Walter Pierce

re: Frankfurter follies

by Walter Pierce

Praise God and pass the mustard, it’s war!  I’m considering approaching the Downtown Development Authority for a commission. I’ve unwittingly done some downtown development in the last few weeks. I developed a Hot Dog War. It was a skirmish really, but in the interest of drama and my own self-esteem, I’m going with an upper-case War.

A few weeks ago I wrote a LivingIND cover story on Russ Hiltz, who started selling hot dogs from an old-fashioned cart on Jefferson Street the week of Festival International. Russ has a permit for Parc de Lafayette off Jefferson Street. But he soon moved to a strip of privately owned sidewalk in front of Jefferson Street Market where owner Rob Robison has graciously given him quarter. Russ’ pièce de résistance — the Grateful Dawg — is, like all hot dogs, only an occasional treat for me. Given my druthers I would eat them frequently and my feet would disappear.

Soon after the article on Russ hit the street I got a call from a California publicist named Erica Fox. She phoned to tell me about Joy’s Curbside Cart, another vendor who has been tempting the downtown crowd with the priapic pleasure food for about three years now. I missed the rest of my conversation with the publicist, being in a swoon over a hot dog vendor having a California publicist.

A few days later I got a call from Joy Melancon, the cart’s eponymous proprietor, suggesting we publish a retraction on the LivingIND story. Joy’s contention was that the opening line “Finally, an old-time hot dog vendor on Jefferson Street!” was temporally and geographically inaccurate. Joy, it turns out, operates her cart in the small parking lot across the street from Dwyer’s Café — technically on Garfield Street, but near Jefferson Street — on weekend nights. She also works the Downtown Alive crowd. Joy claimed to have a permit for the corner of Jefferson and Vermilion streets, but admitted she only sporadically plied the location because business was slow there. But technically, in her way of seeing things, she was first. Perhaps to make her point, Joy’s Curbside Cart was set up at Vermilion and Jefferson the very next day — within sight of Russ’ operation. Enter dramatic tension. The city, citing a lack of permit, shooed her away. Exit dramatic tension.

In the meantime, according to Russ, Joy sent spies to reconnoiter his position. The propaganda arm of Joy’s Curbside Cart accuses Russ of ripping off her idea. Camp Hiltz shrugs it off, maintaining there’s room for two hot dog vendors in downtown Lafayette, so long as each party stays on its side of a de-pasteurized zone. The Korean Peninsula this is not.

But is there room? For these competing hot dog nations, customers are natural resources. A major construction job downtown (at the Acadiana Center for the Arts) means natural resources are abundant. But what of later when those resources dry up? Complicating matters is the Grateful Dawg’s relocation across Jefferson Street; clearly a strategic move that capitalizes on a more advantageous harbor.

A war this may not be, but this is free enterprise at its most basic, steamed to 140 degrees and naked on a bun. Dress it how you will, and may the better man’s best friend win. I’m certain neither dog will make you Kim Jong Il.