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Aaargh! They've gone. Was it all a dream? I'm cruising at 25th and G -- in neighbor Linda's car again -- coming to fulfill my promise to the two of them -- Linda and Carla -- to "get TJ dogs."

The dawgs? I didn't tell you?

Okay, let's go back a few weeks. Imagine this scene:

* * *

So I'm just coming up to 94 when I see this lonely pool of light.

It's like a stage set. Silhouettes of people standing around a couple of gas-fired food carts, a table with a red-and-white checkered cloth, white plastic chairs, and a cook disappearing in and out of the steam.

Hot diggety. I park down on the steep slope of G Street. Then I huff 'n' puff my way back up the hill.

The stand seems to be operating out of this single-story mustard-colored corner house. Wires snake from inside. All the customers have hands in their pockets. We're talking shiver city.

But my eyes light up when the guy, Miguel, lifts the steaming lid on...hot dogs! And not your New York, Chicago, whatever dogs, but the real thing. I'm talkin' Tijuana-style, bacon-wrapped sausage, just like the kind you'd get on Revolución, except bigger. Come on now, admit it. You weren't too drunk to notice: TJ dogs are the most delicious in all the Americas, with their fried onions, jalapeños, tomatoes, and yes, ketchup and mayo, and, usually, those dee-lish, squelchy chiles toreados.

'Course everyone's speaking Spanish here. I try. They help me out. The dogs are $1.50 each. Not much more than in TJ. I ask for two. Miguel's swift. His hands twirl through the air, lifting mayo, mustard, ketchup bottles, squeezing, squirting, sprinkling, spreading, as if he's conducting "Waltz of the Toreadors." I hand over three Washingtons, plus another for a can of Coke, and go sit under the spotlight wall-mounted above the stage-set table. Lean into my first dawg. Man. This thing has legs. It's juicy, rich. Tomato-jalapeño-ketchup-mayo and onion-roasted chile in every bite. But it's a tad different from my memory of TJ hot dogs.

"Are we talking turkey dogs here?" "That's right," says Miguel. "Healthier."

That's when this guy, José, turns up. Then two girls, Victoria and Mayra.

Hey, there's only one table. How not to start talking? José's from Guerrero. Acapulco area. Works in an auto paintshop here. Victoria's from Mexico City. Mayra's from Ensenada. "You know what's amazing?" Victoria says. "This is the only nighttime stand like this I know in all of San Diego. In Mexico" -- and she means Mexico City -- "you have all-night food stands on every corner. People like to come out at night, socialize. I miss wandering in the streets, the parties, the nightclubs, the food."

And here she lists a bunch of things I've never heard of, like huaraches (okay, I've heard of them, sandal-shaped breads made from fried masa and stuffed with, say, bean paste or cactus), but also garnachas -- fat little rounds of masa with beef, salsa, cheese; tlayudas -- big, dense, flat tortillas spread with lard, refried beans, cheese, and salsa; pambazos, which are different tortas with chorizo, salsa, green chiles, shredded lettuce, and, sometimes, mashed potatoes.

She sighs. "The food's just better there."

Me, I'm finding Nirvana right here with my second dog. "Ain't nothing can be better than this," I say. "Hot dog on a cold night? What are you having?"


Takes a moment for me to remember what elotes are. Ah, yes: corn kernels, cheese-glued, on a stick or in a tub. Seems the sticks are $1.50, the tub $2.00. Hmm.

Then, the light goes out. Literally.

"No problem," says José. He waves his arms and the light comes back on. "It's got a movement sensor," he says. "No point in wasting electricity when nobody's sitting here."

And now a big four-door F-150 pulls up. A gal, guy, their baby daughter, and tiny Yorkshire terrier all pile out. Produce, like crates of tomatoes, are stacked in the back. Rebecca -- Becky -- and Héctor and li'l Catherine, who's not yet two. This is their hot dog stand. But Pinchy the terrier definitely looks like a cold dog.

Héctor appears with a big yellow tube, a propane heater. The label says "All-Pro, 40,000 Btu." He sets it on the sidewalk, switches it on, and -- whoa! -- like a jet engine it roars to life, throwing out flame. Yellow tube, blue flame, rosy heat. Great.

We talk on. Turns out Héctor and Becky come from Guaymas, down in Sonora. Héctor's mom is a great cook, taught Héctor, came up with them. She'll be here tomorrow. Héctor and Becky first dreamed of setting up a place like this seven years ago. Something simple. It seems to be working. "We sell about 150 hot dogs a night," he says. "Maybe 750 a week."

"Trouble is," says Becky, "this is only a temporary lease."

So, just in case, Héctor also runs Sonido Silverado, a DJ service. And paints houses. And now they want to create a birria -- stew -- place, too, but in a permanent location near here.

Heck, I end up having an elote with the girls. Hot, shucked corn in a polystyrene cup, with butter melted over it, and a thick top layer of mayo, grated cheese, hot sauce, and lemon.

I hate leaving, even with the cold. As I turn to go down G, I look back at the pool of light.

Sigh. That was then. Now -- nothing. Dog-gone. Just a cold, dark street. Guess they found that permanent location. I see an old geezer on the sidewalk and stop to ask. "It's on National Avenue," he says. "They still sell the dogs, up 50 cents though. They're two dollars now."

Well, guess they have real rent to pay. I turn and head south. Two women I know will dog me to hell and back if I come home empty-handed.

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