I’m in Lansing for the week, and I thought I’d venture a little further from the campus part of town than I normally do. I went to grab some food at maybe the best food truck I’ve ever been to — El Oasis on the corner of Michigan Ave. and N. Francis Ave. I observed this block on Wednesday (7/6) beginning at 5:43pm. I love trying out new places to eat and I’d never been before, so I figured I’d eat, spend some time, and essentially become a part of the block for a few hours.
In the best way possible, it was a lot bigger, colorful, and warm than I had been lead to believe by my friend who’d recommended it. On one side of the block stood the food truck empire (not an exaggeration, since there were two massive trucks in total and a spew of wooden gathering tables), with residential houses across the street adorned with chipping white paint on the wooden shingles and flower baskets framing the windows. On the other side of Michigan Ave. stood a few businesses, a fish & chips joint and a fitness center among them. That end of the block was relatively isolated, quiet, and still.
Back on my side, the crowd at El Oasis was growing by the minute.. I rushed to my spot in the line, ordered a couple carne asada tacos, and took a seat at one of the peculiar wooden tables. It was an average wooden table, except right smack in the middle was a bed of flowers, chock full of fresh dirt spotted with seemingly ubiquitous orange marigolds. To be sure, it was odd to have flowers in the middle of a table intended for eating, but charming all the same.
Since this was a food truck, not many people stayed for longer than the minimum waiting period, and it was getting hard to observe the ebb and flow of customers. I did notice, however, some of the El Oasis workers and, who I assumed to be members of their family. Inside the truck adjacent to the dessert truck stood a few workers; a young man no older than 20, a girl who looked like she had graduated college, and another older gentleman, perhaps the father, around 50 years old. The younger two stood behind the grills while the older one took orders. It seemed like he had a hard time taking orders in English, but his obvious effort made up for his broken sentences. I stood, as my order was called, and eagerly approached the opening in the truck. While I waited for them to find my bag of food, I dropped a dollar in the donation jar for a man named Jose-Luis, who was apparently suffering from cancer. I paid in cash, found a place to sit & observe, and started my tacos.
The wait, by the way, was more than worth it. The tacos were unlike anything that had ever hit my palette, and that was astounding — considering my Asian background. As I ate, I observed the white house across the block, with the flowered windows and chipping white paint. It sounds almost unkempt, but it truly seemed like a warm and inviting home. The narrow driveway was host to two nearly similar trucks, a grey and red Ford 250. I took my time with the food, and the sun descended to a place in the sky that was blinding at that hour – approximately 7:30pm.
By this point, the only the only other people that had stayed long enough to observe was a young female couple. I hadn’t realized it before, since I had been watching the elderly couple leave the charming white house and get into one of the trucks, but the couple sitting behind me was fighting. They weren’t yelling, but their conversation was adding some stress to the environment. Even the older man in the food truck taking orders noticed, and he frowned at them occasionally. They left soon after I noticed them arguing, and I wondered if the man taking orders was conflict-averse, or just simply a creature of his time, uncomfortable with the ladies’ dynamic. I decided he was a pacifist, and turned away from the trucks to avoid the sun’s glare in my eyes.
I left about an hour after that, since I had a considerable number of equities to research for work, but I did notice some physical things about the area as I was leaving. The roads were broken, nothing special for Michigan, but weeds grew out of the most interesting places in the ground, and many of the parked cars in residential driveways and business lots alike were very old, worn-down, and reasonably on the verge of breaking down. This food truck, though in Lansing, was on the outskirts of town. This part of town wasn’t usually host to the young yuppie crowd of corporate 20-somethings in Lansing or the affluent local politicians who called the Capitol home. Many of the business owners wore Dickies type uniforms and the customers at El Oasis were very similar to me – young college students and adults living from one paycheck to the next, probably unable to afford nice groceries regularly, but still yearning for a semblance of home-cooked meals.
As I got in the car, and started to pull out with my windows down, I overheard one of the other workers –on I hadn’t seen earlier, call out in Mexican Spanish to the man who was taking everyone’s order that evening. Apparently, he was Jose-Luis, and I realized he may just have been frowning about something else altogether. I pulled out of the block onto Michigan Ave., and drove off, the sun in my rearview mirror nearly submerged under the horizon.