By Kenneth Justice
~ This past weekend I was in Chicago to stop by a couple coffee shops in my year long quest to visit 100 coffee shops throughout the Western World. One of the more surprising conversations I had was with the young man at the Amtrak window who sold me my train ticket; he’s LOVES hot dogs.
Similar to the bagel man from Atlanta, the Amtrak man is a hot dog aficionado and when after I told him that I was here in Chicago on a writing tour; his eyes lit up as he said, “Well, let me tell you all about hot dogs and where to get the best one in the city!” he said
For the next 20 minutes I stood a little bit awkwardly at the young man’s ticket window as he gave me all the ins-and-outs of hot dog revelry in the City of Broad Shoulders. I’ve never sat and listened to someone talk about hot dogs for so long, but twenty minutes wasn’t too bad considering I had listened to the bagel man in Atlanta talk about bagels for the better part of an hour.
Eating a hot dog for the Amtrak man is a big deal. He and his girlfriend when searching for the perfect hot dog restaurant rate the type of meat, the ‘snap’ the meat makes as they bite into it (sorry to all the vegetarian’s out there for the descriptions), the aroma of the hot dog, and they are very particular about what you can put on a hot dog; he says nothing should be put on a hot dog except for tomatoes and mustard.
I suspect that for the average hot dog eater very little goes into their thought process beyond, “I think I will eat a hot dog today” and that’s about it. But for people like the Amtrak Hot Dog dude and the Atlanta Bagel man; the process of eating and enjoying food is an intricate process…..they want to really enjoy their meal.
I haven’t eaten a hot dog in many years. But I appreciated the excitement and tenor of the young man’s tone as he described his favorite meal. We live in a fast food culture where few people give much thought to the food that they put into their body. I’ve heard people tell me how upset they were at having to sit through a drive-thru window for more than a few minutes, “It’s f**cking fast food and it shouldn’t take so long!” they say
One of my favorite movie quotes comes from the Meg Ryan film Kate & Leopold, the European traveler disgusted with American fast food culture remarks,
“Where I come from the meal is the result of reflection and study. Menus are prepared in advanced, timed for perfection. It is said, without the culinary arts the crudeness of reality would be unbearable”
That’s quite a different take to eating food than rushing into the frozen section at the grocery store and buying a made-to-order microwave meal…isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, I realize that life is busy. It’s no longer 1950, the world has changed and who really has hours upon hours each day to prepare dinner? Who has time to make a dinner where you sit down with friends and loved ones and enjoy each morsel that falls upon your palate?
But perhaps this is yet another area of Western Culture in which it is time to stand up and protest; to raise our hand and say, ‘wait a minute, maybe we need to rethink the culinary arts’.
I’m going to go out on a limb and admit something that might make me look like a nut; I’ve seen the film Kate & Leopold nearly a dozen times; I watch it once every year a week after I watch the film Joe VS the Volcano. Both of the films are simple fare but they contain some deep observations about Western Culture and they ask some really profound questions,
—-) How much are we really being affected by advertisements?
—-) What’s the point of all the rushing around that we are doing?
—-) Is God really out there and does God care about us?
—-) Are we living life to the fullest?
—-) Have we forgotten what it feels like to truly enjoy a meal?
So as I stood there listening to the Hot Dog Dude, although I don’t eat hot dogs anymore; I totally connected with what he was saying. I related to his passion about hot dogs because I too have been developing my own passions regarding the culinary arts. I don’t want to wake up one day and realize that I’ve merely been another nebbish going along with the flow and eating stale toast while living a stale life.
Perhaps you wouldn’t definite it as “rebellious” for me to go to the Farmers Market on Saturday to pick up fresh vegetables from local growers…..but sometimes rebellion isn’t about guns and violence; it’s about returning to a simpler time, it’s about reforming and curtailing the bad habits which abound all throughout our culture.
Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee this morning,
—) I’ll be in Pittsburgh in two weeks! I’d love to meet you for coffee!
Categories: Culture & Society