Don Bauder 5:30 p.m., March 14
Shout out to the real thing.
Past couple of times coming back from TJ I’ve ended up on the street, looking for one last dog.
This time it’s around ten at night, corner of Avenida de la Amistad (“Friendship Avenue”) and the stalls leading back to the border.
José Ismael is here with his cart. “Exquisitos Hot Dogs” and “Hamburguesas Deliciosas y Calientitas.”
You can see from a distance. He’s standing in the flaring light of his cart’s gas lamp, dressed in about four layers under a white apron, rubbing his hands in the cold. He’s an island in the dark.
I ask him for a chico hot dog and a coffee. $1.20 for the dog (the grande is $2), $1 for the coffee, instant crystals poured into a cup of hot water.
Meanwhile José works at the dog. The bun, the mayo, the wiener wrapped with bacon, cebollas asadas - grilled onions - chunky salsa, tomato chunks, mustard.
He delivers the final long squirt of ketchup with a flourish.
His friend José García trundles up out of the dark with his elote corn cart ($1 each for a small ear, $1.50, $2 for larger ones). We stand here in the biting chill, walking on the spot from one foot to the other.
José Ismael hands me my steaming dog.
Oh yes. This, out here, is the Real Thing. Face is a mess from first bite.
“I’ve been working here 12 years,” says José Ismael, “5:00 p.m. to midnight. It used to be a good spot. Still is okay on Friday nights. But these days I sell maybe 30, 40 in a night. Before, I’d be selling 250. And I have to pay for the cart and the food and the gas. I have a wife and two kids to feed. It’s difficult.”
José García and I nod. At the same time, I'm enjoying the crunchy heat of the salchicha - the wiener - with the spicy heat of the salsa. There's something about the flavors and the hot roll leaking a roiling mess of mayo-mustard-ketchup that you just can’t beat.
Yes, I’ve had more magnificent dogs (see the Sótano Suizo blog http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...), but chewing, chatting out here in the last few feet of Latin America, three guys shivering in the late-nite gaslamp, this you can’t buy.
BTW: U.S.-bound border crossing pedestrians are being diverted through the 1936 customs building while they upgrade the main one. For the next two years. Allow extra time.