The Pushcart War

“Some people wanted champagne and caviar
when they should have had beer and hot dogs”
 Dwight David Eisenhower.
mad dogs
I don’t like hot dogs.  Never have.  It’s a rare thing for me to eat one in a year, never mind two in just a couple weeks.  The only way I could eat one when I was a kid was if they were grilled crispy and topped with enough stuff to mask the taste, onions or mustard or chili or such.  But it was more than taste, it was a textural issue, and along with bologna I fought many a battle to prevent them from becoming a dining option.
So what happened, why have I eaten two hot dogs in as many weeks?  For one thing, they were grilled crispy and both of them were topped with a crazy mix of ingredients that sounded good at the time.  But it was Rudy Madera who was pedaling his fare curbside at the Mad Dogs portable food cart that did it for me.
My first introduction to Mad Dogs came earlier this year at The Taste of the Sierra event back in May at the Tri-County Fairgrounds.  I had one of Rudy’s carne asada tacos, which was as good as anything I ate that night.  So good in fact I had another the following night at the Bierfest, though my recollection of that one is a bit fuzzy.  I had some more at the Fall Colors Car Show at the Fairgrounds earlier this month.
busy corner
Lately Rudy has been serving breakfast burritos at the Bishop Farmer’s Market.  All summer I forget to skip breakfast at home and wait till the market to eat, until last week.  He has also found a new spot for weekday service on May Street in Bishop, a place that was long held by another hot dog vendor.  It seems like a pecking order of sort has taken hold for dibs on this prime location and Rudy worked his way up the ladder. 
I learned that Rudy has been in the area for thirty-five years, cooking at Whiskey Creek in Bishop and the old Ben’s Broasted Chicken joint that once lived on Main Street.  It was at Ben’s where the real lessons of cooking in the public eye were gained.  Things like keeping your workstation and uniform clean, being presentable to the public and if food hit the floor, it went in the trash.  This is not always the case in a closed kitchen. 
the scent was powerful
I rode to the bank a couple weeks ago and could smell green chiles roasting away before I came to a stop in the parking lot.  It was an instant reaction on my part, I walked over to the Mad Dogs cart and ordered a Philly Cheese Dog, went into the bank, realized the line was too long so it was back to the sidewalk for lunch and a bit of conversation.  That’s when I learned the chiles were destined to become part of a concoction known as “The Bomb Dog”. 
The name alone was reason enough to return, so yesterday I was headed back to the bank at lunchtime and got one.  Rudy takes a Hebrew National dog, splits it lengthwise and fries it up on the flat top griddle, then wraps it in a green chile and two strips of bacon.  The bundle then gets the griddle treatment too.  Cradled in a grilled bun it is topped with tomato, red onions, shredded cheese, salsa verde, ketchup and mayonnaise.  He has forks and knives on hand, and a big roll of paper towels to aid in the task of eating one of these bombs, but I went at it with using my hands with gusto and made a mess of myself. 
first edition, 1964
I’ve been reminded of a book I read as a child about a turf war in the New York City sometime in the future but written like describing an historic event.  The David and Goliath type of story is called The Pushcart War Street vendors band together and do battle with the big bully trucking companies.  Whenever I see street vendors I think of them as the heroic underdogs.  They get my business regularly.  Unfortunately this area has very few of them. 
The cities and counties of the region have some difficult restrictions that prevent more food vendors from opening.  The idea of opening one has crossed my mind numerous time and it keeps coming around to the problematic nature of the permitting.  I spoke with the previous hot dog cart owner at the spot Rudy has now established for his own and when I asked about the issue she let loose like a drunken sailor on shore leave.  I got more than I really needed to hear but it verified my thoughts on the subject.
the bomb
The few that are in business have jumped through all the hoops, investing time and money in order to make it work.  I try to give them my business when I can, and let others know about their efforts.  They are very busy indeed, and that makes me smile.
As I stood on the sidewalk waiting for my lunch the other day, conversation with other diners was drowned out by the heavy truck traffic of Main Street on a regular basis.  I thought back to the battles waged by the pushcart warriors from my childhood memories, then looked at the straws sitting on the counter of Rudy’s cart and wondered if I too could make a pea-shooter powerful enough to silence the noisy beasts, preventing them destroying the pedestrian environment of downtown Bishop.
I wonder.
rudy in action