Category Archives: Chop Rants!

Why Won’t Baltimore Food Trucks Operate at Night?

Well Baltimore, the heat has finally broken. The cold has snapped. The mercury is beginning to drop. Very soon the trees will be bare of leaves, the woodland creatures will burrow in, and birds will fly south for the winter. There’s also another species whose ranks are about to be thinned out a bit… namely Baltimore food trucks.

Food trucks have been multiplying faster than mosquitoes all Summer long. After the great city hall food truck crisis of May 2011, trucks were given their own zones, as well as carte blanche to operate anywhere in the city. A new truck seemed to hit the streets almost once a week.

Believe it or not, people get hungry at night too.

That was Summer though, and this is Fall. While there is certainly no shortage on the supply side, demand for street food is sure to wane as the weather grows colder. Curbside Cafe has already served its last burrito for one reason or another, and we’d be willing to bet that at least a few of its competitors will end up on the scrap heap.

The food trucks that survive the long, cold winter won’t necessarily be the ones with the best food or the most advantageous lunchtime parking spot, but the ones that are willing to work the hardest and put in the longest hours. Up until now, gourmet chuckwagons have catered almost exclusively to the downtown lunch crowd. A few of them will gear up for a Saturday event now and then, but by and large their operators have treated their enterprises mostly like a nine to five job.

Not only does this limited-to-lunchtime business plan completely ignore an entire segment of the local market, it runs counter to the whole purpose of selling food from a truck in the first place. Historically, food trucks have catered to blue collar workers at places like construction sites and steel mills, or any other remote location where people may be hungry. Baltimore’s fleet of trucks has for some reason chosen to operate only in areas that are already glutted with restaurants, and to compete with them directly from 11 to 3.

But what about the other 11-3? The one after dinner and before breakfast? The one where all the restaurants are closed but people are still out and hungry? The trucks that fill this niche are the ones that will survive the winter.

Baltimore has a serious deficit of late night dining options. There’s the Sip and Bite and Captain James’ Carryout, which despite all their charm are frankly pretty crummy restaurants. The Papermoon Diner is still crucial, although they’re no longer 24 hours, and often feature a post-last-call rush and lengthy wait times on weekends. There are a few traditional diners as well, though these are mostly on the outskirts of the city and can be inconvenient for those of us living downtown. We’re sure we don’t speak only for ourselves when we say that after a long night of Chopping it up at the bars, we’d much rather sample some delectable mobile fare than coming home and eating drunkfood like a fatty.

We’re out of luck though, because even though every weekend there are plenty of starving students at Power Plant, Hungry hungry hipsters in Station North, and famished folks in Fell’s the city’s food trucks refuse to claim their rightful place in its nightlife scene. Food truck owners: You are literally leaving piles of money sitting on the corner. All you’ve got to do to double your profits is just show up.

It’s not just insatiate imbibers who would be well served by food trucks hitting the streets at night. There are also plenty of cops, EMT’s, doctors and nurses and other public servants in the downtown sphere who don’t keep regular hours, but enjoy a mid-shift lunch nonetheless. They deserve better than what’s left on the shelf at 7-11 or a sack lunch brought from home. Serving up hot food on cold nights would not only boost a truck’s profits, it would bring the concept full circle, serving hard-working people who can’t get a restaurant meal.

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Welcome to the Working Week

There’s going to be some changes here at the Baltimore Chop. One of the great things about blogs as opposed to some more traditional forms of media is that evolution comes much more naturally. Any blog that remains static for too long will inevitably become stale.

Seeing that we’re coming up on our second anniversary of blogging, and now that we’re a fancy-schmancy award-winning website, it’s time we started acting like one a little more. Soon enough, we’re going to go ahead and spend the $15 bucks or whatever to get a real grown-up url, and ditch the good old freebie theme in favor of something that will work better with what we’re doing here. There are also a few more changes we’d like to roll out in due time.

From now on, we're taking weekends off from the blog factory.

Perhaps the biggest change though, and the one that starts today is that this will no longer be a seven day a week blog. Our blog stats and our own observations have made one thing crystal clear, namely that no one reads blogs on the weekend. In the beginning, it made sense to post every day, but now that we’re approaching 400 posts there’s really no need to keep piling up posts every day. Some of our best stuff gets buried on the weekend, and we’d like to have a little more freedom to not be brainstorming and writing every single day. So effective immediately, the new posting schedule is five days a week.

Have a good weekend, Choppers. We’ll see you on Monday.

