I knew that a Saturday morning ride-along with Jerry Fisher would cost me. I just didn’t know how much.
I pulled up to the Parkville Farmer’s Market early Saturday morning. Smooth as Antonio Banderas as a charity fundraiser, I made my way past the produce stands and ignored the farmer’s catcalls. No, honey, I didn’t want a sample.
There, Fisher interrogated one of his street informants, a local dealer by the name of Deb Crum. She was hooked up with the Crum’s Heirlooms crew, peddling kale, beets, and chard. I observed from a distance so I didn’t wreck Fisher’s flow. His facial expression was tense, a pale green beefsteak tomato too full of water and about to burst before ripening.
“Crum, don’t play me now,” Fisher barked. “What happened to the blueberry pusher? The grower that used to be on the end of this row at the market?”
Deb Crum smiled. She played coy and arranged chard in a pretty basket display, avoiding Fisher’s eyes. She said quietly, “He went to U-Pick only. Doesn’t push his berries here anymore.”
Fisher went on a rant about non-local blueberries and contraband blackberries flooding the market, grabbed his payoff from Crum, and growled at me. “C’mon, rookie. Let’s roll. I won’t tell you twice.”
I looked over my shoulder. I could have sworn I saw Deb Crum giving Fisher the finger, but she just winked at me.
Fisher climbed into his Saturn, fired up the engine, and laid tracks in the parking lot. I scrambled to get in, fasten my seatbelt, and chill. I wasn’t sure how he wanted to play today’s ride-along around Kansas City. He had never taken another person on his Saturday drive as he checked in on the underbelly of local food purveyors and players.
Was I supposed to be a wise-cracking Eddie Murphy to his hard-nosed Nick Nolte in “48 Hours?” Or “Miami Vice’s” Ricardo Tibbs to his Sonny Crockett? Thelma to his Louise? Good, bad, or otherwise, Fisher gave no clue on how today would play out until I spoke up.
“I was thinking –”
“Shut it, pickleweed. You’re not the brains or the brawn here. You say nothing, you do nothing, and maybe you get out of this alive.” Fisher’s voice rumbled low like Nigella Lawson’s belly during a bout of the runs.
“Can I at least have a weapon?” I asked. Fisher ran into some skanky low-lifes around town. I wanted to protect myself.
He shot me a look. One part “cray-cray” and one part “You goin’ die, today.”
The Saturn shot out of Parkville and toward midtown Kansas City. Now we rollin’.
“So tell me about Fight Club. We goin’ to the Club, today?” I slipped it into the conversation like a crisp twenty in a maitre-d’s hand.
“Punk, you’re not worthy of Fight Club. You couldn’t serve them coffee. #STFU and follow me,” Fisher grunted. He parked the car and posted something on Facebook. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t going to like it.
Fine. ‘Nuff said. We approached Oddly Correct, local coffee roasters known to smuggle “beans” from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Sumatra, Ethiopia, Kenya and other suspect countries of origin.
I checked the script before we burst through the front door. “You want to go in first and I’ll cover you?”
Fisher just shook his head and swaggered inside like he owned the joint. A sweet, waifish blonde with a pink tint in her hair greeted my partner.
I felt like he could trust me with his life no matter what went down so that makes us partners, right? I mentally logged everyone in the place with a quick visual scan. I got cold, hard stares in return from midtowners trying to enjoy their latte while skimming Instagram. Fisher ordered a shot of espresso and a macchiato. The barista loaded the coffee with uncut, extra-fine caffeine but I wasn’t going to snitch.
We sat and savored our coffee. From across the table, Fisher gave me a thousand-yard death stare that chilled my soul. Without a word, I got it. He had a wife and a kid. That baby wasn’t going to feed itself short rib ravioli from The Rieger. My man had mouths to feed and a job to do on the streets. If I laid low and stayed out of the way, I might learn something.
“So what’s the best sushi in town?” I asked, making small talk. “I heard about this place–”
Fisher gave me a withering look as we headed to the car. We drove downtown, bound west across the state line into KCK.
I tried again to engage. “What’s the worst dish you’ve ever eaten and why?”
“Dulin, shut it.” Fisher grabbed an empty Port Fonda to-go box and crammed it in my pie hole.
By the time we arrived at San Antonio Carniceria and Taqueria, I had extracted the box from my larynx. Fisher’s rough-housing made me hungry. He nodded to the kid behind the counter. The kid rang in his order, keeping one hand near a bottle of triple-X salsa picante just in case shit went down.
I put in an order for two tacos al pastor to match Fisher’s deuce. While waiting, I picked up a bag of dried hibiscus flowers and a package of tortillas made on site. I listened to Fisher tell war stories of his days before Fight Club. We gobbled our food and hit the road. Fisher hauled a dozen tamales from the restaurant. Some might call it a “tax” but I just kept my mouth shut.
