The barbecue stand came up in the Foursquare app. So we steered off Interstate 95 in Delaware, and drove on unfamiliar local streets for 20 minutes until we came to it. We found a little red trailer dispensing pulled pork, ribs, chicken and all the sides. A smoker smoked behind the trailer.
The establishment occupies a corner of a parking lot between a liquor store and tavern on one side, and a brick storage yard on the other. At the back edge of the lot lies a steep embankment atop which Delaware Route 141 runs. Since the tavern was closed on Monday and there was no restroom available, and we’d been driving for some time, I stood between a rusty Dumpster and the embankment. From the assortment of bottles, bags, blankets and other junk there, I concluded I wasn’t the first to use this spot for a life requirement.
The other clients during this Monday lunch hour were all hard-scrabble-looking men of varying ages, several also drinking a beer or two. One said he had spent the morning pruning trees. Another, with whom we occupied the one aging picnic table, asked for our leftover bones and collard greens, to feed to the giant goldfish in a pond on the farm he said he owns. He produced a smart phone and showed us pictures of the pond, the giant frog that hopped into his house, and a box turtle.
The two operators of the well-maintained trailer looked sharp, with clean, black golf shirts bearing the logo of the barbecue stand. One departed in a late-model SUV. Turns out the place is well-known in Wilmington, but on this day it had only a few customers. The proprietors seemed to know most of them. The cook hopped out of the trailer to ask if we found the food satisfactory. In fact it was terrific barbecue. Certainly worth an hour’s detour from the overpriced and predictable chair fare available at Route 95 rest stops.
Visible a few hundred yards down the road I could see a vast industrial property that looked deserted. One of the other customers explained it was a General Motors assembly plant — closed back in 2009. I did a little research. The 3.2 million square-foot plant is now called Fisker Automotive, a sort of failed version of Tesla now owned by a company in China. It looked like nothing was going on in there. The empty parking lot was sprouting weeds all over.
“It used to run three shifts, 24 hours a day,” the man told me.
The map surrounding the place shows lots of retail stores nearby — Walmart, JC Penny, Firestone. Not far is a park called Biden Park.
Strange. An hour from Washington D.C., by a road flowing ceaselessly with purposeful trucks and cars, sits a hulking, dead factory, railroad tracks that no longer bring trains full of parts and supplies. There’s an empty lot where guys drink beer at noon on Monday and pee behind a dumpster, and a park nearby named after one of the nation’s most famous politicians.
The presidential candidates are talking about jobs, manufacturing, the economy in general. Economic forces have a geographical component, resistant to ministrations of the federal government and the hopes of elected officials.
I recall the big woolen mill in Maynard, Massachusetts, built in the mid-19th century. It became home to DEC, the big mini-computer manufacturer in the late 1950s. You could still see the hooks in the ceiling. That company disappeared in the ’90s, and the mill is now offered for rent to small businesses. Turns out brick-and-mortar does outlast high technology.
Donald and Hillary might take on a dose of realism by having a mess of barbecue ribs and talking to people who used to assemble Pontiacs.