Maybelline is 100 percent.
This post is dedicated to SSG Montes, SSG Patterson and SSG Pernell of the United States Army Recruiting Center. Thank You Gentlemen for your service.
Standing at the grill, I carefully flipped a burger for Staff Sergeant Carlos Montes from the Harrisburg U.S. Army Recruiting Center and I thought about a fourth of July 40 years ago.
I was six years old for America’s Bicentennial in 1976. Being a kid from South Jersey’s blue-collared suburbs, I lived in the shadow of the birthplace of America. Just over the bridge, a short subway ride away, towered the dirty, racially tense City of Brotherly Love. To a fat south Jersey kid, Philadelphia was the house of the Broad Street Bullies, where the Flyers beat the Buffalo Sabres a year earlier to win the Stanley Cup. It was the home of America’s first zoo, Rocky, the Liberty Bell, cheese steaks and Independence Hall.
Philadelphia has always been a city of contrasts. In 1976 the City placed the “Love” sculpture in JFK Plaza. That same year the city had over 700 murders and the unemployment rate was 11.3 percent. Today, Philly has the worst poverty rate of the ten largest U.S Cities but has 11 billionaires who made the Forbes 400 Richest Americans list. For every “Rocky” story that Philadelphia gives birth, you’ll find ten stories of violence, poverty, drug addiction and despair. For every Saint Katherine Drexel or Saint John Newman the city creates, there are ten thousand pimps, drug dealers,freaks, felons, mobsters, thieves and miscreants that call Philadelphia home . For every Margaret Meade or Issac Asimov created by Philadelphia, a thousand desperate souls never realize their full potential or find their brilliance and live their dream. Philadelphia you see, is not like America, Philadelphia is America. It’s the same scenario from sea to shining sea.
The food truck was hot as I carefully ladled and extra-large scoop of bacon jam on the roll. I desperately wanted SSG Montes to enjoy his meal. It was the most important event of Dave’s and my day. More important than making money. More important than gaining fans. More important than anything. I thought back to 1976.
I remember watching the ships in the harbour on TV. I remember parades and sparklers and block parties with tipsy Uncle Sams and Ben Franklin. I can still smell charcoal, hot dogs and beer.
As a kid, I was unaware of the heavy, social, moral and political implications of the big city. Through my eyes, I understood the historical significance of Philly but in my fragile mind, the urban experience was a kaleidoscope of fun times at zoos, sporting events, museums, fireworks, parades and parks. To me, it really was the City of Brotherly Love.
A whiff of charred burger jarred me back to 2016.
I make no apologies for Philadelphia or America for that matter. The wise old guys in triangle hats gave us a shot. America doesn’t owe you anything. Philadelphia doesn’t owe you anything. Let me make something clear:The Declaration of Independence is really specific about what God gives us. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness. These unalienable Rights are transformational. It gives the drug addict the chance to someday become the Doctor. The thief could choose to be a lawyer. The sinner can create a path to sainthood. The poor have a chance at prosperity. There are no guarantees of happiness. I think the greatest gift our country gives us is not only the opportunity to succeed, but also to fail . It’s entirely up to you.
My wife Michelle handed SSG Carlos Montes the perfect Guerrilla Burger and he shared his story.
” My mom brought me to America from Honduras when I was 14. To me, I associated America with great things in my childhood. In Honduras the American missionaries brought books and clothes. I had fun at Sunday school.”
He continued,” When we first came to America we lived in Florida and I was really confused because everyone spoke Spanish. I taught myself english by studying and watching television.”
” Years later, I had a good job at a law firm and September 11 happened and I couldn’t resist joining the Army. People told me that I was nuts to leave my good job to serve in the military. I felt like it was something that I had to do.”
” I’m proud to be a part of the 1% of Americans who serve in the United States Military. Ironically, my son goes to boot camp on September 11th of this year.”
I shot a look at Dave and our eyes spoke to one another, ” That’s what it’s all about.”
When you’re celebrating America’s Birthday have fun. Hug your kids. Kiss your spouse beneath the rockets red glare. Enjoy yourself. Pursue your Happiness.