We cruised through the streets of KCK. Fisher recounted tales of his youth spent on these streets making pipe bombs for kicks. He told stories of surviving Jesus freaks, winos, gangbangers, and hard-as-nails abuelas that could grind you up with a mortar and pestle and turn you into a bowl of life-changing mole.
Bellies primed for action, we went in search of more grub. Fisher gunned the engine. He whipped around corners as we barreled through the streets of Columbus Park. I grabbed the car door for dear life. Fisher just grinned like he had devoured an entire bag of Savory Addictions nuts and didn’t give a crap about brushing his teeth.
“Last one in buys!” shouted Fisher as he slipped out of the Saturn and beelined for Happy Gillis.
We raced to the building, kicked the door in and bolted to the kitchen. Chef/owner Josh Eans had no time to scram. Fisher pushed his head into a pile of local, organic, sustainably harvested, heirloom mizuna lettuce, flexing his pecs the whole time.
“Lemme go!” Ean’s screams were muffled by the greens as he reached around frantically for a knife. My partner slapped at Ean’s delicate hands until he was still. Fisher winked at me as he strong-armed the chef and held him by the neck like a kitten.
“Make me a Pig & Bean, Eans,” Fisher grunted. “Put some flippin’ tamales on it. Close your eyes and pretend I’m Eddie fucking Izzard while you’re at it.”
The Pig & Beans combined stewed black beans, chipotle braised pork, soft egg, San Antonio’s tortilla, radish, cilantro, and chive. Fisher pulled out a container of tamales from San Antonio plus some greens from Deb Crum at the Parkville Farmers Market.
Holy Campo Lindo! The pieces started coming together. Fisher was a dirty foodie, workin’ the circuit to skim the choicest goods from chefs, farmers, baristas, butchers, bakers and cooks, who let their meat rest before slicing. At the same time, Fisher passed fenced goods along his route like a mule that was really the mastermind. Support local, my ass.
I was about to post a review about Fisher on Yelp when I saw stars. I spun out of control and slumped to the floor. When I came to, my head was pounding and my face was dripping wet. One of the Happy Gillis employees, a petite chick with tattoos, short-cropped hair, and a wicked backhand, peered at me over her glasses. She threw another splash of Mexican coke in my face.
“Let’s keep this in the family, right?” she said. The girl grabbed a skillet. “Or I might have to give you another dose of this iron supplement.”
Fisher chowed on his order at a table and didn’t say a peep. He just nom-nommed the whole time like Marlon Brando eating his last supper. I winced and nodded. The girl was one of Fisher’s enforcers. I ate my half-order of B’s-and-G’s, nursed my aching head, and sipped on a blood orange Pellegrino to take the edge off.
When we left, Eans and his wife Abbey-Jo stood behind the counter tense but quiet. They didn’t even wave goodbye.
“Let that be a lesson to you, Dulin,” Fisher said. “Don’t cross me.” His voice was smooth and well-balanced, menacing but artful, the vocal equivalent of a happy hour plate presented by Chef Michael Corvino with liberal doses of XO sauce.
“Say no more.” I nursed my wounds.
Fisher navigated to 17th and Summit and nudged me toward Little Freshie. “C’mon, don’t be a sourpuss,” he chided. “Here’s an inside tip to cheer you up. Most people don’t know this, but Little Freshie’s best stuff isn’t on the menu.”
Once inside the counter, Fisher approached the counter and asked for two “bath salt specials.” The server didn’t flinch, disappeared in the back, and returned with the order. Fisher handed me the hand-crafted “soda” and a cookie. The drink tasted like bathtub gin with a soupçon of something I couldn’t place.
“It’s non-alcoholic but you’d never know from the natural fermentation,” Fisher explained. “The hint of fishiness comes from water used to rinse off plates of Chef Ryan Brazeal’s hamachi crudo plate at Novel. So it’s locally sourced.”
Fisher smiled at me like we were “Duck Dynasty” brothers laughing all the way to the bank. He was an enigma. The man was his own good cop, bad cop. I didn’t know what to think. We left the shop and turned the corner to Fervere, a den of sin if there ever was one.
Artisan loaves of fresh-baked ciabatta, pain au levain, olive rosemary, cheese bread, and more rested on shelves with no modesty whatsoever. Fisher gestured to samples of cut bread and bowls of what I can only assume was massage oil.
“Go on, try a piece, baby,” he said with lust. “It won’t bite back.”
