My mom has a bad habit of repeating stories she’s told a hundred times before. She retells them with excitement, as if her tongue were making each word, "and"s and "the"s included, for the first time. If the story is short and I let her get through the whole thing, she awaits my response with a toothy, open mouth. After June 1999, eating hot dogs with my mom ensured a well-practiced diatribe. The first bite barely hits the back of her throat before she opens her chilli-filled mouth to sputter “Nothing will ever come close to those hot dogs in Vail”.
Vail, Colorado- June, 1999:
I was thirteen on a family road trip to South Dakota, between and back again, packed tightly in a white '96 Suburban (my parents feel guilty enough about owning it and I would prefer if you withheld your judgments of them as heart-less Mother Earth haters). Re-crafting this memory, I toyed with different descriptions of the store-front, of the man or woman who sold it to us, of what I was wearing when it happened, but aside from my outfit (Levi’s, button up shirt, turquoise horse-head lariat) I don’t really remember any of that. I vaguely remember what we did before. I know because I’ve seen pictures that we road on a Gondola to the top of a mountain and I’ve pieced together that we hiked our way down. I don’t remember much of anything else between the last bit of the best hot dog of my life and the next three weeks of American adventure. But I remember every inch of the meal in my hand.
The bun was warm through the wax paper that held it and I felt the stubble of semolina flour against my palm. The girth of the hot dog said it meant business. The skin was tight and hard to bite through. It broke almost with a crunch but the filling was soft and full and the oils were still hot. The 100% veal dog was seasoned with caraway, sage, and white pepper and topped with spicy, grainy brown mustard and alfalfa sprouts that had been gently tossed in olive oil and salt. We went back the next day for dinner, only to turn our messy heads ground-ward on seeing the "Closed on Sundays" sign.
If I were to write a semi-autobiographic bildungsroman about a troubled 16 year old Valley girl, the Cupids Hot Dogs on Lindley and Nordhoff would be its major meta-fictive symbol. The original on Lankershim has been serving these gems for 63 years; if only I'm lucky enough to be eating them in 2071. I grew up eating Cupid's with the whole family on summer nights after long surf days, but the hot dog took on a new level of importance senior year of high school, eating two or three at a time in my boyfriend's mother's Astrovan stopping only for Dr. Pepper or a chili-filled French kiss. Some nights we'd eat hot dogs cruising in the Astrovan, eyes peeled for a dark street to park the car and make-out. When we had worked up an appetite again we would return for seconds. We ate Cupid's hot dogs and made out like it was all we could do. Once when I was 17 he told me that he would take hundreds of Cupid's hot dogs into a field and with them spell out the words "Will you marry me". I fell even more deeply in love. At 17 I was real easy to please.
The dog: the softest bun around, slightly sweet, extra tight skin, all beef, a little salty. "Everything" means chopped white onions, tangy yellow mustard, and perfect bean-less chili. The white paper wrapped around them did little to keep your hands from oil.
In descending order, we also have: Mexican Bacon Dogs for $1.50 in Downtown Los Angeles' textile/fashion district. The fat dog is wrapped in bacon, pressed onto the grill and topped grilled onions and red peppers. I like these with mayonaise and a bottle of Mexican Coca Cola (real sugar).
Nathan's at the Original Nathan's in Coney Island. I've lived in New York for not even a year and I've had about eleven hot dogs at the Original Nathan's. I like it with grilled onions and lots of ketchup with an extra-extra large $4 Killian's Red. The win over Papaya Dog only because of its proximity to soft-serve pistachio ice cream from Denny's Ice Cream Stand and the Wonder Wheel...the happiest place on earth. Also, if you really want to, you can buy an order of 2 dozen frog legs for like $13.50.
Grey's Papaya/Papaya King/Papaya Dog: Maybe I haven't had enough of these sober to be able to tell the difference but holy HELL that's a good hot dog for a damn good price. Their corn dogs are sweet with honey and never soggy. The last I had was in December on a Tuesday night at 3:30 am with a good friend. Walking steps behind him on the stairs down to the F train I tried to hold my hot dog in one hand and my fries in the other instead of the railing. He didn't notice me having trouble in my high heels until I slipped on black ice, skidded down the concrete, contorting my body mid-fall to save my hot dog. I did, but only at the cost of a large and bloody bump at the back of my head.
It's getting late and this is getting long. Speaking of long, tied for 4th are Dodger Dogs and free, bar hot dogs kept on those concession rotisseries and served on Wonder Buns. I'd take either or both right now.
A conclusion to come, but I think it can wait.