Last week, I had the opportunity to judge the sixth annual Taco Truck Throwdown at Chuckchansi Park in Fresno. The trucks were assembled at a game for the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies, aka The Fresno Tacos. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? Last year, the Grizzlies made headlines after rebranding as “The Fresno Tacos” for a single game (think Tacos on the jerseys and hats, obvious merchandising possibilities). The taco team got covered all around the country, and was so popular that this year they announced they’d be playing as the Fresno Tacos for all 10 Tuesday home games.
It’s been a big hit. Taco Bell offered to supply the tacos if the team would rebrand permanently (they haven’t accepted as of yet). ESPN’s Darren Rovell even called Tacos creator Sam Hansen “the best marketer in baseball right now.”
Hey, everyone likes tacos! It’s a fun, novelty story. But if you’re not from the Central Valley, you might not understand how cool it is to be the subject of a national news story for something positive for a change. Something other than, say, a guy having sex with a sheep to relax. It’s not that Fresno’s a bad place, or even that much of a backwater. Certainly less depressing than Stockton (best known as the fightin’ Diaz brothers‘ hometown), its San Joaquin Valley neighbor to the north.
Greater Fresno has about 1.1 million people, the fifth-largest metro area in California, and for the most part, it’s your basic anytown, USA — strip malls, fast-food joints, some nice neighborhoods, some crappy ones. But by virtue of the fact that it’s landlocked, and is about halfway between the Bay area and LA — such that most people’s experience of it is driving through the crappiest corner on the way to somewhere else — it’s easy to feel like California’s redheaded stepchild. I can’t count the number of times someone in college (in San Diego) or at a party here in San Francisco asked me where I was from and I said Fresno County and they responded, “Oh, I’m sorry.”
What? Hey, f*ck you. I’m not one of those people who’s especially prideful about the place where I just happened to fall out of my mom’s uterus (fastest sperm, YOLO), but why the attitude? When people tell me they’re from Orange County, I don’t immediately start asking about Richard Nixon (even though I secretly blame them for him — eat sh*t, Yorba Linda). The way people casually insult the San Joaquin Valley right to your face makes it a little easier to understand why the Diazes are always shouting their area code and flipping everyone off (also known as the “Stockton hey buddy“).
The point is, becoming known for something, especially something as universally beloved as the taco, even in a novelty blog post kind of way, is pretty cool. And it’s not as if Fresno just appropriated the taco either. Fresno County’s taco truck tradition predates the food truck trend, and food truck parks, and the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, etc. by a wide margin. In a town built around agriculture (raisins, oranges, stone fruit, etc), taco trucks were a way for migrant farm workers to get a quick, cheap lunch on their short lunch break from picking fruit in the blazing sun. And of course, the rest of us eventually discovered them too. Most people I grew up with had a favorite taco truck — usually identified by location rather than name. Like, “the one at Academy and 180” (great carne asada burritos, incidentally, if you’re ever passing through).