First they came for the taco trucks, and I did not speak out. . . .
I had meant for my second article to be an ode to my new neighborhood, Midtown. In my brief time here, I have found a lot to love about the area around my 1 bedroom on 18th and G. I would love to wax poetic about the virtues of having two dope, locally owned, coffee shops within a five minute walk (Butch and Nellies, Old Soul at the Weatherford). There’s nothing I’d rather do than tell you about the lovely dining experience I had my first night here at Michealangelos, a little Italian Trattoria a stones throw from my front porch (Thanks Sara Jean!). If I could, I’d spend an entire paragraph extolling the virtues of "Streets of London", a British style pub that has "football" on the tube, Guinness on tap, moist and flaky fish and chips coming out the fryer, and is happy to switch one of their TV’s over to Pac 10 basketball when asked by a grown man wearing a beard, a mohawk and a Malik Hairston jersey (Go Ducks!). These are all things I’d like to do, but can’t. Not now, not in good conscience. Not when I know how perilously close we (the first time I’ve ever used "we" to describe myself and other Sacramentoans, it’s really happening!) are about to lose one of our greatest cultural and culinary resources- the taco truck.
I love taco trucks. Some might say I am obsessed with taco trucks. I would disagree, but I can certainly why one might think so. I’ll never forget the first time that I ate at a taco truck. It was a fall morning (there is nothing better than tacos for breakfast!) in 1993. I was a sophomore in high school. We cut 3rd period (Sorry Miss Galeano) and a friend of mine took us to a truck parked in front of a small church on Middlefield road in Redwood City. (I don’t know if I ever thanked you, Greg Lomba, but I am forever grateful) Now, saying we went to "a" truck is a little misleading. We went to "THE" truck. El Grullo. The Gold Standard. The Truth. The One Truck to Rule Them All. Their salsa roja is so good that Im getting emotional just thinking about it. The salsa verde? The best I’ve ever had. The two of them together, with a meat of your choosing, onions (mucho cebolla por favor), cilantro, a squeeze of lime and jalapeno OH MY GOD I would strangle a newborn kitten for an al pastor taco from El Grullo right now. . . um hey . . . didn’t see you there. . .I was just kidding about the kitten. . . as far as you know. What Im saying is it’s a little slice of heaven on two grease soaked tortillas and not to be overly dramatic, but it will change your life. Once you’ve tried it, you’re not the same as you were before, you’re changed (ed. movie?). Since that day I’ve constantly sought, yet never found, a taco its equal.
I moved to upstate New York for my freshman year at Hamilton College. Now, there are some who will insist that you can’t get a good taco in New York City, I won’t go that far, but I can state unequivocally that you can’t get one in Clinton, New York. The only place to get tacos in Clinton are an Italian restaurant that has a taco night, Taco Bell, and the cafeteria. By far and away the best of the three is punching yourself in the groin and skipping dinner. By the end of October, when my parents asked me what I would like sent to me in my "care package", there was only one thing that I wanted. My parents didn’t balk at my request, they didn’t hesitate for a moment. Two days later, I received an overnight delivery of 50 El Grullo tacos, sent on dry ice(my parents are freaking awesome). I was the most popular kid on the floor of my dorm that week, at least with those of whom I deemed worthy of sharing my loot. The others were taunted and tormented by the sweet spicy aroma of authentic California taco truck tacos wafting out of the communal kitchen at all hours of the day and night. Those poor East Coast prep school saps didn’t know what hit ‘em. It must have been torture.
Before my sophomore year, I transferred to the University of Oregon, mainly to be closer to El Grullo. That’s not entirely true, but who knows why anybody ever does anything? I’m certain that, deep down, being so far away from El G played a role in my decision. So, in February of my sophomore year, 1998, I flew out to Reno for a good friends 21st birthday. As you can imagine, an uproariously good time was had by all, and by the time my buddy and I were set to return, we were feeling A LOT worse for wear. Hmm if only there were some magical elixir that cures epic hangovers. . . Oh wait, there is! Taco truck tacos! (ed. Its a fact, there’s been numerous studies) We had an hour and a half layover at SFO, not long enough to leave and come back, but if we could just find someone willing to make the taco run and drop them off. . . Our flight arrived at SFO twenty minutes behind schedule. I hurried outside to the "departures" area and de facto smoking section. I had time for a smoke and, hopefully, a delivery. I was beginning to think all was lost, 15 minutes to take off, when my stepdad pulled up to the curb in front of me. He popped out of the car, duffel bag in hand. Wordlessly, he handed the bag over to me, gave me a hug and I was off (Pieter is the man). It probably looked like a drug drop. . . in a way it was. Suffice it to say, it would have been far trickier to pull off post 9/11. I’ll never forget the look on the face of my traveling partner, Mike Meisel, as I sprinted up to the gate, Orenthal James style, duffel bag under my arm full to bursting with mexican street food galore. Tacos, Burritos and Tortas, Oh My! My housemates would be ecstatic. The same can’t be said for the rest of the passengers on Alaska Airlines flight 221, nonstop from SFO to EUG. I would venture it was the finest smelling flight I’ve ever been on.
Which brings us back to the here and now. In 2008, the Sacramento City Council voted unanimously (ed. WHAT?!? I may have to run out of principal, on the platform of "All these other A-holes want to exterminate taco trucks") to pass a measure that effectively abolished taco trucks in the City of Sacramento. Even from private parking lots where-in the owners have given the trucks their permission to operate. THIS ISN"T RUSSIA! This isn’t Russia is it Danny? Where there were once twenty some taco trucks, there remain only nine which were grandfathered in until the year 2012. Hmmmm, 2012. . . . eh. . . . why does that year sound so familiar? . . . isn’t something else supposed to happen in 2012? Oh yeah, thats right, THE END OF THE &%$#@%& WORLD!!!! If you think that the two things are unrelated, you’re deluding yourself. The two go hand in hand, skipping down the road toward Hell, paved, no doubt, with the good intentions of the Sacramento City Council members. Who am I kidding? Their intentions aren’t good. There are still nine trucks left, and they’re great. I ate at three of them yesterday! LA MEX! EL TIGRE! LOS TRES HERMANOS! All of them are worth fighting for! Hell, two of them have salsa bars ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE TRUCK! You can take as much salsa, as many onions, jalapenos, carrots, napkins as your heart desires! Id heard rumors that such trucks existed, down south, yonder, always just out of my grasp, but never actually dared dream they really existed. Until yesterday, when I experienced it first hand, right here, in Sacramento of all places! To quote a friend of mine, Calvin Racine of Raleigh, North Carolina "taco trucks are a sacred resource that needs to be protected". It is up to all of us to save the Sacramento taco truck. We must not, neigh, CANNOT let them go the way of the Dodo. We have to draw a line in the sand, if not us, now, then who? When? Carne Asada is not a Crime! End the Taco Truck Haulacaust ! Won’t somebody think of the children? Won’t somebody. . . . . think. . . . of the children? * a single tear slides down the cheek of a 6 year old girl as the last taco truck is dragged away* END SCENE