Praise for the Pop Up


Praise for the Pop Up

We had a big increase in outdoor eating spaces at restaurants during the pandemic. Our weather is mild most of the year, so patio dining is almost always an option. During Covid-days, patio dining turned into sidewalk dining, curb dining, and parking lot dining. 

A favorite gathering place for my group of friends is a local strip-mall restaurant. We meet there for breakfast once a month. Their parking-lot dining room is still in place. It takes up two parking spaces and is covered and decorated with string lights and planters. We don’t mind the pavement flooring or the concrete parking bumpers under our tables, though the traffic whizzing by gets a little loud sometimes. We’re happy to be together and even though we’d be fine eating inside, we’ve gotten used to being outside where we are free to come and go as needed, laugh as loud as we want, and stay for hours when we have time.

Many outdoor dining rooms that popped up during the pandemic have gone away – others are still in place and look to be permanent.

I think this has been the catalyst that has led our community to embrace other “pop up” type ventures. And guess where these pop ups are popping up? Parking lots, of course.

The first I noticed was the “dumpling truck” that stops at a nearby parking lots and distributes pre-ordered bags of Chinese soup dumplings. You have to know a guy, and fortunately I do, to get the web address for placing orders. The pick-up location changes every week, so you wait for that text and when it comes you hurry over and grab your dumplings. I deal with the stealth operation because the dumplings are amazing.

Another parking-lot pop up is the Fruteria guy. Under a pastel rainbow umbrella, he’s got a big cart full of ice, and the most beautiful fruit you’ve ever seen. Bright red watermelon, golden mango, honeydew, navel oranges, and cantaloupe, plus jicama and cucumber. You can buy a big cup or a big container of cut fruit. If you like, he’ll squeeze lime juice and sprinkle a spicy seasoning called Tajin all over. He sets up on the edge of a big parking lot that serves a Vons, CVS, Lovely Nails, and Tom’s Tacos. When I see the umbrellas, I pull over as fast as I can. 

The most exciting addition to my tour of parking lot eateries is the new taco stand not too far from my house. In a lot on the corner of a busy intersection under two easy-ups you will find a mobile restaurant that serves tacos, burritos, and quesadillas. It’s quite impressive with two huge griddles and trays of carnitas, carne asada, pollo asado, and chorizo. There’s rice, beans, three kinds of salsa, plus a death-defying mixture of pickled red onions and sliced habanero peppers.

It’s kind of chaotic, but you get in line and you order, and don’t forget your cash because that’s the only way to pay. People flock to this mobile Mexican grill, and it’s gotten a lot of attention on our neighborhood news app. There are some haters, and I understand why they don’t like a “swap-meet style” taco stand so close to home, but I don’t mind. 

Finally, I was walking in a part of town with metered parking and noticed a mid-size box truck parked with its gate up. There was a variety of gym equipment in the truck. And in the adjacent spot they laid down artificial turf and lined up weight benches, weights, jump ropes, and so on.

I’m more of a yoga person these days, but it seemed like a great idea for somebody to exercise at the nearby park and then stop by the mobile gym for a few sets. Next time I’m there, I’ll check out the price, but the side of the truck said something about half-hour rates and “we’ll kick your butt” so I think there is some personal training going on, too.

I recently read an article about how certain aspects of our culture and infrastructure are more destructive than constructive. Capitalism isn’t ruining the world, but consumerism might be. We buy twice as much food as we need, four times as much clothing, and terrible tangled piles of electronics that help us work, but don’t help us make real friends.

One of these days I’d like to see a business on the edge of a parking lot offering therapy, massage, or haircuts. Or a place to buy coffee and a muffin where you can trade houseplants, give away books, and learn how to crochet. 

The most important services should be the easiest to get to – but they are not. The basics of a fulfilling life – food, connection, exercise, hobbies that make us happy, and services that keep us healthy should be right there on the corner.

The parking lot is the answer.

Article contributed by:
Melissa Bean Sterzick
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