Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chip trucks in Cowtown

[from The Love Lettering Project VI: Calgary]

Chip trucks always had a mythological quality in my family – the savoury cousin of the ice cream truck. My uncle used to talk about one from his childhood and I before I had even seen one myself, I could picture it exactly. In fact, I still can.

There’s something fabulous about eating outside, on the side of the road and there’s also something exciting about eating from a vehicle. I’m not a street meat fan, but ice cream trucks? Awesome. Or a Creamsicle carted around by a teenage boy on a bike? Delish, though I could do without the bells and that horrible tinny ice cream truck song.

As a city-girl, chip trucks were also imbued with the mysterious quality of being out on concession roads and small highways en route to lakes and cottages and towns with just one main street. It always seemed like a small miracle when Mom or Dad or Papa would pull over and a small white-turned-rusty truck would just be perched there on the side of the road.

I found ‘my’ chip truck maybe ten years ago somewhere between Toronto and Trenton , though I can’t for the life of me remember where I’d been going or why I was out that way. It was a super sunny day though and I had cranked the tunes. I still can’t remember why I had been driving my mom’s car alone up there…but do seem to remember the Tragically Hip a-blaring…

I even debated stopping once I saw that first sign, a hand painted arrow on the side of the highway. I wasn’t hungry had been my first thought, but I followed signs further and further away from the highway, terrified I wouldn’t be able to find my way back.

There weren’t any trees, or any grass, just a gravel parking lot and this chip truck with its small saggy awning. The man who served the fries was wearing a grumpy striped shirt and a visor that was grey around the brim. A woman that might have been his wife sat next to the truck on a Tupperware bin marked ‘potatoes,’ not doing or saying anything.

The chips took a while. They’re fresh, the grumpy chip man promised, handing me a pile of napkins and pointing to he ketchup pump. I carried my cardboard basket over to a picnic table and sat on top of the peeling green paint, with the initials of strangers carved into the top. I felt awkward sitting in this silent triangle between the grumpy visored man and his silent wife, but the chips were perfect – so, so hot, so salty and crispy, they didn’t even get soggy under the weight of the ketchup blanket.

In Calgary , with love letters in my pocket and jet lag ready to take over, I found this chip truck and like one of Pavlov’s dogs, my mouth started watering – salt, vinegar and ketchup sweet. Yum! But it didn’t look like this truck was going to be churning out chips anytime soon. There were broken windows and the signs sun-bleached and faded. It was still early March though and I hope it was just out of commission for the winter…fingers crossed…

Love to Cow-town chip-trucks. May your chips be crispy and your ketchup plentiful…

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