After the charcoal in your grill smolders to a white ash and the orange glow of sparklers lose their luster and turn sooty black, tuck your kids in bed knowing that Staff Sergeant Carlos Montes and his son are willing to sacrifice their lives to defend yours. And if you could, in the stillness in your heart, ask your creator to keep all of our military safe. It’s the very least we can do.
“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
― Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland
I put the headphones on my skull and turned the volume up to 8. “If it’s too loud you’re too old.”, I thought as I eased my weary hide into the plush confines of my leather recliner. Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” swirled in my brain as I reflected on the days events.
Dave and I did it. With the help of Michelle my beautiful wife, we completed our first successful event. We made a profit. It wasn’t perfect, but it was satisfying.
Grace Slick warbled the psychedelic hippy anthem in my ear, “…one pill makes you larger…”
All the fear, all the doubt, all the insecurities and B.S. that haunted my mind were gone. All the frustration, all the questions and all the fear associated with running a successful food truck melted away. I felt at peace.
Dave, with his Cheshire grin, was masterful in the truck. Focused, driven, and calm he produced meals effortlessly; selflessly. The guy looked like he was working in a kitchen his entire life. Dave has soul and I love him for that.
Michelle worked the window with that gorgeous southern drawl that I fell in love with the first day I heard her voice. Burgers and empanadas flew out the window with ease.
And I, the Mad Hatter, joyously flipped burgers on the grill, flambe’d bananas Foster on the saute station, and ladled out bacon jam carefully, lovingly in a single-minded desire to feed the masses something unique.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was at a dead-end job, unfulfilled and punching the clock like millions of other blue-collar zombies trying to make a difference inside the big machine. I felt free for the first time in many years and it was all due to Dave and my diligence, sweat, money and time and the support and love of our friends and family. Our dream had become reality. Rarely are dreams are validated, legitimized and made concrete.
The Airplane droned on,”…and the white knight is talking backwards…” I thought about the Hippies at Woodstock. I wondered if they would enjoy The Guerrilla Burger. I always had a special place in my heart for that generation. Some of them fought and died in Vietnam while others stayed stateside and protested. They stopped a war with music and art.
White Rabbit reached it’s crescendo, ” FEED YOUR HEAD… FEED YOUR HEAD.”
I think the Hippies would have loved the Guerrilla Burger.
Besides creating amazing food, the imagery on your food truck is probably the single most important marketing tool in your arsenal. A pink truck covered in poodles that serves cupcakes gives off a distinct vibe. An Army green,battle-scarred war wagon with tank tracks gives another.
Dave and I have been meeting with Jeff, our vinyl wrap specialist, at JK Signs in New Cumberland to hammer out some of our ideas and to get some visual cues on what Maybelline would actually look like. We believe our design is edgy, eye-catching and crystallizes Guerrilla Canteen’s military theme.
We got some roughs from Jeff earlier in the week that featured a Gorilla and it felt like something was missing.
Dave summed it up in one sentence, “Maybelline should look like she drove out of the jungle after a battle.”
I looked at the monitor and spoke ” I love the color, Jeff. I like the grunge.”
“But one thing is missing…” I paused ,” Remove the monkey. ..It needs tank treads.”
After looking at photos of half tracks, Jeff chose a suitable image and quickly cropped and sized the treads to fit the rear wheel well of the step van.
Jeff sat back in his chair and said, “This is a rough idea just to see what it looks like.”
I looked over at Dave and He smiled from ear to ear.
Jeff took a breath and swiveled in his chair.” I’m really picky and hard to please.” His eyes widened,” When I’m done with this thing people are going to be touching the vinyl to see if the treads are real.”
I felt really excited to finally see some progress on the wrap. Silently I thought,
” Welcome to the Jungle.”
Excited after having a successful soft opening, Dave and I looked through the comment cards to gauge our performance. ” This one is all 10’s.”, Dave laughed as he held up the Guerrilla Sauce stained paper. Glancing over his shoulder, I recognized my Mom’s handwriting and dismissed it without telling Dave my secret. ” Another one with all nines and tens”, Dave grinned. As the pile got smaller and we read the results (Best burger ever! Loved the food. You guys rock) it dawned on me. Dave and I did a really good job on our first outing in the food truck. People enjoyed our food and had a great time and Dave and I felt the pride of having our dream come to fruition. That evening after the high-fives and the euphoria of accomplishing our goal, I felt satisfied and stared at the ceiling fan in bed and dreamed of thousand burger food festivals and hundreds of people buying our food.
