8.72: The Taco Truck

Leo's Taco Truck on Glendale Blvd and Temple St serves the best 'al pastor' around. And it's parked in a car wash parking lot. So stop complaining and go eat some tacos. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Leo's Taco Truck on Glendale Blvd and Temple St serves the best 'al pastor' around. And it's parked in a car wash parking lot. So stop complaining and go eat some tacos. Photo by Dan Johnson.

by Dan Johnson

Much mealy-mouthed conjecture has gone into determining once and for all what is American and what is not.

The gambit of enshrining Americanness as a deliberate set of values, customs, behaviours, creeds and cultures is a fool’s errand. We are a country steeped in contradictions.

We delight in them. How else could we unblinkingly claim predominance in the realm of global justice while we sport the world’s highest incarceration rate? How do we espouse the verse “all men are created equal” with one unflinching breath while sidestepping the tricky swamp of cognitive dissonance known as “slavery” with the next? How do we account for giving rise to Alan Greenspan and Allen Ginsberg?

The essence of successfully negotiating our nation’s prerogative for soaring bull shit requires a certain appreciation of manifest opposites. Good and Evil, Love and Hate, Prosperity and Poverty: these are the hallmarks of our bipolar nation. She’s hard to beat on her best days and an absolute horror on her worst. Embrace it.

Full well knowing this Fourth of July found any number of my fellow Americans mentally fellating our con artist in chief or alternately hoping for the forthcoming destruction of the country I love dearly, I’ll be keeping my exultations about the United States closer to home this year.

You want to know America, Downtown? You could wait in line at the Pantry or have some excellent BBQ or climb up the Wilshire Grand Tower and jerk off to the idea of liberated capital.

The true spirit of our intrepid Forefathers and their bold inheritors is to be found on most street corners in Downtown Los Angeles. Our omnipresent American icons emerge mostly at night and do a quiet trade in the values we hold most dear.

They are a mottled bunch of no one cloth. Despite immigrant derivation, few jingoists would be hard pressed to judge either the character of their work ethic or the quality of their wares. They are taco trucks and they are the American dream.

Flashback to last summer: what an atrocious emblem of Donald Trump’s absolute lack of reference to the country he claims to love it was to suggest that America’s worst-case scenario would be a taco truck on every corner.

In the hate riddled minds of the supposed patriots whose vision for the country is rooted in an impossible lust for “purity” and strict adherence to an imaginary cultural heterogeneity that never existed here in any shape or form, taco trucks are outward symbols of America becoming eroded by hordes of Latinos eager to absorb our success like so many brown-skinned vampires.

Out here in the real world, the prognostications of the idealists who haven’t a fucking clue how the nuts and bolts of their country operate fade in light of a truer reality.

Taco trucks make our city. They provide some of the most flavorful, exciting food to be served at low cost at late hours. They are mobile oases offering nourishment in food deserts with an astounding reliability of both presence and caliber.

Danny’s, Leo’s, Guacamole y Mas: these are the unsung heroes in the legends of urban hunger.

Guacamole y Mas on 4th St between Spring St and Broadway is a shining beacon of greatness, serving food to all Americans who order it, and everyone else too. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Guacamole y Mas on 4th St between Spring St and Broadway is a shining beacon of greatness, serving food to all Americans who order it, and everyone else too. Photo by Dan Johnson.

I think it’s safe to speculate that a number of the individuals who have patted masa into tortillas, shaved al pastor or hand scooped avocados in the back of one or more fluorescent lit trucks in Downtown Los Angeles perhaps arrived in this country via means the Federal Government would consider illegal.

Personally, I’m glad they made the trip. It’s mighty American of them to make a treacherous and often lethal journey to a place built on the historical notion that any person willing to work hard will find personal prosperity and with it the opportunity to send money back home to increase the quality of life for those they hold dear.

Cue the clamor. “Well, dem Mex-y-cans is stealing jobs from good, god-fearing Americans.” Well, excuse me, but it would seem as if the world of mobile food service is up for grabs. Further, I don’t see a lot of the Fox News viewership out serving drunk college kids and sloshed adults sloppy joes at 3am. Why? Because it’s a bitch to prep your truck, stake out your spot and serve food day in and day out. It is grueling, thankless work.

“Those people bring crime with them.” ← This is the laziest, most self-entitled line of thinking ever espoused by a nation whose premiere export is global instability and military intervention. Please tell me more about how Latino immigrants are dangerous because a handful of them have committed crimes. Is the taco truck cartel actively plotting to overthrow our government with a preemptive attack followed by a quick divvying up of our oil concessions to their friends?

Consider also that taco trucks are bastions of sensible presence in a nighttime setting defined often by the commission of anonymous, witness-free crimes. Just by being on busted-ass corners, taco trucks save an inestimable quantity of property and lives. And I’m not even counting hangovers prevented and brutal black outs mitigated.  

“OK, well there’s still too many of ‘em here. Why don’t they go back to their own country?”

Because of two hundred years of the Monroe Doctrine, the Roosevelt corollary and the Reagan “who gives a fuck about the election, finance the death squads” doctrine.

It is the height of arrogance to look at a whole section of the world and think, “they exist to give us cheap undershirts and boxer briefs.” “Oh, but NAFTA jobs—they stole our jobs; why are they so unhappy when they have the jobs we used to have?”

How much, exactly, do you think an American corporation pays when it moves overseas? You think a company sets up a maquiladora in Juarez to give everybody there the American dream? Fuck no. They pay them pennies on the dollar and generally fuck up a nation’s existing economy in the name of a progress that is wink-wink code for increasing the American corporation’s bottom line.

This horse shit paradigm exists for two reasons: 1. The US Government has installed an American friendly regime that ensures anti-globalization upstarts are dealt with swiftly and 2. The essential mythos of Pax Americana posits that those with skill, talent, gumption, heart, soul and grit can immigrate to the United States and make a better life for themselves.

When you remove someone’s opportunity to work towards the latter, you undermine the last possible bastion of merit in an already spurious system of exploitation.

Not that any of this diatribe matters given that the same people who shit on Latino immigrants overwhelmingly have last names like McPotato, Von Douche and Mussolini. The irony is completely lost on them. Does your family history mention anything about coming to America over a land bridge during the last Ice Age? No? Then shut the fuck up about immigrants, you filthy fucking immigrant, and have a goddam mulita.

Feeling bigoted? Try a mulita al pastor at Leo's Taco Truck. If it doesn't cure you, it will at least shut you up for a moment. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Feeling bigoted? Try a mulita al pastor at Leo's Taco Truck. If it doesn't cure you, it will at least shut you up for a moment. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Fourth of July practically reeks of cheap signaling. We love our country so much, we wear red, white and blue and listen to John Fogarty all day. How impressive. Wow. Surely, someone out there is looking in at our national celebration of self-congratulation and is instinctively filled with hate for our freedom.

Meanwhile, I’ll be having a taco or twelve. Why? Because I’m hungry and there is no doubt in my mind that one or more quality taco trucks will be poised around Downtown to provide a hearty meal. It’s a holiday (one renowned for drunkenness and brash displays of nationalism at that) and they’re still on the job. That’s America.