The Second Annual Minnesota Food Truck Fair is coming up next month, as I see in the Star Tribune. I can get gassy at the chassis of such vehicles as the Gastrotruck, or order something called a Bangkok burrito at the World Street Kitchen truck.
The variety, and mobility, of today’s comestibles causes me to shake my head and wait for the inevitable harp glissando, signaling the start of a nostalgic reminiscence …
The Scandinavian neighborhood where I grew up in southeast Minneapolis, during the years when Clellan Card gave us “Axel’s Tree House” and Charlie Stenvig reinvented the Keystone Kops, was not a happenin’ place when it came to food and drink. Lawry’s Seasoned Salt was used only on syttende mai, and if you really wanted to push the envelope, you put a slice of onion on your hamburger.
Otherwise, everything had to look and taste like mush — no spicy fripperies or fusion trumperies, thank you.
The idea of a truck tooling around to serve a meal was considered … was considered … well, by yumpin’ yimminy, it wasn’t considered at all!
The closest you could come in concept was the drive-in, which remained reassuringly anchored in one spot, but to which you could, in extremis, drive your car for a meal. Ordering takeout or a pizza was also about as distasteful to the neighborhood’s adult mind-set as swallowing your snoose.
Drive-ins had French fries, and as a child I could not get enough of those cholesterol hand grenades. I begged my mother to make French fries at home, but she didn’t think it a proper food for the household — it was an exotic treat best left to the trained professionals at the drive-in. Especially those crazy crinkle-cut fries she saw in the freezer at Red Owl — that was just asking for trouble. You’d probably get your lips cut off by trying to eat such things.
My fiendish child mind, little less repugnant than Professor Moriarty’s, was constantly trying to figure out ways to force my family out of the house, and into the welcoming arms of the nearest, French-fry-serving establishment. One way was to hide my mother’s cigarettes.
This had to be timed just right. If it were done too early in the day, she would just murmur a few irritable cuss words and walk down to the corner grocery store for another pack of Alpines. If too late in the day, she would have already started dinner and would not abandon it. But if it were timed correctly, she would let her nicotine craving build until it burst like a thunderclap over the head of my innocent father when he walked in the door, home from work, for something that likely had happened fifteen years earlier:
“Who was that blonde I saw you with on VE day? And DON’T say your cousin from South Dakota again!”
The tempest would soon blow over without any blows being struck or divorce papers filed, but it would be too late to start dinner. So dad magnanimously would offer to take us out to the drive-in. The nearest was over in St. Anthony, next to the Dairy Queen. It was called, if I remember correctly, the Three Circles Drive-In. Anyway, it featured a roof with a triangular wall that had three holes in it. I loved the French fries, and I dearly loved the ketchup served there in red-plastic squirty bottles.
There was something pungent, fermented, about that ketchup — probably due to the fact that the bottles were kept out in the direct sun all day and never given a thorough washing. It is my mature opinion that the stuff was turning into tomato wine. Be that as it may, I always ordered the same thing — a hot dog and French fries. The fries came in a big, greasy waxed-paper bag the size of a hat.
Now, you would think that since the Dairy Queen was right next to the drive-in, we would go there after our meal for a tasty dessert. Not so. My dad gladly sprang for the meal out, but he would be boiled in oil before he’d spend an extravagant nickel buying ice cream cones from another drive-in when we had ice cream back home in the freezer! You might as well give all your money to Henry Wallace, then drive straight to the poor farm and get it over with.
So off to home we’d go, where a lump of plain vanilla ice cream would be dumped in a bowl for each of us kids, while mom and dad proclaimed the glories of watching your pennies — and I would be wishing they’d both drop dead and leave me all those pennies so I could go back to the darn Dairy Queen and order the biggest hot fudge sundae in recorded history.
Today my parents, my old neighborhood, that old mind-set, are no more. I’ll probably blow a wad at the Food Truck Fair on pig wings, fried dill pickles, and a host of other odds and ends. Then I’ll amble over to the Ben & Jerry’s truck for a dollop of sassafras and paw-paw gelato.
It strikes me that our current milieu is one where eating at home is equated with extreme poverty or suspicious isolation. Only shut-ins and crypto-terrorists stay home to eat. The rest of the world is driving around, either looking for someplace to eat, or offering something to eat.
Our homes may grow substantial — and, strangely, we are calling them McMansions — but all we can manage to do is snack in them.
Tim Torkildson is a freelance blogger in Minneapolis.