Ballad of the Hot Dog Man


The Hot Dog Man stands down the street from the Hobo Chiropractor, practicing his legitimate business of selling students hot dogs. Each year, students from active political alliances ply the school for healthier options, for vegetarian entrees, for clean facilities, and for a balanced meal plan. Meanwhile, the hot dog man roosts in a plastic fold-up lounge chair, hawking hot dogs for $2.00 a piece. For $3.50, you can get a deal: a hotdog, a bag of chips, and a soda.

Each morning, he arrives on the corner, his hotdog  cart rattling behind his truck. Attached with a hitch, it bounces into each pothole, threatening to collapse. A picture of a hotdog displayed in bright colors on its side, the cart stands on a small raised area, the resident chiropractor crouched on the steps below. He pops open his yellow umbrella and sits in its shade. Students approach throughout the day, haggling for drinks or plastic-encased mystery meats.

I often wonder about hotdog man, whether he lives a solitary life. Does he love hotdogs or does he see this enterprise as purely business? When did he decide to open a hotdog stand near the College of Charleston, and what great racket has he tapped into now that he is selling his meat via transportable cart? Does he have a hotdog wife (Hot Dog Woman) with whom he has had little hotdog babies?

On Sunday afternoons, does he grill up delicious, fresh hotdogs and serve them to his Oscar-Meyer-obsessed relatives?

My theory is a darker one, on that can only be proved by shining a light into his childhood. In my venerable imagination, this hotdog paladin began his quest with The Hamburger Incident…

Five years old, Hot Dog Boy has grown up in Brooklyn his entire life. One day while drawing chalk dragons on the cracked sidewalk, a lunch cart rolls by. The children rush the cart for their lunches: pizza and hotdogs and hamburgers and fries. Behind this vender stands a great billboard exclaiming “Best Hamburgers East of 87th Street and West of 89th!”

This superimposed over the biggest burger he has seen in his life. A juicy patty dripping grease, the tomatoes still wet with condensation. The lettuce green and crisp. The bun steaming and slightly browned.

While Hot Dog Boy stares up at the sign, waiting to order his food, a terrible gust stirs down the street. The sign topples, the boy crushed underneath. Three hours and four hotdog venders later, they drag the boy from under the sign. Forever scarred.

Now he sells hotdogs in protest, settled into his chair under the yellow umbrella. Waiting patiently for the day to use his hotdog finesse to strike out the wicked reign of hamburgers. To one day rule the street-food world. First, hamburgers will fall, then falafels and rotten sushi, powdered crepes and single-sliced pizza, roasted nuts and gyros, kebabs and burritos, tacos and Panini. One day only the Hot Dog Man will remain.


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