Have you heard about the latest war? No, it’s not being fought in Afghanistan. No, not Syria either. North Korea? Iraq? No and no. The latest war is being fought on the streets of NY. And the combatants are trucks, food trucks. Lest you think I mean some sort of Battle of the Monster Trucks, let me explain.
Food trucks are a big thing in Manhattan,“gourmet” trucks that draw lunchtime crowds in midtown and lower Manhattan.
They are owned independently and each specializes in its own particular genre. Whether you’re in the mood for a taco, vegetarian or vegan, Jamaican jerk chicken, Vietnamese spring rolls , Korean barbecue, or an exorbitantly overpriced grilled cheese sandwich there’s a truck parked somewhere offering just that.
I stood on line to get a taco once in Soho but changed my mind after I looked around and asked myself “Where am I going to eat it? Sitting on a doorstep? On-the-go? There have been times I’ve walked along munching on a hot dog or a bagel or wrap. But a burrito? I even make a mess eating a burrito while sitting at a table.
But back to the war. Truck owners have to go through various permitting processes – health permit, business license, parking permit, etc. I believe that somewhere in all this, there is a way of determining who gets to park where and on which days.
Unfortunately, as in all business arenas, not everyone is as scrupulous as they should be. So when one truck moves in on another’s territory sparks fly. CSI NY had an episode where a murder was committed and it was found to have centered around a food truck feud.
I have to laugh with all this talk of food trucks. They’re nothing new. Way back in ancient times, also known as my childhood in the Fifties, trucks showed up on the streets of Manhattan every day, and the faithful flocked to get the best of what they offered. These trucks didn’t line the streets for periods of time like the trendy ones do. They came and went, and the housewives who depended on them had to be on the lookout for their arrival since they stayed only as long as there were customers before moving on to the next street.
Back when I was very young, before I’d started school I’d have a ringside seat each morning. Our dining room looked out on 149 St and there I was, stuck at the table until I finished my cereal, or forever, whichever came first. I’d sit, spoon in hand, arranging and re-arranging clumps of used-to-be-hot cereal, staring out the window.
Soon a truck loaded with fruit and vegetables would come into my second floor frame of view, and stop in front of a stoop across the street.
Before long women would come down from their apartments, “pocketbooks” hanging from their elbows.They would wait their turn while the customer of the moment pointed out what she wanted – maybe four or five tomatoes, two pounds of potatoes, a pound of onions, a bunch of bananas. The peddler would weigh her purchases on the scale hanging from the back of the truck. He’d jot each on a paper bag and calculate the total before depositing it all into the same paper bag. No paper or plastic in those days and the bag served as the receipt.
On other mornings, usually Fridays, I enjoyed a whole different spectacle. One I’d hear before seeing. A man’s voice, preternaturally loud and as nasal as I’d ever heard would shatter the morning silence, proclaiming in an odd chant “I’ve got fish today,” That was just the prelude. “I’ve got fresh flounder. I’ve got fresh butterfish. I’ve got fresh mackerel.” The words of his sing-song might vary from season to season but the key word was fresh.
Again the women would gather, and like the produce peddler he’d serve one at a time, weigh it on the swaying scale, and having attended the same school of accounting, jot and calculate the total on a paper bag. The only added task was that he’d first wrap the fish in newspaper, yes newspaper!
There was another truck that visited but not nearly so regularly. And while it didn’t sell food, it offered a food-related service. It was the knife grinder and as unpleasant as I found the fish monger’s voice, I’d take it anytime over the grating noise that set my teeth on edge as women brought their knives to him and he ran them against the giant grindstone wheel.
Then there was the truck that came in the afternoon – after I’d been reprieved from breakfast prison, and finished lunch – the truck us kids flocked to; hearing its bells before it even turned into 150th Street.
And of course, everyone knows this truck.
And my former husband’s father drove one of these, delivering fresh bread directly to the doors of customers in Westchester.
But uh oh, stop the presses! Look what I just came upon.
Maybe things weren’t quite as copacetic as I remember