Tag Archives: Cornell

Before Food Trucks Were a Thing

Food trucks are big business now – or at least a lot of small businesses. A far, far step up from the “roach coaches” that used to deliver pedestrian sandwiches to large businesses with numerous workers, food trucks now provide everything from street food, to gourmet offerings, to not-so-humble cupcakes.

There may not be a taco truck on every corner, but you can find food trucks singly everywhere from tattoo studios to churches, or a whole flock of them at local festivals, colleges, parks, and parking lots. Long lines, few places to sit, and weather conditions can make food trucks not so easy to access and enjoy, but their many temptations keep the people coming back.

Sometimes these mobile purveyors of good food and gluttonous goodies even turn into brick and mortar shops. Our local Zombie Dogz is a good example. A truck offering all-beef hotdogs with outrageous toppings and creepy names (“The Waking Dead” for a breakfast dog, for example) recently reached the end of its useful days and had enough of a following to open a very popular shop in an advantageous downtown location.

Even the food trucks with more humble offerings are tech-savvy. With Facebook and Twitter they let their fans know where they’ll be and when. Groups of such mobile food purveyors even band together in food truck rallies which they advertise widely on social media.

But lest you think that food trucks are modern inventions, way back in the 70s, there was a food truck that staked out Cornell, the university I attended. Operated by a local bar and grill, The Johnnie’s Big Red food truck appeared regularly at locations in North Campus and West Campus. Weary and hungry students could get sandwiches and subs to take back to their dorms and chow down.

When I learned of this phenomenon, which was advertised by word-of-mouth, I had to try it. One evening I walked up to the window and ordered a sub. To my surprise, the man behind the counter asked, “What kind?”

What we had was a failure to communicate. Growing up as I did in a Midwestern suburb, a sub meant only one thing: a lunch meat sub, which varied only slightly by whether it included ham, pimento loaf, or salami with the bologna and whether it had mayo. They usually had slices of American cheese, though that was not necessarily a requirement. Other amenities such as lettuce and tomato were conspicuously absent, making the sell-by date harder to pinpoint (they didn’t mark them back then). The subs were wrapped in clear plastic and served cold. Selling them was often an activity to raise money for sports teams, marching bands, and the like.

The Johnnie’s trucks sold any kind of sub you could imagine, with dozens of choices of meat, cheese, toppings, and accouterments, wrapped in foil and served hot or cold. I had to step out of the line, look at the menu board that I hadn’t expected or noticed, and figure out what I really wanted.

There was a trick to ordering at the truck, too. If you picked up on the lingo, you could get your made-to-order sandwich faster. It was sort of like the old diners where you told them to “run it through the garden” for a burger with everything. Once I got it down pat, my usual order was “RBC on wet garlic with mush” (roast beef and cheese on garlic bread with pizza sauce and mushrooms).

A far cry from bologna, ham, and pimento loaf. Or hot dog with diced green apples, blue cheese, bacon and drizzled with bbq sauce, for that matter.

The Ivy League Play Book

The Ivy League is a bastion of serious and stuffy academia. The ubiquitous ivy grows up the stately stone walls and into the students’ brains, curling around all the neurons crammed full of facts and statistics. The student body – and the faculty, for that matter – is so serious that no one cracks a smile. Those who receive a grade lower than an A frequently kill themselves. Everyone knows this.

Everyone is wrong.

My own Ivy League experience was with Cornell, which, if you read Quora, is just barely in the Ivy League. (Actually, we at Cornell used to make fun of Penn.) Cornell’s Hotel and Hospitality School program is one of the best in the world. The engineering school is no slouch either. But I digress. This is about how Cornell at times, like Camelot, is a silly place. It wasn’t a party school by any means, but far above Cayuga’s waters, we found ways to make our own fun back in the day.

Of course, there were the ordinary sorts of pranks. Punch at frat parties was doctored, not with roofies, but with something that made everyone’s pee turn interesting colors. Students swiped cafeteria trays to go sledding down the west campus hill. Occasionally, my friends and I dressed up in formal wear and would visit McDonalds, bringing with us our own tablecloth, glasses, and cutlery.

