A woman drives up alongside a hot dog cart parked on the Corinth side of the Best Buy lot in West LA. She rolls down her window. "Hey, Ced!" she calls.
Ced -- Uncle Ced -- previously seen re-organizing the chips and soda on the roof of his hot dog cart, waves at her. "The usual?" he calls back. She nods. Uncle Ced grabs a few steamed spicy Polish dogs, tops them with the usual assortment of condiments, wraps them in foil, and hands them to her through the window. She pays and thanks him; they chat for a few seconds before she peels off. "She's a regular," Uncle Ced says when he's back at the cart. That spicy Polish dog has made a regular out of many a Westside hot dog fiend.
"Growing up, I wasn't allowed to eat hot dogs," Uncle Ced recalls, explaining that his parents were wary of the fats and who-knows-what that are stuffed into those supermarket ten-packs. Naturally, the man now thinks of hot dogs all the time. He enlisted in the Navy, in fact, motivated in large part by the recruiter's promise: "They told me I could have all the hot dogs I want!"
Six years ago, Uncle Ced opened up shop, so to speak, with a small hot dog cart on Corinth. Respectfully paying mind to the reasoning behind his parents' strict no-hot-dog-policy, his hot dogs are made without preservatives, fillers or chemicals. Each of the dogs on the short menu (spicy or mild Polish, all-beef, and turkey) are based on his own recipes and produced by Meadow Farms. They come steamed or grilled if requested; his most popular dog is that spicy Polish ($3.50). Steamed, of course.
Toppings are ample, and Uncle Ced will run through them in one breath like the best of the hot dog guys hawking their wares at a Brooklyn subway stop - only he's much nicer when you ask him to repeat the options, please, because you got lost somewhere between the mustard but before the jalapenos. When appropriately topped, the dog has a great snap, the meat is juicy, and the spice adds a good kick.
Ordering the spicy Polish is just half the experience, though. If you have a moment or two, grab a seat on a stray milk crate, and shoot the breeze with Uncle Ced. He'll tell you wonderful stories about his road from the South to California. Or talk to you about what happiness really means. Or explain, with bittersweet melancholy, how he recently upgraded from a smaller cart to his current, larger one, musing about the nature of letting go in order to move forward.
"One of my regulars -- a lawyer, I think -- told me that I had changed his mind about a few things. Honestly, I can't remember exactly what I told him, but whatever it was, I'm glad it gave him a new perspective," Uncle Ced says, almost shrugging, as if this sort of life altering experience happens every day. As it should.