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A Close Encounter with the Hello Kitty Cafe Food Truck

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Close, but no cookie (literally)…

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I know, everyone likes Hello Kitty. She’s adorable! Even so, apparently everyone still underestimates her popularity. Including the people who run the Hello Kitty Cafe’s food truck. Including hundreds of fans who showed up today to check it out. Including me.

When I left my house around noon in hopes of catching the Hello Kitty truck, I really had only a vague idea what I was doing. I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of food would be offered, or how long I’d be there, or if there’d be a crowd. I brought my camera, some sunblock, and a copy of Quidditch Through the Ages (because I was playing in a Facebook-based quidditch trivia tournament at 5 p.m.). I was prepared to stand in line. Or so I thought.

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My view from the back of the line

I’ve been a Hello Kitty fan since I was five or so – my dad would bring me Hello Kitty souvenirs when he went to Taipei, Taiwan starting in the mid-’70s. Today I still have my share of Hello Kitty merch – t-shirts, a keychain, a purse. It didn’t occur to me to wear any of it today, but lots of other people did. I saw t-shirts, mostly, but here and there you could see a clear kawaii influence. Parasols! Mini-bun hairstyles! And lots of geekery. Turns out, the Hello Kitty fan base (more adults than kids) also loves Pokemon, “Star Wars,” “Doctor Who,” and cute Chucks. Ah, my people.

When I heard that the Hello Kitty food truck was coming to Oakbrook Mall in Oak Brook, Ill. this weekend, of course I planned my day around it. Not very well, as it turns out. I forgot the sunblock in the car, didn’t think to eat beforehand, and walked around the mall for like 30 minutes before I figured out where the truck was parked (in front of Urban Outfitters, duh). By the time I arrived, my phone battery was already depleted from trying to catch Pokemon – which I didn’t do much of, seeing as I was plumb out of Poké Balls. I debated for a few minutes as to whether or not I should bother to get in line, because the posted menu consisted of donuts, cakes, cookies, macarons, a water bottle, a mug, and t-shirts – and the donuts were already sold out. The offerings didn’t seem very filling, and the line was already pretty huge.

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This is the closest I got to the macarons, which are in the bowtie-shaped boxes

I decided I’d get in for a few minutes and see how fast it moved. I was right behind the mom of a little girl in blonde pigtails who declared passionately, when asked if she was sure she wanted to do this, “I’ve been waiting for this my WHOLE LIFE!” It wasn’t too bad, so I stayed – but it got worse. I had time to re-read Quidditch Through the Ages and memorize the entire list of fouls and the names of the 13 English teams. Then I had time to memorize the entire list of broom games of the wizarding world that were precursors to quidditch. Then I was able to memorize the entire lineup of European quidditch teams. Then I memorized the names of everyone who had ever played quidditch. Then I memorized the length and width of the quidditch field, and the names and previous names of all the positions of all the players, then the history of the Golden Snitch (it was introduced in 1269). And then I was sick of quidditch.

So I made friends with a mom and seven-year-old daughter who told me all about their charm necklaces and gave me a catalog. I petted two tiny puppies in line with me, one of which was wearing a Hello Kitty harness. I listened to the Harry Potter conversation of the people who were right behind me until they gave up. I admired someone’s “Doctor Who” bag, which had Tardises (Tardisi?) on the outside and cartoon Doctors along the inside lining. I spotted some friends who had been in line since 9:30 a.m. And then I got thirsty. Everyone in line had someone else with them who was passing them drinks from Argo Tea, except me. At one point, we passed waters down the line to someone, and I wasn’t the only one tempted to just grab the cup and drink it myself. So many people around me were sucking down bubble teas that I started brainstorming ideas of how to get myself one (Taskrabbit? Paying the seven-year-old girl to do it? Bribing someone in line for their drink?). In the end, the mom and daughter offered to save my place, and in return I got them bubble tea and water. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers, saving those of us who are way unprepared.

