Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Health kick ..." - by Lon Wagner

Health kick includes annual hot dog holiday
By Lon Wagner
The Virginian Pilot
Norfolk, Virginia

Bob loves hot dogs.

In a moment, Bob will eat his first hot dog of the
year. A few moments later, he will eat his last dog
until next December.

When he eats those dogs, 66-year-old Bob Latimer will
be taking a bite for all the people who have given up
something for their health. It could be doughnuts or
cigarettes, french fries or fried chicken, beer,
liquor, bread, shellfish, butter, tacos, cheeseburgers
or cream cheese.

Bob used to come here, to Doug’s Hot Dogs in Ocean
View, three times a week to eat dogs. He likes them
"the regular way," as he puts it, the tough-skinned
Hormel ones slathered in mustard, onions and chili.

In 1993, Bob had heart bypass surgery. His doctor said
his veins looked like they’d been pumped full of lard
that had thickened and froze.

"That didn’t come from just the hot dogs," said Bob,
defending his favorite food. "It came from all the
other bad stuff I had eaten."

The doctors cleaned Bob’s pipes, put him on a
ventilator and stuck him on a healthful routine. They
also told him that unless he wanted to come back, he’d
have to give up his beloved dogs.

He thought of that ventilator, and he quit just like

Except for once a year.

Every December, Bob invites his friends and family to
join him at Doug’s. They eat all the potato chips,
drink all the sodas and stuff down all the hot dogs
they want. It’s on Bob.

On that one day, Bob eats all the hot dogs he wants.

Bob’s friends started walking through the door of
Doug’s Hot Dogs just before noon Friday.

His friend Fred Walker was there early. Walker quit
cigarettes in 1974, and, lately, raw oysters. His
friend Paul Sykes had to give up shellfish. Last year,
his friend Rich White stopped eating bread, including
cakes, pies, even the croutons on his salads.

Bob greeted them all at the door. "How ya doing?" a
woman asked. "Happy Health Day."

Two women drove from Richmond for Bob’s eighth annual
hot dog day - his sister-in-law and mother-in-law.
They were dressed as hot dogs.

By 12:15, Bob’s friends and some Doug’s regulars
poured through the door of the tiny hot dog stand.
Fifteen, then 20, then 35 people jammed the place.

"Let me get one of Bob’s hot dogs," a man told one of
the cooks. "Mustard, onions and chili."

By 12:30, nearly everybody was munching dogs, except
for Bob. It’s as though he knew: the sooner he
started, the sooner he’d be done, for 12 months.

Bob doesn’t have to be that strict. His doctor told
him he could eat hot dogs once a month. But he knows
how that would go:

"I’ll just have them in June and December," he’d tell

"Then, why not one every quarter?"

Pretty soon, he’d be back to three times a week.

Ten minutes later, people were leaving and thanking
Bob. Bob was still urging others to eat, as if he gets
a charge out of hot dogs being eaten even if he’s not
the one doing it.

"Have some more, eat some more," Bob chided one man.

Have you had one today, someone asked?

"I’m going to," Bob said, "in a minute."

Bob has loved hot dogs as long as he can remember.

He grew up in Norfolk, near a hole-in-the-wall hot dog
stand at 25th Street and Colley Avenue. Dogs there
cost a nickel.

He’d love to go to Ocean View Park, where the hot dogs
were a dime. His dad hated that.

"Boy, we’re not buying any hot dog for 10 cents when
you can get one across the street for a nickel," he’d
tell Bob.

"Of course, we didn’t go get one for a nickel," Bob

Bob moved to Ocean View 20 years ago, and it took him
about five minutes to find Doug’s. Bob always favored
dogs from hot dog stands, instead of the ones cooked
at home. There’s just something about the hot dog
stand kind, with the steamed buns.

"OK," Bob announced at 12:45, "I’m going to eat now."

He stepped to the counter.

"I’ll have two all the way, and a Diet Pepsi."

The woman pulled out a warm bun, slid on a dog, then
the mustard, then the onions, then the chili. Only the
dog’s tips poked through the fixings.

This was the true celebration, a friend said, when Bob
takes his first bite and you know all of life is good.

Bob squirted some extra mustard on top of the chili.
He held the hot dog up to his face and bit. He looked

"Just as good as they ever were."

On his second bite, he got a big mouthful. A drop of
extra mustard hung on his lip.

"It gets better," Bob said.

He downed those two dogs, ordered a third, and downed
that one.

I thought you only wanted two? someone said.

"No, I eat as many as I want this one day," Bob said.
"Unfortunately, I can only eat three."

Too bad, because tomorrow it’s back to his normal

Cottage cheese and an orange.

Dog gone!

Lon Wagner, a feature writer at The Virginian-Pilot,
began his journalism career in Lewes, Del., at a
prestigious weekly paper called The Whale (64 pages,
four writers, no news wires, go get 'em.) Since then,
he's worked at four dailies and attracted weirdness at
all of them. He has profiled a moonshiner, covered a
minister who preached (and practiced) bigamy and
written a poem about a baseball fan catching a foul
ball. Lon curates The Pilot's "Wall of Shame," a
display of newspaper screw-ups. He is a 1986 graduate
of the University of Delaware. He later mastered in
applied linguistics (don't ask) while on a Rotary
Fellowship in Edinburgh, Scotland. He lives in Norfolk
with his wife of four years and his black Labrador of
15 years.

1 comment:

LeslieBrown said...

Ajajajajajaja. I love this story!!