to close early, it hit me how much help the city of Bethany really does need to survive.
Maybe it’s new blood like Liz that can bring Bethany closer to an actual future again.
As we paid the check up front, I lamented out loud that it’s a shame that I’m not a registered voter in Bethany; with Liz’s unsullied passion for helping people in her neighborhood, she’s the type of candidate I could follow into Ward 1’s trenches, helping her to make the area a place with something to believe in.
Liz, it turns out, is still one of my very good friends and, around Bethany, she’s everyone’s neighbor.