Burrito’s eye view
Bikes, tattoos and Mexican-style food are all effects I associate with my former home of Austin, Texas, much more than I do with Memphis. To the contrary, the kitchen I worked in tonight might have given ATX a run for their money in these regards and I was glad I hadn’t shaved since the beginning of my Volunteer Odyssey. When I arrived downtown it was already getting dark, but this did not slow the pace of everyone pitching in for Urban Bike Food Ministry (UBFM ); despite each person’s own full day no one showed a post-work lull.
BBQ style burrito
Although I was among the newest faces volunteering, there were many others who had only been involved once or twice before, and immediately I hopped in the assembly line to help. We wrapped burritos in tin foil holsters, and conversation jolted back in forth in the room. Between the chatter of new bike wishes, and burrito-count records, I was given additions to the seemingly endless stream of Memphis BBQ opinions and suggestions. I had realized within days of arriving to Memphis that the Grizzlies are a community unifier, but the slow cooked flesh of swine might be able to defeat even the fierce NBA team.
While everyone worked in unison to churn out as many burritos as possible the rest of my fellow riders filed in for our eight o’clock departure. We wrapped the last of the meals, and it was announced that we had hit a new output record. In an attempt to get the overwhelming supply out we stuffed the food into our bags to the brim. I had brought a hiking backpack with a massive volume, and secretly won the unofficial packing contest. Throwing my pulsing bag over my shoulder and I joined the circus of bikes leaving the church.
Packed full of burritos
Prior to rolling out a UBFM organizer gave us some advice in offering food, “you don’t have to be homeless to be hungry.” I recognized that sentiment from articles I’ve read about hunger and food deserts. When we started our ride the group split and I joined the downtown route with three other riders. We weaved our way through the cityscape and I tried to keep my eyes peeled for anyone that may be hungry. The group had a good idea in what parts of the city people congregated, and so we tried to bike towards the busy areas. Being only a few blocks from the soup kitchen I worked at earlier in my week, it came as no surprise that many beneficiaries didn’t fit the typical hungry mold.
The breeze while riding kept all of us riders cool as we made our way along the old trolley tracks of downtown. We rode down the boozy drag of Beale Street stopping along the way to hand out dinner. The elaborate motorcycles out on the famous street were setup for “bike night,” which stood in contrast to the people we were helping tonight. We pedaled as the motorcycles throttled their engines in an intimidating fashion, and we soon escaped the bright lights of the bars and trekked further on our route.
My have slipped a post-birthday cake taste
Further into our journey we found some people looking for a meal and stopped to talk to them. The UBFM crew was able to enjoy a burrito with the hungry folks, and unlike the pedestrians we offended by offering a meal to earlier. Only moments later a police car appeared, and the officer asked us, “Do y’all know where you are?” This was in reference to the neighborhood we were in and all my confidence I had around the vibrato of the motorcycles vanished. Now lights became refuge as we rode past boarded up windows and dark alleys. I meekly followed the group on the route until we got back to familiar territory where we dropped off the remainder of our burritos. It was late by the time we got back, but that didn’t stop the group from lingering together before parting ways.
All the volunteers treated tonight as more of a social or group bike ride in spirit than an obligation. We happily rolled burritos, stuffed our bags, and then distributed the food. While all the charities I’ve visited has if nothing else, been a great source of exposure to inequalities, UBFM added a fun social element to the service to encourage participation. And like the Austin breakfast tacos I was reminded of earlier tonight, these burritos are a potential cure for an empty stomach.