Then, naturally, there were hijinks in the dorms. We invented a few games to pass the time between study sessions or to take a well-needed break. One was Wall Gymnastics. You would leap in the air, spreading your arms and legs wide and brace yourself between the two walls. Points were given for the highest position and staying up the longest.

Another game was called Commando Putty. This was played with an empty pizza box and the kind of, well, putty-like substance that we all called plasty-tack and used to hang posters until 3M invented their stretchy hanger-dealies. It was like ping-pong, only without a net. Now that I think of it, kneaded erasers would have worked, too, but that was probably what the art and architecture students used. I don’t know if Cornell had a ping-pong team, but they did have an official Tiddly Winks Team, which I joined, though I never lettered in it.

The best diversion of all, though, came when my friends Roberta and Caren asked me to join them in playing a trick on our mutual friend Cyndi, who was – quite unfairly – going out of town for a couple of days. She unwisely left us a key to her room so we could water her plant.

We spent the two days she was gone turning her room sideways. We propped her bed and desk up against the wall. We placed her mirror on the floor and hung her posters sideways on the wall. We used the radiator as a shelf for her stack of books. Double-sided tape and plasty-tack took care of her throw rug and various desk accessories. Our attention to detail was obsessive. We even carefully taped the fringe on her rug to the wall so it would appear to be lying flat. We glued cigarette stubs into her ashtray.

The illusion was brilliant. When she returned from her trip, we all gathered at her door to see her stunned reaction, then gave jaunty waves and said goodbye. (We actually did return to help her restore the room to its rightful orientation.)

Even Cornell itself seemed to participate in the silliness. The university has a famous bell tower (which you can see above) and students were recruited to play the instrument. Usually, it was something inspiring and classical, but once as we trudged toward the dining halls, we heard the immortal strains of “If I Only Had a Brain.”

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why the other Ivy League schools made fun of us. We were simply enjoying ourselves too much while they were steadfastly soaking up all that boring education.

 

I’m a General(ist). You May Still Salute.

The other day I was talking with an old friend about my time at Cornell. I was concerned/regretful/annoyed that I had wasted my time there. There was so much more I could have done if only I had been properly prepared and focused.

Digression: He was excited. “Hey! I had sex with an Ivy League coed!”

Cornell had what they called “distribution requirements,” meant to broaden a person’s education by forcing them to take classes outside their major and even outside their College.

Digression: They also made everyone learn to swim and/or pass a swimming test. I cheated. I can still barely swim.

Of course I was an English major in the College of Arts and Sciences. Here’s what I took in addition to poetry and Chaucer and Shakespeare and Creative Writing and all that stuff:

Astronomy (with Carl Sagan)

History of Science in Western Civilization (with L. Pearce Williams)

Communications

Bee-keeping

Russian

French (Literature. In French.)

Intermediate Archery (twice)

Linguistics

Cinema

Wine-tasting (now there’s a surprise)

And a bunch of other stuff that has been lost that in the Swiss cheese that is my memory.

And what use is all that? Except for being on Jeopardy, which I never have been? Or laughing hysterically at The Simpsons when Ned asks that alternatives to Darwinian evolution be taught and Principal Skinner suggests, “Lamarckian evolution”? What possible career could all that prepare me for? I’m not an expert in anything.

Surprisingly, I realized, it prepared me for exactly the career I have: writer and editor.

I can’t write or edit for specialized or technical journals, but I can write and edit the hell out of general interest material and educational fodder for developing young minds.

I know just enough biology to explain how vaccines work.

I know just enough politics to tell the differences between socialism and fascism.

I know just enough art to differentiate Pointillists and Cubists and Impressionists.

I know just enough Greek and Latin roots to explain words like “apnea.”

I know just enough religion to tell you what “original sin” is. (Hint: It’s not sex.)

I know just enough history to tell about Catherine the Great. (Hint: She didn’t die having sex with a horse.”)

I know just enough psychology to tell you the differences between grief and clinical depression.

I am a generalist. My education may not have been deep, but it sure was broad. (Hint: Do not call me a “deep broad.” I know just enough martial arts to make you regret it.)