‘Oh, no. Midnight!”
The guy looks at the dice. Two sixes facing up on the pavement. (Two sixes? Like, twelve. That’s why they call this roll “Midnight.”) He picks up the dice and shakes them around in his hand.
“Come on, baby, and no more dead eyes!”
It’s a craps game, at 14th and Imperial, mostly industrial, edge of Barrio Logan.
“Cigarettes, cigarettes,” calls another guy with a soft, singsong voice, a quick, cat-burglar pace, and a stuffed backpack. You know his cigs fell off the back of a truck.
The crowd leans in as the first guy throws.
“Dead eyes are two ones. They’re losers,” says this savvy-looking guy I’m standing with now. “‘Box cars,’ ‘Midnight’ — that’s what you call two sixes — They’re as bad as dead-eyes. You crap out.” He takes one last puff on a stogie butt. “Need some weed?”
Not me, I’m kinda curious about this other clump of people standing a few yards further down 14th beside a truck with a sign…
“Dreams for Change.”
It’s a food truck. No chairs and tables. Two gals stand on the sidewalk with paper menus in their hands. The other folks seem to be waiting to pick up their orders. A transit security guy, Jesse, comes up. “Guess it’ll be the hot link,” he tells the gal at the cash register. “No fries. Trying to lose weight.”
Jesse says he’s seen this truck for months as he passed back and forth aboard the Orange Line trolley. “This time I finally came,” he says.
“Bottle of water,” says another guy, hurrying up. “How much?”
“Twenty-five cents,” says Alicia, one of the two gals.
“Wow. In that case I’ll have four.”
He hands over a dollar.
I’m just as surprised. If the food’s as cheap as the drink, this could be bargain city.
Inside, Maria the cook works away, grilling Jesse’s dog on a hotplate. Then Nakia, the cashier, steps down from the truck, just as this guy with a “Vietnam Vet” cap rolls up in his wheelchair.
“I don’t have to put up with this,” he says.
And suddenly he’s out of his wheelchair, putting his dukes up and saying to Nakia, “Bring it on, bring it on. You think I can’t?”
Nakia says something to him that sounds short and loaded with tough love, and he goes back to sit in his wheelchair.
“What did you say?” I ask her.
“I just told him he may have been in Vietnam, but I’d been four years in the Marines here, and we learned to handle people like him,” she says.
“Who are you guys?” I ask.
“We’re volunteers. Dreams for Change is a nonprofit,” says the other gal, Guadalupe.
Turns out they’re all San Diego State social-science students. It’s part of their credit requirement to put in hours helping out here. But it was students before them who had this idea: start a food truck, give hands-on help to people who are sleeping out or hurting financially. Get them fresh-cooked meals they can pay for with the credit cards they get from CalFresh (the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP, by its California name) and for everybody else, charge reasonable prices. Try to get them fresh stuff, relief from the processed foods they normally have to buy in supermarkets’ bargain basements.
Because of those smells coming from where Maria’s cooking, now I’ve got to eat here.
I stare up at the whiteboard menu they have. That hot link with grilled onions and mustard’s $3. The cheeseburger that uses turkey meat because it’s healthier is $4, a salad with grilled chicken sounds a deal at $4, and they also have a chicken wrap with cheese for $4, a bean-and-cheese burrito for $3, and a California burrito (with fries, cheese, salsa, and sour cream) for $4.
The most expensive deal I see is a taco salad (with Fritos, cheese, beans) at $4.25. Or cheese fries with sour cream and meat. Also a whopping $4.25.
But I decide on the chicken salad. And a large can of Arizona Fruit Punch ($1). Of course, if I’d wanted to be really frugal, I could’ve gotten the hot link and the two-bit bottle of water. That would’ve made for a $3.25 lunch. But, all in all, five bucks (no tax, and Alicia says they can’t take tips) is no mean deal.
I chose the salad to be, like, virtuous. But it has too much chicken — delicious savory chunks — to be a weight-loss vehicle.
I decide to enjoy it. Hey, this is my thousandth Tin Fork. Live a little! And in that mood — why not? — I ask for a hot link, too ($3).
It’s big, and so good. Peppery, with a malty, sweet flavor thing going on, from a combo of the sausage’s spices and the mustard Maria laid on, I’ll bet. Actually, truth to tell, this would’ve been all I needed to fill the belly on its own.
Uh-oh: girls have gotta go, drive over to service the homeless tent, across National Avenue. They’re lowering the hinged side. Maria’s climbing into the driver’s seat. The wagon lurches off.
And then this little gathering’s gone. Hmm... Maybe I should go back and show those boys on the corner how to play craps. Heh-heh. Beginner’s luck, at least?
- The Place: Dreams for Change Food Truck (aka “The Fresh”), at 14th and National, Barrio Logan, 619-497-0236 (office address: 3288 Adams Avenue, unit #16327)
- Prices: Breakfast burrito: fries, egg, cheese, $4; salad with grilled chicken, $4; turkey cheeseburger, $4; hot link with grilled onions, mustard, $3; chicken wrap, $4; taco salad with Fritos, lettuce, cheese, salsa, beans, $4.25; California burrito: with fries, cheese, salsa, sour cream, $4; two steak tacos, $4; fajita burrito, with red and green peppers, onions, cheese, sour cream, $4; cheese fries with sour cream and meat, $4.25
- Hours: 9:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. (n.b., these hours include other locations. At 14th Street, reckon 11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m., Monday to Friday
- Buses: 4, 11, 901, 929
- Nearest Bus Stops: 12th and Imperial Transit Center
- Trolley: Green Line, Blue Line, Orange Line
- Nearest trolley stop: 12th and Imperial Transit Center