I sure wish I had made a regular habit of stopping to pick up some smoked ribs. But that's what I get for being triflin'.
Thanks to the County Council and some image-conscience residents, the remaining roadside food trucks that I so often pass could finally be run off the road. [See story, Page 13.]
It's the law. Has been for while. The council decided in 1996 that selling barbecue from the back of a truck didn't fit the image of the burgeoning bourgeoisie in Prince George's County.
So, a law was passed banning the entrepreneurs from selling food and other items along the county's main roads. Some feared that the vendors gave the county a trashy and tawdry appearance.
I have often driven by these mobile food vendors on the way home from church or while running some errand. I had promised myself that one day I would pull over and wrap my lips around some sauce-dripping rack of ribs.
However, I'll be honest, I wasn't always sure it might be the cleanest place to buy food. But when you see a line of your folk standing behind these vendors, unfazed by whizzing cars, buying potato salad, collard greens and beef barbecue, you don't need a restaurant review to tell you that's the place to get some good, old-fashioned country cooking.
"What do they want us to do, go to a Kentucky Fried Chicken or to one of these big restaurant chain outfits?" asked Jeffrey Allick, a regular at a stand off Central Avenue. He was ordering a fried fish sandwich with hot sauce. "This is good, home-like food."
This whole issue of roadside and parking lot vendors has come up again because of some confusion with the law and vendors who either are ignoring the law or who think it doesn't apply to them. But time seems to be running out for them. Clearly, these small-business men and women can't park and peddle their fish sandwiches, fried shrimp, baked beans, slaw or ribs much longer. It's not the image our elected leaders and some neighborhood leaders want people to have of the county.
There are other reasons the objectors with good taste have complaints about these mobile food stands. They question the vendors' commitment to the county, the safety of the trucks parked on the main highways, whether workers are handling food safely and whether the owners are paying their taxes. All of these are sound, legit arguments.
Mostly, however, it's the image thing that bothers many opponents. We can't have prospective homeowners thinking they're in the country, can we?
"The problem with them is they are an eyesore," said council member Isaac J. Gourdine (D-Fort Washington). "These vendors destroy the aesthetics of the community. I want to end this image of the stepsister Prince George's County where you can buy food from a truck."
While I understand where Gourdine is coming from, it still sounds a little uppity to me. Never once did I think I was in the backwoods because I could buy a good crab cake sandwich from one of these makeshift mobile food establishments.
Oh, but now that Prince George's has people with a little bit of money moving in and buying nice houses, we're too good to eat like our mommas did?
So where would the council and the complaining citizens like for us to pick up affordable, home-style, ready-made food that doesn't have a Chihuahua advertising its cuisine?
Say, why don't I just drop by a Sutton Place Gourmet? I'm sure Sutton Place would pass the test of being upscale and proper enough for the new crowd in town.
Oh, that's right. We don't have one.
I would love it if this county had enclaves of brick-and-mortar restaurants with a delectable choice of establishments serving food like my grandmother use to make. Or authentic Italian. Or Greek. Or Ethiopian.
But mostly what we have that smacks of any country's flavor are movable places like Smokey Joe's, the Smoke Shack, Aunt B's or Home Boy's crab truck.
Personally, I won't go hungry if the roadside vendors are shut down. I'll just get my husband to cook my ribs for me. Still, I don't like the idea of running these small businesses out of business.
So, why not turn this whole debate into a positive? suggests Norman Carter, president of the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce.
Carter said that he and the chamber could get behind something similar to Lexington Market in Baltimore. The enclosed market houses dozens of tiny vendors selling everything from authentic crab cakes to African head wraps.
"Why can't we create our own place like that?" he said. "It could be like an ethnic food festival or a mini food mall. That way we can keep the neat cultural aspect the vendors offer."
Sounds like a plan to me.
Starting today, Talkin' Money will appear every third Wednesday of the month in the Prince George's Extra. If you have comments or column ideas, send me a letter or an e-mail. You can write to me c/o Talkin' Money, 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
CAPTION: Shanelle Cooper, 21, waits as Larry Washington prepares ribs at the Smoke Shack.