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The Slack is Back: Why Hipsters Are the New Slackers

It’s said that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, and this is true not only in our culture, but in our countercultures and subcultures as well. Your Chop is 31 this year, which makes us just barely old enough to remember the best of the early Nineties. It also means we’re young enough to still be going out pretty often, and the more time we spend in bars and DIY spaces, the more we notice how much today’s Hipsters have in common with the Slackers of yore.

Today’s bright young things of 21-25 are definitely too young to remember most of the 90’s, especially the early part. Sure, they’re happy to ‘curate’ some of the indie touchstones of that period into their own lives; Nirvana bootlegs, Trainspotting, cassettes, eclectic fashion, The Basketball Diaries and organic coffee, but most fail to realize exactly how much they’ve got in common with the grunge rockers who were living in those same shitty apartments and loft spaces 20 years ago.

One of these photos is from a story on Lollapalooza 1991. The other is from a 2010 story on a Brooklyn loft space. You are free to guess which is which.

The ties that bind today’s Hipsters to their Slacker brethren run deeper than their pasty, tattooed skin. Beyond the PBR and the Chuck Taylors- and of course the blatant denials- it’s the things you can’t see with the eye that mark the Hipster as the new Slacker.

>>> An inflated sense of self-worth. Lots of people create art. A ton of people have read Chomsky and Nietzche the poems of Pablo Neruda. Building a bicycle or growing a vegetable garden or knitting a scarf are skills that many people have. They don’t make you special, Hipster. They put you on the level of basic human competence.

>>> A giant sense of entitlement. A job that you love and enjoy is not your due, Hipster. A job in your chosen field is not your due. A job is not your due. Doing something rewarding about which you’re passionate is what you get after you pay your dues. How do you pay your dues? You grind on in an ordinary job until you’ve learned all the things they didn’t teach you in college. If you’re lucky, it’ll take 20 years. Until that happens get off the fucking dole and go to work.

>>> A refusal of sacrifice. Is that iPhone’s unlimited data plan a want or a need? Is that out-of-town reunion show really a one-off must-see event? Is it actually so imperative that you treat Record Store Day as a national holiday? It seems like it’s been a long time since we’ve heard anyone say “I can’t. I don’t have the money.” but we’re still often hearing stories of bar tabs and boasts of new purchases, along with complaints about credit card debt.

>>> Political martyrdom. The rise of grunge and Slacker culture in the early 1990’s had a lot to do with the first President Bush and his recession. The prominence of Hipster culture was directly proportional to the G. W. Bush economy of the late 2000’s, the effects of which we’re still feeling today. Combining your part-time service gig with an Etsy shop might seem like an ideal solution, but it fits a sixty-something better than a twentysomething. Believe it or not, cheap rent doesn’t last forever.

>>> Send in the Salvation Army. We will give some credit where it’s due. Slack-sters have always been masters of thrift. An underemployed twentysomething can cut expenses just about anywhere. We’re a great admirer of thrift, but there’s more to it than scoring an advantageous rental agreement, cutting out transport costs with a bicycle and using sales and coupons for groceries. The idea is to do something more productive with the money you’re saving than buying a nice bag of weed. Making ends meet is important, but until you’ve figured out how to make cash flow positive at the end of every month, there will always be a question of whether you own a lifestyle, or a lifestyle owns you.

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How to Stage a Boycott, Hon

Most of you probably well remember the Great Hontroversy of December 2010, in which Denise Whiting trademarked the term “Hon” in various forms, and crowed about it in the media in an attempt to drum up publicity for her newly opened tacky souvenir shop, just in time for stocking stuffer season.

Ink was spilled and the fat was chewed (and not just in the restaurant), Facebook groups were formed and street protests organized, but in the end all it really amounted to was a collective “Yeah, fuck that lady.” Fast forward to June 2011: Honfest is upon us again, and Whiting has managed to piss people off even further by banning the sale of cat’s eye sunglasses and cans of hairspray and telling people that their political opinions and religious beliefs are not welcome. Everyone shall worship at the altar of HON, and all hail the mayor of Hon Town.

A visual approximation of our sentiments toward Honfest.

So we’re Skipping Honfest this year. This isn’t really news, since we’ve never actually been to any of the previous Honfests. Shitty grandpa music and overpriced Heinekens aren’t really our cup of tea, and we’re put off by anything that’s so cartoonishly self-referential and clichéd, especially when it’s organized by one of Baltimore’s most hated people. Honfest is not so much a festival to be enjoyed, but a product to be bought, paid for and consumed.

