Taco Truck Woes and Secrets
There was a fire on the taco truck I work on today and John, the boss, the man, the rock, didn’t blink, he just sat there sweating, feeling his feet pulse and hurt beneath him and the weight of all his tacos, all his early mornings and late nights slow cooked beans too hard, too soft, too salty, too few, five stars and then one and then two and then John will sleep, but only for a moment, only until dusk wakes him with sour burn in his eyes at the glowing thread of dawn. He’ll stir to rub them with the full length of his finger (he will be careless with his treatment) everyday, every morning, before the sun and after, every 3pm on a Sunday and now the grill is on fire.
But this is what happens when you cook cows and pigs and chickens, full weights of them over the months, so much dripping out and gathering (you didn’t think you got rid of them so easily), it taking so much to make it all and it all goes somewhere all the trash, the vinyl gloves and empty sour cream containers all the salt and cheese the guacamole gone bad, the brisket dried up all of it that had built up and now there is a fire, we notice as the steak, flame kissed, begins to burn and sizzle wet and hot buried in it’s orange flame (it is hard) and John hardly notices as he stirs the beans (too salty, too soft). The fire, cathartic by its nature releases its energy as we bake in our work, a long dark breath slowly cooking (it grew so slowly), so much pain burning so slowly, so much neglect, so many must do and do not forgets, the cold indifference of time cooking in the blinding smoke. He has totaled two cars this month (the grind stone splitting in two) as I thought the fire would consume us and the whole truck would explode like his kids gone back to Texas because their landlord has kicked them out of their Fort Collins home and John works 14 hour days and looks for another house and now sleeps on a couch a thousand miles away from his family, like his wife’s supportive text messages like being his own boss shouting the wind down. He does his hair in the morning too, but not his laundry cause he hasn’t the time or place. The fire is so hot now, its gotten bigger but John hasn’t moved, he’s just standing there in his CSU Rams shirt, his formless jeans and unmarked black shoes, knife in hand watching the grease bubble and fizz and burn and growl. Foreheads sweat endlessly drowning almost (for real), I am dripping, the truck is small and I am beginning to worry, when will we leave? When will we move (there is so little space to move). The fire is filling the full length of the grill now, and it has spread to a space underneath it (where is the gas?), it is between us and the door, I try cutting chicken and my fingers burn wrapped in their thin vinyl gloves sticking to my sweaty hands (the gloves will drip when I take them off) and they forget their work as my eyes finally stick on the flames and the smoke is stinging but John just stands there breathing watching it bloom up around him with his shoulders unhinged, the fan fights its own losing battle. The crowded burnt air shimmies a dancing chaos through the cracks of our unopened vending window concealing our suffering, our food truck woes and secrets.
I want air and make a move to the door but have to scoot around John (who hasn’t moved by the way) as he stands there stoic as a statue, like David on his marble pedestal and John has ten orders but David will never be forgotten, the people outside aren’t thinking (do not forget, there is so much not to forget) between their pitchers of beer, dizzy with them, the decadence of our time and place but it’s his calling he is calling your order, your name (tracy, carnitas for phil, dan, kaitlin, red shirt blue shoes head band sunglasses, the distinguishing feature, the one with the eyes, the one with the lips, the one with the baby, the one with the booty). John stands at his station, in his tank, the shining armor that it is, even when it burns, even when it sinks, even when it’s greasy and the gas doesn’t work or the water isn’t hot enough or the cheese has melted or the sodas aren’t cold, at five in the morning and eleven o’clock at night with the generator growling behind him.
I wrap a bandanna around my face and go back to cutting chicken.
He finally reaches for the fire extinguisher and holds it a long while looking at it, wondering how we can stay open, how he can finish the day and he’s had 3 16 hr days in a row so to poison the grill before him seems simple self-mutilation, nails on this food truck cross and chalkboard, this is John ripping his proverbial hair. He takes a breath (I see it) and unloads the substance spraying short bursts, examining the extinguishers effect which is that I can feel it’s gut stuff explode into the air as the fire retreats with each spray birthing plumes of what feels like toxic smoke, the burn lung deep, and my lungs burn with it behind my bandanna and I feel for a moment like I might pass out or vomit or both.
John still hasn’t moved. He opens the vending window to air out the truck. The man is tired. We are all tired but nobody is tired like John. We hear a call from outside the window. It’s a customer asking if we are open. I look at John but he does not look at me.