I managed to not take any pictures of people wearing cool things, but I did get a picture of a tiny puppy in line!

I managed to not take any pictures of people wearing cool things, but I did get a picture of a tiny puppy in line, being petted by my seven-year-old friend

I snaked my way through three sets of zig-zagging line separators designed to contain us as we slowly got closer to the pink food truck. At some point I figured I was in it for the long haul because I had already been in line for two and a half hours. I was maybe 40 minutes from the end when the macarons ran out. The truck employees first passed word back that three boxes only were left.  I said, optimistically, “Well, as long as there are still some on display at the front of the truck, there are still more left, right?” At which point a person in the truck took down all the boxes of macarons at the front of the truck, and my new mom and daughter friend gave up and went to go get macarons at Godiva instead. I was about 20 minutes from the end when the cookies ran out. There was no food left, and my Facebook-based quidditch tournament was about to start.

Hell hath no fury like a crowd deprived of Hello Kitty sweets. A bunch of people left disgusted, and others went up to the truck and asked about the situation – could the people who were left at least get the bags (free with a $25 food purchase) for standing in line for four hours with nothing to show for it? It’s my understanding that the employees called in, but were not allowed to do anything for anyone. More rumors, naturally, ran rampant – there were no mugs left, they were going to stop selling after another 15 minutes so they’d still have merch left for tomorrow, that sort of thing.

My phone, an ancient Samsung Galaxy S4, had been turned off early so I’d have battery power for the quidditch tournament, should I still be there at 5 p.m. I was. I was the first on my team to play (as Keeper). It was Slytherin vs. Hufflepuff (I’m a Puff). The question that was asked…was NOT IN QUIDDITCH THROUGH THE AGES. It never is, especially when I’ve spent the last three hours in line memorizing every fact about quidditch in the entire freaking book. I answered it correctly, immediately, probably because the answer had come up in a study session with my fellow Puffs at some points (yay me). Then the Slytherin Seeker caught the Snitch. Tournament lasted 3.5 seconds, score 100-10, which ties the shortest Quidditch game on record. A fact I know because I spent three hours memorizing every fact about Quidditch in the entire freaking book.

20160813_201732Meanwhile, in the line, things had reverted to controlled chaos. The line seemed superfluous, as the truck had completely closed down and the workers were selling out of a tent next to it, as fast as they could. Some people  were convinced several lines were now being formed, and yelled at the mall security to stop letting people buy over those of us who’d been standing in line for four hours. There were 50 (or was it 15?) mugs left, and the free bags were long gone too. The rest of us in line had to have SOMETHING to gripe about, so we complained about how long people were taking to decide on which style of t-shirt to get, because after four hours in line shouldn’t you pretty much already know? A bunch of people also started getting on the Facebook page to complain.

In the end, I left with a mug, a $25 t-shirt, and two pins. The pin is my badge for sticking it out. I wasn’t even planning to buy the shirt, but, well…there weren’t any cookies.

Curses, Hello Kitty Cafe food truck – turns out, the people in charge were just about as unprepared as I was. We suburban Chicagoans (and some Wisconsinites, and some Hoosiers too) are a tetchy lot, and we don’t like when people run out of food. If I were a real wizard, I’d find a curse and hex the people in charge (okay, maybe not, since I’m a Hufflepuff). As it is, I don’t actually believe in magic, so I’m going to sit here drinking tea out of my new Hello Kitty mug, wearing the hell out of my new pink t-shirt, and wondering if Hello Kitty cookies are really just that good. I may never know.

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About Helen A. Lee


Helen is a veteran writer with credits in The Learned Fangirl, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Gamespot.com, Chicago Tribune and nytimes.com, among others (if pressed, she may cop to writing instructional guides to pop star hair and interviewing "Desperate Housewives" stars). She's a huge geek and her son, age 11, looks to be following in her footsteps.