“When I went to pick it up and saw it for the first time, I had to take a step back,” recalled Turner. “This was something I had been thinking about for months, and it just hit me — this is my kitchen. To have something of my own, something that I had helped design, it felt good.”
The feeling didn’t last. The Burtonsville, Md., man got the truck in April, and over Memorial Day weekend he left it parked in Silver Spring near a commercial kitchen where he stored and prepared food. When Turner returned Monday morning, the truck was gone.
Two days later, police in Charles County — 40 miles away — found the truck stripped and vandalized.
“It was like a gut punch,” Turner said.
In years past, he’d seek counsel from his mother when problems seemed overwhelming. Ella Johns had been the driving force behind Turner’s pursuit of the culinary arts. She’d taught him to cook when he was a boy growing up on the Eastern Shore.
But his mother had begun to show early signs of Alzheimer’s and had recently moved into an assisted-living facility. He didn’t want to worry her with his problems. Then the media began calling him for interviews — his wife had started a GoFundMe account — so he decided to tell his mom before someone else did.
His $52,000 food truck had been stolen, his dreams trashed.
“And she said just as sweet as can be, ‘That’s okay, just get the money out of my account and buy another truck,’ ” Turner recalled. “I said, ‘Mom, you don’t have that kind of money in your account.’ She said, ‘Okay, then do this for me: Pray.’ ”
His mother had cleaned houses for a living, working hard and praying that the family would have the resources to make ends meet.
Turner remembers when he was 5, standing on a chair next to his mother and watching her make biscuits from scratch. There would be prayer at the dinner table before he could eat one.
He was 15 when he got his first job as a short-order cook. She prayed that he would stick with it.
And when he was the only boy enrolled in cooking classes at school, he also got his mother’s prayers and encouragement.
“I don’t like to brag, but I knew I was the best student because I’d had the best teacher — my mom,” he said.
The 21-foot Workhorse was to be the fulfillment of all his work and his mother’s prayers.
It had been retired from the U.S. Postal Service after 126,000 miles of bulk mail deliveries. Retrofitted at a custom shop, it would deliver the best of his cuisine experiences: short-order cook, tutelage under French chefs at a Ritz-Carlton in Boston, executive chef at Blue 44 Restaurant & Bar in D.C. — and the young boy watching Ella Johns cook.
Once people had a taste, he figured, they’d want more, book him to cater special events or even hire him as a private chef for dinner parties.
“I had turned 50 in February and wasn’t getting any younger,” Turner said. “I was thinking, ‘Now is my time.’ ”
He recalled asking an employee at the custom shop if he needed a security alarm for the truck. “He said he couldn’t recall a food truck ever being stolen,” Turner said. “He told me, ‘It’s a work vehicle, not a luxury car.’ ” He made sure the valves inside the truck were turned off and the doors were locked.
He couldn’t wait for his mother to see the personalized license plate frame that read “In Memory of Pop Turner,” his grandfather who had been a seaman in the Navy and a mate on a party fishing boat off Kent Island.
The license plates had also been removed from the truck. “I’m saying, ‘Come on, guys, did you really have to steal that, too?’ ”
Turner figured he could either keep boiling with anger or do what his mother had asked and pray. He took his mom’s advice.
By Saturday, the GoFundMe account had raised $13,000. Turner has used some of that money and the rest of his savings for a down payment on another food truck. The long-awaited return of summer food truck season will probably be over by the time he gets another truck customized — if he can pull it off.
He was awestruck by those who were helping him try to get another truck.
“People are sending money who don’t even know me,” he said. “I don’t know why they are doing it, but I am grateful.”
But he still wonders: “What makes somebody think they have the right to steal somebody else’s food truck?”
And he’s still praying.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.