A whole lot of disappointment: Wholly Habaneros falls short
Written by Peter Colwell|
April 13, 2015
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.
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.
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.