By Joe Hobby
It’s funny how our brain connects things. For example, I recently read an article by a canine expert who suggested that using “high value treats” helps with dog training. For my puppies, Reese and Roscoe, that means little pieces of hot dogs. And every time I cut a cone out of them, my mind flashes back to when a hot dog was a high-value treat for me.
Let me clarify. It couldn’t be just any hot dog – it had to be a Pete’s Famous hot dog. For decades it was a Birmingham culinary institution. This little piece of paradise has been crushed between two downtown buildings. It was only about 7 feet wide and 20 feet long. But size didn’t matter. Because for 63 years, throngs of people have walked under that iconic neon sign and crowded against that counter in three deep rows just to place their order for hot dogs from owner Gus Koutroulakis.
Oh Gus. Calling him a cook is like calling Michelangelo a mural painter. This man was an artist – a coneyologist if such a word exists. I never get tired of watching him fix one “all the way”, put it on a piece of waxed paper, then place it on the stainless steel counter. The first bite of this hot dog was a spiritual experience. Perfectly cooked on a fresh bun with kraut, onions and this sauce. I can now close my eyes and still remember the taste of this wonderful sauce. It was often imitated but never, never reproduced. And it won’t. Unfortunately, the recipe died with Gus when he left this world a few years ago. I’m sure every hot dog connoisseur in heaven rejoiced when he walked through the pearly doors. But I bet he still keeps that sauce recipe to himself.
My mom and dad introduced me to Pete’s Famous when I was about eight. It was love at first bite. A few years later, my sister was paying me to babysit her son with those hot dogs. I took all my kids there. After Dad died, Mom and I would periodically go downtown on pilgrimages. Good hot dogs, even better memories.
One of those Saturdays, the man stopped us when we came out of Pete’s and turned the corner. He didn’t look homeless, but his ripped jeans, faded flannel shirt, and tousled hair weren’t going to make him on the cover of GQ either. There were several pamphlets in his right hand. I knew what was coming. But surprisingly, it wasn’t your standard beggar line.
He said, “I don’t want to bother you, but I have a little problem and I need your help. Can I borrow $20 for the bus ride to Decatur? Before I could say no, he continued. “This morning my wife woke up with a terrible headache and passed out. Paramedics said it was best to get him to UAB Hospital in Birmingham as quickly as possible. So, without thinking, I jumped into the ambulance with her, and we left. By the time we got here I realized I had forgotten my wallet and credit cards. Not to mention my truck. So if I can get to Decatur, I can go home, grab what I need, and come back down.
Unfortunately, I’m generally suspicious of anyone on the street asking for money. So even though I have bought food and gas for people who say they are in need, I rarely give anyone money. But it was a good story. Not quite good enough for me, though.
“Have you tried the Jimmy Hale mission?” I asked. “They are very close. »
He brandished the papers in his right hand. “That’s all I got from there. They gave me all kinds of brochures to help me get to heaven, but now I have to go to Decatur.
“I wish I could help you, but I don’t have any money. Just credit cards, I lied. “You might want to try the Firehouse Ministry. It’s about two blocks west of here.
He nodded, turned and walked away. Mom and I crossed the street in silence and got into my car. Once I put the key in the ignition, she spoke. “Joe, I don’t know what you think about what that man just said, but I want to ask you something. Are you going to miss that $20 in five years? It didn’t sound like a story he had made up.
I looked across the street, and there he was, walking with those pamphlets still in his hand. Oddly, he was heading south, away from the bus station and toward UAB Hospital.
I thought for a minute, started the car and said, “I guess you’re right.”
She replied, “I know I’m right. I am your mother.
I made a quick U-turn and we headed south, parallel to the man. Pulling even with him, I rolled down the window.
“Hey, uh – I found a twenty in my car. You can have it. Do you want me to drive you to the bus station?
Genuine gratitude can be seen on his face. “If you don’t mind, could you take me to the UAB ER?” I have to tell my wife what I’m going to do.
The drive was very short, but our new friend drove us to the ER as if he had been there before. I started to feel less like I was being ripped off and more like I was doing something right.
He walked out, held out his hand, and said, “I can’t thank you enough. Give me your address and I’ll send you a check.
“It’s not necessary. There will come a time when you can pay someone for it. Just do that, okay?”
He nodded and walked through the automatic doors. I never saw him again.
The next morning at church, I sat in my usual place, sang a few songs, said a few prayers, and settled in while our minister began to deliver the message in his usual manner. Opening the Bible, his voice filled the sanctuary.
“Today’s reading is from Hebrews 13, verse 2. ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.’
I stiffened. If it wasn’t for the church, I would have said something that wasn’t very religious. My goosebumps got goosebumps. Believe me; I had no problem staying awake during this sermon.
At the end of the service, I cornered our preacher in the narthex and recited every detail of the story. Forget the line of parishioners waiting to shake his hand. They could wait. For once, I didn’t care if the Baptists beat them to the best restaurants.
As I spoke, he nodded, smiled, and said, “Isn’t it great when God talks to you like that?” And after a brief pause, he added, “And aren’t those Pete’s Famous hot dogs something else?”
I agreed. They were two great value treats.
Find more of Joe’s stories on his blog: https://mylifeasahobby.blogspot.com/?m=1. Also, follow him on Facebook at Joe Hobby Comedian-Writer.