The whole scene felt whorish. I spotted the bakery’s brick oven where the real action happened in the back late at night… Yeast rising, temperatures getting hotter… I couldn’t resist. I bought two loaves. I told myself I’d never do this again, but I knew the truth. I was weak. I could smell the bread’s heady perfume. I caressed its hard crust with my fingertips. It was all I could do to not sink my teeth into–
“Rookie, don’t soil your shorts here,” Fisher said. “We’ve got two more stops.”
We drove south to midtown and parked at Broadway Butcher Shop. Damn, Fisher was hardcore corrupt and hooked deep.
Stuart Aldridge was a supplier of the first order. He dealt top-notch merch like Duroc pork, sashimi-grade U-10 sea scallops, Burger’s Smokehouse bacon, USDA prime tomahawk chops. You name it, fish, fowl, or four-legged beast, Lil’ Stu didn’t mess around. He put the pro in proteins. He could get his hands on anything legal you could name and some goods better left unnamed.
Before we knew it, he served us octo-pastrami egg salad. Fisher gave me the stinkeye so I didn’t hesitate. I ate a bite, then another. I didn’t stop until I had gulped the whole sample down.
“That’s some crack salad, Lil’ Stu,” I said. I was addicted from the first bite.
The butcher leapt over the counter like a ninja and hit me hard in the chest with his feet. He wielded a heritage smoked turkey leg over my head. Damn, second beat-down of the day.
“Only Fisher gets to call me that,” the butcher said. “You can call me sir or get yer rat-ass out of my holy temple.”
I turned my head, pleading with my eyes for Fisher’s help. My partner sneered. “What part of ‘follow my lead’ did you not understand? No one told you to speak.”
Sir Stuart Aldridge stepped off and returned with a slice of 18-month-old aged Serrano ham. He hand-fed it to Fisher. Freaking weird. I’d never seen a tongue snatch a piece of meat from another man’s hand so fast.
With his other hand, the butcher threw a slice of Oscar Meyer pimento loaf in my face. He said, “Eat this and tweet it.”
I tried to get my iPhone out, take a photo of the limp cold-cut, and post it, but Fisher kicked the phone out of my hand. “No evidence, fool! We were never here.”
“But y-you post your Saturday morning stops on Facebook every week?” I protested.
“No one needs to know you were with me though,” Fisher countered. “If people knew that I let you ride along, then every foodie in town and their Yelp-lovin’ aunt would hassle me. Screw that.”
Fisher left through the front door with a dozen sea scallops big enough to stop bullets. I grabbed my phone.
“Get off my floor, man,” Stuart said. “Don’t make me whip you with a hand-ground, herb-seasoned chain of sausage links.”
“Can I at least get a biscuit sammie to go?” I said with no pride left. The butcher threw a stale, hard biscuit at my head. I caught it on the fly and scrammed. “Thanks, Lil’ Stu!”
I raced across the parking lot, slid across the hood of Fisher’s Saturn, and slipped through the passenger-side window, Dukes of Hazzard-style. “Let’s roll.”
“Somebody’s getting cocky,” Fisher muttered. He did a donut in the parking lot and then peeled out southbound. “Put this over your eyes, rookie. This last stop is at a secret location.”
Fisher handed me a thin blue cloth. It smelled like mezcal, huitlacoche, and sweat. Thoughts of Port Fonda entered my mind. “Is this Patrick Ryan’s bandana?” I asked.
“Damn straight,” Fisher said. “Black-out time.
Reluctantly, I slipped the bandana over my peepers. The combined scents left me intoxicated, lost in a psychedelic hip-hop haze. Suddenly, Tony Glamcevski and Amy Smith from The Rieger escorted me through a mental replay of the day’s events while Fisher’s baby girl banged out percussion with a spoon to the beat of Wiz Khalifa’s “We Dem Boyz.”
Today, Fisher and I met Dirty Rat Deb Crum, who was an informant at the Parkville Farmer’s Market, Oddly Correct coffee smugglers, a taqueria where Fisher collected his weekly tax, the Ean food fencing operation at Happy Gillis, Little Freshie’s secret bathtub gin operation, Fervere’s whorehouse of artisan bread and a maniacal meat dealer on Broadway. Not a bad ride-along so far.
“We’re here. You can take the blindfold off,” Fisher instructed.
I removed the cloth, wiped the huitlacoche juice out of my eyes, and blinked. Dazed, I felt like I had been shacked up with Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett from “Orange is the New Black.” Fisher waved a crusty old slice of Johnny Jo’s pizza under my nose to snap me out of my haze.
“It’s go time,” he said.
Glancing around, I couldn’t tell for sure but I thought we were in Waldo, the bacon-loving, beer-crawling sister to virginal, vegan Brookside. Fisher stood next to the door of a beige, nondescript building and briefed me. Finally! He was treating me like a partner on his beat.
“We’re about to bust up an endorphin lab. Last chance to stay in the car. Once we go inside, it’s on and we might not make it out alive. They’re heavily armed,” Fisher said.