We wouldn’t call it a boycott though, and we bristle when we hear other people use the term. Most people in the modern age have a poor understanding of what a boycott actually is, let alone the skills or wherewithal to organize one successfully. Before you go calling for a boycott this weekend, or anytime, it’s a good idea to know what the keys to a successful boycott are:

  • Fight a grievous wrong. It’s difficult for any boycott to be successful without broad public support. It helps if what you’re fighting against is universally seen as an injustice. Child labor or unsafe working conditions are good grounds for a boycott. While Hon, Inc. has shown an incredible amount of hubris and alienated the community many times over, it’s hard to argue that there’s much actual injustice being done here. Some, but not much.
  • A pre-existing organizational structure. Some of the most successful boycotts in history haven’t been carried off by people coming together, they were won by people who were already together. The Montgomery bus boycott was only possible because churches and civil rights groups were already well organized, and were able to mobilize their members. Ditto with the California grape boycott, the core of which was the United Farm Workers’ Union. A Facebook group by itself is not an organization. It’s merely a tool for disseminating information among an organization.
  • Strong Leadership. At the head of every successful boycotting organization, there’s strong leadership. MLK. Cesar Chavez. Gandhi. Leading an actual boycott is a full time job. It’s not something to which you dedicate half an hour of internet time a few nights a week.
  • Dedicated foot soldiers. A true boycott of Cafe Hon, if it were to have any economic impact at all, would require people standing out on the Avenue morning, noon, and night wearing tee shirts, carrying signs, handing out literature, and making a case to the general public of the grievous wrongdoing we mentioned before. Any volunteers?
  • A manifold boycott strategy. You don’t just send an email blast, show up on a streetcorner and yell boycott. Who are you anyway, Jesse Jackson? A successful boycott requires a lot of advance planning. Even with something as small scale as a restaurant or a festival, if success is expected, there are enormous organizational, logistical, fundraising, and public relations challenges to consider. Do you just want to skip the festival, or do you want to boycott its sponsors as well?
  • An attainable set of goals. Part of that strategy should be a set of goals or reasonable demands. The idea of bringing the big bad evil corporation to its knees by crippling it economically is as cartoonish as the beads and beehives that are about to take over the Avenue. The goal of a boycott isn’t bankrupting anyone, it’s getting your target to change its behavior, e.g. integrating buses or paying farm workers minimum wage.
  • A viable alternative. Key to any boycott is not just saying “Don’t buy that” but saying “Buy this instead.” Fortunately, in the case of Cafe Hon, we’ve already got that covered.

Organizing a legitimate boycott is a lot of work, and can be a very long-term undertaking. When the faux-Hons invade the Avenue this weekend, we won’t be boycotting. We’ll be protesting in a truly homegrown Baltimore way- talking shit, holding grudges, and counting down the days to Hampdenfest.

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The Chop Approves of Selling Water on the Corner

Now that Memorial Day weekend has come and gone we’re officially in the midst of another Baltimore Summer, and all that that entails. As of now, and for the next three months or so we’re going to see all the hallmarks of Summer in the streets; packs of dirtbikes, open fire hydrants, Arabbers, and of course, kids selling water at intersections.

A little side-hustle for a kid selling cold drinks at traffic lights is a time-honored Charm City tradition, as much ingrained in the fabric of the city as formstone and painted screens. We here at the Baltimore Chop appreciate the work they do all Summer long, and we hope that this year they’ll multiply as fast as some other fads in street vending.

We're always happy to see some real small businessmen make an honest buck.

Summers in Baltimore are hot. You’ve gotta stay cool, gotta stay hydrated. You can try to run into the corner store for that nice cold beverage, but you know how it is… there’s never any parking, and if you try to double park or sneak in on the corner, then you’ve got some jerk behind you blaring his horn, and then a bunch of stoop-sitters will start yelling about that because it’s July, and it’s fucking hot and everybody’s all sunburned and irritable and ready to pick a fight over nonsense. Besides, even if you make it to the 7-11 and back, you’re going to stand in line and pay like $2.50 for that crappy little bottle of water which may or may not be cold.

As we’ve said before, the best cars to drive in Baltimore City are economy cars, and specifically the kind of economy cars that you get used and pay cash for and don’t make payments on. Our own Chopmobile is so, ummm, economical that it doesn’t even have air conditioning, so you can believe that if we can score a bottle of water for a buck we’re going to chug it hard, and maybe buy another one at the next light.

