A whole lot of disappointment: Wholly Habaneros falls short

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April 13, 2015

10:31 PM

If the Sadler Terrace is the College of William and Mary’s living room, Wholly Habaneros has overstayed its welcome on the futon.

It was all right in the beginning, when Sodexo’s Tex-Mex themed food truck first ambled down Stadium Drive, feinting playfully to the left towards Blow only to jostle over the curb onto the picnic table area — or so I imagine that’s how it happened that fateful morning in November. But that was more than a semester ago, and many have grown impatient for the day when this unsolicited visitor shapes up or ships out.

In truth, for many of us the taco truck’s polished aluminum exterior reflects more than the bustle of peers going about their daily business: it also provides an unwelcome mirror for our personal failings.

The problem is that food trucks occupy a much-admired niche in our popular culture. Over the past decade their quirky, devil-may-care aesthetic, inventive approach to cuisine and liberal use of social media has earned “truckers” a cult following on roadsides across the United States. So as students sidestep the College’s newest lunch wagon on their way between old and new campus or peer down at it from the windows of Sadler’s Center Court, it is common to see faces fall slack with disappointment in its underachievement. In truth, for many of us the taco truck’s polished aluminum exterior reflects more than the bustle of peers going about their daily business: it also provides an unwelcome mirror for our personal failings. Most of us are not going to achieve our full potential, instead plodding through life burdened by misery, regret, crippling inhibitions or simply a lack of passion. It would be a shame to see Wholly Habaneros waste away in the same fashion. It is plain to see that the truck could be an excellent eatery if it would simply apply itself and take risks every once and a while.

There is a common misperception that “ninety percent of life consists of just showing up.” If it were true that ones physical presence is a guarantee of success, Sodexo’s managers could applaud themselves on their creation.  The truck is nearly always there — a blocky mass of metal, propane tanks and electrical cables that serves more often as a silent monument to Newton’s first law than as a snack spot. The ability to move to wherever the customers have amassed or — perhaps more often — where parking laws permit is a large part of what makes food trucks unique, and it is a shame to see Wholly Habaneros stuck in a rut. There are truckers that travel all across the country, winning fame and attracting devoted followers with their convenient service. Some even leave the road behind to appeal to a more adventurous clientele. What is our humble taco truck when compared to the likes of The Roving Mammoth, a snowcat-mounted burrito shop that can climb the slopes of California’s rugged mountains to cater to hungry skiers? Admittedly, on a campus as compact as ours there is no need for tank treads, but if mobility was not the issue, one can only wonder why Sodexo bought the four-wheeler to begin with.

Wholly Habaneros’ stubborn vigil is a reminder of the grey suburban tomb that awaits the majority.

As we all contemplate heading out into the world and making new lives for ourselves in far-flung destinations, Wholly Habaneros’ stubborn vigil is a reminder of the grey suburban tomb that awaits the majority. As many as 85 percent of us will be moving back in with our parents after graduation, and in the long run, many will not make it more than a stone’s throw from their hometown. But if we “boomerang kids” shudder with self-conscious dread at the sight of Wholly Habaneros’ immobility, a detailed look at the menu is enough to induce feelings of severe self loathing. There is nothing wrong with a plate of nachos — besides the fact that, in this case, the chips and guacamole are clearly purchased at a local convenience store — but it is clear that our newest mobile lunch place could do more to self-actualize. Consider Jogasaki Burrito, which dishes out Mexican-inspired Japanese food to umami enthusiasts in Los Angeles; or the AZ Canteen, Andrew Zimmern’s roving outlet for novelties like goat sausage grinders and veal tongue sliders. While some food trucks are more innovative than others, the most popular chefs have acquired a reputation for elevating street foods and reinventing classic cuisines to give their customers something to think about and devour. The same cannot be said for Wholly Habaneros, where the same old tropes of the Tex-Mex trade are inscribed on limp flour tortillas and sprinkled on bowls of wilted salad. Every career counselor worth their salt will tell you that this apathetic approach to life will only end in heartache — decades of thankless drudgery in a cubicle somewhere along the Capital Beltway, ending in a sudden and devastating existential crisis some time in the mid 2000s.

The painful thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way for the taco truck. Any student with eyes and a tongue can sense that there is more to Wholly Habaneros than it is letting on. Instead of clamming up at the earliest sign of “cold weather,” the truck could follow in the footsteps of Kendo’s Thai Food, which braves the Alaskan winter to serve zesty, warming dishes to hypothermic patrons. For a cuisine fad that became popular during the financial crisis and is largely driven by small-scale entrepreneurship, it is important to be able to adapt to consumer demands, changing the menu in accordance with the weather and the locale. Rather than using Twitter to call in sick, as Dining Services has often done for Wholly Habaneros, they might consider using social media to start a more positive conversation with the college community. No doubt, such a dialogue would lure in the trolls, but it might also reveal and address what we are all thinking: we have had enough experience with mediocrity, failed ambitions, and roads-not-taken to realize that Wholly Habaneros could be more than a vending machine washout. All it takes is a little more vigor, a little less cynicism, and maybe a few extra toppings for the taco salad.

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  • Peter Colwell

  • Stephen

    One of the reasons the foodtruck is failing is that it is always located at a region of campus already inundated with food options. The terrace’s proximity to Sadler, Cosi, and the Daily Grind means that it does not need yet another dining option. At night, the foodtruck is located “next to William & Mary Hall,” or in other words, right next to the Caf, where students can use their meal swipes. Why not locate near Andrews hall? While Aromas abridged allows people to get their coffee fix, they do not always have foods suited for meals. Wholly Habaneros may find some more success there.

  • Barack Obama

    I hate the taco truck. The Design Review Board has stringent guidelines that specify that any building or object placed near old campus must fit the aesthetic of the existing buildings.

    Yet they approved this tacky, Guy Fieri-looking aluminum monstrosity? It looks like something from the mind of an alcoholic 55-year-old middle manger at an advertising firm. All authenticity sacrificed for a $65,000 a year salary and a boss who tells you “Don’t let it happen again.”

    We will look back at this article in twenty years as a shot across the bow sent twenty years too early. The taco truck is a harbinger of a campus transitioning into consultant-mill dominated by dumb administrators. Please, more buildings that look like McMansions designed by architects who looked at a picture of the Wren building for 15 minutes then got to work–they’re great places to network!

  • Duke Nukem

    I for one happen to enjoy the delicacies provided by the food truck. The author of this article is being tastelessly offensive to all who happen to enjoy the scum that is served to us on a daily basis by our dining services.

    It is often pointed out — usually in a negative light — that modern foods change our DNA, but I pose this question: wouldn’t that be a good thing? We are imperfect beings being improved upon by our loving foreign overlords with the hope that we too can reach Nibiru.

    I’ve heard comments from people on this campus about how they felt unsafe when they saw the managers of the dining halls flicking their forked tongues. My response is: do you honestly think that we, pathetic humans, can actually feed ourselves with proper nutrition?

    Obviously, the answer is NO. I’ve tried to eat at other dining establishments in Williamsburg, but my stomach invariably turns it on itself and my limbs are paralyzed until I come crawling back to the Commons Dining Area, or the Sadler Center cafeteria. The manager always reminds me that he wants what is best for me, and I believe him. Yes, I truly believe that being 400 lbs heavy and having my brain cells decimated is a good thing. Please think twice before posting something so offensive.

  • Olimar

    I think the article missed the biggest problem: their food sucks. It’s served in cold, pathetic portions that are more it to be fertilizer than food. They don’t even offer you eating utensils. Or drinks. Your mealswipes are better used literally anywhere else.