Between the Wheels
When we catch a flight to take us across cities and continents, we just board the jet plane, strap ourselves in and enjoy the flight. Sometimes we look out and see our luggage being loaded. We’re curious about it, but most of us never bother to think about the nitty-gritty details for what it really takes for an airline to run smoothly or for a plane to fly. We don’t think about the work put in to ready a plane for flight. We’ve not seen the effort the crew takes after we’ve grabbed our bags and left the plane, and how they ready the flight for the next set of passengers. We simply enjoy the flight and get back to our busy lives.
It’s pretty much the same with tacos. We buy those mouth-watering tacos, eat them up and go on with our lives ’til that taco craving hits again. But if we were to take a look behind the scenes of the truck, it would be startling. Who knew that it takes as much work to close the truck down for the night as it takes to open it at the start of day?
Clubs in East San Jose would close around 2 am, and we’d be swarmed with a rush of people looking for tacos. After serving our last customers at around 2:45 am, we had to get back home and clean the truck up. Bed-time? Some days it was 4 am! Four am is the time that most people on earth are asleep, no matter the timezone. It’s a time of stillness with nothing going on. Have you ever noticed that? It’s a lonely time at 4 am if you are awake. And here we were most weekends awake at this time.
But you say, “What kid wouldn’t be happy to stay up that late?” This wasn’t staying up late for fun and games, though. It was staying up late to help Dad, and sometimes Mom too and put the longer-lasting ingredients back into containers in the coolers. It was tossing out leftovers like cilantro and onions that must only be used fresh every day.
Most of our customers consumed carne asada, which is beef. We valued our freshness and our customers did too. We couldn’t just buy a whole cow and use it till the meat ran out. Beef can only stay fresh for so long. We couldn’t use it after that. Prep too much and meat gets wasted, prep too little and run out. My parents’ chief challenge was gauging how much meat to prep each week. Purchasing the right amount of beef to prep was key! I remember that my Dad and my brothers would always chop up the meat…I never chopped the meat. I don’t really know why.
On a typical week day, we would start prepping the truck at 4:30 am. Why? Because the first stop was at 6:30 am. It’s no easy task to run a food truck. Just getting the operations ready alone would take up to 2 hours.
The truck had two distinct characteristics – one was freshly prepared food, and the other was anything and everything that complimented that food such as chips, sodas, coffee, and so on. Imagine going up to a vending machine. If you go up to a vending machine that doesn’t have all the slots filled, you’re unlikely to come back. It was important to market the truck right and take into account all of the four other senses: sight, sound, touch and smell before getting the customer to fall for the main one, taste! We wanted to make the customer feel like they must order here. And that’s before they even taste the food!
Sundays followed the same classic routine. On a typical Sunday night, after finishing up at 4 in the morning (already Monday am), we would follow the routine that our parents had in place for us. My brothers and I would help clean the truck, while my sister would help my Mom ready the truck for the week ahead. Kids complain about chores such as taking out the garbage or doing the dishes. I wonder what they would have thought of our allocations?! As you can imagine, I was not a fan of Sundays!