Friday, June 10, 2005

Get 'Em While They're Hot!

He was just “there” one day. In my front yard. I hadn’t asked him to be there he just appeared. It took me a while to figure out what he was doing and then I realized he was selling hot dogs, right there on my lawn.

It wasn’t just the obnoxious stand that I objected to but the hole he had dug to access my water pipes and my electrical lines. Sure he’d covered the trench back up but now my lawn had this bizarre cut line running through it and I could tell that the grass would never grow along that trench in quite the same way. I was a little shy about challenging him but finally I gathered my courage.

“Excuse me sir, but who are you and what are you doing?”

He barely glanced at me and then stated with great emphasis, “I am the hot dog man!”

At first I thought how convenient it would be to have a hot dog man in my front yard. I really like hot dogs and it would be great just to open my front door and be handed a hot dog.

I looked at his menu; he had over 200 varieties of hot dogs! Geesh, I thought, with that many different kinds of hot dogs I’ll never get tired of eating them. I could have hot dogs morning, noon and night, 24 hours a day, seven days a week! I got kind of excited. There were hot dogs for kids, hot dogs for harried house-wives, hot dogs for the career woman, the blue collar guy and the business man. There were hot dogs that were ethnically and racially specific and tons of sports related hot dogs. There were even hot dogs from foreign lands with names I couldn’t pronounce. I could be connected to hot dogs like I had never been connected before. Now anything was possible. I had a friend in the hot dog age. I could get hooked. The hot dog man would never stop working for me. (1)

The thrill was short lived. Soon a long line of people were coming up my driveway and queuing up on my lawn to get their hot dogs and they were paying good money too. The hot dog man had various packages he was offering his customers and for a monthly sum he would deliver his hot dogs to everybody in the neighborhood.

His customers became completely hooked on the hot dogs. Once when the power went out, my phone began ringing off the hook. One woman screamed “Where are my hot dogs!” “I don’t know ma’am,” I answered, “let me check with the hot dog man.”

I opened the door and asked him what was going on and he said “Yeah, I’m aware of the problem, there’s a crew on the way.” Then he waved me off like I was bothering him.

While I too was completely addicted to the hot dogs it began to occur to me that this guy was using my front lawn to do his business but he wasn’t paying me any rent. I started counting his customers, there were lots of them. I noticed that he was raising his prices every other week and charging for little things like mustard, relish and onions. There were extra charges depending on whether the customers wanted a napkin or a paper plate. And even though it was my property he was using to conduct his business he acted like he was doing me a favor.

Finally I told him “Look mister, if you are going to continue to sell hot dogs from my front yard, you’re going to need a contract with me.”

He didn’t like that at all, but still he asked “Okay, what do you want?”

“Well, for starters I want you to give me a percentage of your sales to compensate me for use of my land. Then I want you to restore my lawn to the way it looked before you dug it up. And I want to be able to make my own hot dogs once in a while.”

He was blue in the face. “Do you realize that if you make me pay you and I have to fix your lawn and I let you make your own hot dogs it will drive up the price for all my customers and unfairly burden them?”

“Hold on mister,” I said “I’ve been watching you drive up the price every time you get the urge for no rhyme or reason, don’t tell me you are concerned about your customers!”

He threatened me. “You better watch it lady, the mayor is one of my best customers. And I got customers in the state house and up on Capitol Hill. You mess with me and you won’t see a dime.”

So I threatened him back. “Be that way. Take your hot dog stand off my lawn and stop doing your business here.”

“Wait,” he said “maybe we can work something out.”

That was over twenty years ago and the hot dog man has been selling his hot dogs from my front lawn since that time with tremendous success. We’ve had our ups and downs and I’ve had to take him to court a few times to get him to live up to his contractual obligations. I’m a little worried because lately he has become even more arrogant and he has hired lots of lawyers and lobbyists.

And the other day I got a whole new surprise. I opened the door and there on my lawn, right next to the hot dog man, was the ice cream man putting up his stand. I immediately told him that he would have to enter into the same kind of contract that I had with the hot dog man. He didn’t like that and he started calling his buddies in the statehouse and up on Capitol Hill. So far I am winning, partly because the hot dog man has been on my side. But the other day I looked out my window and the two of them were talking. Now I’m really nervous.

(1) Taken from the slogans of Comcast, Time Warner, Cox Communications, Charter and Verizon.

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