Food Trucks

Early last week I learned that the Food Network was filming the second season of The Great Food Truck Race and that they would be setting up shop in Manhattan this weekend. Being something of a Food Network enthusiast, I was amped. I learned how to use the twitter so I could track all the rumors and I pestered my co-workers with food truck blather. I even eavesdropped on coffee shop conversations!

On Friday, things got awesome. My office has a view on the courthouse and that's where all the trucks rendezvoused for the non-food part of the competition (I have no idea what that part is).

First the equipment came!

After lunch, all the trucks were here!

We had lots of fun watching all the food truckers and TV people hang out in front of the courthouse all day. They looked cold. When I came back from lunch, it looked like they were doing some sort of "run around the block" competition - which, for the record, they didn't appear to be taking very seriously.

Late Friday, the tweets were all a buzz about which trucks would be where, where when the trucks were shopping, and (most importantly) when they would start selling food.

Everybody I know was pretty enthusiastic about it. It seemed like a neat opportunity to get some tasty food and be part of an event.

On reflection, I don't feel silly about this point of view at all, and I wish I could get back the part of me that felt that way about a fun food/TV event coming to town. ...I'm getting ahead of myself.

Our best intel suggested the gourmet grilled cheese truck "Roxy's" would set up shop in the parking lot of a pizza joint called Doughboys. In addition, rumors suggested the trucks would begin selling somewhere between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm and go until 9:00 pm. [Hindsight: I think they were allowed to start at 2:00 and planned to go until midnight.]

Doughboys Pizza at 12:45. No truck yet.

After looking for food trucks for a while, we decided to head for a local coffee shop and cool our heals. We also figured we'd need a snack to hold us over while we waited in line. A few minutes after 1:00, twitter lit up with reports of our truck, exactly where it was supposed to be. Brilliant! We were out the door and in line three minutes later.

The line goes forward to the corner, turns right, then back into the parking lot to the truck.

Over time, the line compressed. Nobody left, but we all packed in more tightly as we got to know our linemates.

We spent about an hour standing there, watching the yellow truck. It was a good sort of a line. Our neighbors were friendly and we all used our phones to stay current on the twitters. I think around 2:00 or 2:30 reports started coming in that the Korean BBQ truck was actually exchanging money for food. Various camera people buzzed about. It was a neat event.

Then it got weird. Evidently, our local business district didn't want Roxy's truck there. The staff somehow organized the lot of us to move our line (without losing our ordering) two blocks to the North. It was a little weird, but hey, we were all friends here, right?

With good cheer, the line shifted a block to the North - across a busy street. Miraculously, nobody was injured.

After a somewhat bemused mob was in position, a person (it was a lady person but I don't know what organization she was with), came and told us that instead of going North a block the truck was instead going to go park half a mile West at the Manhattan Christian College - a tiny college across the street from K-State.

Wait, this plan is better.

It really was a much better spot and much more pleasant to wait in, but it wasn't really a "let's shift the line and everybody keeps their spot" kind of a situation. It was a hard reset. Around that time, our unit needed a bathroom and we were having a morale dip, so it was time for another coffee shop.

This was about 1.5 hours after we had initially lined up and we were starting to feel a little bit less special. Thoughts of "Hey, it's probably better TV if we're all angry" started to cross our minds. Now that we had a better feel for expected wait times, we decided to get some fancy grilled cheese locally. We'd be hungry again by the time we made it to the truck.

Peanut butter chocolate fudge brownie and, mushroom grilled cheese and green apple turkey grilled cheese.

We hung out in the coffee shop until we saw the nearby Seabirds (vegan) truck start selling - just to make sure they were allowed to sell before we tried again.

I hear that Seabirds won a competition to secure this sweet parking spot.

The Seabirds menu - rumored to have been "simplified" for us Kansas folk.

A few minutes later, we were back in line for our fancy grilled cheese.

Even the wounded need awesome grilled cheese.

We waited in this position for 15-20 minutes. We could tell the truck was "open", but we didn't see a single person leave with food during that entire time. Rumors circulated that they had run out of deep-fried bacon. Twitter was alive with comments about someone buying $500 worth of $1 tacos at the Korean BBQ truck and handing them out to the people in line. At about 3:20 we decided enough was enough and we left, but not before getting a closer look at the truck.

As we walked by the cooks were saying, "Hey everybody, do we have time to give this girl a hug? She says we're stressed. We're stressed. Let's give this girl a hug." Awww, TV.

Having turned our backs on Julie's target, Roxy's, we decided to head to my choice - the Korean BBQ truck (Korilla) which was known to be in the park alongside Lime and Hodge Podge.

Three trucks of equal size, three lines of equal length.

We spent about 30 minutes in the park. During this time, we learned some hard lessons. Specifically, we were props. Some of the lucky props were puppets. But in the end, we were all just there to be arranged according to someone else's vision for the entertainment of Food Network viewers. I felt a bit dumb for ever thinking otherwise.

The lines were long, but not that long. The only problem was, they weren't moving. Every now and then we'd here a bit of shouting near one of the trucks when someone did something entertaining. Again, nobody was leaving with food. At one point the charismatic Hodge Podge chef ran out and gave people in his line high fives.

Eventually, a couple guys behind us got interviewed by a camera crew (woohoo, our backs might be on TV). Listening in made both of us very angry.

The interviewees were a couple of college guys. Evidently they'd finished their finals the day before, had a bit of a long night, and thought they'd check out the food truck thing. Here's how it would go:

Interviewer: Why do you think the food trucks are so popular?

Guys: Well, we don't really have that sort of thing around here. In fact, the city just passed a law that prevents outdoor food vendors, like these trucks. [ed. this is true, Food Network got special event permits] I think people are also kind of excited to participate.

Interviewer: Say, "We don't have food trucks and this is really exciting."

Guys: It's really exciting! We don't have food trucks.

At one point, he got them to reduce an answer like, "We were up pretty late, so now seemed like a good time for lunch." to, "We're thinking Korean Bar-b-Que is a pretty good hangover cure." They were happy healthy well-spoken young guys, and he consistently got them to reduce their comments down to hay seed stereotypes. I don't know why, but I expected better from the Food Network. Shortly after their interview ended, we left.

Now we are much more cynical. I also no longer trust documentaries or any TV with interviews.

On the other hand, we watched Thor after we left and it was a really good movie. Comic book movie enthusiasts (like me) will enjoy it greatly.

After we got back from Thor, we reviewed the Twitter feeds and it looks like average wait time were 2-4 hours some claiming as much a 5 hours. Evidently various trucks had 30 minute gaps where the cooks would take a break and play music. I think if we have had the "oooh, I wanna be on TV!" attitude instead of some sort of misguided feeling of mutual respect we'd have been able to stomach the day much better.


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