My story starts in 1977 at the corner of 7th and Alvarado.
A little girl in a long blue dress runs into Langer’s Deli. She looks so cute and excited as she runs toward the kitchen. She pushes its swinging doors open and calls out “POP!” knowing she will find her pop there, behind those doors, at his station, washing dishes. He turns around with a huge smile on his face and reaches down to give her a hug.
He is wearing a white shirt, black pants and black shoes. His hair is slicked back pompadour style. His name is Ascencion Barajas, mostly known to his coworkers as Chon, pronounced like Shawn.
He is proud and excited to see his daughter; she is ecstatic for the moments with him. The visit is short because he is busy working, and the visits are always short because he is always working, but neither pays that any mind. There is much love between the two of them.
Every day the girl waits for her dad to get home from work to spend time playing catch. On his days off they go to Elysian Park or to Echo Park. They always make a stop at the drive-through dairy near Safeway to get popsicles and Crush soda pop.
Fast-forward to 1987. The little girl is now 11. Her parents have filed for legal separation.
Afterward, her pop moved out to an apartment on Bonnie Brae Street, very close to Langer’s Deli, where he still worked. She moved from Silver Lake, surrounded by friendly neighbors of different ethnic backgrounds, to the projects, which she found filled with gangs and violence. It was a shocking change for her. She was told she couldn’t live with her pop and her two older sisters. He fought for full custody but instead received visitation on Thursdays.
He did not miss a day to visit his girl. She’d wait anxiously at the front door for the sight of his car. She missed him terribly, and she knew he was bringing a huge paper bag full of Langer’s sandwiches. There were too many sandwiches, so pop would share them with the neighborhood kids. Word got out quickly about the delicious giant sandwiches and soon every Thursday a bunch of neighborhood kids would come over to his daughter’s home and ask when he was coming.
As awful as it was to have her family unit break up, her pop did everything possible to keep things stable in her life. He visited her regularly. He continued to bring her sandwiches from his job, and he played ball with her. The neighborhood kids joined them for that too. Even the white shirt and black pants with black shoes remained the same. They made the best of it.
Fast-forward again, now to 2011. The 11-year-old is now 40 and living in Denver. Her pop still means the world to her. He is her hero. She flies home about every three months to visit her sisters and Pop.
Her first stop from LAX is always Langer’s Deli. On every visit she gets that excited feeling she got rushing through the kitchen doors back in 1977. She no longer goes to find him in the kitchen but instead gets greeted and seated by the employees, many of whom are the same people she saw working there when she was a kid, including her pop’s brother and his cousin.
So here she is sitting at a booth waiting for her corned beef on rye and hoping to see her pop walk out from that kitchen door. She stares in anticipation and waits. She passes the time by asking for extra pickles and eating her sandwich.
Finally, he walks out in his white shirt, black pants and black shoes. “Pop!” she exclaims, just like she did when she was 5. He greets her with a big smile. After a quick catch-up, he continues his duties as his daughter continues her lunch. She leaves with an overwhelming feeling of love, the same love she felt during that long-ago memory when she wore that blue long dress and ran to her dad.
Fast-forward again. Now, it’s 2018 and another huge life change is about to happen.
Pop joined Langer’s in 1968. He was 27 years old. He has decided to retire. His last day was Dec. 31. He worked there for half a century; he is now 78.
He has always spoken highly of the Langer family, and Langer’s has been there to help with life changes for him and his daughter — me — for her entire life, with sandwiches and memories and support. I love that Langer’s has provided for him and us in many ways other than in a monetary sense — it is a place that will always be cherished by the Barajas family.
My sisters and I were, of course, extremely worried about this day. But, as he was there for us throughout whatever was happening in our lives, my sisters and i will be there for him as he closes this long chapter of his life.