Re:New Jersey Hot Dogs
A Footlong Coney of the Mind
It was the kind of hot summer day you figure you should go to the ballpark and cheer on the Dodgers, dem Bums. But considering it wasn’t the 1950s and the Dodgers were no longer in Brooklyn, you could say they were out of town. Besides, I had a date with a dog. And never one to put off until tomorrow a hot dog I can eat today, I wasted no time. It was obvious the Sonic footlong, ¼ lb. hot dog needed assaying. Know what I’m saying?
So I tooled into Sonic’s parking lot feeling sort of like a gunslinger in the Old West, summoned to take care of some business. It was between lunch and dinner…the hubbub of the newness and the novelty that Sonic has meant to Green Brook, N.J., in recent weeks had died down.
A few random cars bleated out their orders as roller-blading car hops gently wove in and out between the lanes, delivering their sundry comestibles.
On a mission, I figured I don’t need no stinkin’ delivery to my car, if you get my meaning. No harm meant, Ma’m. I want to sit in a chair, at a table, where a man can imbibe like a man. So what if I occasionally like an umbrella in my drink? Who told you about that, anyway?
I prefer my own nostalgic conventions. Been there, done that. Yeah, I knew a car hop back in the day, in the ‘60’s at Don’s in Livingston, N.J. We used to go for a ride after closing. She had quite a laugh, and threw her hair back as if she were throwing everyone’s troubles away. What’s it to you? Velma was her name. You haven’t seen her, have you?
In any case, where was I? Oh, yeah, the footlong Coney at Sonic, with chili and cheese, advertised for a limited time only, $2.99. Add a small drink and a little order of fries and the combo comes to $5.59. What the heck. I just got paid and my landlady’s gone to visit a sick sister in Mobile. I’d do the combo and call it late lunch.
But first, to order. If you’re not in your machine (my diesel was cooling its cylinders about 150 yards away, beyond the car stalls, under a nice shady tree), you don’t order from a carhop, but walk up to an electronic scoreboard, our brave new world’s plastic version of the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). Though there was no emergency, it said to push the red button. I follow directions well.
The voice issued a “brop” and a “squeak” and then politely asked my order as I imagined a well-bred young Southern gentleman encapsulated somewhere in a stainless steel container wrapped in wire-and-silicon chips inside the little concrete block building. I wondered if I could adjust my order, or if the sounds of artificial intelligence would discourage such thinking outside the box. So I asked, “What say I skip the cheese, Mac, and just have chopped onions and mustard on my chili dog, Paterson style?”
Surprise! “Yes sir, we can do that,” said the young Southern gentleman, who then repeated my order for safekeeping. Seeing as I have always been dependent on the kindness of strangers, even those seemingly locked away in another dimension, I was feeling good.
Shortly thereafter, 2010’s version of Mercury on wheels delivered my meal as I sat under an umbrella at a plastic-coated, metal-wire table. The dog was estimable…doubtless a full 12 inches, cradled in equal length bun and supported by a proper cardboard holder. I dispensed with officially measuring the wiener. Sometimes you just have to trust a guy. It looked to be what it claimed. The reckoning approached.
I bit in. Light pink inside the skinless faux shell, most likely pork/ beef, though I wouldn’t discount some turkey. Not bad tasting. I figured whoever did the spice profile didn’t want to wake up any palates. But then he wouldn’t win that many, either. This was non-distinct, but filling and inoffensive…a dog that spoke no region or affiliation but nonetheless filled the volume requirement of one’s innards.
Most distinctive, however, was the texture, the consistency of the meat, specifically the specific density of the frankfurter. It was quite solid…doubtless packed tightly before its factory-only skin was removed. The only other skinless dog I’ve tasted with that firm a texture was a Glatt Kosher Buffalo dog I once had out of town, and a Sugardale pork/ beef. You didn’t have to be a Rabbi to know this wasn’t a kosher dog.
Of course it could’ve been any of a number of brands. But I doubted it was made by Sonic, as someone in the concrete building had informed Mercury after I asked him to find that out for me. Good kid. But he wasn’t buying it either.
I figured one of the Big Boys got a nice contract and, as too often is the case in the hot dog racket, nobody was talking. The chili, meaty and OK, tasted like Hormel…though I’m not puttin’ my money on that, either. Heck. My landlady, old Mrs. Shaughnessy, is bound to get back some day, and I doubt she’d believe I gambled the rent money on a chili brand.
The fries, too, were OK. Bottom line---for non-aficionados who simply don’t give it as much thought as us guys who venture over mountains, persevere down desert highways and ford rivers to assure the legitimacy of hot dogs while others sleep comfortably in their non-hot dog-obsessed beds---this is an OK tube steak for the shekels. When it jumps off its sale price of $2.99, we’ll have to revisit that evaluation.
I walked the 150 or so yards to my bad ride, pulling my brim down and dodging between gliding food couriers, just to prove I could. I knew something. Not everything, but something. The diesel started up, got the gist, and didn’t ask any questions. Just another mission for the little engine that could. Someone’s gotta do it, and he was the car I used to do it.
We pulled out on the highway like every other Dick and Harry. Fuel’s good; oil pressure’s good, and I’m pretty full.
That night, looking out my tear-drop office window as I heard the faint tinkling of a lonely tavern piano and a last patron swearing to the bartender escorting him out that he’d never ever return, I decided I’d close this case for now and leave Myrna, my secretary, something to transcribe. Anyway, I promised her I’d have something for her to do in the morning besides fend off bill collectors and jealous wives who wanted their sappy husbands investigated.
I wrote my summation, and said everything I had was about a 6…the Coney and the fries, as well as the roll holding the frank. And in this life, that’s not so bad, especially if that’s your number and you get it on the second roll. Now, if Velma ever came back or Mrs. Shaughnessy was in the mood for a dog, would I take ‘em for a Sonic Footlong Coney Dog? Hey, what kinda guy do you think I am?