This is a story about life in the city: about its power to surprise, and to delight, and sometimes to disappoint; about its capacity to unite perfect strangers around mystery. It’s a story about simple pleasure in the good things of this world.
Which is to say that it’s a story about life itself, full stop.
There’s a man with a food truck who sets up near the apartment every working day at lunch time. There’s no sign on the truck, no clue to what he serves, though the truck does carry its own garden of green plants including herbs in pots, and there’s always a charcoal fire going in the grill.
And when he’s open, there’s always a line. At the height of the lunch hour the line snakes around the building: 10 or 15 people standing in the sun even on the hottest, most humid days of a Philadelphia summer (and you know that’s hot and humid). All waiting patiently, because he prepares each meal individually.
And the word on the street, so to speak, is that his food is really, really good.
This man starts setting up every working day at around 11, but even if he looks ready he won’t serve you until his official opening time at 11:30, and he won’t serve even one more customer once he says he’s done. You can’t know this without asking, though, because his hours aren’t posted. We learned the rules at both ends of his day by happening by at times when he appeared to be open and there was no line, thinking we’d really lucked out, but we were quite firmly turned away. Yes, he does bring Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi to mind, though I have seen him smile. He knows who he is and why he’s there, and there is joy and maybe even some kind of love in making food for people who are hungry for it.
Today I feel blessed because there are only six in line when I arrive on a relatively cool summer day. I put myself at the end of the line and finally make it to first when a man walking by stops and looks at the truck and asks, where’s your menu?
The man standing next to me says, he doesn’t have a menu; he just makes one thing every day.
So what is it today?
We all shrug. Don’t know.
Our new friend shakes his head and looks at us as if we’re crazy. The line behind me has grown by now to 10 or more; I can’t be sure because the end is somewhere around the corner.
He says, so you’re all standing here in line for something and you don’t even know what it is?
The man two to my left says, it’s always good.
Then he wants to know if it always costs the same. Yes, someone else says: $10.
We are closing ranks against his skepticism, and he’s not impressed. The doubter shakes his head again and keeps walking.
And soon the chef turns his attention to me and I hold up two fingers—I’ll take two, please, I say. One for me and one for my husband.
The chef points to the man next to me. Him?
No, I say, my husband’s upstairs. But the chef informs me that he only serves people who are standing there in front of him.
So I call Chris and tell him to hurry down if he wants to eat.
When he arrives, we’re handed our meals. Mine is surprisingly heavy, definitely $10 worth of something in there. We don’t stop to look until we’re back up in the apartment.
And at last it’s time to dig in, the reward for persistence after all this waiting.
So what, you’re wondering, did it turn out to be?
Well, it had chicken and rice and cauliflower and grapes and currants, and something that seemed to be a sort of creamed spinach, though I wouldn’t swear to that. And it was spicy. And they were right: it was very good.
But I don’t know what to call it, so I guess you could say it’s still a bit of a mystery. A delicious mystery, a mystery worth waiting for, shared with perfect strangers bound together in faith, and hope.