“Without them, I would feel…” Heredia pauses, and then screams, “empty without my churros!”
The others laugh. Perez says she often drives around looking for a paletera.
“Sometimes, I just feel like their stuff is better,” she says. But at the same time, she admits that the churros con chile y chamoy that she and the others eat now are a bit stale.
A block away, a crowd of children and parents gathers in front of a blue van whose side is covered with stickers and ads for frozen treats. At the sliding side door stands a pregnant woman in a straw hat taking orders and money, while a man inside the van passes out goodies. The woman’s name is Rosy. When I ask if she has a health permit, which is supposed to be posted, she says she does but won’t show me because I have no official identification proving the authority to ask for it.
Janet, one of Rosy’s longtime customers, says she frequents the paleteras because they’re convenient and they have what she wants. She claims to be unconcerned about health permits. Rosy, she says, doesn’t sell food that is already open or whose expiration date has passed.
“I don’t care about licenses,” Janet says. “What matters to me is that all the food packaging is closed. I don’t buy anything that’s made on the streets.”
Quiros says she, too, purchases only prepackaged items.
“That’s all most of them sell,” she says. “I once saw a lady selling tamales, but that’s someone different. That’s not a paletera.”
On the other hand, Mick Rossler, owner of the Tower Bar, at the corner of Euclid and University, says he doesn’t need the items that paleteras sell. But he did recently buy an ice cream from a vendor who had pushed his cart all the way to the bottom of the dead-end street where Rossler lives.
“I felt bad because it seemed like a long way to walk to sell one ice cream,” he says.
But Rossler wouldn’t have bought the treat had it occurred to him that the vendor might not be licensed.
“When I think about all the fees and taxes that businesses have to pay, it doesn’t really seem fair,” he says.
Because of health issues, Billingsley has been unable to follow through on his plans to force the issue with the City. In late December, he said that he believed the “problem has gotten worse. Mike Richmond and Leslie Diamond [of Neighborhood Code Compliance] have done absolutely nothing.”
One exception is that “the pushcart vending has all but ceased,” he says. “I commend Captain McKinney for that. But trust me, that is the only thing that has changed.”
Lulu Quiros hasn’t seen many pushcarts lately either but says, “It could just be the weather, I think.”
At least she hopes it’s just the weather that’s keeping the paleteras quiet. Quiros says she understands why Billingsley and others would like the law enforced.
“As a business owner, I get it. In Mexico, [street vendors] don’t need licenses. But we live in the U.S., and we have to follow the rules they have here,” she says. “As a community member, though, I love the paleteras because they make us feel like we’re at home.”
Until it’s no longer an option, she will continue to buy her churros con chile y chamoy from the paleteras of City Heights. ■