Dave and I met on several occasions after the event and quickly got to work on securing permits and finding events for us to sell. Our first official calendar date is July 8 but we have a lot of things to accomplish before we are ready to sell. The truck is inspected by the Department of Agriculture of Pennsylvania, our permits are secured to sell food in Hershey and everything is in place to hit the streets except for three details.
Owning a food truck is teaching us the value of what I like to call “Hustle”. No, it’s not the sleazy Times Square (ca. 1975) Three card Monte hustle designed to steal money from tourists. You hustle while serving food or prepping eM.P.anadas. You Hustle by sourcing quality ingredients at low prices. You hustle by fostering relationships. We are meeting with event organizers, fire hall chiefs, local businesses and anyone who will listen to us.
Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony had a hit in the summer 1975 entitled “The Hustle”. It went to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles charts and won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. The song has two lyrics in its annoying 4 minutes and 10 seconds. The chorus is ” Do the Hustle” and during the intro they say “Do it”. It’s a pretty good philosophy. Nike stole the ” Do it” part. I’m stealing the “Do the Hustle” part. Hell, if you buy a Guerrilla Burger from us, I’ll sport a beige leisure suit and boogie down the Soul Train line. So will Dave. Sing along now! Do the Hustle! Doot-Doot-Doot-Do-Doot-Da-Doot-Doot….
The Guerrilla Burger: Our flame licked quarter pound beef burger is a real handful. Topped with Apple Bourbon Bacon Jam, Sauteed Onions and Peppers, Southwestern Slaw and your choice of Maytag Blue Cheese or Sharp Cheddar. Served on a Toasted Brioche roll.
The Guerrilla Dawg: Grilled Kosher Beef Frank, Apple Bourbon Bacon Jam, Sauteed onions and peppers, Southwestern Slaw and your choice of Maytag Blue Cheese or Sharp Cheddar. Served on a toasted Dawg Roll.
Reuben eM.P.anada: Corned Beef, Swiss Cheese and Sauerkraut stuffed inside a pastry Disco and fried until golden brown. Served with Thousand Island on the side.
The Guerrillas are hosting a small tasting event for our followers. Details can be found here. Sign up on Facebook if you plan on attending.
Editors note: I admit, I’ve been a bad blogger. I haven’t taken you on the building a food truck journey that I promised you. This blog has been dark for over 265 days. During those days, the Guerrillas haven’t been idle, we’ve been building our future, piece by piece, finding funding and working out the details of our business. At some point, I will try to get you up to speed with the journey with pictures and video and when time allows, retrospective articles that fill in the gaps. I once read that Hemingway had ” The Old Man and the Sea” in his brain for sixteen years before he committed it to paper. I don’t claim to be a fraction of the writer that Hemingway was, but by those standards, 265 days is a drop in the bucket. J.K
I was tense and nervous as I slurped on a cup of coffee on my front porch. Thursday June 2, 2016. “One year to the day .”, I thought as I fidgeted with my cell phone to check the time. The Department of Agriculture inspector would be here in an hour. Dave chain smoked and paced like an expecting father awaiting the arrival of his first-born. ” Isn’t it ironic that our food truck is going to be inspected exactly one year from the day that we bought her?”, Dave lit another cigarette and continued. ” What a coincidence. What are the chances?”
“Synchronicity.”, I thought but dare not say.
Dave is a realist so I figured that I would spare him an esoteric debate about the finer points of the paranormal. Being a Roman Catholic, I’m used to the idea of weird stuff happening. Bread and wine turn into God. I’m comfortable with Jesus’s Virgin birth or that the 1980 American Olympic Hockey team could win the gold against the Russians. Miracles are part of my life.
Dave once told me that he believed that when life ends your body is eaten by worms and that’s the end of the game. I’m banking on the fact that if I live my life as a good person and say my prayers, (in heaven) I can have cocktails in a hot tub with Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, Abraham Lincoln, and Vince Lombardi. For me to believe in the possibility of synchronicity is easy.
