Payson Food Truck Festival - 2020 Style

Despite the pandemic, retail sales in Rim Country remained strong.

The mask hid Tomas Martin’s smile, but his eyes lit up for every customer at the Payson Food Truck Festival — pandemic version.

“We’re here and so thankful,” he said, leaning out the window of his food truck parked alongside Green Valley Park lake as the temperature climbed toward 100. “Everybody’s been in a good mood.”

His truck, Ni De Aqui Ni De Alla, served Mexican food to the small, but undaunted gathering at the Payson Food Truck Festival.

“Payson people just aren’t used to the heat. Back home it’s 115 now,” he said of the “balmy,” 103-degree Rim Country weather on Saturday.

Martin marveled that customers came up from the Valley “and will go home the same day.”

“We feel blessed to be here,” said Martin, glancing toward the horizon, where storm clouds had gathered.

As with last year, monsoons cut short everyone’s dining experience before 7 p.m., but brought blessed relief from heat and threat of wildfires.

Courtney Spawn, Payson’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism director changed the name of the event to reflect “the current state of everyone’s environment.”

“On the website, we mention Food Truck Festival – 2020 Style,” she said. “We cannot operate as we normally would.”

Signs mandated mask wearing and/or social distancing for the crowd. Markers on the ground kept people from coming within six feet of each other. DJ Craig, who took photos of the event, said about 10% of visitors wore masks.

When it came to the food trucks, that got more complicated. Spawn explained that many of the food truck owners who had come to past events have either shut down permanently or for the year because of the pandemic.

“Others had an interest, but the possibility of cancellations posed too large of a risk for them to take with the inventory purchasing and preparation in advance,” she explained.

She’s confident next year’s event will have a full fleet of food trucks.

This year, only four trucks took part.

The pandemic also prevented a beer garden tent or bounce houses.

To help with the lack of shade and seating, Jennifer Smith, candidate for mayor and local businesswoman, used Citizen Emergency Response Team canopies and folding chairs to create a cooling station. They also offered free bottles of water. The team spent the entire day at the park providing shade and information for Tuesday’s election.

“We had about 50 people,” she said.

The modified layout of the trucks required attendees to walk around Green Valley lake between trucks, but that didn’t bother Richard and Debbie Ankrom.

The pair of part-time Payson residents brought camp chairs and their two Morkies (Maltese and Yorkshire terrier mix pups) Sadie and Scooter for an outdoor dinner date.

While Richard purchased a frybread (or “Arizona comfort food” as described by the truck owner) Debbie explained they had come to the event last year and looked forward to this year. The scaled down event surprised her, but she enjoyed the day, anyway.

“We just love it here,” she said as Richard brought her dinner and the couple sat to enjoy their meal as the cooling monsoon thunderheads gathered.

By 6:30 p.m., the rains rushed in and DJ Craig caught a family sprinting to their vehicle to avoid the rain.

He stayed to capture a stunning shot of a horizon to horizon rainbow, slashed by a bolt of lightning.

Martin hastily packed his truck, happy to have escaped the Valley for the day — grateful for the little things.

And the rainbow.

Call it Rainbow 2020 Style – the reward for riding out the storm.

Contact the reporter at mnelson@payson.com

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