Fojol Brothers and the Changing Face of Washington, D.C.

The Fojol Brothers traveling culinary carnival, 14th Street, just south of U Street, 20 June 2009, 1:45 AM

I’ve been following the Fojol Brothers traveling culinary carnival on twitter for approaching two weeks now. I just happened to choose the wrong time to follow them as there’s been no activity since that time. Then tonight I go to P and 21st and am oblivious that that they are catty-corner at 20th and Q, but they tweet that they will be reestablishing themselves on U Street at about midnight. I’m constantly refreshing my twitter feed to get the news. At about 12:30 they tweeted that they are serving food at 14th and U Street NW. I jumped on my waiting bike.

As I was leaving the house, I considered knocking on the door of the upstairs neighbors to ask if any of them wanted to join me (it would be safe to count on a significant portion of them to be awake and ready for spontaneous adventure at that hour). Turns out it was unnecessary. I had taken about two bites of cauliflower and potatoes when Duff walked up. He had played a gig on U Street. He got some Fojol Brothers food too and we leaned against the windows of the fast food places on the corner and talked for a few minutes. He commented that he keeps on finding little enclaves in the city that don’t feel like D.C. anymore. I concur. A similar thought struck me twice — I guess Fojol Brothers included, three times — just today. Increasingly I am seeing people who seem to be other than the usual social climbers, and engaged in activities outside the norm of the straight and narrow required by the power and influence track.

When explaining what’s wrong with D.C., I often tell people that it’s a one company town and that the imprint of the government is on everything in the whole city. D.C. just might be cusping on that critical mass where it starts to develop a culture autonomous from that of the strictures of political power.

On the other hand, a few years ago I had a Capital Hill barkeep, something of an institution himself, tell me that D.C. was a different town when the Democrats were in charge, that it was just more fun. Maybe the city independent from the government still sucks, it’s just that the government has upgraded.

I talked for a few minutes with one of the Brothers. They’re very much in promotional mode right now. He’s a lifelong D.C. resident and the son of a D.C. activist couple. His childhood meals were always strategy sessions of civil rights leaders or dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians and it’s that spirit of people coming together under extra-ordinary circumstances, but around food, that he hopes to create spontaneously on the street and in the virtual world. He talked about a getting together with other street food venders for a street party and his plans to work with District at-risk youth programs to have some of their kids join the Brothers in their culinary carnival (Anthony Bourdain profiled a similar program, the D.C. Central Kitchen, when No Reservations was in D.C.).

If the Federal Government has become more fun, the District remains determined to squelch any outbreak of unsanctioned quality of live improvements. At about 2:30 AM the po-po showed up and asked to see their street vendor’s license, which they promptly produced. But the officer began to sweat tem down over how this was non-vending zone and how they were past the hours allowed according to their permit. They quickly folded up shop and took off. I sent them a message later that evening encouraging them not to let this get to them. They messaged back that they’re still figuring out how things are going to work, but that they don’t intend to give up.