The idea of synchronicity was introduced by Carl Jung in the 1920’s and states that some events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related. Another way Jung defined synchronicity was “acausal parallelism”.
We all have incidents of meaningful coincidences in our lives.
You hear a song on the radio that reminds you of an old flame that you haven’t seen in 7 years and they call you on the phone as you are listening to the song.
You drive to a place where parking is “next to impossible” and someone pulls out of a parking spot or it is waiting for you.
You have just received your last check from unemployment when suddenly a better paying job comes along.
You walk into a book store not knowing what to buy, and the book you need falls from a shelf and practically hits you over the head. This book changes your life.
A skeptic would ask,” What reasons are there for accepting synchronicity as an explanation for anything in the real world?” A skeptic would say that synchronicity is simply Apophenia (the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena). More simply put, humans assign meaning to randomness to create order.
I looked at the clock and the inspector was 5 minutes late. Dave grimaced and told me how being prompt was extremely important to him. “The dude could have called.”, I thought, as one bead of sweat trickled down my forehead.
A dull Chevy with Government plates slowly drove down the alley behind our truck.
” Think this is the guy.”, Dave said while mashing his cigarette into the blue plastic ashtray on my front porch. Fear and excitement welled up in my throat and I took a deep breath. “One year to the day…”
I never viewed food inspectors as the bogey man. They aren’t monsters. Their job is to protect the public and maintain laws and standards set forth by the Commonwealth. Any legitimate food service operation should be happy to see the inspector because it gives an objective opinion on the food safety and cleanliness of your establishment. Wise Food Truck owners partner with inspectors to ensure the production of the safest food. This relationship is good for customers and businesses. Despite wanting to establish a relationship with the inspector, I was still nervous about our inspection. Did we cover every detail? Did we comply with the mountain of laws? Was anything overlooked?
Dave knew our inspector very well and was immediately at ease. He used to do snow removal with Dave. (Isn’t that a “Meaningful Coincidence”?) After a two-hour inspection and conversation about food safety and sanitation, the inspector gave us our licence. We passed with flying colors. Dave and I felt really proud and I was assured that some day in heaven, I would be sipping martinis with Marilyn Monroe and Jimi Hendrix in a hot tub while debating the merits of synchronicity over chaos.
Anticipation is a great thing. It heightens our senses. It gives us something to get excited about. Remember when you were a kid and you lost a tooth and how full of joy you were to get a buck from the Tooth Fairy? Your joy wasn’t about the reward as much as the fun of anticipation. Hopefully you have anticipated this blog post. My lack of writing lately hasn’t been the result of neglect or laziness or waning focus or interest. I wanted to build your anticipation. Hopefully, I have your attention. Guerrilla Canteen is moving forward.
The Guerrilla Canteen food truck build has accelerated in leaps and bounds. A lot of amazing progress has been made and I’ve been really excited to share the news with you.
Maybelline’s service window is installed and Dave looks really good in it. Dave and I are super stoked because our dream is rapidly becoming a reality. We can almost smell the meat sizzling.
Another major hurdle was conquered by the D man this week. For about a month Dave has been telling me that the kitchen equipment Fairy might show up and all of our problems would be solved. I blew it off as Dave just joking around but guess what? The equipment fairy did show up and he had a huge cache of goodies for the Guerrillas including a char broiler, a four burner saute’ station, a flat top, a two basket fryer and a sandwich station. I just hope Dave doesn’t need that kidney he sold on Ebay. All joking aside, the kitchen equipment Fairy is Dave Laman and it’s moments like this that I have to commend the guy’s stubbornness, drive and focus. Without Dave Laman, there is no Guerrilla Canteen.
I was sitting on the couch watching the news when there was a knock on the door. On my front porch stood a delivery man and a huge crate constructed out of 2×4’s and plywood with the word FRAGILE stenciled in big letters on the beat up plywood. “Frageelay.”, I giggled to myself feeling a bit like Ralphies Dad, Darren McGavin, in A Christmas Story. ” I smiled and said to myself, ” It must be Italian.”