Admittedly, buying several bottles of water in one trip is not the best choice environmentally, but it’s certainly a great choice for everyone economically. 24-Pack cases of Deer Park bottles were priced at 3 for $10 at the Waverly Giant recently, putting the cost per bottle at around 14 cents. Any store can make money selling water in quantity, because it’s so cheap to produce. Selling it at a stoplight for a buck will yield a profit of around 600% after you spend a couple of dollars for ice, and the drivers save 50-150% over mini-mart retail.

As valuable as this tasty, thirst-quenching community service is though, there’s one more benefit- a hidden benefit, that kids selling water bring to the city- namely that no intersection is big enough for two hustles. The more kids we’ve got selling water and sodas in the city, the fewer we have wielding dirty squeegees and demanding money for a worthless “service,” and better still, it means fewer dirty, pockmarked junkies panhandling our corners with cardboard signs.

The next time you buy a bottle of water from a kid on the corner, thank him not just for the sale, but for his hard work and community service as well.

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Update: We wrote this story a few days ago, and pushed it back to Thursday so that we could write about Anthony Weiner’s cock. We now find ourselves a day late and a dollar short, getting scooped by the City Paper. For further reading, check out Lee Gardner’s feature story this week on bottle rockers.

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The Ten Most Hated People in Baltimore

For all the reputation this city carries nationwide as being rough or gritty, we don’t exactly pour on the hatred the way we pour Natty Boh. Living in a place like Charm City, you learn to put up with a lot, and Baltimoreans sometimes even exercise more patience than we ought to.

There are a few people though who have raised the ire of enough Baltimoreans to be truly hated. If we were still living up to our Mobtown nickname, and if there were any justice in the world, these ten people would have been rode out of town on a rail long ago. Some of them actually were. Five of these ten have been convicted of crimes, and four have served or are serving jail time.

This is the impression that Michael Steele gives the nation of Maryland politics.

10. Michael Steele. The last time he was in town, Michael Steele lost a debate, and got caught out playing the victim and making up race-baiting stories. Steele is mostly an ineffectual horse’s ass, and hasn’t done any real damage to anyone, but his rise to national prominence as RNC chair and now as an analyst for MSNBC have given him ample opportunities to make Maryland look bad nationally, and that is unforgivable.

9. Patricia Jessamy. Pat Jessamy may not actually be hated but she’s definitely not very well liked. It never mattered whether you were her employee, a defendant, the police, or just a conscious citizen, no one liked Pat Jessamy, yet she was able to keep her job a very, very, very long time.

8. Ed Norris. Ed Norris came from the great grand city of New York to save us from ourselves. He didn’t. Ed Norris stole $20,000 in public money. Ed Norris used that public money he stole to buy nice things for his mistresses. Ed Norris used city cops as his own bodyguards and gofers. Ed Norris was a tax cheat and a perpetrator of mortgage fraud. Ed Norris went to jail for 6 months, and his reward for all this is his own radio show and many product endorsements. Perhaps what bothers us most is how few people this bothers. Fuck Ed Norris.

Peter Angelos is definitely one of Baltimore's most hated men. Unfortunately, there was no room left on this list for Rafael Palmeiro.

7. Peter Angelos. Peter Angelos would probably be very well liked and admired if he didn’t own a baseball team. Unfortunately, he does own a baseball team. Whether it’s raising ticket prices and fees annually, hiring clowns like Sammy Sosa and Dave Trembley, or actively encouraging the arrival of out-of-town fans, Angelos seems to revel in his status as one of Baltimore’s most hated men.

6. Sheila Dixon. Nobody particularly liked Sheila Dixon before she stole gift cards from poor children and threw in a sleazy sex and contracts scandal for good measure. It took her just over a year as mayor to go from ‘vaguely unpopular’ to ‘downright disgusting.’ At least she has the good sense not to show her face publicly anymore.

When Hons are outlawed, only outlaws will be Hons.

5. Denise Whiting. A lot of people never cared much for Denise Whiting, either. We’ve always preferred dining at local restaurants that don’t condescend to to us. Not content with being corny, tacky, and generally disliked though, Whiting embraced full-on hatred when she trademarked imagery which was mostly stolen from John Waters anyway, then got huffy in the media and threatened to sue a bunch of people. She’s getting even huffier now that Honfest is upon us, and is doing her level best to nurture resentment wherever she can.