I studied him. He’d taken me on an emotional, psychological and gastronomic rollercoaster today. This time I could sense he was serious.
“How you want to play this?” I asked. “Starsky and Hutch?”
“You’re David Caruso, ‘CSI: Miami.’ You get a one-liner. No more.”
Not my first choice, but Fisher was the jaded veteran. I asked, “What about you?”
“Mel Gibson. ‘Lethal Weapon’ all the way,” Fisher said with a straight face.
Gonzo. Fisher unsheathed his camera, nodded at me, and burst through the door. He did a forward roll and came up shooting left and right, rapid-fire, blinding our perps. A split-second behind him, I punched the button on my iPhone’s camera quick as I could, no filter.
We took heavy fire in return. French macarons flew past our heads. Pink, yellow, purple, every pastel color you could imagine with delicious filling. Smack! I got whacked in the head by a cake slice of Eloise, dacquois layers filled with chocolate ganache, hazelnut buttercream and cream legere. I wiped the frosting from my eyes and scanned the room for Fisher. He was prone on the floor, clutching his belly and laughing maniacally in his best Mel Gibson impression. He had taken several direct hits from cinnamon rolls made with brioche.
I wanted to call for backup but there was no time. Our assailants were on us like fresh lemon zest on citrus panna cotta. I glanced up. Vicious Victoria Shriver Goellner and Natasha “No Scrubs” Goellner stood over us with rolling pins and knives at the ready.
Fisher should have told me. We just tried to take down the production bakery of Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott. This mother-daughter duo were the most notorious endorphin dealers in the city. Their distribution network involved weddings, brunches and thoughtful drive-bys with a drop-off of deadly French patisseries. There were worse ways to die, but I couldn’t think of any. As we lay on the floor covered in pastries, they tied us up head-to-toe with silk ribbon.
“Boys, get up and move over to the table,” Victoria shouted. “You’re not going out so easy.”
Natasha kicked me in the ribs. “Move it, scumbags. I’ve got handmade marshmallows to slice.”
We crawled to the table, hobbled upright, and awaited instructions. Fisher and I looked at each other.
“It’s not over yet, partner,” he replied under his breath. Fisher gave me a wink. “Remember the straightjacket scene from ‘Lethal Weapon 2?”
I had no clue.
Meanwhile, Natasha and her mother brought over two plates loaded with slices of Chocolate Tuxedo Cream™ Cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory.
My heart sunk. “Not Death by Chocolate.”
“Eat it, bitches,” Natasha cackled. “Eat it and die.”
Victoria grabbed my hair and began to shove my face toward the plate. Just then, I heard a loud, unnerving pop. I glanced at Fisher. He had dislocated his shoulder and wriggled out of his silk ribbon bonds. Of course! Fisher used Gibson’s trick to escape a straightjacket. He worked one hand free, gathered a container of cocoa powder and threw it into our captors’ faces. Fisher grabbed a knife and sliced ribbons to free me.
We bolted toward the door. Fisher revved the engine and raced away. I took off my glasses, looked at Fisher and gave him my best David Caruso impression. “I guess we creamed them,” I deadpanned, serious as a Facebook foodie group discussion. “Get it? Pastry cream? Creamed them?”
“If you have to explain it, it ain’t funny,” Fisher said. “Shut yer piehole.”
We were silent for the rest of the drive back to the Parkville Farmers Market. Frankly, I had enough abuse and disrespect for one day. We parked. I started to open the door.
Fisher spoke. “Wait a minute, Dulin. I was hard on you today, but that’s street life. Call me a foodie or whatever insult comes to mind, but running this gauntlet every Saturday is hard. It’s my reward after surviving Fight Club each week.”
“I get it. No harm done,” I said. I got out of the Saturn and leaned on the window, ducking my head in to listen.
“Best part is that I get to head home now and see my lady. We kick back, sip on a soda, and watch our baby do impressions of Howard Hanna. It’s hilarious. Life’s good.”
“Life is good. Thanks, partner,” I said. “What do I owe you for this ride-along?”
“You survived. That’s all the payment I need,” Fisher said. “But you can treat me to an Admiral’s Feast at Red Lobster and we’ll call it even.”
“Deal. Maybe I’ll even take you on a ride-along in my part of town one day,” I said.
“Great. I love Taiwanese food,” Fisher drolled.
“I’m Thai. Not Taiwanese,” I shot back.
“Now you’re just being an assh–”
Fisher didn’t hear a word. He just peeled his tires and raced away in the Saturn. He threw something out of the window and it rolled toward me.
Curious, I picked it up. French macaron with pistachio cream. I shrugged, blew on it, and took a bite. Five-second rule.