This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Hot Dog Stand That Fueled the Newspaper

            For the first few years I worked at the newspaper, I was the Saturday reporter. That’s right — the reporter. It was a small-town daily that published Monday through Saturday in the afternoon, and the Saturday paper was put out with the stuff left over from the day before and whatever the skeleton crew could pull together Saturday morning.
            Weekdays, we had a city editor, who handled the local news, and a wire editor, who handled the state, national and international news that came via United Press International. Saturdays, one editor — Bud O’Brien most weeks — did both jobs. But before coming in, he stopped at the Highway Patrol office during the 5:45 a.m. shift change to pick up vehicle accident reports from the night before.
            As the reporter, I started at a more civilized hour. I’d hit Santa Cruz at around 7:45 a.m., pick up news from that city’s police department and the county sheriff’s department, and get back to the office in Watsonville, 19 miles away, around 9 a.m. I’d write up the Santa Cruz news, call the fire stations, and take the obituaries called in by the funeral homes.

Rolling With the Punches

            You never knew what a Saturday was going to be like. If the villains were having a quiet Friday, the fire departments were polishing their engines, and the elders were holding off on the final check-out, it could be almost boring.
            But if there were a couple of juicy crimes, a couple of fires, and a slew of people going to their final rest, things could get pretty wild. Because of the uncertainty as to what the reporter would be doing, our structure called for the sports editor or one of the sports writers to go to the local police station once the sports pages were down at around 10 a.m.
            And there was a tradition associated with that. At the time there was a hot-dog stand named Taylor’s next to the police station (they’re now a couple of blocks apart), and the police reporter had to stop there to get hot dogs for the Saturday crew. He or she would take orders and collect money, then bring back the dogs. Not even having a triple murder to write up would interfere with stopping at Taylor’s. The news was important, but there were priorities, after all.

I Remember It Well

            It’s probably been 30 years since I had a Taylor’s hot dog, but I can conjure up the taste immediately. There were several possible combinations of condiments, and I always had mine with chili and onions — no mustard, no relish. As you might expect from a small place that did one thing and did it well, the hot dogs were to die for.
            By the time the police reporter returned around 11, we were in the final hour of putting out the paper, and things were often pretty busy. I remember many an occasion when I was sitting at my desk with the phone on my shoulder, a chili dog in my left hand, and a pencil in my right as I wrote down the names of surviving relatives for an obituary. I can’t recall ever making a mistake that could be attributed to the distraction of the hot dog.
            By noon, both the hot dogs and the work were pretty much finished. Once the front page was sent off to be plated for the press, I got to go home. Getting into my car, I could look forward to Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday off, with the aftertaste of the chili dogs still in my mouth. It didn’t get any better than that.