4. Bob Irsay. We’re being very careful in ordering this list. Although you could conduct any number of polls asking “Who’s the most hated man in Baltimore?” and have Bob Irsay come in #1 every time, we cannot in good conscience rate him higher than third. Considering who the top three are, we just can’t do it. Sorry. Irsay will have to settle for being number 4 on the list.

20 Years in prison. Keep Snitching.

3. Ronnie Thomas. Rodney (Ronnie) “Skinny Suge” Thomas is best known as the man (and we use that term very loosely) behind the 2004 Stop Snitching DVD that circulated the streets of Baltimore and brought the city much unwanted national attention as a result. Suge typifies just about everything that’s wrong with our city, and his lifestyle and philosophy are every bit as ugly as his pockmarked, toothless face. The 20 year sentence in federal prison he received wasn’t enough in our opinion.

2. Milton Tillman Jr. Drug dealers should be hated on principle, but there are so many other great reasons to hate the Tillmans. Not satisfied with having a bad name as a dealer, Milton Tillman also went a long way toward giving bad names to the bail bond industry, longshoremen, and landlords. If you’re new in town and have never heard of 2008’s citizen of the year, the FBI and Justice Department will be happy to catch you up to speed.

This was unforgivable.

1. Darrell Brooks. Darrell Brooks is a horrible person. He took some matches and some gasoline and killed seven good people. He did it because they were good people. Anyone who lived here in 2002 will never forget the Dawson Family murders, and most will never forgive Darrell Brooks. We never will.

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The Showiness of The Long Distance Runner

Okay, so we’re going to rant a little today. Just at tiny bit. We have to, because the topic we wish to address is such that the only way you can approach it is to rant anonymously on the internet. There’s no laws on the books about it- no signs posted, no accepted protocol. So we’re just going to come out with it here.

Yesterday was National Runnning Day and with the weather turning warm people all over are starting to think semi-seriously about getting in shape for the first time since their New Year’s resolutions. The sunshine is drawing people out to pool parties, the beaches, and to all sorts of Summertime activities where a decent tan and a trim waistline are de rigueur. It’s for this reason that the number of joggers out on the streets multiplies exponentially this time of year.

As Tom Cortenay will tell you, running is best done alone- not in the middle of a crowded city.

We’re not here to rant about running. Running is great. We endorse it. More people should do it. Hell, we should probably give it a shot one of these days. We’re not getting any younger, after all. Ninety nine per cent of all joggers are perfectly wonderful people enjoying a wholesome and healthy hobby. The other one percent are assholes.

There are tons of great places to go jogging in Baltimore City. Whether it’s up the Jones Falls Trail, at one of our lakes, on a track at a high school or college, around one of the several large city parks, or just along a pleasant avenue like Keswick or Guilford or just about any street in Bolton Hill. Wherever you live, you can find a great spot in your neighborhood, or jog a different spot in the city every day of the week. Yet somehow, this still needs to be said:

Stop jogging on crowded commercial sidewalks.

This is a city of neighborhoods; of little main streets and town squares. It’s in these places where shops and restaurants open their doors, where people are coming in and out, strolling up and down, walking their dogs, stopping to chat, enjoying outdoor cafes, people watching, soaking up the atmosphere and all of the other things that make city life city life. These blocks are crowded. The last thing anyone needs is some sweaty jogger, oblivious in ipod headphones, weaving through the sidewalk, bumping into people and causing chaos. It’s annoying, and it ought to stop.

Honestly, it’s baffling to us. Why would anyone make a habit of running through crowded commercial strips where the sidewalk density can reach 50-100 people per block, when just one block over there’s a broad residential street with few if any people, less vehicular traffic, and fewer urban obstacles like newspaper boxes and bicycle racks? Why would you jog along Cross Street when you could run Riverside Avenue? Why do you need to run past the commercial blocks in Charles Village when you could just circle the JHU campus?

There’s only one explanation that occurs to us; that the few people who do make a habit of jogging in commercial districts aren’t really very serious runners anyway. They’re showoffs. ***OOOoohh. Look at me jogging! Do you see my natural tan? Do you see the carefully selected vintage tee shirt that I cut the sleeves off of? Did you notice that my ipod’s special running mix has Bon Iver AND Lil Wayne??? I”m sooo gonna post my time and mileage on Facebook as soon as I get home!*** Again and again, these are they type of people we notice running through commercial districts- not the kind who care about running, but the kind who care about advertising the fact that they run. Fuck them.

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